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Introduction 7 

Early Christianity 11 

The Arrival of Saint Patrick 17 

Missionary Labours of Saint Patrick ... 26 

Character of the Ancient Irish Church ... 38 

Saint Columba 52 

Saint Columbanus 70 

Ascetics and Anchorites 82 

The Ministry of Women 89 

Church Officers Peculiar to Ireland ... 99 




Saint Augustine of Canterbury and the Irish 

Church 109 

Points of Difference between Ireland and 

Rome 115 

Conclusion of the Easter Controversy . . . 126 

The Eighth Century 130 

The Danish Invasions 141 

Influence of the Danish Invasions on the 

Church 148 

Conversion of the Danes 156 

Rise and Progress of the Romish Party. . . 162 

The Synod of Kells 176 

The Anglo-Norman Invasion 181 

Conclusion 187 


The History of the Ancient Irish Church has an 
importance of its own. It concerns not merely the 
Irishman who naturally desires to learn how Chris- 
tianity came to be preached in his own land, for the 
subject is of scarcely less interest to the dweller in 
England or Scotland. The former finds in Ireland 
the counterpart of the old British Church, and traces 
to that island, besides, the source whence much of 
the Christianity of the Anglo-Saxon was first derived. 
As he marks how from time to time the English 
Church struggled for liberty — how, long before the 
time of the Reformation, the authority of the Pope 
was resisted or rendered only a grudging recognition 
— he will rightly trace this independent spirit to the 
tone originally given to the Church by the Celtic 
missionaries. The latter looks to the Church of 
Ireland as the parent Church of his own. The story 
of lona, and of the conversion of the tribes of Cale- 
donia, is as much Irish as it is Scotch. But to the 
student of general Church History, Ireland is also 
important. Just as, in some unfrequented islands, 
types of animal and vegetable life exist which have 
become extinct elsewhere, and by study of these we 
may learn much of the former fauna and flora of 
places where all the conditions of life have changed ; 
so Ireland retained rites and ceremonies and forms of 



government long after they had ceased to exist in 
every other country. In this way we may learn 
much of the general state of the Church in the fifth 
century from the state of Ireland as late as the 

Perhaps the greatest interest of all will be felt 
by those who, rejoicing in the liberty of a reformed 
faith and an emancipated Church, will see in Ireland 
the last of the Western Churches to acknowledge 
the supremacy of the Pope. When all other parts of 
Western Europe had already for centuries acknow- 
ledged his sway, Ireland was still independent. 

In the following short sketch I have endeavoured 
to present as true a picture as I could make. I have 
consulted histories written by men of all shades of 
opinion, but for the facts I have relied almost entirely 
on the original authorities themselves. Of the Lives 
of Patrick and the other saints I have made but 
sparing use. They are too full of the marvellous 
to be of much value in ascertaining mere sober fact. 
I have therefore preferred, where possible, the older 
and more authentic works of Patrick himself.^ Bede 
has been largely drawn upon for the incidents of the 
Irish missions in England. He was devoted to the 
Roman interest, but he is not unfair to his opponents. 
Much use has also been made of the works of Giral- 
dus Cambrensis ; but he is so prejudiced against 
everything Irish, and at the same time so credulous, 
that his work is to be used with caution. The Life 
of Malachy, who was the great instrument in bring- 
ing Ireland under the sway of the Pope, has been 
written by Bernard of Clairvaux, and I have made 
much use of it; but the discrepancies between Ber- 

* A convenient edition of these works has lately been issued 
by the Religious Tract Society. 


nard and the Irish Annals are so numerous and 
important that the two cannot be reconciled; and 
the latter have seemed to me in general the more 
worthy of credence, for the simple reason that Ber- 
nard's work is written with a purpose, whereas the 
Annals are pure unadorned records of the events. 

The other sources of information are for the most 
part indicated in the text or the notes. 




Before the close of the fourth century the Christian 
Church had passed through many vicissitudes and 
had gained many victories. When the contest began 
between the small company of believers — despised 
and persecuted as they were — on the one hand, and 
the great power of Imperial Rome on the other, few 
would have ventured to predict that Christianity 
would ever take the place of paganism as the religion 
of the multitude ; and yet, long before the time of 
which we write, it had been shown that the weak- 
ness of God is stronger than men, and that He in 
His great providence had chosen the weak things of 
the world to confound the things that are mighty. 
As early as the time of Justin Martyr, the Christian 
apologist could boast that * there is no race of men, 
whether of Barbarians or of Greeks, or bearing any 
other name, either because they live in wagons 
without fixed habitation, or in tents leading a 

pastoral life, among whom prayers and thanks- 




givings are not offered to the Father and Maker of 
the universe, through the name of the crucified 
Jesus.' But in the year 400 it needed not that an 
apologist should direct attention to the fact. The 
old worships were already for the most part forgotten. 
The temples of the gods had been destroyed or 
turned to Christian uses. The spread of Christi- 
anity was in some respects a more striking fact then 
than it is even at the present moment, for the diffu- 
sion of knowledge and the discoveries of modern 
times have revealed to us the existence of millions 
who have not as yet heard the sound of the Gospel ; 
whereas in that age men's minds never went much 
beyond those countries which were subject to the 
imperial power. ' All the world ' was to them 
synonymous with the Roman Empire, and in this 
sense, * all the world ' was Christian. 

This abundant success was not without its serious 
drawbacks. The converts in the earliest ages were 
gathered from those whose hearts God had touched, 
and who, having been brought to a true knowledge 
of the Saviour, were ready to make any sacrifices 
and to endure any persecutions for His name's sake. 
But the case was far different when, after the 
conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the 
religion of the State, and multitudes changed their 
faith without abandoning their superstition. Men I 
who had been taught that they should worship 
some god, but that it mattered little which, might 
easily become converts ; but they were scarcely the 
class of men who would aid in preserving the purity 
and zeal of the earlier ages. 

Accordingly we find that the fourth century, 
although it was a time when large numbers were 
added to the Church, was not an age of real 
missionary enterprise. Instances are recorded of 


new Churches having been founded at that period, 
but none of them owe their origin to the labours 
of apostles solemnly sent forth for the purpose of 
evangelization. In the case of Abyssinia, for ex- 
ample, two youths, who had been taken prisoner by 
the inhabitants, instructed their captors in the faith 
of Christ, and spread among all the people the light 
of the Gospel. In Georgia, too, a captive was the 
first to preach amongst the people the unsearchable 
riches of Christ, and thus a ' little maid ' was 
honoured of God in being chosen to be the means 
of their conversion. 

The Christian Church, in its corporate capacity, 
gave no sanction to these and similar enterprises, 
and had quite forgotten that its mission was to 
preach the Gospel to every creature. In the apos- 
tolic age the idea was that Christianity should be 
like a great sea, spreading over the whole earth. In 
the fourth century Christians were content that it 
should be like a river — a broad and mighty river, 
it is true, but with heathenism as banks on each 
side, unmeasured in extent, and not to be reached 
by the healing waters. 

When Christianity became generally diffused over 
Western Europe, two nations were passed over. 
The Irish were not evangelized until the fifth., cen- 
tury, and the tribes of Germany and the northern 
parts of the Continent remained in heathenism for 
some centuries later. Both of these facts have to 
be kept in mind when we come to study the history 
of Christianity in Ireland. 

The particular time at which a Church was 
founded must necessarily influence its future to a 
great extent, particularly when, as in Ireland, the 
country is more or less isolated from the rest of the 
world, and is scarcely, if at all, influenced by the 

<\- » 

A* t . » 


intellectual and spiritual movements in other lands. 
It is thus that the peculiar monastic character of 
Irish Christianity is to be explained. If it had been 
founded earlier or later, monasticism might have 
been introduced, but it would have been different in 
kind, and would never have become the sole rule of 
the Church. On the continent of Europe the old 
monastic ideas soon became antiquated, and new 
developments so revolutionized the system that it 
retained in the end no resemblance to the original 
institution. Ireland continued through many ages 
to perpetuate that which in other places was only a 
passing fashion. In many ways too, as we shall see, 
Ireland retained for centuries the peculiarities of the 
age in which she first received the faith ; and it is 
this, indeed, that lends particular interest to her , 
history, for in no other country of Europe could wo 
find, even down to the twelfth century, a survival of 
the peculiar doctrines and usages that existed in the \ 

The paganism of the German tribes and Norsemen 
had also its influence on the Irish Church. First of 
aU it afforded scope for missionary enterprise, and 
provoked enthusiasm and zeal, which were crowned 
with abundant success, and which must have reacted 
most beneficially on the Church that sent forth her 
children to preach the Gospel. In later years the 
heathen Norsemen, having made settlements on the 
Irish shores, brought trial and suffering to the Chris- 
tians, breaking up many of the religious establish- 
ments and schools of learning ; and at a still later 
period, when these same Norsemen had been con- 
verted to Christianity they had no small share in 1 
revolutionizing the Celtic Church and in bringing *J' 
itjnto, subjection to the see of Eome. "- - ''■'^, . ! '. 

When it is said that Irish Christianity dates from j ." 


the fifth century, it is not meant that there were 
absolutely no Christians in the country before that 
time. Many reasons, on the contrary, would lead us 
to beUeve that some progress in the work of evan- 
gelization had already been made. For example, 
we ]^iasf that before this time Christianity had 
obtained a footing in Britain, and there is every 
reason to believe that a constant intercourse was 
kept up between her and the neighbouring island. 
Irish ports, too, were often visitea by Roman mer- 
chants, and some of these were very probably Chris- 

Irishmen, again, were great travellers, and occa- 
sionally rose to eminence as bishops and presbyters 
of th> Church in different countries. Mansuetus, 
first bishop of Toul (a.d. 360), is said to have been 
Irish, and so also was Celestius, who became one of 
the chief propagators of the Pelagian heresy. We 
have not, it is true, any historic record of these 
Christian Irishmen returning to their own country, 
or keeping up correspondence with their friends at 
home ; but it is not improbable that some of them 
did so, and thus introduced the religion which they 
had learned in a foreign land. 

Another probable source of Christian instruction 
was the number of slaves obtained either by pur- 
chase or conquest, sometimes from Britain, and 
sometimes even from Caul. Patrick himself was a 
Christian slave in Ireland long before he thought of 
visiting the country as a missionary. 

These conjectures are borne out by the fact that 
the ancient legends, however inconsistent they may 
be in other respects, nearly always agree in stating 
that a Christian Church existed in the country long 
before the time of Patrick. 

Finally, we have Prosper of Aquitaine telling us 


in his Chronicle^ in a passage quoted afterwards by 
the Venerable Bede, that Pope Celesline, in the year 
431, consecrated one Palladius, and sent him to the 
Irish believing in Christ as their first bishop. This 
has been accepted by most historians as prooi positive 
that there were at that time some who ha^'^)l5eady 
received the faith. 

But when full weight has been given to all tl\ese 
considerations, it will nevertheless appear certain 
that before the preaching of Patrick the numbei* of 
Christians in Ireland must have been very sriall. 
Prosper speaks in another place of Palladium as 
' having made the barbarous island Christian,' irom 
which one would be led to conclude that his mission 
was that of an evangelist to the heathen rathe:f than 
that of a bishop for the faithful. But it is very 
evident that Prosper was only imperfectly acquainted 
with the facts of the case. For this latter statement 
he seems to have had no grounds whatever. From 
Irish sources we learn that Palladius was very far 
indeed from making the barbarous island Christian; 
on the contrary, his whole mission was a failure. 
He landed, it is said, on the coast of Wexford, but 
found that the * Irish believing in Christ,' whom he 
was sent to shepherd, were non-existent ; and he 
met with such determined opposition from the 
prince of that district that he shortly afterwards 
re-embarked, and never set foot again on Irish soil. 
Accordingly, when Patrick, the great apostle of 
Ireland, entered his missionary labours in the begin- 
ning of the fifth century, he found the whole country 
given over to the superstitions of Druidism. Indeed. 
Ireland and Scotland and the more remote parts oi 
Brittany were then the only places where that 
ancient cult survived. 



The end of the fourth century and beginning of the 
fifth was a time of trial to the inhabitants of Britain. 
Under the protection of the Romans they had 
made considerable progress in ci^alization and the 
arts of peace, but they had become quite unused to 
the science of war. Accordingly, when the Roman 
legions were withdrawn, the Britons found them- 
selves in a defenceless condition, and exposed to the 
hostile attacks of those tribes which had never been 
brought under the imperial yoke. Picts came down 
from the northern parts of Scotland, Scots crossed 
over from the coasts of Ireland ; they destroyed the 
villages, plundered the possessions, and sometimes 
even seized the persons of the more civilized, but 
less warlike inhabitants of the country from which 
the protectors had been withdrawn. 

In one of these piratical expeditions, a prey of 
' many thousand men ' was brought across the sea, 
and placed as slaves among the tribes of Ulster. 
Among the rest was a young lad of sixteen, son of 
a deacon and grandson of a priest, who was destined 
by God to be thus prepared for a great mission, and 
to be the instrument in His hands of leading a whole 
nation to the knowledge of the truth. His baptismal 
name was Succat. He became better known to 
posterity by his Latin name of Patricius or Patrick. 

There have come down to us a hymn in the Irish 

17 B 


language, and two short works in Latin said to have 
been written by this famous man. In one of these, 
his Confession^ he gives a short epitome of his life. 
In the other, his Epistle to Coroticus^ he pleads with a 
Welsh prince for the liberation of some slaves who 
had been carried into captivity on the very day of 
their baptism. The Latin of these two documents 
is rude and archaic. The quotations from Scripture 
are numerous, and they show that the writer was 
not acquainted with Jerome's translation, but em- 
ployed one of those older Latin versions^ which 
were in use before the so-called Vulgate had obtained 
general acceptance. Both these considerations form 
a strong presumption in favour of the age and 
authenticity of these writings; and the presumption 
is further strengthened by the fact that they differ 
most essentially from the compositions of succeeding 
centuries, in the entire absence of the miraculous 
and the marvellous. These works, therefore, must 
be our principal guide in ascertaining the facts of 
Patrick's life. 

We learn from the Confession that the hardships 
of his captivity were regarded by him as a just 
punishment for his sins. *I knew not the true God,' 
he says, * and was led away captive into Ireland with 
many thousand men, according to our deserts ; be- 
cause we had gone back from God, and had not kept 
His commandments, and were not obedient to our 
priests, who used to admonish us for our salvation ; ^ 
and the Lord brought upon us the anger of His 
indignation, and scattered us among many, nations, 
even to the ends of the earth.' 

* For an account of the version used by Patrick and other 
early Celtic writers, see chapter xiii. 

^ This is curiously like a passage in the Second Epistle of 
Clement, chap. xvii. 



The immediate result on Patrick was to lead him 
to seek earnestly the grace of God. Day and night 
he continued instant in prayer, and the answer that 
came to his soul cannot be better described than in 
his own words. * The Lord made me conscious of 
my unbelief, that all too late I might remember my 
faults and strengthen my whole heart towards the 
Lord my God, who had respect to my low estate, 
and had pity on my youth and ignorance. He kept 
me before I knew Him, and before I had sense 
or could distinguish between good and evil, and 
protected and comforted me, as a father his child. 
Therefore I cannot, nor indeed ought I to keep 
silence concerning so great benefits and such great 
grace bestowed on me in the land of my captivity ; 
for this is the only recompense we can offer, that 
after GtxJ has reproved us or caused us to know our 
sinfulness, we should exalt and confess His wonders 
before every nation that is under the whole heaven.' 

The history of the Christian Church furnishes us 
with many examples of what pious slaves can do ; 
but it does not seem to have entered Patrick's mind 
at this time that as he had received so many blessings 
from the hand of God, he should endeavour to be a 
means of blessing to those who were around him. 
His only thought was of deliverance. Tending the 
sheep day by day, he was all the time longing for 
his liberty. After six years of servitude, acting on 
the impulse of a dream, he fled from his master 
and made his way to the shore. There he lived 
for a time in a rude hut which he constructed for 
himself, but was at length taken on board a vessel, 
and after some adventures found his way to his 
father's home in safety. But the freedom he had 
so earnestly desired did not bring the contentment 
that he had anticipated. Finding himself once more 


amongst Christian people, and enjoying the privileges 
of Christian worship, his thoughts were reverting 
continually to the people of Ireland, and a great 
purpose gradually formed itself in his mind : to 
return to the land of his captivity as a Christian, 

While these thoughts were in his heart, and he 
was pondering whether he should hearken to his 
relatives and friends, who counselled that as he had 
gone through so many tribulations he should go 
nowhere from them ; or whether he should follow 
the dictates of that inward prompting which seemed 
to urge him forward, towards the great work, a voice 
seemed to come to him, which said, ' He who gave 
His life for thee is He who speaks in thee/ On 
another occasion he saw in a dream one, Victor, 
coming from Ireland, the bearer of innumerable 
letters, on one of which was written the words, * The 
Voice of the Irish.* In describing this vision, he 
says, * While I was reading the beginning of the 
letter, I thought that I heard in my mind the voice 
of the men themselves — those who live near the 
Wood of Foclut, which is beside the Western Sea. 
And thus they cried, "We pray thee, holy youth, to 
come and walk amongst us." And I was greatly 
pricked in my heart, and could not read any more; 
and so I awoke. Thanks be to God that after many 
years the Lord has given them the answer to their 

Notwithstanding these which he regarded as 
Divine intimations of the great mission which was 
before him, Patrick remained many years before 
giving himself up to the work. On every hand he 
encountered nothing but opposition. The members 
of his family earnestly besought him to relinquish 
the idea. They offered him many gifts and en- 


treated him with sorrow and tears. His seniors 
reasoned with him, and were offended because he 
would not yield to them. Others were hindering 
him, and were talking behind his back and saying, 
* Why does he run into danger amongst enemies 
who know not God ? ' They objected that one rustic 
in his manners and without proper education was 
unfit for the work. They even went so far as to 
bring against him an indiscretion of his boyhood, 
and to urge that by it he was for ever rendered 
unfit for the office of a Christian missionary. *It 
was on account of the anxiety which it occasioned 
me,' he says, *and With a sorrowful mind that I 
unbosomed myself to my dearest friend, telling him 
what I had done in my youth in one day, nay, 
rather, in one hour, because I was not yet able to 
overcome.' His 'dearest friend' on this occasion 
betrayed his confidence, hoping by this means to 
dissuade him from what seemed to be a most hazar- 
dous enterprise. So persistent was the opposition 
with which he was met that many refused to the last 
to recognise his work. He obtained in the end an 
abundant reward for his labour — * beautiful and 
beloved children,' as he puts it, ' brought forth in 
Christ in such multitudes.' Thus it was shown that 
his work was the work of God. But not even then 
did his friends regard his mission with favour. 
'Mine own people,' he says regretfully, 'do not 
acknowledge me : a prophet has no honour in his 
own country.' 

It is not to be wondered at that under such 
circumstances Patrick hesitated long before taking 
the decisive step. It was a grief to him in after 
years that he was so slow in obeying the heavenly 
call. 'I ought to give thanks to God without 
ceasing,' he says, ' who often pardoned my uncalled- 


for folly and negligence, who did not let His anger 
burn fiercely against me ; who allowed me to work 
with Him, though I did not promptly follow what 
was shown me, and what the Spirit suggested.' 

It is only incidentally that Patrick gives any 
information as to how he was occupied during this 
time of waiting. He tells us that he was living 
with his relatives * in the Brittanias ' ^ at the time 
when he had the dream about the * Voice of the 
Irish.' He seems also to have been with them when 
his final resolve was taken, for he tells us that in 
going to Ireland he gave up all the advantages 
arising from his father's social position. ' My father 
was a decurio,' he says. *I do not blush, neither 
am I sorry that I have bartered my nobility for the 
good of others.' From this it would appear that 
most of his time was spent with his family at their 
home in Britain. 

In other places he speaks of his brothers in Gaul, 
probably using the word brothers in a religious 
sense, that is to say, members of the same ecclesiasti- 
cal community. He says that his object in writing the 
Confession is that after his death he might leave it 
to his brethren in Gaul. And again he tells us that 
he sometimes earnestly desired to leave his work in 
Ireland in order that he might ' go as far as Gaul, to 
visit his brethren and see the face of the saints of 
the Lord.' The two statements are not incom- 
patible. He may well have spent part of his time 

^ The Eomans divided England into six provinces, of 
which two were named Brittania (Prima and Secunda). 
Brittania Prima was mostly south of the Thames, Brittania 
Secunda was in the west, and included Wales and some 
ad^joining parts of England. Patrick speaks of his home 
being in the Brittanias, but gives no more precise informa- 


in his father's house, and part in one of the monas- 
teries of Gaul, where he would have enjoyed spiritual 
and educational advantages which could not be had 
in Britain, owing to the disturbed state of the 
country and the withdrawal of the Roman legions. 

So far we have followed Patrick's own writings, 
using them the more freely because there is such 
good reason for believing that the documents are 
authentic. But when we take up any of the large 
number of ^ Lives of St. Patrick ' which have been 
written, we feel that we are breathing an entirely 
different atmosphere. In the one case the moderate 
and unsensational character of the narrative disposes 
us to accept it as a truthful story. In the other, the 
preponderance of the miraculous element and the 
high colouring which manifestly belongs to a later 
age cause us to pause, and throw a considerable 
shadow of doubt over the whole account. 

The oldest of Patrick's biographies is generally 
believed to have been composed not much more 
than a century after his death. Of this Life a 
manuscript exists^ written in the first years of the 
ninth century, and in it the scribe complains that 
the copy from which he was transcribing had in 
many cases become illegible by reason of its age. 
Documents which can boast such a respectable 
antiquity are not to be lightly cast aside; but 
nevertheless they must always be used with extreme 

Thege old writers never made any distinction 
between the biography and the panegjnric. They 
would have considered themselves unfaithful to their 
duty if they doubted any story that seemed to them 
to be creditable to the subject of their work. Even 
if the story were palpably untrue, they would have 
no hesitation in admitting it if they imagined that 


it would do good to the reader. Often, too, they 
were led into anachronisms by asking themselves 
what (mght the subject of their memoir to have 
done, and then answering that question according 
to the ideas of the age in which they themselves 

In making use of these ancient sources of infor- 
mation, there are therefore two errors which are to 
be avoided. In the first place, that credulity which 
accepts every story, no matter how far-fetched or 
improbable ; and in the second place, that scepticism 
which refuses to acknowledge any groundwork of 
truth, because some of the accessories of the story 
are manifestly untrue. 

The biographers fill up this period of Saint 
Patrick's life with varied and extensive travels. 
He visits Saint Martin at Tours, and remains with 
him four years. He also becomes for a time the 
disciple of Saint Germanus, and with him visits 
Britain and aids in refuting the Pelagian heresy. 
He crosses the Alps into Italy. He visits some 
islands in the Mediterranean, and in one of them 
obtains the miraculous crozier known as the * Staff' 
of Jesus,' which was venerated as a most precious 
relic up to the time of the Reformation. Finally, 
he repairs to Rome, is consecrated by Pope Celestine, 
and with the apostolic commission thus obtained, 
sets out for his work in Ireland. 

We can trace to some extent the growth of the 
legend. In Patrick's own works we have no in- 
timation that he ever came in contact with any of 
the eminent men of other lands, but he intimates 
that he had some connection with Gaul, his bio- 
graphers therefore considered it only fitting that he 
should have been instructed by the great religious 
leaders of the age in that country. Accordingly the 


story of his having been the disciple of Martin and 
Germanus is the first to make its appearance. At a 
later time the Papal sanction was regarded as indis- 
pensably necessary, and consequently we find that 
the story of his consecration by Pope Celestine then 
came forth, and was accepted by all succeeding bio- 

Happily it is not necessary for us now to enter 
at any length on the question as to how much of 
this should be received, and how much rejected. 
We know that the influence of Martin and Ger- 
manus was largely felt in Ireland. They were the 
leaders of the movement towards monasticism in 
Gaul, and from that movement Ireland to a great 
extent obtained its inspiration. But this influence 
can easily be accounted for without supposing that 
there was any personal contact between Patrick and 
the Gaulish leaders. This part of the story may 
therefore be regarded as doubtful, but not impos- 

On the other hand, the assertion that Patrick was 
consecrated by Pope Celestine labours under the 
most serious difiiculties; for Roman influence was 
conspicuously absent from Ireland, and in the cen- 
tury after the arrival of Patrick the Roman teachers 
were met with bitter, and one might almost say 
unreasoning, hostility. Moreover, the legend did 
not take its rise until a Romanizing party had 
sprung up in the Church. We can therefore scarcely 
allow that Patrick ever had a commission from Rome. 
Patrick himself mentions no call except the inward 
call of the Spirit. He believed that God had chosen 
him for the work, *and believing that, he made a 
full and unreserved dedication of himself to the 



Ox the subject of Patrick's missionary labours, he 
gives us but little information himself. He excuses 
himself, saying, ' It would be a long task to enume- 
rate one by one my labours, or even a part of them. 
Briefly I may say that the very loving God has often 
delivered me from slavery, and from twelve perils by 
which my very life was endangered, besides many 
snares, and that which I am not able to express in 

But if he does not tell us much about his labours, 
he is not at all reticent as to the results which 
followed. * Truly I am debtor to God,' he says, 
^ who has bestowed such great grace upon me, that 
through me many people should be bom again in 
God, and that ministers should everywhere be or- 
dained for this people newly come to the faith, whom 
the Lord took from the ends of the earth.' He tells 
us that the number of his converts is to be counted 
by many thousands ; — that * those who never had 
any knowledge of God and worshipped only idols 
and abominations have lately become the people of 
the Lord, and are called the sons of God,' and that 
these * sons of the Scots and daughters of princes ' 
were ready to suffer reproaches and persecution for 



the sake of Christ. That all this should be accom- 
plished within the life of one man, and principally 
as the result of his exertions, is a fact almost un- 
exampled in the history of the Church. 

This success must be attributed to a variety of 
causes : the earnestness and zeal and faith of Patrick 
himself, the methods he employed, and the state of 
preparedness in which he found the people. The 
extracts already given from his own writings show 
sufficiently how truly the spirit of the missionary 
breathed in him. The methods that he employed 
show him to have been as wise and judicious as he 
was pious. 

We shall often have occasion to speak of the 
tribal system of the Irish. During Patrick's life it 
was in full force. Each chieftain was like the father 
of a family, and those who belonged to his clan 
looked to him for direction and leadership in every- 
thing. Recognising this fact, Patrick always en- 
deavoured in the first place to gain if possible the 
favour of the petty kings and bring them to the 
obedience of the faith. In many cases he was suc- 
cessful, and the conversion of the tribe followed as 
a matter of course. But the converts thus made 
were not left in what must have been at best a mere 
nominal Christianity. As soon as permission was 
obtained from those in power, a Christian settlement 
was formed, a small church was erected — generally 
an unpretending structure made of wattles and clay 
— and some one was placed in charge who was con- 
secrated to the office of the ministry, and who un- 
dertook the further instruction of those who had 
expressed their willingness to adhere to the new 

On his arrival in Ireland, Patrick's first care was 
to visit his old master, in order that he might pay 


in money for his own ransom, and that so no loss 
might be sustained by the slave's desertion. He 
also hoped to gain him as a convert, and thus be- 
stow on him a richer kind of wealth. This charit- 
able project was frustrated by the strange conduct 
of the master. He heard that Patrick was approach- 
ing, and he knew that his former slave's persuasive 
powers were ^uch that he could convince him of 
anything that he wished. Lest therefore he should 
be converted by the instrumentality of him who 
had once been his bondsman, he gathered all his 
valuables together into a house, set fire to it, and 
himself perished in the flames. 

