August 23, 2019

Saint Eogan, Bishop of Ardstraw (+ 618)

St. Eogan of Ardstraw (Feast Day - August 23)

Saint Eogan was born in Leinster, the son of Cainneach and Muindeacha. His mother is said to have been of the Mugdorna of southeast Ulster. These people seem to have had some contact with the Laighin (who gave their name to Leinster), to whom his father Cainneach belonged. Since this is the area where Christianity first reached Ireland it may well be that Eoghan's father's family had been Christian for some time. As a boy he studied at Clones, and it was from there that he was carried off to Britain by pirates, and subsequently he was taken captive to Brittany, together with Cairbre of Coleraine and Saint Tigernach (Apr. 4), who is best known as the founder of the abbey of Clones. On obtaining his freedom, he went to study at Saint Ninian's Candida Casa. Others said to have studied with Ninian include Finnian of Moville. He may also have spent some time in Brittany (Armorica). Returning to Ireland, he made a foundation at Kilnamanagh, in the Wicklow hills.

After presiding over the Abbey of Kilnamanagh for fifteen years, he settled in the valley of Mourne, his mother's country, about the year 576. It is reasonable to assume that Eoghan came north not just as a missionary to pagans, but also ‘as a pilgrim for the sake of Christ’ in exile. It was not necessary to go abroad to do this. Due to the division of Ireland into a grid of independent states or tuatha, exile meant leaving one’s own and taking one’s chances in another tuath. Without personal resources one had no honor or personal standing outside one’s own tuath. He was followed by many disciples including his kinsman, Saint Kevin of Glendalough (June 3), who completed his studies under this Saint. So great was the fame of the sanctity and learning of Saint Eoghan, at Mourne, that he was consecrated first Bishop of Ardstraw (Ardfrath) about the year 581.

His Life contains a number of miracle stories. While going through the forest Craoibheach (modern day Cruagh, a townland near Wicklow) he sang fifty psalms and when his attendant answered "Amen" at the end of the Lord's Prayer the trees all around also answered "Amen". It also mentions his close relations with Tigernach of Clones and Cairbre of Coleraine, which might indicate an alliance of monasteries threatened by the dominance of Armagh. He died on 23 August 618 and was buried in his own churchyard, over whose sepulchre a chapel was afterward built.

The name Eogan means "born under the (protection of the sacred) yew tree." His name is generally Latinized as Eugenius, or Eugene, but the Irish form is Eoghan (pronounced Owen), hence Tir Eoghain, which means "land of Eogan", or Tyrone.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
O great traveller Eogan who didst traverse Christian Europe in thy zeal for Christ, trained by Saint Ninian thou wast a wise teacher of the faith. Glory to God Who has glorified thee.