St. Flannan of Killaloe, Bishop

18 December

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7th century. Legend says that Prince Flannan of Thomond was the disciple and successor to Saint Molua (f.d. August 4), founder of Killaloe monastery. He had been born in the fortress castle on Craig Liath near Killaloe. His father, King Turlough, sent him to the monks of Saint Lua for his education for the Church. Eventually, he became its abbot. His late "vita" relates that Flannan made a pilgrimage to Rome against the advice of his friends and family. According to Irish hagiographical fashion, he is said to have been carried on a floating stone to Italy, where he was consecrated as the first bishop of Killaloe by Pope John IV.

Like so many Irish monks before him, Flannan was a missionary who roved the countryside preaching the Good News. He founded churches at Lough Corrib and at Inishbofin, and spent time on the Isle of Man. Flannan laboured in the Hebrides and gave his name to the Flannan Isles (the Seven Hunters), west of Lewis and Harris in Scotland, where the ruins of Flannan's chapel may be found today. In spite of all his toil, he managed to recite the entire Psalter daily--often while immersed in icy water. Several great miracles are attributed to Saint Flannan.

Although one source says that, inspired by his son, King Turlough became a Christian late in life, he is believed to have started the custom among Irish princes of retiring to a monastery near life's end to do penance. He was a monk under the austere rule of Saint Colman at Lismore. Three of his sons having been killed, Turlough asked Colman for a special blessing on his family. At his death Flannan buried him in the church at Killaloe, which became the principal church of Brian Boru's kingdom.

Flannan was afraid that the chieftainship would fall to him (although Colman had predicted that seven kings would spring from Turlough's loins--all named Brian). Saint Flannan thereupon decided to pray for a deformity that would make him ineligible for the role, according to Irish law. His biographer relates that immediately "scars and rashes and boils began to appear on his face so that it became most dreadful and repulsive."

About 1180, King Brian Boru's descendent, Donal O'Brien, built a new cathedral dedicated to Saint Flannan. The church was incorporated into a new one in the 13th century, restored in 1887, and is now a Protestant church. "Luxuriant with ivy, Gothic in style, with a massive bell tower rising from the centre of the building, its elaborate, richly carved Romanesque doorway, dated about 1180, is one of the masterpieces of pre-Norman Irish architecture. Built into the stone wall surrounding the cathedral grounds is another antiquity, a fragment of a bilingual stone cross inscribed with runes and oghams from about the year 1000" [D'Arcy, pp. 61-62].
Saint Flannan is the patron of Killaloe diocese where his relics formerly rested in the cathedral next to his stone oratory. His feast is kept throughout Ireland, and he also has a cultus in Scotland on the same day (Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, D'Arcy, Farmer, Kenney, Leask, Montague, Moran, Walsh).

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content © 2008, Ambrose Mooney
layout © 2008, Kathleen Hanrahan and Mo! Langdon
Page last updated: 2 January 2009
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