Having thus ineffectually endeavoured to dis- 
charge what he considered to be his first duty, 
Patrick hastened to present himself at the court of 
King Leary, the monarch of all Ireland. This was 
an undertaking of the greatest risk, but it was one 
which if successful would open the way as nothing 
else could for the spread of the Gospel. 

It may be well here to explain that there were at 
this time five kings in Ireland, each of whom ruled 
over one of the provinces, nearly conterminous with 
those into which Ireland is at present divided, 
except that a fifth province, Meath, now included 
in Leinster, was then a separate kingdom. One 
of these kings — generally the ruler of Meath — was 
styled Ard'Righ^ or chief king ; and to him the pro- 
vincial kings were supposed to render the same 
loyalty as was in turn paid to them by the lesser 
chieftains who held sway in their several districts. 

The story as told by the biographers is a striking 
one, though overloaded with those embellishments 
of miracle which they deemed essential to the proper 
dignity of a saint. They tell us that on Easter Eve 
in the year 433, Saint Patrick found himself on the 


Hill of Slane, in the county Meath. Here, although 
the elevation is inconsiderable, a very extensive view 
of the surrounding country is obtained. Beneath 
flows the river Boyne — beyond is the great plain of 
Magh Breagh — and the horizon is bounded by gentle 
hills, on one of which, the Hill of Tara, there stood 
at that time the king's palace, the chief residences 
of the Druids, and some other buildings connected 
with the seat of government. 

Among the Christian ceremonies of that age was 
the custom of having illuminations on Easter Eve, 
to symbolize the enlightening of those who on 
Easter Day were to be admitted by baptism into 
the Church, and also as setting forth the issuing of 
the^rLight of Life from the darkness of death. In 
accordance with this custom Patrick and his com- 
panions had lighted their Easter fire on the night in 
question. At the same time a druidical ceremony 
was taking place on Tara Hill. This consisted also 
in the kindling of a fire. 

Among all the Celtic nations these fire festivals 
have held a prominent place. At certain seasons — 
notably on the first day of May (Beltaine) and on 
the first day of November (Samhain) — all the fires 
in the country were extinguished under pain of 
death. The *needfire,' obtained by friction, was 
then solemnly ignited by the Druids, and from this 
sacred flame all the domestic hearths were kindled. 
The custom no doubt had its origin in the worship 
of fire, though it afterwards came to be regarded 
as magical rather than a religious act. While the 
spark was being procured certain incantations were 
repeated, and it was believed that the prosperity of 
the ensuing season was secured by the due per- 
formance of the rite, because it was in this way that 
the sorcery to which famine and disease were invari- 


ably attributed would be rendered powerless. But it 
was also believed that if by any mischance the cere- 
mony was not rightly carried out — if the correct 
words of the incantation were not used, or, worst of 
all, if any of the old fire were allowed to remain un- 
quenched, the spell was broken; the witches and 
magicians could work their evil will unchecked, and 
disasters of every kind would most certainly follow. 

The different versions of this story which have 
been handed down to us are not quite consistent. 
All agree in saying that it happened at Eastertide ; 
bat some say that the pagan festival was the Feast 
of Tar^, which we know to have been held in 
November; according to some it was the Feast of 
Beltaine, which comes nearer to the time requijfed ; 
others again say that it was the king^s birthday. 
It seems, however, that no pagan festival of which 
we have any record was held at exactly the same 
time as the Christian Easter. This should not lead 
us to reject the story altogether ; for besides the fact 
that it is probable in itself, it must be remembered 
that the Celtic Druids did not use the Julian Calendar, 
and that therefore it is impossible for us to say 
exactly when any of their feasts were held.; and 
besides, it was not unusual, in times of calamity — 
particularly when pestilence appeared among the 
cattle, to have a special kindling of the * needfire.' 
Indeed, this last explanation is suggested to us by 
the fact that Patrick is said not to have been aware 
that the festival was being held, which could scarcely 
have been the case if it had been one of the ordinary 
annual ceremonies. 

The spread of education and enlightenment have 
happily made it difficult for us to understand the 
terror which must have seized the assembly at Tara 
on that eventful night when in the midst of their 


solemnities, and while the Druids were still repeat- 
ing their incantations, a Kght was discerned shining 
in the distance — the Easter flame kindled by Saint 
Patrick. No conclusion seemed possible but that 
this was the work of a magician, and one too who 
would cast his evil spell over the land and .bring to 
them desolation and death. The priests on being 
consulted gave it as their opinion that if the fire 
were not quenched before morning it would fill the 
whole land, and they therefore urged the monarch 
to execute immediate vengeance on him who had 
transgressed the laws of their religion. 

Accordingly, Eling Leary ordered horses and 
chariots to be got ready, and set off with a consider- 
able retinue in the middle of the night, towards the 
Hill of Slane, at the foot of which he arrived after 
two or three hours' travelling. There he paused, 
having been advised not to trust himself within the 
circle of the magic fire, lest he should be bewitched 
by the mysterious stranger. A messenger was then 
sent, summoning Patrick to appear before the king. 
The Christian teacher gladly embraced the oppor- 
tunity, hastened to present himself to the monarch, 
and when he perceived the armed retinue that came 
against him, he commenced chanting with his com- 
panions the appropriate words, *Some put their 
trust in chariots, and some in horses ; but we will 
walk in the name of the Lord our God.' 

K he had at this moment shown the least timidity, 
nothing would have saved him ; but the fearless 
manner in which he approached, though unarmed, 
together with the strange chanting, must have 
confirmed the idea in the minds of the pagans that 
they were in presence of a great magician. Patrick 
followed up his advantage vigorously, and offered 
to appear before the court at Tara. We can well 


believe that the king and his retinue would have 
been much better pleased if he had remained away, 
but they were afraid to refuse his offer, and accord- 
ingly within a few days he presented himself at the 
king's palace, ready to preach the Gospel and con- 
fute the. Druids. 

Amid all the extravagances and impossible mir- 
acles with which the story of his preaching at Tara 
has been embellished, it is easy to recognise the 

feneral drift of the arguments used on that occasion, 
^atrick did not deny the power of the Druids. He 
would have been entirely too far in advance of his 
age if he had not believed that all ministers of the 
false religions were more or less in league with the 
devil, and were able with his assistance to work many 
wonders. But though he admitted the power of the 
Druids, he contended that their power was limited, 
and that the great God, whose religion he proclaimed, 
was able to protect those who trusted in Him ' from 
every hostile savage power, the incantations of false 
prophets, the black laws of heathenism, the spells 
of witches and smiths and Druids, the knowledge 
that blinds the soul.' 

He also seems to have urged that the Druids 
could use their powers only for destruction and evil, 
whereas the power of God was a manifestation of 
goodness. The heathen priests could bring calami- 
ties of different kinds — they could turn summer into 
winter and light into darkness ; but they were 
unable to reverse the process. Even the evils which 
they were able to inflict they were powerless to 
remove. But the almightiness of God was not only 
infinitely beyond any power wielded by the Druids 
— it was different in kind. It brought light and 
healing and blessing instead of cursing and destruc- 


It will easily be understood that reasoning of this 
kind could scarcely fail to convince. The preacher 
stood before his audience as a living proof of the 
doctrine that he preached. The Druids professed 
to be able to destroy with their curse any one that 
opposed them. They were never weary of citing 
the case of Cormac Mac Art, the greatest of the ante- 
Christian kings, who, they said, was choked by a 
fish-bone because he had denied the truth of their 
idolatrous religion. But Patrick publicly defied 
them, and showed in himself that they were utterly 

On more than one occasion they tried to destroy 
him by stealth. On his way to Tara they laid wait 
for him, but he managed to elude the ambush, and 
when the would-be assassins reported that nothing 
passed them except eight deer followed by a fawn, 
the astonished people jumped to the conclusion that 
this herd of deer was nothing else than the saint 
and his companions miraculously disguised. 

All this explains to some extent the fact that 
Patrick was listened to from the first, and that his 
success was assured from the moment he stood 
before the king. But there was another and still 
more powerful reason which must not be kept out 
of sight. It is this ; that Patrick was a man of 
faith, that he had the love of God in his heart, and 
an earnest desire to bring men to the knowledge of 
the truth, and that the truth which he preached 
was the simple Gospel of the grace of God. 

As an example of the doctrines that he preached, 
and as showing to some extent the spirit in which 
he undertook his work, we may here quote the 
hymn commonly known as fkiint Patricks Breast- 
plate. The original is written in Irish of a very 
ancient dialect, and it is quoted in the seventh 



century as the work of Saint Patrick. As it par- 
takes somewhat of the nature of a Creed, it will tell 
us some of the beliefs of the ancient Irish Church. 


I bind to myself to-day, 
The strong power of an invocation of the Trinity, 
-•^he faith of the Trinity in Unity, 
The Creator of the Elements. 

I bind to myself to-day, 
The power of the Incarnation of Christ, with that of His 

The power of the Crucifixion, with that of His Burial, 
The power of the Resurrection, with the Ascension, 
The. power of the coming to the Sentence of Judgment. 

I bind to myself to-day. 
The power of the love of Seraphim, 
In the obedience of Angels, 
In the hope of Resurrection unto reward, 
In the prayers of the noble Fathers, 
In the predictions of the Prophets, 
In the preaching of Apostles, 
In the faith of Confessors, 
In the purity of Hoi 3' Virgins, 
In the acts of Righteous Men. 

I bind to myself to-day. 
The power of Heaven, 
The light of the Sun, 
The w^hiteness of Snow, 
The force of Fire, 
The flashing of Lightning, 
The velocity of Wind, 
The depth of the Sea, 
The stability of the Earth, 
The hardness of Rocks. 

I bind to myself to-day. 
The Power of God to guide me, 

' From Todd's Life, of SL Patrick, p. 246. 


The Might of God to uphold me, 
The Wisdom of God to teach me, 
The Eye of God to watch over me, 
The Ear of God to hear me, 
The Word of God to give me speech, 
The Hand of God to protect me, 
The Way of God to prevent me. 
The Shield of God to shelter me, 
The Host of God to defend me, 

Against the snares of demons, 

Against the temptations of vices. 

Against the lusts of nature. 

Against every man who meditates injury to me, 
Whether far or near. 
With few or with manj-. 

I have set around me all these powers, 
Against every hostile savage power, ■* 

Directed against my hodj^ and my soul. 
Against the incantations of false prophets, 
Against the black laws of heathenism. 
Against the false laws of heresj'^. 
Against the deceits of idolatry. 

Against the spells of women and smiths and Druids, ^ 
Against all knowledge which blinds the soul of man. 

Christ protect me to-day. 

Against poison, against burning. 
Against drowning, against wound. 
That I maj^ receive abundant reward. 

Christ with me, Christ before me, 
Christ behind me, Christ within me, 
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ at my right, Christ at my left, 
Christ in the fort, 
Christ in the chariot-seat, 
Christ in the poop. 

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me, 
Christ in every e3'e that sees me, 
Christ in every ear that hears me. 

I bind to myself to-day. 
The strong power of an invocation of the Trinity, 


The faith of the Trinity in Unity, 
The Creator of the Elements. 

Salvation is of the Lord, 
Salvation is of the Lord, 
Salvation is of Christ, 
May Thy salvation, Lord, he with us evermore. 

It is said that this hymn was composed by Patrick 
when he was about to appear before King Leary. 
In after times it was used as a kind of charm. It 
was believed that those who recited it were thereby 
protected from the assaults of demons, from poison, 
envy and from sudden death. Most of the old Irish 
hymns were put to a similar use at one time or 
another. * Saint Columba^s Breastplate,' for ex- 
ample, another composition of the early age, used 
to be recited by travellers as a protection on their 
journeys. There is nothing in the hymns themselves 
which would countenance the idea that they were 
originally composed with any such intent. 

In Saint Patrick's Hymn it will be noticed that 
all those doctrines which a modern Evangelical Pro- 
testant would consider to be of the first importance 
are prominently asserted ; the Trinity, the Incar- 
nation of Christ, His Death and Resurrection, the 
need of God's help in all the varied circumstances 
of life, the intimate union of the soul with Christ, 
and the great fact that the Lord is the Author of 
our salvation. 

On the other hand, the peculiarities of the Church 
of Rome are simply ignored. It has been urged 
that a mere omission proves nothing, and that Saint 
I Patrick may have been as ready to invoke the 
Blessed Virgin and the saints as he was undoubtedly 
ready in every moment of difficulty to seek the 
help of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we have given 
characteristic extracts, the Confession of Saint Patrick, 


and from his Letter to CorofictiSj and have quoted 
his hymn iji extenso. These are the only extant 
works, and they speak for themselves. We have no 
contemporary evidence that he held any other beliefs. 
One thing is quite certain : the man who wrote such 
works as these was one who exalted Christ, and 
preached Christ, and realized the abiding presence 
of Christ, and knew well what was the great hope 
to place before perishing sinners. 

