September 9, 2019

Saint Kieran of Clonmacnoise (+ 549)

St. Kieran of Clonmacnoise (Feast Day - September 9)

Saint Kieran (Ciaran), who has been described as a lamp shining with the light of knowledge, was born in 512 and raised in Connacht, Ireland. His father was a builder of chariots. He was one of eight children, at least two of whom also embraced the monastic life.

Kieran had a special affinity for animals, and even had a fox for a pet. The Saint left home as a boy, driving a cow before him to pay for his keep. He went to study with Saint Finnian of Clonard (Dec. 12), and became one of the so-called Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Some of the others were Saint Columba of Iona (June 9), Ninnidh (Nennius) of Lough Erne (Jan. 16), and Saint Brendan the Voyager (May 16).

There is a story that one day the students were studying the Gospel of Saint Matthew when Saint Ninnidh came into class without a book. He asked Kieran to lend him his, which he did. So when Finnian tested the class, Kieran knew only the first half of the Gospel. The other students laughed and called him “Kieran half-Matthew.” Saint Finnian silenced them and said, “Not Kieran half-Matthew, but Kieran half-Ireland, for he will have half the country and the rest of us will have the other half.”

After spending some time in Clonard, Kieran visited other monasteries, including that of Saint Enda (Mar. 21) on Aran, where he was ordained to the holy priesthood. He left there because of a vision which Saint Enda interpreted for him. Then he went to Scattery Island to study under Saint Senan (Mar. 8). Later, he went to visit his brothers Luachaill and Odhran, who had a foundation at a place called Isel. Kieran’s charity was so great that his brothers asked him to leave. They said, “Brother, leave us for we cannot live in the same place with you and feed and keep our brethren for God, because of your unbounded lavishness.”

Saint Kieran left them and set off with his books in a bag. On the way he met a stag and placed the bag on its back. He followed the animal until he came to Lough Ree opposite Hare Island, where he founded a monastery. Leaving his brother Donnan (Jan. 7) as abbot, he went to dwell in the wilderness.

Scene from the east face of the Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnoise . The figures probably represent Saint Kieran  and Diarmait mac Cerbaill founding Clonmacnoise: "Then Kieran planted the first stake, and Diarmait son of Cerball was along with him. Said CiarĂ¡n to Diarmait when setting the stake, 'Let, O warrior, thy hand be over my hand, and thou shalt be in sovranty over the men of Ireland.'"

With nine other companions, Saint Kieran founded another monastery at Clonmacnoise on the banks of the River Shannon. When there was famine in the land, he distributed without hesitation to the starving people all the food the monastery had in store, trusting in divine Providence for the survival of the monks.

Within seven months, he became ill and asked to be taken outside and laid on the ground. He looked up at the heavens and said something about the way being steep and difficult. He departed to the Lord at the age of thirty-three in the year 549.

Clonmacnoise was a thousand years old when it was suppressed by Henry VIII. The monastery was destroyed by Reformation armies in 1552 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the ruins are still very impressive. There is a cathedral, seven other churches, three high crosses, and two stumps of round towers. Fifty kings are said to be buried here with the abbots and monks of the monastery.

Saint Kieran’s crozier survives to the present day, and is stored in the National Museum of Ireland.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
From childhood thy life was resplendent with miracles, O Father Kieran, showing forth thy boundless love for God by loving and caring for His creation, both men and animals. Leaving thy carpenter father, thou didst seek training in the ascetic life from Ireland's spiritual giants, before founding the great monastery of Clonmacnoise, from whence the Lord, in His great mercy, called thee to Himself in thy thirty-third year. Wherefore, O Venerable one, intercede with Christ our God that we too may be found worthy of His mercy.