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This little-known Saint was one of the most active of the numerous Irish proselytizers who underwent the white martyrdom (self-imposed exile) in what is now Scotland. Unfortunately there is no known extant life or hagiography of this saint, so details of his life must be gleaned from other sources. There are numerous citations of this Saint in various Irish Annals and Martyrologies.

St. Maelrubha was born near Derry, Ireland in 642. His father was of the Cenel nEogain (the clan of Eoghan), making the saint eighth in line of direct descent of the famous Niall of the Nine Hostages. According to legend, Niall was responsible for the abduction of the St. Patrick to Ireland from Britain. Regardless, this lineage made St. Maelrubha a distant cousin of St. Columcille. His mother was of the Cruithne, a Pictish race that settled in the north of Ireland, and a niece of St. Comgal of Bangor.

St. Maelrubha entered the monastery at Bangor, Ireland in his youth and departed for the land of the Northern Picts in 671. In the Felire of Aengus his mission is recorded, Into Scotland with purity after leaving every happiness went our brother Maelrubba. He probably put in initially on the isle of Islay and worked his way up the west coast of Scotland over the course of the next two years. He eventually settled in Appurcrossan, now known as Applecross, and in 673 St. Maelrubha established his famous monastery that was his base in converting the Picts to Christianity.

If one goes on placename dedications, this athlete for Christ roamed far and wide. Sites bearing his name, or some form of his name, range as far north as Loch Broom, as far south as Islay, as far west as Harris, and up the Great Glen toward Inverness.

From his monastery Maelrubba founded many churches in the glens and islands of north-west Scotland, but the Gaelic place names make it difficult to distinguish between the dedications to Maelrubba and those to the honour of Our Lady, the suffix of endearment Mo or Ma almost always being added to his name. His name, shorn of the suffix, means the red priest. Certainly the chapel on the island in Loch Maree, where there is also a spring of water with healing powers, is one of his foundations, and the Celtic cross in the churchyard at Kilmory Knap by Loch Sween is in his territory. In the Middle Ages the area round his abbey at Applecross was privileged, and even now the parish in Gaelic is A'Chromraich, The Sanctuary.

St. Maelrubha fell asleep in the Lord in the year 722 at the advanced age of eighty, and although the Irish traditions are that he died of old age, the Scottish assert that he was killed by the Danes, the Black Gentiles. In the Aberdeen Breviary the legend says that he died at Urquart in the Black Isle, on the eastern side of the county of Ross and Cromerty, and for three days he lay severely wounded comforted by angels. A bright light hovering over the dying saint attracted a priest, who was able to give him the viaticum, and later a church was built over the place. His body was buried in his church at Applecross, and a carved stone markes the site of his grave.

Due to the proximity of Applecross to the Isle of Skye and his numerous works on the island, St. Maelrubha is considered to be the patron saint of the southern and central portions of the island (St. Columcille has the upper portion). On his journeys to the island from Applecross, St. Maelrubha most likely put in at Ashaig in the Strath district. This location is considered to be one of the earliest Christian sites on the island and there is a stone-covered well bearing his name, Tobar na Marui, at the site.

According to accounts, in his advanced years St. Maelrubha tried to rise from sitting one day by grabbing ahold of a branch of an ash tree. While rising, the tree was uprooted and a spring gushed forth and the water from this spring possessed healing powers. Another tree stood close to the well upon which the Saint would hang a bronze bell to gather the faithful. As with the well, the bell possessed miraculous powers in that it would ring of its own accord when the Saint was preparing to speak. It was also at that location that the Saint would mount the Rock of the Book, Creag naLeabhair, known today as the Pulpit Rock. There is another healing spring associated with this Saint on an island in the Loch Maree (Maree is the anglicization of the Scots' Gaelic Maoil Ruibhe, of Maelrubha).

There is another location farther down the Strath district on Skye, on the Strathaird peninsula, that bears the Saint's name. This site is known as Kilmarie (again, an anglicization of the Scots Gaelic.) All that remains of the site today is a small enclosed burial ground. Nearby is a cave where, according to local accounts, St. Maelrubha would preach to the faithful in inclement weather. Finally, there is also a small loch close to the Kilmarie where the Saint was said to have subdued a creature like that of the Loch Ness (cf. Vita Columbae by Adam, book 2, section 27

Following the Saint's repose, the land for six miles around his monastery was considered sacred and protected. Today the land is called in Gaelic A'Chomraich, The Sanctuary. The staff of the Saint was believed to have existed at Kilvary in Argyll. Guarding this staff was the duty of the Dewars of Scotland. Unfortunately, the staff disappeared around the time of the Reformation in Scotland.

This Life kindly supplied by Maelrubha Donley

Another Life of St. Maelrubha
(Ma-Rui, Molroy, Errew, Summaryruff, also Sagart-Ruadh)

An abbot and martyr, founder of Abercrossan, b. 642; d. 21 April, 722. He was descended from Niall, King of Ireland, on the side of his father Elganach. His mother, Subtan, was a niece of St. Comgall the Great, of Bangor. St. Maelrubha was born in the county of Derry and was educated at Bangor. When he was in his thirtieth year he sailed from Ireland for Scotland, with a following of monks. For two years he travelled about, chiefly in Argyll, and founded about half-a dozen churches then settled at Abercrossan (Applecross), in the west of Ross. Here he built his chief church and monastery in the midst of the Pictish folk, and thence he set out on missionary journeys, westward to the islands Skye and Lewis, eastward to Forres and Keith, and northward to Loch Shinn, Durness, and Farr. It was on this last journey that he was martyred by Danish vikings, probably at Teampull, about nine miles up Strath-Naver from Farr, where he had built a cell. He was buried close to the River Naver, not far from his cell, and his grave is still marked by a rough cross-marked stone The tradition, in the Aberdeen Breviary, that he was killed at Urquhart and buried at Abercrossan is probably a mistake arising from a confusion of Gaelic place-names.

Maelrubha was, after St. Columba, perhaps the most popular saint of the north-west of Scotland. At least twenty-one churches are dedicated to him, and Dean Reeves enumerates about forty forms of his name. His death occurred on 21 April, and his feast has always been kept in Ireland on this day; but in Scotland (probably owing to the confusion with St. Rufus) it is kept on 27 August.

Extract from the Catholic Encyclopaedia, copyright 1913 by the Encyclopaedia Press, Inc.

o Site of Saint Maelrubha's church

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