Having dwelt at such length on Saint Patrick's 
preaching at Tara, it is not necessary that we should 
pursue his career any further. He went through 
the length and breadth of the land, but his method 
of procedure was always the same. He appealed in 
the first instance to the chiefs, and obtained from 
each one when possible a site on which to found a 
religious estabUshment. Here he left a small com- 
munity, who continued the enterprise after he had 
gone ; these in turn became centres of life and light ; 
and thus the good work was carried on and strength- 
ened. The accounts of his success may possibly be 
greatly exaggerated ; but there can be little doubt 
that before his death there was scarcely a district in 
which the Gospel had not been preached, and few 
places where there were not some found who gave 
themselves up to the work of evangelization. Many 
— perhaps the great majority — may have been con- 
verts only in name ; but even the mere outward 
profession brought them under the influence of 
Christian teaching ; and doubtless it must have often 
happened that the man who had accepted baptism 
without much thought of its real import, was led 
afterwards to a true consecration of heart and mind 
to the Saviour. 



We have now to ask, What were the distinguishing 
characteristics of the Church thus founded by Saint 
Patrick and his companions? Concerning the 
doctrinal teaching nothing need be added to what 
has been aheady said. We have seen that the 
great central truths of Christianity were clearly 
taught, and that as far as we can now judge, they 
were not obscured by those additions and corrup- 
tions which in after ages caused them to be almost 
forgotten. In some matters of organization and of 
rites and ceremonies the Church of Ireland stands 
by itself and is unique in the history of Christen- 
dom. Let us dwell for a short time on these 

The first thing that strikes us in the state of 
the ancient Irish Church is its intensely monastic 
character. In other countries monasticism has 
formed one of the institutions of the Church. In 
Ireland the whole Church was monastic. Some 
writers have urged, as an explanation of this pheno- 
menon, that there must have been an early con- 
nection between Ireland and the East — in fact, that 
Ireland owed its first knowledge of Christianity to 
an Eastern source. 

Monasticism is undoubtedly of Eastern origin. It 
arose in times of persecution, when Christians, 



sooner than give up their faith, or even take out- 
ward part in the rites of heathenism, left the cities 
and took refuge in the deserts, sheltering themselves 
until the time of danger was over. All were not so 
enthusiastic. Many conformed outwardly to the 
pagan worship, and were allowed to remain in their 
homes unmolested. In this way the Christians 
were divided into two classes — those who preferred 
the desert to a denial of their faith, and those who, 
less inflexible in their principles, were ready to 
make concessions for the sake of peace. After the 
persecutions had ceased the two classes continued to 
be distinct. Men still retired to the desert, not now 
to escape from prison and torture and death, but from 
the worldly pleasures and pursuits that were absorb- 
ing the thoughts of men and hindering them from 
paying due attention to their eternal interests. 
Naturally, the hermit was still regarded as the better 
Christian, when compared with him who continued 
in the world, and took part daily in the business 
and pleasures of life. 

Amid all its extravagance, we can discern in 
this development of monasticism a germ of sound 
principle. Multitudes of those who professed Chris- 
tianity when the profession began to be a mark of 
honour rather than disgrace knew little and cared 
less for the faith which they embraced. The name 
of Christ was on their lips, but the spirit of pagan- 
ism was in their hearts. There were, no doubt, other 
and better ways in which earnest men could have 
protested against the formality of the age than that 
of separating themselves from their fellows, but still, 
it was a protest, and we know that in some ways it 
had its influence in directing men's minds to the 
paramount claims of our holy religion. 

The institution soon grew in popularity and 


spread rapidly, not only in the East, where it 
took its rise, but also in the West, where the more 
practical and less emotional disposition of the 
people would have led us to suppose it would never 
have found favour. Amongst its advocates were 
some of the greatest men of the age. Basil and 
Athanasius, Augustine and Jerome, Ambrose and 
Martin, and many besides, vied with one another 
in extolling the virtues of what was called the 
' religious ' life, and in inducing men and women 
to follow its rule. 

The movement was at its height when Christi- 
anity was first preached in Ireland. Saint Martin had 
already founded his famous establishments at Tours 
and Poictiers. Tradition says that Saint Patrick 
was for a time an inmate of one of these monasteries. 
He certainly was very much influenced by the ex- 
ample that they presented. Full of enthusiasm for 
the system, he went forth, and wherever he obtained 
a footing his first care was to found a religious com- 

The appearance presented by these establishments 
was as different as can well be conceived from any- 
thing that we have at the present day. A wall 
built of earth or of loose stones formed an enclosure, 
and served as a means of defence against enemies, as 
well as of separation from the rest of the tribe. With- 
in this cashel or wall were the churches — exceedingly 
small of size, and quite unsuitable for anything ap- 
proaching what might be called ' stately ' worship. 
Any one who has ever seen the ruin of an Irish 
church belonging to the period before the twelfth 
century will not need to be told that the ritual of 
that age must have been of the simplest character 
possible. In some places there would be only one 
such church within the enclosure. In other places 


there might be as many as seven. Seven was indeed 
a favourite number, and the remains of these groups 
of seven churches are still to be found in several 
places, while the memory of seven churches formerly 
existing is continued by tradition in many others. 
They were all simple rectangular buildings, without 
chancels. All around the churches were grouped 
the cells of the members of the community — small 
bee-hive shaped huts, each inhabited by one or two 
or three of the inmates. Beside these there was 
sometimes a general refectory, where the meals were 
partaken in common, also a hall for penitential 
exercises, and possibly some other buildings. There 
would also be a cemetery — occasionally two, one for 
the women and another for the men. The churches 
were in like manner sometimes restricted to one sex. 
The buildings were mostly of wood, or of wattles 
daubed with clay ; only rarely were they made of 

The remains of monasteries similar in many re- 
spects to the description just given have been found 
in the East. Like the Irish, they have the encir- 
cling wall, and the dwellings also are separate huts, 
instead of being one large building, as in the more 
modern establishments. The explanation of this 
resemblance is simple, and does not imply such 
immediate intercourse between Ireland and the East 
as has been supposed. All monastic establishments \ 
were originally much on the same model, but in the 
beginning of the sixth century a reformation of the 
system was brought about by Benedict, whose rule 
entirely superseded the older system in every' 
country of Europe, Ireland excepted. In Ireland 
and the East alike his reforms were never received, 
and therefore the resemblances which we find 
arise from the survival in both places of the older 





form, when everywhere else it had become a thing 
of the past. 

Another point must be kept in mind : that al- 
though there are remarkable resemblances between 
Eastern and Irish monasteries — resemblances suffi- 
cient to make it probable that they were both 
derived from the one original — yet the differences 
between them are still more remarkable. Let us 
briefly trace some of these differences. 

Before the introduction of Christianity, the Druids 
formed communities similar in many respects to the 
early monasteries. They were not only priests, but 
lawgivers, philosophers, historians, teachers and 
bards. To all these offices the Christian ecclesiastics 
succeeded. Their establishments were not only 
centres of religious worship, but schools where what- 
ever learning the land possessed could alone be found. 
In them, too, the laws of the land were made, for 
neither in pagan nor Christian times were the kings 
lawgivers merely by virtue of their office. In some 
cases a monarch of exceptional wisdom was also an 
ollat^ but as a general rule the duty devolved on 
the wise men who by natural ability and a long 
course of mental training had been prepared for the 

It is needless to say that such * wise men ' were 
found not among the warriors, but among the re- 
ligious communities. This will perhaps explain the 
curious phenomenon that the ancient laws of Ireland 
had no * sanction' beyond the force of public opinion. 
The hrehon or judge was in reality a mere arbitrator, 
and had no way of enforcing his decisions. It is also 
a remarkable instance of the survival of old customs 
that we find at the present day the unwritten law 
of public opinion to be regarded by the native Irish 
as infinitely more sacred than the law of the land. 



Englishmen cannot understand this, and it forms 
one of the great difficulties in the government of the 

The bards were also for the most part taken from 
among the monks. The great Columba was him- 
self a bard. These kept alive by their songs the 
memory of the heroes, and were in fact the his- 
torians of the land. All this so revolutionized monas- 
ticism that it became in Ireland an entirety diiferent 
thing from what it had ever been in the Thebaid of 
Egypt. In every important feature it is easier to 
find contrasts than resemblances. The Irish monks, 
if monks they can be called, were not of a kind who 
separated themselves from the world and the in- 
terests of men. On the contrary, they became at 
once an important factor in society. They instructed 
the youths and legislated for the people in time of 
peace, and they advised and encouraged the heroes 
in time of war. 

How far celibacy was practised or encouraged in 
these communities it is difficult for us now to say. 
Most of the information we possess comes from men 
who found it impossible to conceive the idea of a 
monastic life without the vow of celibacy. Yet 
even they have preserved enough to show that such 
a vow was far from being of universal acceptance. 
All authorities agree in telling us that Saint 
Patrick's father was a deacon, and his grandfather 
a priest, and he himself states the fact as if there 
was nothing in it unusual or that required explana- 
tion. Very many monasteries were open to both 
sexes — a state of things to which we shall again 
refer when we come to speak of the position of 
women in the ancient Irish Church. 

A curious document exists which is supposed to 
have been composed in the middle of the eighth cen- 


tury.^ In this we are told that there were three 
classes of Irish saints, the first of which was mo.s-^ 
lioly^ the second very holy^ and the third holy. The 
first class was like the sun, the second like the moon, 
the third like the stars. The first order, the most 
holy, were led by Patrick, and had one Head, Christ. 
Of these, it is said that * they rejected not the 
services and society of women, because, founded on 
the rock Christ, they feared not the blast of temp- 
tation.' The second order, however — very holy, 
although not as holy as the first, and later in date 
— * refused the' services of women, separating them 
from the monasteries.' The kind of monastic life 
revealed in this description of the first order, and 
which is said to have existed for a considerable time, 
shows how much the ideal of the East had been 
modified before it found favour in the eyes of the 
western islanders. 

When we come to the legends of the saints we 
meet with evidence at every step that both sexes 
were to bo found together in the monasteries. Not 
that these legends are at all to be taken as serious 
history. It would require a very large share indeed 
of faith to receive the half of what they tell us. 
But we may be certain that they never contain 
anything that would be considered improper or un- 
worthy of a saint, according to the ideas of the age 
in which they were composed ; and if they record 
that women were commonly found in the monasteries, 
it may be taken as a plain proof that it was then 
neither an unusual nor unheard-of occurrence. To 
this may be added the fact that until a very late 

^ See this document given in full in Haddan and Stubbs' 
Councils and tkcleaiastical Documents relating to Great- 
Britain and Ireland^ vol. ii., p. 292. Dr. Todd gives a trans- 
lation in his Life of St, Patrick^ p. 88, nota. 


period there is abundant evidence that in some eases 
at least the highest ecclesiastics were married men. 

The monastic system was still further modified 
by the spirit of clanship which pervaded all Irish 
institutions of that age. The Irish chiefs were 
nominally subject to the kings, but within their own 
territory they were absolute masters, and wielded a 
power of life and death over their subjects. It is 
said that these powers were sometimes shamefully 
abused, but if so, the abuse did not prevent the 
members of the tribe from rendering the most faith- 
ful adherence and obedience to the hereditary chief. 
The same spirit was imported into the religious com- 
munities. As Montalembert well says, * The great 
monasteries of Ireland were nothing else, to speak 
simply, than clans reorganized under a religious 
form. From this cause resulted the extraordinary 
number of their inhabitants, which were counted 
by hundreds and thousands, and from this also came 
their influence and productiveness, which were still 
more wonderful.' In some cases, the original grant 
of a site carried with it the right of chieftainship, 
and the ecclesiastical superior thus became the head 
of the tribe. In others the lay element prevailed, 
and the chief who led the warriors to battle presided 
also over the affairs of the monastery. Generally, 
however, the rule was that the monastic superior 
should be chosen from the ruling family, and in 
all cases the monastery and the clan were so closely 
connected that the interest of the one was identical 
with the interest of the other. 

The clanship of the Irish had its influence on the 
Church another way. As each tribe was practi- 
cally independent of all others, and settled its own 
aflfairs in its own way, it was natural that each tribe 
would desire to have its own bishop. It would 


never have been tolerated by the chiefs nor desired 
by the subjects that one belonging to another clan 
should in any way have authority beyond the circle 
of his own people. Accordingly we find at a very 
early age the number of bishops was increased 
abnormally. Every tribe — in some cases every 
family — had its own bishop. The present * rural 
deaneries ' were nearly all ancient bishoprics, and 
they correspond almost invariably with the terri- 
tories of the old Irish tribes. 

Moreover, as the abbot was a kind of chieftain, 
and generally near of kin to the ruling house, it is 
plain that the principle of selection in his case was 
different from that which would regulate the choice 
of bishops, and that it would often Jiappen that the 
abbot would be both unsuitable and unwilling to 
hold the episcopal office. Under such circumstances, 
the spirit of clanship led the people to cling to their 
leader, that is, the abbot, and put the bishop in 
the second place. The result was that the office 
of bishop was entirely dissociated from territoriaJ 
authority — he had no diocese — and the cases were 
numerous where he was under the control of the 
abbot, exercising episcopal functions only under 
his direction. This, in its turn, led to a further 
increase in the number of bishops. As none of 
them had a see in the modern sense of the word, and 
therefore there was no possibility of one prelate inter- 
fering with the jurisdiction of another, it began to 
be a matter of pride in some monasteries to have 
a number of bishops amongst their inmates. In 
some cases it seems to have been the usage to have 
seven belonging to the same establishment. In 
the Litany of AUngus the Culdee, said to have been 
composed in the ninth century, there is a list of* one 
hundred and forty-one places in Ireland where this 


institution of seven bishops existed. Saint Bernard 
informs us that up to the eleventh century there 
were no dioceses, bishops were multiplied and 
changed without order and regularity, so that almost 
every church had a bishop of its own. 

