September 25, 2019

Saint Finbarr, Bishop of Cork

St. Finbarr of Cork (Feast Day - September 25)

Born in Templemartin, near Bandon, and originally named Lóchán (modern form, Loan), he was the son of Amergin of Maigh Seóla, a skilled craftsman originally from Galway. He studied in Ossory, corresponding approximately to the present County Kilkenny. He was renamed "Fionnbharra" (Fairhead in Irish), reportedly when, on being tonsured, the presiding cleric remarked: "Is fionn barr ("find barr", in the Irish of the time) Lócháin", meaning, "Fair is the crest of Loan"), and he then became known as "Findbarr" ("Fionnbarra" in modern Irish) because of his fair hair. He went on pilgrimage to Rome with some of the monks, visiting Saint David in Wales on the way back.

On completion of his education he returned home and lived for some time on an island in the small lake then called Loch Irce. The island is now called Gougane Barra (the little rock-fissure of Finnbarr). He is reputed to have built small churches in various other places, including one in Ballineadig, County Cork, called Cell na Cluaine, anglicised as Cellnaclona and sometimes referred to as Cloyne, causing it to be confused with Cloyne (Cluain Uamha) in east Cork.

About the year 600, Saint Finbarr was consecrated the first Bishop of Cork. He settled for about the last seventeen years of his life in the area then known as Corcach Mór na Mumhan (the Great Marsh of Munster), now the city of Cork, where he gathered around him monks and students. The celebrated Monastery of Cork became a center of monasticism in southern Ireland, and many pious men gathered there from all over Ireland in order to be trained in monastic life and to live in holiness. This became an important center of learning, giving rise to the phrase Ionad Bairre Sgoil na Mumhan. "Where Finbarr taught let Munster learn", is the motto of today's University College Cork in English but is not a translation of the Irish motto Ionad Bairre Sgoil na Mumhan which means "Finbarr's foundation, the School of Munster".

The church and monastery he founded in 606 were on a limestone cliff above the River Lee, an area now known as Gill Abbey, after a 12th-century Bishop of Cork, Giolla Aedha Ó Muidhin. It continued to be the site of the cathedral of his diocese. The present building on the site, owned by the Church of Ireland, is called Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral. The people of Cork often refer to the nearby Catholic church, also dedicated to Saint Finbarr, in Dunbar Street in the South Parish as 'the South Chapel', distinguishing it from the North Cathedral, the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint Anne, sometimes called 'the North Chapel'.

Finnbarr died at Cell na Cluaine, while returning from a visit to Gougane Barra. He was buried in the cemetery attached to his church in Cork. The exact year of his death is unknown: various sources give the years 610, 623 and 633.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Truly thou art hymned, O Hierarch Finbar, as a Father of monastics and shepherd of souls. Seeing our plight and feeling for us in our great necessity, cease not to intercede with Christ our God, that He will raise up in our days pastors of thy stature to lead us into the way of truth.