St. Ita of Limerick, Virgin
(Deirdre, Dorothy, Ida, Ide, Meda, Mida, Ytha)

15 January

Previous Saint This month Next Saint
[Yesterday's last saint] [back to Calendar] [Today's next saint]

Died c. 570. Saint Ita is the most famous woman saint in Ireland after Saint Brigid (f.d. February 1), and is known as the Brigid of Munster. She is said to have been of royal lineage, born in one of the baronies of Decies near Drum in County Waterford, and called Deirdre.

An aristocrat wished to marry her, but after praying and fasting for three days and with divine help, she convinced her father to allow her to lead the life of a maiden. She migrated to Hy Conaill (Killeedy), in the western part of Limerick, and founded a community of women dedicated to God, which soon attracted many young women. She also founded and directed a school. It is said that Bishop Saint Erc gave into her care Saint Brendan (f.d. May 16), who would become a famous abbot and missionary (though the chronology makes this unlikely). Many other Irish saints were taught by her for years. For this reason, she is often called "foster-mother of the saints of Ireland."

Brendan once asked her what three things God especially loved. She replied, "True faith in God with a pure heart, a simple life with a religious spirit, and open-handedness inspired by charity."

An Irish lullaby for the Infant Jesus is attributed to her. Saint Ita's legend stresses her physical austerities. The principle mark of her devotion was the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. Like other monastic figures of Ireland, she spent much time in solitude, praying and fasting, and the rest of the time in service to those seeking her assistance and advice.

She and her sisters helped to treat the sick of the area. Many miracles are also attributed to her including one in which she reattached the head to the body of a man who had been decapitated, and another that she lived only on food from heaven.

Although her life is overlaid by much unreliable material, because she has been so popular and her "vita" was not written for centuries, there is no reason to doubt her existence. There are church dedications and place names that recall her both in her birthplace and around her monastery. She is also mentioned in the poem of Blessed Alcuin (f.d. May 19), and her cultus is still vibrant (Attwater2, Benedictines, Delaney, Farmer, Montague, Riain, Walsh, White).

An extract from the entry on St. Ita in Edward Sellner's "The Wisdom of the Celtic Saints."

Ita (also Ite or Ide) is, after Brigit, the most famous of Irish women soul friends. Her hagiographer even describes her as "a second Brigit." A sixth-century abbess, Ita founded a monastery in Country Limerick at Killeedy (which means Cell of Church of Ita). She came from the highly respected clan of the Deisi, and her father, like Brigit's, was resistant to her becoming a nun. After gaining his permission, Ita left home and settled at the foot of Sliabh Luachra, where other women from neighbouring clans soon joined her. There she founded a monastic school for the education of small boys, one of whom was Brendan of Clonfert. She evidently had many students, for she is called the "Foster-mother of the Saints of Erin."

Ita's original, some claim, was Deirdre, but because of her thirst (iota) for holiness she became known as Ita. This quality may have been what drew so many women to join her monastery and families to send their sons to her. Ita wanted her students to become acquainted with the saints as soul friends. Besides her mentoring, Ita is associated with competence in healing and with an asceticism that an angel had to warn her about.

Ita died in approximately 570. Her grave, frequently decorated with flowers, is in the ruins of a Romanesque church at Killeedy where her monastery once stood. A holy well nearby, almost invisible now, was known for centuries for curing smallpox in children and other diseases as well.

Her feast day is January 15.

Ita's Qualities as a Child, and the Fiery Grace of God

Ita was born in Ireland of noble lineage, that is, of the stock of Feidhlimidh Reachtmiher, by whom all Ireland was supremely ruled for many years from the royal fort of Tara. He had three sons, Tiacha, Cond and Eochaid. Ita was born of the people called the Deisi, and from her baptism on she was filled with the Holy Spirit. All marvelled at her childhood purity and behaviour, and her abstinence on the days she had to fast. She performed many miracles while she was yet a small child, and when she could speak and walk she was prudent, very generous and mild toward everyone, gentle and chaste in her language, and God-fearing. She consistently attempted to overcome evil and always did what she could to promote good. As a young girl she lived at home with her parents.

One day, while Ita was asleep in her room the whole place seemed to be on fire. When her neighbours came to give assistance, however, the fire in her room seemed to have been extinguished. All marvelled at that, and it was said that it was the grace of God that burned about Ita as she slept. When she arose from her sleep, her whole appearance seemed to be angelic, for she had beauty that has never been seen before or since. Her appearance was such that it was the grace of God that burned about her. After a short interval, her original appearance returned, which certainly was beautiful enough.

Ita's Dream and the Angel that Helped Discern Its Meaning

Another day when she went to sleep, Ita saw an angel of the Lord approach her and give her three precious stones. When she awoke she did not know what that dream signified, and she had a question in her heart about it. Then an angel appeared to her and said, "Why are you wondering about that dream? Those three precious stoned you saw being given to you signify the coming of the Blessed Trinity to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Always in your sleep and vigils the angels of God and holy visions will come to you, for you are a temple of God, in body and soul." After saying this, the angel left her.

Ita's Desire to be Consecrated to Christ, and her Parents' Resistance

Another day Ita came to her mother and announced to her the divine precepts the Holy Spirit had taught her. She asked her mother to seek her father's permission so that she might consecrate herself to Christ. But her father was defiantly opposed to what she desired. The request was also very displeasing to her mother , and when others added their petitions, Ita's father vehemently refused to give permission. Then Ita, filled with the spirit of prophecy, said to all: "Leave my father alone for a while. Though he now forbids me to be consecrated to Christ, he will come to persuade me and eventually will order me to do so, for he will be compelled by Jesus Christ my Lord to let me go wherever I wish to serve God." And it happened as she had predicted. This is how it came about.

Not long afterward, Ita fasted for three days and three nights. During those days and nights, through dreams and vigils, it became clear that the devil was waging several battles against Ita. She, however, resisted him in everything, whether she slept or watched. One night, the devil, sad and grieving, left Ita with these words: "Alas, Ita, you will free yourself from me, and many others too will be delivered."

Icons of St. Ita:

Previous Saint This month Next Saint
[Yesterday's last saint] [back to Calendar] [Today's next saint]

Lives kindly supplied by:
For All the Saints:

An Alphabetical Index of the Saints of the West

These Lives are archived at: