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Born in Meath; died at Killeany, Ireland, c. 530 or 590; feast day formerly on March 16.

In the 6th century, the wild rock called Aran, off the coast of Galway, was an isle of saints, and among them was Saint Enda, the patriarch of Irish monasticism. He was an Irish prince, son of Conall Derg of Oriel (Ergall) in Ulster. Legend has it that the soldier Enda was converted by his sister, Saint Fanchea (f.d. January 1), abbess of Kill-Aine. He renounced his dreams of conquest and decided to marry one of the girls in his sister's convent. When his intended bride died suddenly, he surrendered his throne and a life of worldly glory to become a monk. He made a pilgrimage to Rome and was ordained there. These stories told of the early life of Saint Enda and his sister are unreliable, but the rest is not. More authentic "vitae" survive at Tighlaghearny at Inishmore, where he was buried.

It is said that Enda learned the principles of monastic life at Rosnat in Britain, which was probably Saint David's foundation in Pembrokeshire or Saint Ninian's (f.d. September 16) in Galloway. Returning to Ireland, Enda built churches at Drogheda, and a monastery in the Boyne valley. It is uncertain how much of Enda's rule was an adaptation of that of Rosnat.

Thereafter (about 484) he begged his brother-in-law, the King Oengus (Aengus) of Munster, to give him the wild and barren isle of Aran (Aranmore) in Galway Bay. Oengus wanted to give him a fertile plot in the Golden Vale, but Aran more suited Enda's ideal for religious life. On Aran he established the monastery of Killeaney, which is regarded as the first Irish monastery in the strict sense, `the capital of the Ireland of the saints.' There they lived a hard life of manual labour, prayer, fasting, and study of the Scriptures. It is said that no fire was ever allowed to warm the cold stone cells even if "cold could be felt by those hearts so glowing with love of God."

Enda divided the island into ten parts, in each of which he built a monastery, and under his severe rule Aran became a burning light of sanctity for centuries in Western Europe. Sheep now huddle and shiver in the storm under the ruins of old walls where once men lived and prayed. This was the chosen home of a group of poor and devoted men under Saint Enda. He taught them to love the hard rock, the dripping cave, and the barren earth swept by the western gales. They were men of the cave, and also men of the Cross, who, remembering that their Lord was born in a manger and had nowhere to lay His head, followed the same hard way.

Their coming produced excitement, and the Galway fishermen were kept busy rowing their small boats filled with curious sightseers across the intervening sea, for the fame of Aran-More spread far and wide. Enda's disciples were a noble band. There was Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise (f.d. September 9), who came there first as a youth to grind corn, and would have remained there for life but for Enda's insistence that his true work lay elsewhere, reluctant though he was to part with him. When he departed, the monks of Aran lined the shore as he knelt for the last time to receive Enda's blessing, and watched with wistful eyes the boat that bore him from them. In his going, they declared, their island had lost its flower and strength.

Another was Saint Finnian (f.d. September 10), who left Aran and founded the monastery of Moville (where Saint Columba spent part of his youth) and who afterwards became bishop of Lucca in Tuscany, Italy. Among them also was Saint Brendan the Voyager, Saint Columba of Iona, Jarlath of Tuam (f.d. June 6), and Carthach the Elder (f.d. March 5) These and many others formed a great and valiant company who first learned in Aran the many ways of God, and who from that rocky sanctuary carried the light of the Gospel into a pagan world.

The very wildness of Aran made it richer and dearer to those who lived there. They loved those islands which as a necklace of pearls, God has set upon the bosom of the sea, and all the more because they had been the scene of heathen worship. There were three islands altogether, with lovely Irish names: Inishmore, Inishmain, and Inisheen.

On the largest stood Saint Enda's well and altar, and the round tower of the church where the bell was sounded which gave the signal that Saint Enda had taken his place at the altar. At the tolling of the bell the service of the Mass began in all the churches of the island.

O, Aran, cried Columba in ecstasy, the Rome of the pilgrims! He never forgot his spiritual home which lay in the western sun and her pure earth sanctified by so many memories. Indeed, he said, so bright was her glory that the angels of God came down to worship in the churches of Aran (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, D'Arcy, Delaney78, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Gill, Healy, Husenbeth, Kenney, Montague).

Article on the Monastic Life of the Aran Islands

Troparion of St Enda
Tone 8
O Father of Irish monasticism, from Candida Casa thou didst settle on the Isle of Aran,
where thou didst train Saint Colum Cille and other glorious Saints.
Holy Father Enda, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

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