St. Fiech, Bishop of Sletty in Ireland, Friend of Saint Patrick

12 October

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From the Thesaurus Paleohibernicus:

Now St. Fiacc was the son of Mac Ercae, son of Bregan, son of Daire Barraig, (from whom are the Hy-Barrchi), son of Cathair Mor. Moreover that Fiacc was a pupil of Dubthach macCu-Lugair, who was chief poet of Ireland. In the time of Logaire, son of Niall, it was made. And that is the Dubthach who arose before Patrick in Tara, after Logaire had said that no one would rise before him in the house. And he was a friend of Patrick thenceforward, and he was baptized by Patrick afterwards. Now Patrick once went to that Dubthach's house in Leinster. Then Dubthach gave great welcome to Patrick. Patrick said to Dubthach: 'Seek for me', said he, 'a man of rank, of good family and of good character, with only one wife and child.' 'Why seekest thou that?' (to wit a man of that kind)?', said Dubthach. 'That he might be ordained', said Patrick. 'Fiacc is the man', said Dubthach, 'and he has gone on circuit in Connacht.' [note: Fiacc was 'on tour' as a bard.] Now when they were thus talking, then came Fiacc and his circuit with him. 'There is the man whom we have been speaking of', said Dubthach. 'Though it be', says Patrick, 'peradventure that of which we have spoken may not be pleasing to him.' 'Let an essay be made to tonsure me', said Dubthach, 'so that Fiacc may see.' When Fiacc, then saw that, he asked: 'What is essayed' said he. 'The tonsuring of Dubthach', [note: The tonsure was not monastic; the canons of St. Patrick state that Priests must go about tonsured and their wives must have their heads covered.] They said. 'That is idle , said he, 'for there is not in Ireland a poet his equal.' 'Thou wouldst be taken in his stead', said Patrick. 'My loss to Ireland is less than that of Dubthach', said Fiacc.

Patrick, then, took off Fiacc's beard, and thereafter great grace came upon him, and he read all the ecclesiastical order in one night, not fifteen days as others do. A bishop's rank was conferred on him, and he is the chief bishop of Leinster thenceforth, and his coarb after him.


According to Muirchu's Life of Patrick (see e. g. The Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh ed. L. Bieler or J. Hood St Patrick's Confession and Muirchu's Life):

Bishop Fiacc of Sletty was a bardic apprentice of the chief poet of Leinster, Dubtach, who was the first to rise to greet Patrick when he came to the court of the king of Tara. Patrick offered to make Dubtach himself first bishop of Sletty, but Dubtach offered his pupil Fiacc instead. Hence Fiacc's ability to write hymns in honour of Patrick. His successor as Bishop of Sletty, Aed, in the late seventh century was responsible for commissioning Muirchu's Life of Patrick.


From the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopaedia:

(Lived about 415-520.) A poet, chief bishop of Leinster, and founder of two churches. His father, MacDara, was prince of the Hy-Bairrche in the country around Carlow. His mother was sister of Dubhtach, the chief bard and brehon of Erin, the first of Patrick's converts at Tara, and the apostle's lifelong friend. Fiacc was a pupil to his uncle in the bardic profession and soon embraced the Faith. Subsequently, when Patrick came to Leinster, he sojourned at Dubhtach's house in Hy-Kinsellagh and selected Fiacc, on Dubhtach's recommendation, to be consecrated bishop for the converts of Leinster. Fiacc was then a widower; his wife had recently died, leaving him one son named Fiacre. Patrick gave him an alphabet written with his own hand, and Fiacc acquired with marvellous rapidity the learning necessary for the episcopal order. Patrick consecrated him, and in after time appointed him chief bishop of the province. Fiacc founded the church of Domnach-Fiech, east of the Barrow. Dr. Healy identifies its site at Kylebeg. To this church Patrick presented sacred vestments, a bell, the Pauline Epistles and pastoral staff. After many years of austere life in this place, Fiacc was led by angelic command to remove to the west of the Barrow, for there he would find the place of his resurrection". Tradition tells that he was directed to build his oratory where he should meet a hind, his refectory where he should find a boar. He consulted Patrick, the latter fixed the site of his new church at Sletty--"the highland"--a mile and a half northwest of Carlow. Here while built a large monastery, which he ruled as abbot while at the same time he governed the surrounding country as bishop. His annual Lenten retreat to the cave of Drum-Coblai and the rigors of his Lenten fast, on five barley loaves mixed with ashes, are mentioned in his life by Jocelyn of Furness. He suffered for many years from a painful disease and Patrick, commiserating his infirmity, sent him a chariot and a pair of horses to help him in the visitation of the diocese. He lived to a very old age; sixty of his pious disciples were gathered to their rest before him.

His festival has been always observed on the 12th of October. He was buried in his own church at Sletty, his son Fiacre, whom Patrick had ordained priest, occupying the same grave. They are mentioned in several calendars as jointly revered in certain churches.

St. Fiacc is the reputed author of the metrical life of St. Patrick in Irish, a document of undoubted antiquity and of prime importance as the earliest biography of the saint that has come down to us.

"The Hymn of Fiacc is one of the few accepted primary sources for the life of St. Patrick other than his own writings. Although its exact date of composition is disputed, there is no question that it is extremely ancient, a document of the Celtic Church before the Viking invasions. Tradition ascribes it to the fifth century bard Fiacc, who also figures as a character in some of the legends told about Patrick; modern scholars generally think it was composed later, in the seventh or possibly even the eighth century. -- N. Redington."

A Life of Saint Patrick paraphrased from Fiacc's Hymn
Tiny Url:

Another hymn, on St. Brigid, "Audite virginis laudes", has been attributed to him, but on insufficient grounds.

Troparion of St Fiacc
Tone 1:
Thou didst devote thy life and ministry to missionary endeavour, O Hierarch Fiacc And art remembered as the hymnographer who honoured the great Patrick. Together with him thou didst drive out of Ireland The ignorance and error of paganism. Pray that Christ our God will raise up noble souls in our day Who will restore the Orthodox Faith To the Island of Saints and advance the Kingdom of God For the salvation of souls.

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