A curious relic of the ancient system of clanship 
survives in the Irish Church to the present day. In 
most countries the churches and parishes are dedi- 
cated to a * patron saint.' In Ireland the church 
was always called after the ibunder. It is at present 
easy to tell by the name whether a church has been 
founded before or after the Anglo-Norman invasion. 
If it be a church of Patrick, Columba, Kevin, or any 
Irish saint, it is almost certainly pre-Norman, and it 
is so called because the saint named founded, or is 
supposed to have founded, a church on the spot. 
But if it bear the name of St. Mary or St. Peter, or 
any saint not associated with Ireland itself, there 
need be no hesitation in deckling that its origin is to 
be looked for in that period when the combined in- 
fluence of Rome and England was changing the old 
institutions. The reason is that in the ancient Irish 
Church every community was called the * family ' 
of the saint by whom it was first established, and 
each succeeding abbot was regarded as the successor 
of the founder, inheriting in the church a chieftain- 
ship which was similar in many ways to the chief- 
tainship which the leader of the tribe inherited. 

There is an old poem extant which purports to 
give a list of those who composed the * family ' of 
Saint Patrick. It is found in one of the ancient 
biographies of Patrick, and has also been copied into 
the Annals of the Four Masters. If it is in any way 
a fair description of what an ecclesiastical family was 
in the early ages, it presents us with a picture very 
different from anything that we have been accus- 


tomed to associate with the monastic life. Instead 
of speaking of a monastery, we would be more in- 
clined to call it an industrial colony — a tribe of men 
and women who in the midst of a warlike nation 
devoted themselves entirely to the arts of peace. 

Several bishops and priests are mentioned as 
members of this family ; but from amongst them, 
one bishop, named Sechnall, and one priest, named 
Moehta, are singled out as those who use their office 
for the special benefit of the community. The others, 
although ecclesiastics in rank, occupy themselves in 
secular duties. Bishop Ere, for example, acts as 
judge, and Bishop Maccaeirthinn has the still more 
secular office of champion, or mighty man. From 
this we may conclude that the community was free 
from outside control, that it made its own laws, 
and carried on its own wars. The presence of a 
champion and a body of armed retainers was most 
necessary, for the rival kings and chiefs often attacked 
the monasteries. We have also reason to believe 
that in some (let us hope exceptional) cases the reli- 
gious communities themselves carried on aggressive 
warfare, and attacked one another with a vigour 
which their secular neighbours could not surpass. 

Of those who are mentioned as priests we have 
Mescan the brewer, Bescna the poet, Manach the 
wpodman, and Logha the helmsman. Other officers 
were the singer, the chamberlain, the bell-ringer, 
the true cook (the expressive adjective shows how 
his services were appreciated), three smiths, three 
artificers, a charioteer, a shepherd, and a scribe. 
Nor were the women forgotten. The two daughters 
of Gleaghrann, famous for their beauty, were mem- 
bers of the family, and three other ladies are named, 
including Lupait, Patrick^s own sister, who exer- 
cised daily their skill in embroidery. That men and 



women enjoyed unrestricted social intercourse is 
shown by the fact that scandals sometimes arose. 
Of the three embroideresses, two were at one time 
more or less under a cloud. It was deemed advis- 
able that Lupait should not continue any longer 
under the same roof as her nephew Mel, although 
he was a * saint ' and a bishop ; and another ladj'', 
Ere, was only cured of her passion for Benin the 
singer by an illness which brought her to death's 

Once more, it is well to remark that these accounts 
are not to be taken as history. It never happened 
that aU those mentioned as belonging to the family 
of Saint Patrick formed members of the same estab- 
lishment. What we do learn is, that at a much 
later period than the time of Patrick the ideal of an 
ecclesiastical community was an association where 
both sexes met on equal terms ; where the services 
of the Church were duly celebrated ; where copies of 
* the Scriptures and of other books were made ; where 
workers in metal and wood and stone pursued their 
avocations ; where the dijfferent operations of hus- 
bandry were carried on ; where the brethren were 
averse to war, yet able and ready to defend them- 
selves when called on ; where excursions by land and 
water, in the chariot and in the boat, were not in- 
frequent. All this must be borne in mind when we 
speak of the monastic character of the Irish Church. 
It bears out fully the view expressed above, that 
these families would be better described as indus- 
trial colonies or Christian communes than by the 
more usual but misleading name of monasteries. 

It will be seen that the constitution of the Irish 
Church was one that suited itself to the character of 
the people. This conformity to their national insti- 
tutions must have aided considerably in the rapid 



spread of the Gospel amongst them. Nevertheless, 
it was not altogether an advantage. Under the 
Druidical system the duties of religion were for the 
most part vicariously performed. The priests oflfered 
the sacrifices, pronounced the incantations, and per- 
formed the rites that were necessary, and the fight- 
ing men rested content that the favour of heaven 
had been secured, although they themselves took no 
part in the religious exercises, and never dreamt of 
their religion having any effect on their lives. It is 
to be feared that a state of things almost similar 
existed when the tribe nominally had become Chris- 
tian. The warriors were bloodthirsty and cruel as 
of old, and left the duties of religion to be performed 
by those who had given themselves up to that par- 
ticular work. At one time, Ireland was known as 
the Island of Saints. The history of the country in 
that age is somewhat disappointing, and would lead 
us to doubt whether the flattering title was deserved. 
It differs but little from the history of other periods. 
We have the same war and bloodshed, the same 
turbulence and disunion. The explanation is simply 
this : that two nations, as it were, existed — the one 
given up to the offices of religion, to the production 
of books and the pursuit of learning — the other 
retaining all the lawless and turbulent spirit which 
had characterized the land from of old. There are 
few countries in the world where such incongruous 
elements can exist side by side. But even at the 
present daj^ it is to some extent the same. Men 
have been known to pause in the excitement and 
frenzy of a faction fignt and respectfully wait while 
a funeral passes by, only to break out the moment 
after in the same untamed and untameable fury. 

The other distinguishing characteristics of the 
Irish Church are its missions and its independence 



of the see of Eome. The former will occupy our 
attention when we come to consider the work of 
Saint Columba and his companions, and of others 
who left Irish shores to found communities in diffe- 
rent countries. The latter will be dealt with in 
connection with the controversies to which it gave 



In the last chapter we have been considering insti- 
tutions rather than events. But in truth the events 
of the period can for the most part be only vaguely 
guessed. We know more of the results than of the 
processes by wliich they were brought about. We 
can plainly see that a great transformation was 
effected in Ireland — that whereas the first years of 
the fifth century saw her entirely pagan, the early 
years of the sixth century saw her entirely Chris- 

In the meantime, events of the highest importance 
were happening both in Britain and on the continent 
of Europe. It was in this century that the great 
empire of Home came finally to an end. The last of 
the Caesars was dethroned, and a barbarian usurper 
ruled over the mistress of the world. It was in tJiis 
century too that Gaul became France, and Britain 
became England. The only influence that these 
revolutions had upon Ireland was of a negative 
character, although it was none the less important 
on that account. They cut off Ireland, to a great 
extent, from European influences. The wars in 
France and Italy — the overthrow of kingdoms and 
setting up of new dynasties — finally, the conversion 
to Christianity of the barbarian conquerors: these 
were events that so occupied the minds of men that 



there was no time to think of the lone island in the 
Western Sea, which all the time was undergoing a 
revolution, more peaceful, but none the less impor- 
tant, and was founding and developing its Christian 
institutions in its own way — modifying them and 
adapting them, as we have seen, by its own native 

The invasion and subjugation of England made 
this isolation more complete. The Angles and other 
German tribes who landed in England, unlike their 
brethren on the Continent, were bitterly hostile to 
the faith of the people whose lands they seized. The 
Q-auls submitted to and made friends with their 
conquerors, and the result was that they soon brought 
them under the power of their religion and civiliza- 
tion. The Britons, on the contrary, contested every 
inch of their territory, and provoked a war of exter- 
mination, in which their nation and religion were 
alike obliterated. The testimony of language wit- 
nesses to us what a radical difference there was in 
the two cases. When the Franks conquered Gaul, 
its language was Latin ; but that language of the 
vanquished held its ground, and quite overcame the 
tongue of the victors, so that modern French may 
be said to be the direct lineal descendant of the 
language spoken before the conquest. The English 
tongue, on the other hand, has not been appreciably 
influenced by the ancient British. The Celtic 
element is insignificant at the best, and has been 
in great part derived from other sources. Thus it 
happened that while Ireland was being converted to 
Christianity, a reverse process was taking place in 
England. There the old British Church was being 
destroyed, and heathenism was being set up in 
its place. The effect of this was to introduce a 
bitterly hostile and unbelieving nation which, like 


a wedge, separated the Christian Church of Ireland 
from the Christian countries of Europe. 

In the north of Britain the Picts continued still 
practising the rites of Druidism. They were the 
only tribe of Celts which had remained unevange- 
lized. They were on more or less friendly terms 
with the Scots or Irish^making common cause with 
them occasionally against the British. It seemed 
natural therefore that the establishment of Christi- 
anity, which had begun so auspiciously and progressed 
so favourably in Ireland,*should also be accomplished 
among those tribes who were of the same race, 
followed the same manner of life, and had the same 
tribal organization. The story of how the Irish 
Church undertook this work and carried it to a 
successful issue is one of the most interesting, as it 
is one of the best authenticated in her whole history, 
and deserves to be told at some length. 

In the year 521, that is, about ninety years after 
the coming of Saint Patrick, Columba was bom. 
He was of the family of the O'Donnells, and was 
nearly related to the royal house which held sway 
in the north of Ireland and south-west of Scotland. 
The story of his early life was written after his later 
years had shed much lustre on his name, and we 
are not therefore astonished to find that it is filled 
with many presages of his future greatness. When 
quite a youth he became a disciple at one of the 
large monastic schools for which Ireland was soon to 
become famous, and at the early age of twenty-five 
he is said to have himself founded a school and 
religious establishment at the Oak Grove of Cal- 
caigh, which was the ancient name of Londonderry. 
Similar establishments were founded at Durrow in 
the King^s County, Kells in Meath, Moone in Kildare, 
Swords near Publin, and other places. His after life 



shows him to have been a man of great determina- 
tion, strong will and considerable ability. It is 
therefore not at all improbable that the legend here 
preserves the truth, and that these and possibly 
many other foundations owe their origin to his early 
zeal. We should have heard little about him, how- 
ever, if it were not for what many would call a 
strange chance,but which was in reality a remarkable 
dispensation of Providence, which changed the whole 
course of his life. 

Columba was visiting at the monastery of Saint 
Finnen of Moville, and while there obtained the 
loan of a copy of the Psalter. The translation must 
have been different from that to which he had been 
accustomed, for he desired at once to obtain one like 
it for himself. Finnen, however, seemed to think 
that the value of his book would be diminished if it 
were not unique of its kind, and Columba knew that 
it would be useless to ask him to allow a copy to be 
made. So he secretly worked by night, when he 
thought that he was unobserved, and in a short 
time had made for himself the copy that he desired. 
Unfortunately, the secret was not as well kept as he 
had imagined. Finnen was made aware of what 
was being done, and in the end made a claim, that 
as the original was his, the copy belonged to him 
also. Columba very naturally failed to see the 
matter in that light. He had with his own hand 
made the copy, and he point blank refused to part 
with it. Ultimately the matter was brought before 
King Dermaid, who gave the remarkable judgment, 
* To every cow belongs its calf, therefore to every 
book belongs its copy.' This only roused the 
temper of Columba, who, still holding to his precious 
possession, replied, ^ This in an unjust decision, 
Dermaid, and I will avenge it on you.' Other causes 


of irritation followed. An open rupture ensued, and 
Columba escaped from Tara, fled to the north of 
Ireland, roused the clans of the O'Donnells, and 
challenged the king to battle. 

In all this, it is well to remark, we have a good 
example of the system of clanship already described, 
which pervaded the Church. Columba here acted 
in exactly the same way as one of the chieftains 
would have acted if he imagined himself to have 
been insulted. The result in this case was a battle 
fought at Cooldreeny, near Sligo, in which Columba 
and the 0*Donnells were victorious, and the King 
of Ireland was forced to retreat, after three thou- 
sand Meath warriors had been laid dead on the 

The king, worsted in battle, had recourse to other 
methods. The great fair of Teltown was one of the 
old institutions of the countr5^ People flocked to it 
from all parts for the transaction of business, the 
celebration of games, and the holding of national 
assemblies. There the king called together a synod 
to consider the case. Teltown was in the heart of 
Meath, and we can therefore well understand that 
although men came from all quarters, the Meath 
men would be in an overwhelming majority. Ac- 
cordingly, when Columba appeared before them he 
found himself in presence of a hostile assembly. In 
spite of the spirited support which he received from 
some — notably from Brendan, the Abbot of Birr — 
a sent-ence of excomlnunication was pronounced 
against him' for having been the cause of so much 
bloodshed.^' ' " 

• Columba himself, like many another man of hot 
temper, was soon sorry for wnat he had done. In 
the moment of irritation he had not thought that 
such terrible loss of life would result from his impetu- 



osity. Nothing shows more clearlj' the depth and 
reality of his religious life than the way in which he 
acknowledged and openly confessed his fault. Nor 
was his repentance merely in word. He was resolved 
to exhibit in his life tne penitence which he ex- 
pressed with his lips, and with this end in view he 
repaired to his * soul friend/ Molaise of Devenish, 
and consulted with him how he could make atone- 
ment for the evils which he had caused. The advice 
given was that he should leave Ireland, devote him- 
self to missionary work amongst the heathen Picts, 
and labour until as many had been won for Christ 
as had been lost in the battle of Cooldreeny. With 
a heavy heart, but with firm determination, Columba 
at once accepted the task thus proposed to him, took 
with him twelve companions, as well as a retinue of 
followers, and sailed from the shores of his native 
country. They first landed on the Island of Oronsay, 
but as the hills of Ireland were still in view they 
took again to their boats, pursued their way farther 
to the north, and eventually settled on the Island of 

In crossing the sea they were not parting from 
their own countrymen. The south-western portion 
of Scotland formed the territory of what was practi- 
cally one of the tribes of Ireland. It was the only 
{)art of North Britain that bore the name Scot- 
and ; that is, the country of the Scots or Irish. 
Among the many changes that time has effected in 
the names of places, none is more remarkable than 
that the mother country, Ireland, whence all the 
Scots came, should no longer be called Scotland, 
and that Alba, as North Britain was then called, 
should appropriate to itself the name of what -was 
at first one of the smallest provinces. The ruler of 
this Irish kingdom in Scotland, or, as it would be 


more correctly expressed, Scotic kingdom in Alba, 
was a near kinsman to Columba, and therefore, the 
right to settle in the island was secured without any 
difficulty ; the favour and protection of the prince 
were given as a matter of course, and the members of 
the community set about building a monastic village, 
formed exactly after the pattern of those to which 
they had been accustomed in Ireland. 

