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Died c. 560. Senan was the principal of the numerous Irish saints with this name, and is credited with making a remarkable succession of monastic foundations on islands at the mouths of rivers and elsewhere, from the Slaney in Wexford to the coast of Clare. The stories that have survived about St. Senan suggest a man of considerable complexity of character. He is said to have visited Rome and on his way home stayed with St. David (f.d. March 1) in Wales. On his return to Ireland, he founded more churches and monasteries, notably one at Inishcarra near Cork. He finally settled and was buried on Scattery Island (Inis Cathaig) in the Shannon estuary, where there is still a fine round tower and other early remnants. There are indications that he spent some time in Cornwall, but appears to have had no connection with the Land's End parish of Sennen (Attwater, Benedictines).

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Senan was born at Kilrush in County Clare where his parents, Erguid and Comgella, owned land and were well to do farmers. In his youth he had to do some fighting for his overlord but it was while he was about the more peaceful occupation of looking after his father's cattle that the call came to forsake the world and devote himself to religious study. His conversion was caused by a great wave that broke at his feet as he was walking on the sea shore, then ebbed leaving a clear path for him across the bay, and finally closed behind him. He saw this as a sign that his lay life was over and, breaking his spear in two, he made a cross of it and set out for the monastery at Kilnamanagh in County Dublin.

Senan was obviously a resourceful man for he miraculously automated the mill at the monastery so that it ground the grain without him having to leave his books. He made great progress in his studies and after his ordination he visited other centres of learning before returning to his home country to found a number of religious houses. The most famous of his foundations was on Scattery Island, Iniscathaigh, and before he could build his monastery there he had to rid the island of a ferocious beast after which it was named, the Cata. The monster is described as exceedingly fierce and breathing fire and spitting venom which make some believe that it was a tribe of wild cats. However, Senan protected by his faith, expelled it with the sign of the Cross, ordering it never to harm anyone again.

The Archangel Raphael is said to have aided him and there was an incident when Senan was searching for water for his monks that the Archangel directed the holly stick with which he was probing and water gushed out of the dry ground. Senan left his stick in the hole and on the next day he found that it had grown into a tree. Raphael also helped S. Senan to ensure safe crossing to the island for his monks.

The ruins on Scattery include those of six churches, the Saint's grave which provides miraculous cures in the church known as Temple Senan and a spectacular round tower, the tallest in the whole of Ireland. He died on March 1st but his burial was postponed to the octave day of his death to enable those from the neighbouring communities to attend, so his festival is observed on March 8th (Flanagan, Neeson, Baring-Gould).

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Manuscript Live of St. Senan:

The several versions of Senan's Life differ considerably in content. The metrical Latin version is probably the oldest, but it seems to be a monastic composition having no very direct connection with Inis-Cathaig. On the other hand the Irish Life, which, though quite fabulous, is also very interesting, seems to depend directly on legends of the lower Shannon, and probably on a Life written at Inis-Cathaig when that was still a flourishing monastery, that is, not later than the tenth century. The imposing array of miracles, the list of famous saints with whom the subject of the Life is brought into contact, and the records of church foundations made by him, all indicate an origin in a monastery of his community.

The extraordinary inconsistencies of the chronological setting may reject the absence of historical data: Senan is, while still in his mother's womb, foretold by Patrick (d. 461); he succeeds Maedoc (d. 626) as abbot of Ferns; he makes a league with Martin of Tours (d. 397 x 403); he associates with various Irish saints of the middle and second half of the sixth century; and he dies on the same day as David of Wales (544 x 547, or 601). But the biographers were capable of a wonderful recklessness in these matters, even when dealing with saints whose records were well founded.

The establishment of many different churches by Senan is recorded: they represent, doubtless, the paruchia claimed by the abbots of Inis-Cathaig.

Much curious and interesting matter is contained in the several texts.

Amra Senain.........
This eulogy of Senan is written in language of intentional dignity and obscurity similar to that of the Amra of Colum-cille (no. 212) which it closely resembles. It too is ascribed to Dallan Forgaille.

Miorbuile Senain: The Miracles of Senan........
This is an account, written probably in the fourteenth century, of happenings during that and the preceding hundred years which the author considered to be due to the intervention of St. Senan. It has value for the history and social conditions of the age; and the information regarding Senan's churches and their inter-relationships can doubtless, be used in part for earlier epochs. The text ends with a poem giving a long list of famous saints with whom Senan had made alliances, and who were bound to avenge any injury to his churches.

For a photograph of Scattery Island and descriptions of the remains of the holy places, go to

Troparion of St Senan
Tone 3
As a true believer thou didst confess Christ,
as a monk thou didst surrender unto Him
and as a pilgrim thou didst honour His righteous ones, O Father Senan.
Wherefore we implore thy help to reform our lives,
that Christ our Cod may have mercy on our souls.

Kontakion of St Senan
Tone 1
By thy travels, O Father Senan, thou dost teach us the value of pilgrimages
and the virtue of putting Christ above all earthly cares.
Shining brightly through the centuries thou day star of orthodox piety,
we sing praises in honour of thee.

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