The 'story of Patrick's preaching was now, as it 
were, repeated. Pursuing the same tactics, Columba 
presented himself first of all before Brude, King of 
the Picts. His success was great from the very 
beginning. Notwithstanding some opposition, he 
obtained the protection of the prince, and had per- 
mission to go through the land for the purpose of . 
preaching. His biographers tell us of his many 
miracles, by which he silenced the adversaries and 
won the respect of the people ; Bede, with more 
truth, tells us that ' he converted the nation to the 
f aijth of Christ by his preaching and example.' From 
that time, and for some centuries following, the little 
island of lona became a centre of religious life. 
Isolated from the rest of the world, it was unin- 
fluenced by the great movements which were causing 
changes in other countries. Even such matters 
as the reform of the calendar were unknown in the 
little northern island, where the community con- 
tinued their round of fast and festival, unconscious 
of the fact that their times differed from all the rest 
of Christendom. 

In other and more important things the difference 
was still more clearly marked. The monastic reforms 
of Benedict were working great changes among tlie_ 
religious communities of the West; but their in- 
fluence was bounded by the sea. Even in South 
Britain they were long unknown — while in Ireland 


and lona centuries elapsed before they were intro- 
duced. The general tendency of the Church in 
that age was towards increased splendour of cere- 
monial, but in lona the same simple unpretending 
worship continued as heretofore. Their sanctuary 
was still only a lowly thatched building made of 
clay, and much of their worship must have been 
conducted in the open air. The cultus of the Virgin 
Mary and the practice of the Invocation of Saints 
were spreading rapidly throughout Christendom ; 
but lona knew nothing of them. The universal 
supremacy of the see of Rome was beginning to be 
a recognised doctrine. Innocent and Leo had both 
i^igned before lona was established ; Gregory had 
become Pope while Columba himself was still living; 
but these great names were almost unknown at lona. 
There was little communication between distant 
countries in that early time ; and especially when a 
land was far removed from the highways of com- 
merce, it knew little indeed of what was going on 
in the world around, and was simply beyond the 
influence of the thoughts and opinions that were 
moving men's minds in other countries. Hence it 
is that we have in Ireland and in lona a survival for ; 
several centuries of Church life as it existed else-.' 
where- in the beginning of the fifth century. 

The earliest Life of Saint Columba was written by 
Adamnan, who was born about twenty-five j'^ears 
after Columba's death, and who became afterwards 
his successor as Abbot of lona. He was thus re- 
moved by only one generation from the subject of 
his biography, and he must have known and con- 
versed with many who had seen the saint. His 
work is interesting in many ways — not the least as 
showing how short a time it requires for a name to 
become surrounded with a whole atmosphere of 


myth and legend. The book is not a biography in 
the strict sense. The author does not pretend to 
give us a detailed account of the incidents of Saint 
Columba's life, but dwells first on the prophecies, 
secondly on the miracles, and thirdly on the visions 
of the saint. As may well be supposed, many of the 
anecdotes he relates must have been simple ordinary 
events, which may easily have happened without 
any miraculous element at all. But Adamnan sees 
miracles in everything. He revels in the extra- 
ordinary ; and as we read story after story, in some 
places one more impossible than the other, we are 
sorely tempted to give it all up in disgust. But not- 
withstanding all its improbable miracles, the book is 
most valuable. It was written while the isolation 
of Irish Church life was still to a great extent un- 
broken, and the incidental references it contains 
portray for us all the more truthfully, because unin- 
tentionally, the life led by the community at lona in 
its earliest times ; and as lona was formed on the 
same pattern as the monasteries of Ireland, the de- 
scription of it will enable us to picture to ourselves 
the kind of scene which they also presented. 

We have to imagine to ourselves a centre of busy 
activity and cheerful toil. Members of the com- 
munity were continually coming and going. Some- 
times it would be on a missionary expedition to preach 
amongst the pagan Picts. At other times it would 
be to visit a king or chief with whom it was of import- 
ance to make a kind of treaty, or who was perhaps 
to be rebuked for some unlawful act that ne had 
done. Often they went to treat for the ransom of 
captives, or to beg for pity on behalf of the con- 
quered. Occasionally, too, they were sent to Ireland, 
where perhaps a synod was being held, or where it 
was necessary to visit their brethren, followers of 



the same rule in the different establishments, and 
bring advice from headquarters. Then when they 
returned, all the brethren would assemble, a report 
would be given of the results of their mission, and 
action would be taken accordingly. 

Visitors to the settlement were not infrequent. 
Standing on the opposite shore, they shouted, as a 
signal that they desired to get across. Then some 
of the brothers embarked in their coracle,^ and 
ferried them over the narrow strait. On arrival 
they were hospitably welcomed, and found a special 
house, the * strangers' hospice ' or * guest room,' set 
apart for their entertainment. 

These visitors were of a varied class. Perhaps 
it would be a slave who had fled from his master. 
This the brethren never encouraged ; and while 
they protected the runaway, they endeavoured to 
persuade him to return to his service; though in 
some cases they begged for his freedom, or them- 
selves provided the ransom that was necessary. 
Until the slave was thus made legally free, they 
would not receive him as a member of the com- 
munity. Then, again, there were fugitives escap- 
ing from the avenger. Some of these were crimi- 
nals ; others were unjustly accused ; but to all the 
monastery was a City of Refuge. When once 
within its shelter, they were sure they would not be 
slain without a fair trial, and that the judge would 
be one that would incline to mercy rather than to 
severity. Others came seeking medical advice, for 
the brethren were skilled in the virtues of herbs, 
and had cures for many ailments. Then there would 
be those who were pursued by the robber bands of 
hostile tribes. In the monasteries on the mainland 

* The coracle is a small boat made of wicker work covered 
with skins. 


the people would often come, carrying their valu- 
ables and driving their flocks and herds before them, 
for within the consecrated Termon^ ^as the only 
place of safety. The transporting of cattle to lona 
would not be an easy task, but the less cumbersome 
possessions would often be borne by fugitives across 
the waters. Some too would come to take counsel 
in their difficulties, spiritual and temporal ; young 
men, in the enthusiasm of their early days, desiring 
to give up their lives to the work of the Lord ; or 
perhaps old men, tormented by conscience, wanting 
to know how they could make atonement for a life of 
sin ; sometimes even kings, desiring to explain thq 
grounds of a quarrel before they would make a 
declaration of war. Then there would be brethren 
from other parts of the country ; abbots and bishops, 
attracted by the renown of the saint, who would 
come to sit at his feet for a while —perchance to 
purchase from him one of his beautiful manuscripts, 
or to consult with him in some difficulty which had 
arisen in the administration of their office. 

If the visitor were an eminent man, a special feast 
was made in his honour, and the laws of hospitality 
being considered paramount to those of ascetism, 
if he happened to come on a fast day (and they 
ordinarily fasted both Wednesday and Friday), 
the abstinence was foregone for that occasion, and 
the feast of welcome took its place. This was the 
custom in all the monasteries ; for not only do we 
read of such feasts being given to distinguished 
strangers in lona, but we find that the same compli- 
ment was paid to Columba when he went to visit 
other places, and we learn further that all the people 
in the neighbourhood were accustomed to contribute 

* The Termon was the boundary of the monastic grounds. 
It was generally marked by a stone cross. 


^^ tA^Ze^^K dL^jnu 9vMa^' /U4 ^^^i>f^Tntu) 

[) ' sji/nt c6lumba, 63 

towards the banquet. As soon as the visitor 
arrived, one of the brothers proceeded to wash his 
feet, as a token that while he stayed with them they 
were all willing to wait upon him as his servants ; 
because, too, the Irish Church at that time retained 
many Jewish ordinances, among which was the 
frequent washing of feet before entering upon the 
services of the sanctuary. At the ninth hour they 
partook of the common meal. The bread was 
blessed according to the example of our Lord, and 
then the company of the brethren partook of it, the 
strangers at the same time joining the party. But 
though there was thus a hearty welcome, the visitor 
was not allowed to prolong his stay indefinitely. If 
he meant to remain for any great length of time, he 
was requii'ed to take his place in the community, 
which of course meant that he would have to do his 
part in the regular work of the establishment. 

This work was of a varied character. Some of 
the inmates were ^ hardy fishermen,' who plied their 
task in the not very peaceful waters that surrounded 
them. Probably these also looked after the seals, 
which were * preserved ' by the islanders, and seem 
to have been used by them as an article of food. 
Other members of the community tilled the ground, 
and as the day wore on, the prior drove round in 
his chariot and visited them at their work. At lona 
they all worked in common, and made their way 
home to their abodes in the evening, often very 
wearied, particularly in harvest time, and each one 
carrying a heavy load. It was a kind of family life 
that they lived, and we are told how Columba used 
to be always grieved when they returned late to the 
monastery. In other places — Clonmacnois, for 
example — each of the brethren seems to have had 
his own piece of land to till, for which he was held 


responsible. Besides the tilling of the ground there 
was the work of tending the animals. Night and 
morning the milk had to be carried from the 
' milking field,' and as each returned thus laden, he 
paused at the door of Columba's cell, and obtained 
the saint's blessing. A horse was also employed in 
this daily task of carrying the milk. Then there 
was occasional building work to be done. Some of 
the huts were made of wooden planks, and the 
timber had to be hewn and prepared for them. This 
was at times very hard work, especially when 
storm and rain had to be encountered. Other huts 
were formed of wattles and clay. Although these 
did not require the same expenditure of labour at 
first, they must have been very often in need of 
repair. Boats, too, had to be built ; frail crafts they 
were, made of wicker covered with skin, yet wonder- 
fully long voyages were sometimes taken in them. 
Then there was the work of the household. The 
butcher, the cook and the baker are mentioned, 
showing that there was a division of labour, in which 
each had his own task. 

Tha-most important business of all, and that for 
which the Columban monasteries were famous, was 
the writing and illuminating of copies of the Scrip- 
tures. At lona this work was carried on continu- 
ously, and was under the special superintendence of 
Columba himself. He made it a rule that none of 
his establishments should be without a copy of the 
Word of Grod, and most of the books wluch were 
thus scattered through the length and breadth of 
the land were produced at lona. The magnificent 
copy of the Grospels known as the Book of Kells, 
now in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, 
though not, as had once been imagined, as old as 
the time of Columba, is scarcely a century later in 



date, and was most undoubtedly produced by the 
"brethren who followed his rule. It is by far the 
most beautifully illuminated manuscript of its age 
in existence. The greatest care was taken that 
these copies should be correct. After the writing 
was finished a number of brethren carefully ex- 
amined it, lest there should be any error or omission. 
Then it was jealously preserved in a cover made of 
precious metal, and a leathern satchel was used to 
protect it from any injury. It is said that on the 
day before Columba's death, although his increasing 
bodily weakness made him conscious that his end 
was approaching, he was still at his favourite work, 
and sat for some time in his cell, transcribing the 
Psalter. At last he came to the words (Ps. xxxiv. 
10), ' They that seek the Lord shall not want any 
good thing.' * Here, he said, at the end of this 
page I must stop. Let Baithen write that which 
follows. The last verse that he wrote was indeed 
suitable to the saint who was then passing away, for 
to him eternal good things shall never be wanting. 
And the verse following was equally suitable to 
the father who succeeded him, the teacher of his 
spiritual children : " Come, ye children, hearken 
unto me ; I will teach you the fear of the Lord." 
And he did succeed him, as Columba had advised, 
not in teaching alone, but in writing.' ^ We shall 
see afterwards that there is reason to believe that 
not only was the work of transcription thus carried 
on continually, but that the Irish, or at all events 
the Celtic Church, produced translations of the 
Scriptures for itself, differing in many important 
ways from the translations in use elsewhere. 
Admission to the monastery was easily procured. 

* Adamnan, Yii. Columh,^ iii. 23. 



No novitiate was required, and if vows were taken, 
they were not necessarily lifelong. Any member of 
the cjommunity could return to the world when he 
pleased. No one was admitted, however, who had a 
father or a mother dependent on him for support. 
Even when there were younger brothers able to 
perform the duty, the parents could not be deserted 
until a guarantee had been obtained that the 
younger would take the place of the elder. Married 
couples were not allowed to separate. The story is 
told of a woman who sought admission to the con- 
vent, and offered to do anything that the saint 
desired her, provided he did not ask her to live with 
her husband, whom she hated. The saint simply 
took the unhappy pair, fasted and prayed with them, 
and continued these religious exercises without 
intermission, until at last they agreed to be recon- 
ciled, when he sent them away, united in affection, 
to live happily all the rest of their lives. 

As to the doctrines taught, little need be added to 
what has been already said. They taught in Scot- 
land exactly the same truths which Saint Patrick 
had enforced in Ireland. The Venerable Bede tells 
us that the Bible was their oiie rule of faith, to the 
exclusion of alLother. ^ They had none,' he says, * to 
bring them the synodal decrees for the observance 
of Easter, by reason of their being so far away fix>m 
the rest of the world ; wherefore they only practised 
such works of piety and chastity as they could learn 
from the prophetical, evangelical and apostolical 
writings.' ^' Men who were led by such a rule might 
of course make some mistakes — mistakes, the impor- 
tance of which wbuld perhaps be magnified by those 
who imagined themselves to be better instructed — 

^ Bede, Eccl, Hist., iii. 4, Bohn's Ed. 


they might be quite unable, for example, to calculate 
the right time for keeping Easter ; they might 
continue to follow customs that were never intended 
to be permanent; they might exaggerate the 
importance of precepts that were intended to be 
only ][yartial and local in their application : but in 
every essential point they must have been in the 
right way. Those who practise the works of piety 
and chastity which they learn from the prophetical, 
evangelical and apostolical writings cannot do so 
without receiving the inward light of the Holy 
Ppirit, and being led to place their trust in Him of 
whom all these writings testify. 

As Christianity was first preached in Ireland at 
the beginning of the fifth century, the impress of 
that age continued for long afterwards. The pecu- 
liar monasticism, which was such a striking feature 
of Irish Christianity, and which was reproduced 
at lona, was an example of this. So were also the 
severe penances of which we sometimes read (though 
jiot in connection with lona), the practice of praying 
for the dead, and the use of the sign of the cross. 
We may trace the germ — although only the germ 
— of auricular confession in the institution of ' soul 
friends,' which will be more fully explained farther 
on. They were advisers rather than confessors, but 
we can easily see how the one would readily de- 
velop into the other. As yet, however, confession 
was public ; the penance imposed was als6 . public, 
and absolution was not given until thee required 
penance was complete. 

More remarkable was the existence of some 
practices which we are accustomed to regard as 
Jewish. We have already alluded to the washing 
of feet before entering the sanctuary. They had 
also the distinction of meats into clean and unclean. 


Vessels too became ceremonially unclean when any 
defiling substance had come in contact with them. 
This usage enabled them at one time to show their 
abhorrence of Romish teachers in a peculiarly irri- 
tating manner. Whenever a vessel had been used 
by one of those who followed the foreign rule, the 
Irish ostentatiously cleansed it, as if it had been 
defiled by the contact. They observed the Jewish 
ordinance of the Levirate marriage, that when a 
man died and left no seed, his brother should take 
his wife and raise up seed unto his brother. Con- 
secrated salt was used in some ceremonies. Baptism 
was administered by preference in running water, 
and was most probably by immersion. This is 
mentioned in the lately-discovered Teaching of the 
Twelve Apostles as having been an early custom in 
other places. Some of these usages became modified 
afterwards ; but there is abundant evidence that in 
the earlier times they were all observed. 

A closer bond of union joined the several establish- 
ments where the rule of Saint Columba was followed 
than was usual in Ireland. True to the tribal in- 
stincts, the abbacy was confined to the kinship of 
the founder ; but in the election of abbots all the 
Columban monasteries seem to have taken part, and 
the Abbot of lona, who was in some measure the 
head of the order, might have been chosen from any 
of them. They regarded themselves as the same 
brotherhood, though living in different places and 
under different rulers ; and this federation of the 
seyeral monasteries continued until a very late date. 

Several incidents might be cited in illustration of 
this. For example, when lona was attacked by the 
Norsemen in the beginning of the ninth century, 
the relics and valuable possessions of the community 
were transported to Kells. Again, in the eleventn 



centunr, we have the Kells workmen making a 
metal book-shrine for the O'Donnells of Donegal, to 
whom they owed allegiance because Columba was 
an O'Donnell. At a much later date, early in the 
thirteenth century, the Columban monastery of 
Derry sent some of its inmates to lona to repel the 
Bishop of Man, who wanted to assert his authority, 
and had erected some buildings there. This was of 
course a considerable time after the Anglo-Norman 
invasion of Ireland, and shows how long the con- 
federation, and to some extent the independence of 
the Columban monasteries, continued.^ 

* See Stokes' Ireland and the Amjlo-Norman Churchy wliero 
a most interesting chapter deals with the continuance of tlie 
Celtic Church in Ireland in Anglo-Norman times. 



A GREAT missionary enterprise, like that which re- 
sulted in the establishment of a monastery at lona, 
and through it the conversion of the whole nation 
of the Picts, bespeaks a Church in which energy and 
zeal are no rare virtues. But missionary labour has 
also a wonderful reflex action. It is the product of 
holy energy and zeal, and in' turn it produces the 
game. It is the Churches most interested in missions 
that are ever foremost in undertaking new missions, 
and it is these also that are most in earnest about 
their own home work. The Pictish ' mission was 
almost, if not entirely, in the hands of the followers 
of Saint Columba ; but their example provoked to 
jealousy many of the other communities which were 
established in Ireland. We are not therefore sur- 
prised to find that the generation, which saw Columba 
and his companions landing at lona, was quickly 
followed by one when Irish missionaries went forth 
in many directions, and became famous as evangel- 
izers and teachers. > 

It is a curious coincidence that the most remdrk- 
able of these missionaries was a namesake of the 
great apostle of Scotland. He is generally known 
now by the name Columbanus, to distinguish him 
from the founder of lona, who is always called 
Columba or Columkill. But it need hardly be 




pointed out that the two names are really the same. 
Both mean *Dove.' The termination Icill means 
' Church'; so that Columkill is * Dove of the Church.' 
The addition is said to have been made in token of 
the great piety which Columba exhibited at an early 

Columbanus, of whom we have now to speak, 
belonged to the monastic school of Saint Comgal 
at Bangor in the County Down. It is said that 
there were three thousand scholars in this establish- 
ment. This is scarcely credible, the less so as we 
know that the old biographers never stuck at a little 
exaggeration. On the other hand, if they exaggerate 
the numbers, they altogether underrate the learning 
with which these old schools abounded, for they 
w^re quite unable to appreciate it. When we read 
their works we are sorely tempted to think that the 
men whom they commemorate were as narrow-minded, 
as credulous, as superstitious, and as ignorant as 
they were themselves ; and then when we find 
places described in general terms, and in very bad 
Latin, as centres of learning and wisdom, we are 
somewhat inclined to put the learning and wisdom 
along with the miracles in that region of myth 
where everything is quite too unsubstantial and 
visionary for the founding of any serious historical 

Happily, we have better evidence than the writ- 
ings of the biographers. In this case, for example, 
some of the works of Columbanus have come down 
to us, and they tell us what could be learnt in the 
old Irish schools, because it is certain that whatever 
learning he possessed was obtained before he left 
the country. From these works we find that he 
wrote Latin, both prose and verse, in excellent style ; 
that he knew Greek, which was more than the Pope 


of Rome could have said ; and that he was not 
unacquainted with Hebrew. He interprets his own 
name in the three languages, and says, ' I am 
called in Hebrew, Jonah ; in Greek, Peristera ; and 
in Latin, Columba/^ He not only knew these lan- 
guages, but shows an acquaintance with Latin and 
Greek literature ; and altogether his writings give 
us an entirely different idea of the progress that 
learning had made from that which we should have 
at first imagined. This school of Bangor seems to 
have been very jealous of the school of lona. On 
one occasion the jealousy brought on actual war- 
fare. At other times, however, the rivalry was of 
a healthier kind. 

Columbanus was born in the year B43. He was 
therefore twenty-two years younger than his name- 
sake of lona. Of his early life in Ireland we have 
but little knowledge, except that he studied at several 
schools before he became a disciple of Comgal at 
Bangor. It was not until after his fortieth year 
that he began his missionary labours. First, he 
passed over to England, and from thence he made 
his way to France. His idea had been to have gone 
farther, and to have spent his energies in the evan- 
gelization of the heathen tribes beyond ; but he. 
found that there was no necessit}^ to seek farther 
than the nominal Christians of Gaul, who seem to 
have gained little more than a new superstition from 
their conversion, while they retained all the cruelty 
and treachery of barbarism. 

At the invitation of Guntram, King of Burgundy, 
he settled in that country. He was absolutely fear- 
less in his denunciations of sin, and like another 

* Adamnan gives the same explanation in his lAft of 
Columha of lona. 



John the Baptist stood before the highest in the land 
and rebuked them to their face. Like the Baptist, 
too, he attracted great multitudes to his preaching, 
and even the princes whom he reproved were con- 
tented to hear him gladly, and sometimes, like 
Herod, * did many things,' though it is to be feared 
without any real change of heart. Still further 
bearing out the resemblance, it was through the 
inter^ence of a wicked woman that his fabours 
were in the end brought to an abrupt termination, 
though happily, in his case, they were not ended by 
martyrdom. Refusing to give his blessing to the 
illegitimate children of Theodoric II., which were 
presented to him by Brunehault, the queen regent, 
he excited her resentment, and this resentment 
followed him persistently, until she had prevailed on 
her grandson to banish the fearless monk from his 
dominions. He was placed on board a vessel, the 
intention being to send him to Ireland ; but after 
it had put to sea a contrary wind drove them back 
a^ain, and the master of the ship, taking this as a 
Divine intimation that Columbanus was not to go 
to Ireland, landed him at the mouth of the Loire, 
and went on his journey without him. From thence 
Columbanus made his way to Switzerland, where 
one of his followers. Saint Q-all, was left behind, 
and founded the establishment which has given 
name to one of the cantons. Eventually, he settled^ 
in North Italy, where he founded the famous 
monastery of Bobbio, near which he died in the 
year 615. 

' The incidents in the life of Columbanus are full 
of interest, but are for the most part outside the 
scope of this present work. He was the great 
competitor with Benedict in the reformation of the 
monastic system \ and such was his success and the 


popularity of his rule that at one time it seemed as 
if his induence, and not that of Benedict, was to 
change the aspect of monasticism in all succeeding 
ages. Moreover, his followers worked with such 
fearless and, untiring activity, and presented in 
themselves such examples of self-denial and devotion, 
that, as has been well said, * For a time it seemed as 
if the course of the world^s history was to be changed ; 
as if the older Celtic race that Eoman and Q-erman 
had swept before them had turned to the moral con- 
quest of their conquerors ; as if Celtic and not Latin 
Christianity was to mould the destinies of the 
Churches of the West.' ^ All this, however, is beside 
our present purpose. We have only to consider the 
life and work of Columbanus in so far as it throws 
light on the history of the Church in Ireland, the 
country which sent him forth as an apostle and 

The rule which Columbanus imposed on those 
who we]fe his followers is still extant, and is gener- 
ally supposed to have been derived from that already 
in force in ComgaPs establishment at Bangor. If 
so, Bangor must have been very different from 
lona. The picture drawn in the last chapter of the 
life of those who looked up to Columba as * father,' 
is that of a peaceful Christian community, where 
the highest law is the law of love, and punishments, 
if they existed at all, occupy such a secondary place 
that they are never mentioned by the saint's bio- 
grapher. There are penances, of course, but they 
are all for open and scandalous sins — ^never for mere 
breaches of discipline ; and it cannot be said that 
they erred on the side of severity. A man who had 
been guilty of fratricide and incest was not too 

* Green, ^ort Hist, of the Eng, People, ch. i. § 3. 


harshly dealt with when sentenced to twelve years' 
exile among the Britons — particularly when it was 
left quite optional with himself whether the sentence 
was to be carried out or not. 

When we come to the * Rule ' of Columbanus, we 
are on very different ground. We have none of the 
genial feasts made for the welcome of visitors ; no 
killing of oxen for the common meal ; but day fol- 
lows day in one monotonous and continued fast, 
barely enough food for sustaining life being taken, 
and that consisting merely of vegetables, pulse, meal, 
and biscuit — only varied by a fast still more strict 
imposed as a punishment for some paltry offence. 
Brutal inflictions of the lash are threatened at every 
step. For speaking in a loud voice there were six 
stripes. The same punishment for not repressing a 
cough at the beginning of a psalm, or for omitting 
to say, Amen. For some offences, as many as two 
hundred stripes are ordered, to be given twenty-five 
at a time. 

The difference between the two systems is so 
striking, that a doubt naturally arises in the mind 
as to whether Columbanus founded his rule on that 
Comgal after all. There is another possibility : that 
Bangor was not so very different from lona, and that 
Columlj^anus, being dissatisfied with what he con- 
sidered its laxity, left it for the purpose of following 
a stricter rule ; and that these terrible whippings are 
of his own invention. At all events, it is pleasant 
to remember the picture that Adamnan gives of 
lona, which shows us that whatever Bangor may 
have been, other places in Ireland were very far 
indeed from accepting such a tyranny as Columbanus 
would have wished to impose. 

This excessive severity, repugnant as it is to all 
our ideas, was one of the great factors in the success 


of Columbanus. When carelessness and indiffer-' 
ence abounded, the intense earnestness of these men 
must have been the more remarkable; and when 
the people thought of religion at all, they could 
scarcely help being attracted by those to whom the 
Faith was such a reality that they were ready to 
give up everything of pleasure and indulgence for 
its sake. 

In the work of Columbanus we have the Irish 
Church brought for the first time into contact with 
the outside world. Columba and the monks of lona, 
when they invaded Pictland, left the isolation of 
Ireland for a still greater isolation. Columbanus, on 
the other hand, found himself surrounded by an 
ecclesiastical organization in some respects very 
different from any that he had known at home. 
The bishops were real spiritual magnates, instead of 
being, as often in Ireland, subject to the abbot of a 
monastery. They exercised territorial jurisdiction, 
and they all of them paid allegiance to the Bishop 
of Rome. In Ireland, Rome seemed to be a very 
distant and unknown place ; and they had but 
little conception of that great system of Church 
government which was being perfected under her 

Columbanus, when he went to France, carried 
with him all the ideas in which he had been brought 
up. He never thought of conforming himself to the 
usages of those into whose land he had come. His 
monasteries were in Gaul, but they were not Gallic^ 
Whatever was the country in which he sojourned, 
he was still an Irishman, and it never entered his 
liead that he should belong to any other than the 
Irish Church. 

The differences soon became apparent. Colum- 
banus computed the time for celebrating the feast of 


Easter differently from those who were around him. 
and therefore while one was keeping the fast of 
Lent, the other was commemorating with a fea#t the 
Itesurrection of oar Liord. Here was a visible token of 
nonconformity. Any one coold see that the Church 
of Ireland and the Chnrch of France were not in 
accord. The matter was considered to be of soffi- 
cient importance to warrant the assembling of a synod 
of the French bishops, who considered the advis* 
ability of expelling Ck>lumbanas from the country. 
To this synod the latter addressed an epistle, in which 
he begs that he and his companions may be allowerl 
' to live with you in peace and charity, in silence 
amongst these woods, near to the bones of our seven* 
teen brothers who are dead, in the same way as up 
to the present we have been allowed to live amongst 
you these twelve years, and that as we have hereto- 
fore done, we may still fulfil our duty in praying for 
you.' He goes on to argue with tliem the question 
in dispute, and finally, he makes an appeal for 
mutual forbearance. But he gives no sign of being 
ready to alter his practice in the least, or of conform- 
ing to the ways of those who were around him. At 
the same time he wrote a letter to Pope Gregory the 
Great on the subject. This, as well as another letter 
written at a later period to Pope Boniface IV., is of 
the highest importance as throwing light on the 
position which he took with regard to the Pope, and 
as telling us from his example something of tne way 
in which the subject of papal supremacy was re- 
garded by the Irish Church. That Columbanus 
was altogether wrong in his arguments on this 
particular question, whereas the Church of Rome 
was right, does not concern the matter one way 
or the other. At present we have onljr to consider 
how far he as a member of the Irish Church 


considered himself bound by the authority of the 

Columbanus wrote to Pope Gregory in the hope 
of inducing that pontiff to use his influence for the 
purpose of quelling the storm that was raging round 
the Irish missionaries by reason of the opposition of 
the prelates. He insinuates rather than asserts that 
the agitation was set on foot by those who did not 
care to have their evil deeds brought to light, and 
that many of the bishops had obtained their positions 
through simony, and therefore were uncanonically 
ordained. He adduces the authority of Saint Jerome 
for the Irish practices, and warns the Pope that there 
ought to be no disagreement between his holiness 
and the saint, for whoever contradicted the authority 
of Saint Jerome would be looked upon as a heretic 
and rejected with scorn by the Churches of the West. 
He ridicules the idea that the decision made by one 
pope should in all cases bind his successors. Gregory's 
predecessor had been Leo, and Columbanus, in a 
quaint though not very complimentary manner, 
reminds him that *a living dog is better than a 
dead lion,^ 

The letter to Pope Boniface is still more remark- 
able. He begins it by words which have been often 
quoted to show that Columbanus of all the fathers 
uses the strongest language in asserting the Pope's 
supremacy. He addresses his letter thus : * To the 
most renowned Head of all the Churches of all 
Europe, the most charming Pope, the highly exalted 
prelate, the pastor of pastors, the most reverend 
overseer : a humble individual addresses himself to 
him who is highly exalted, the least to the greatest, 
a rustic to the polished citizen, a man of feeble 
utterance to him who is most eloquent ; the last 
speaks to him that is first, the stranger addresses 


the homebom, the poorest comes to him who is 
most mighty: nay, wonderful to relate ! a thing 
never heard of before ! that strange bird, the com- 
mon wood pigeon (Palumbus) ^ dares to write to 
Father Boniface.' 

This paragraph is interesting, as showing that 
Irishmen in the past, like those in the present, are 
sometimes disposed to regard the superlative adjec- 
tive as most important of all the parts of speech. It 
is certainly an extraordinary introduction for the 
tirade that follows, in which he unburdens his mind 
with a vigour of language that is as unique as is the 
accumulation of compliments with which he begins. 
He is himself conscious of the fact that what he 
writes will be distasteful to the authorities at Eome, 
for at the beginning he endeavours to excuse him- 
self by reminding them that better are the wounds 
of a friend than the deceitful kisses of an enemy. 
He then goes on to tell the Pope that * the name of 
God is blasphemed among the Gentiles on account 
"of you who are contending, both of you. For I 
confess, I grieve at the infamy that attaches itself 
to the chair of Saint Peter.' He gives as his justi- 
fication of the right to lecture the Pope in this 
fashion that, * we Irish — all of us — though we dwell 
at the very ends of the earth, are disciples of SS. 
Peter and Paul, and of all the disciples who by the 
power of the Holy Spirit wrote the Divine Canon. 
We receive no doctrine beyond that of the Evan- 
gelists and Apostles. "We have had amongst us no 
heretic or Jew or schismatic, but the Catholic faith 
as it was first handed down by you, that is to say, 
by the successors of the holy apostles, is still kept 

* By way of showing his humility, he will not call himself 
Columba, * the dove,' but only Palumbus, * the wood pigeon.' 


by US unshaken.' He goes on to tell his holiness 
that if he desires not to lack apostolic honour he 
must preserve the apostolic faith. He acknowledges 
the supremacy of the see of Rome in so far as to 
give it the second place in all the world, Jerusalem 
being first; but he says that it is a painful and 
lamentable case if the Catholic faith be not held 
in the apostolic see ; and that under certain cir- 
cumstances a Church very much younger, but one 
which has never harboured heretics (in which 
description he not obscurely designates the Church 
of Ireland), might sit in judgment on the Church 
of Rome, and cut it off from communion * until the 
memory of the wicked be effaced and consigned to 

"We are not to suppose that these writings of 
Columbanus were current in Ireland, or that any 
one in that country took such a decided stand with 
regard to the points of controversy. As a matter 
of fact the question as to the keeping of Easter, 
which was the subject of the letter to Pope Gregory, 
had not yet arisen in Ireland, and the * Controversy 
of the Three Chapters,' which caused the letter to 
Pope Boniface, never arose there, and was in all 
probability quite unknown. The works of Colum- 
banus only show us in what way an Irishman of 
that age regarded the question of Papal supremacy 
when brought into close contact with it for the first 
time. The life of Columbanus brings us down to i 
the beginning of the seventh century (61B), and tells 
us that up to that time the Church of Ireland was 
independent in so far as to claim the right to inter- 
pret for itself the "Word of God and ordain its own 
rites and ceremonies ; that it took for its sole rule of 
faith the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles ; 
that it ignored (and if occasion had arisen would 


have rejected) papal supremacy ; and that while 
conscious of its independence and of its difference in 
some points from the other nations of Christendom, 
it nevertheless held itself to be a part of the great 
Catholic Church. 




From the beginning of the mission of Saint Patrick 
to the death of Columbanus occupies a period of 
about two centuries — roughly speaking, the fifth 
and sixth. The end of that time saw one national 
Church for Ireland and Scotland, both countries 
being governed by the same rules, and holding the 
same doctrines ; that is to say, they held the doc- 
trine and discipline of the Church of Q-aul as it 
was at the end of the fourth century. If any de- 
velopment or change had taken place, it must have 
been brought aboub independently of any outside 
influence. It is, therefore, a matter of great interest 
to the student of general Church history that we 
should obtain as accurate a picture as possible of 
the Irish Church in that age. There is perhaps no 
other way in which we can get as clear an idea 
of the state of Christendom, for, when changes are 
taking place, when new developments of doctrine 
and discipline are being worked out, it is often very 
difficult to say afterwards how far the process had 
gone at one particular time. But if at that time 
there has been a portion separated from the rest, and 
this portion has continued for centuries isolated, and 
free from the influences that were producing change 
elsewhere, we can form a fairly accurate picture of 
the state of things that existed when the separation 




took place, by a careful study of the phenomena 
presented, and an elimination of those peculiarities 
that are due to merely local causes. 

The difference between the rule of Columba and 
that of Columbanus, which latter may have been 
founded on that of Comgal, has already been noted. 
We may hence conclude that in some places a stricter 
rule was followed than in others, and the conjecture . 
may be hazarded that there was a regular grada- 
tion, from simple Christian villages which were 
called monasteries, but were monastic only in name, 
to those in which the strictest discipline was ob- 
served and the extreme asceticism of the East was 
more than emulated. 

Some countenance to this idea is given by one of an 
ancient body of canons, attributed to Gildas, who is 
said to have come to Ireland in the latter part of the 
sixth century, at the invitation of the chief monarch, 
for the purpose of restoring ecclesiastical order, 
^ because all the inhabitants of the island had aban- 
doned the Catholic faith.' This story of the mission 
of Gildas is discredited by the fact that the period 
when Ireland is said to have apostatized was in fact 
one of great spiritual activity, as shown by the 
works of evangelization undertaken by the different 
missionaries. But there can be no doubt that the 
canons are connected with the Irish Church, though 
probably they belong to a later period. The canon 
says that * an abbot who is lax ought not to prohibit 
his monk from seeking a stricter rule.' Then by 
way of explanation, it is said, * monks flying from a 
lax to a more perfect discipline, and whose abbot is 
irreligious or immoral and unfit to be admitted to 
the table of the saints, may be received even without 
the knowledge of their abbot. But those whose 
abbot is not excluded from the table of the saints, 


ought not to be received. How mncli more those 
who come from holy abbots, whose only fault is that 
they possess cattle, and ride in chariots, either from 
the custom of the country or because of infirmity. 
For these things are less injurious, if they are 
possessed in humility and patience, than labouring 
at the plough, and driviug stakes into the earth 
with presumption and pride.' ^ 

From this we may learn not only that some .had 
stricter rules than others, but that there was con- 
siderable jealousy between the two classes. Those 
of lax rule had no sympathy with the stricter ones ; 
and on the other hand the extreme ascetics looked 
down upon those abbots as unworthy who rode in 
chariots and had wealth of cattle. It was unavoid- 
able, from the very circumstances of the case, that 
there should be this diversity. The greatest advo- 
cates of monasticism had never dreamt of its be- 
coming the one rule of the Church ; but this was 
the case in Ireland, and therefore it necessarily 
followed that the system should be modified to meet 
the circumstances of the case. Extreme asceticism 
might suit a few enthusiastic souls; but for the 
ordinary members of the Church, or even of the 
clergy, it was a yoke which they were not able and 
could not be expected to bear. 

It was not merely in different monasteries that 
there was this difference in strictness ; even in the 
same establishment the inmates were not all bound 
by the same rule. A man might become an ascetic 
without separating himself from his abbot, even 
though the abbot were one that did not follow a 
very strict rule himself or impose it on his followers. 
This brings us to consider the institution of anchorites^ 

^ Quoted from Todd, Life of St. Patrick, p. 144. 


which forms such a very striking feature in the 
early Irish Church. These were men who were not 
contented with the ordinary Christian Ufe, but were 
supposed to practise greater austerities than those 
among whom they lived. They dwelt apart, in the 
* Desert,' as their portion of the monastery was 

The name, Desert, recalls to us the fact that the 
original anchorites were monks of Egypt, who retired 
into a real desert, for the purpose of spending lives 
of loneliness and devotion. As far as we are able 
to judge of them, they presented a not very inviting 
picture. They were for the most part not only 
ignorant, but they gloried in their ignorance ; they 
never engaged in any useful work ; some of them seem 
to have laid aside every vestige of civilization and 
decency ; they placed no bounds to their fanaticism ; 
they banished from their hearts every human affec- 
tion. Though their lives were in one sense ex- 
amples of extreme self-denial, in another sense they 
were examples of extreme selfishness. "Whatever 
may be thought of cenobites, or monks living in 
community, there can only be one opinion about the 
hermits. They were as a general rule useless and 
lazy, and under the cloak of humility were filled 
with spiritual pride. 

When the monastic system was introduced into 
the West, the names were retained, but the things 
signified were far from being the same. When we 
speak of the Irish ' anchorites ' living in a * desert,' 
we must dismiss from our minds nearly all the ideas 
that we usually connect with these two words. 
First of all, the anchorites had scarcely one point in 
common with those of Egypt and Syria. They ,did 
not live lives of isolation, but formed part of the 
community. In later years there were ' enclosed 


anchorites' found in Ireland. These never left their 
cells, but spent their whole time each on the grave of 
his predecessor and with his own grave open beside 
him. But the old Irish Church was a thing of the 
past before these made their appearance. They 
were quite unknown in the period we are now con- 
sidering. The old Irish anchorites had their duties 
to perform, like the rest of the monks. In lona, for 
example, one of them was a bridge maker. It was 
not at all uncommon for the anchorite to be abbot 
of a monastery. Others were bishops, scribes, law- 
givers, teachers. Some were even travellers. Of 
one we are told that he died in Italy. 

A good idea of the life they were expected to lead 
is given us in an ancient * Rule,' written in Irish, 
which is attributed to Columba, and belongs, if not 
to his age, at all events to an early period. Here 
the religious brother who prefers solitude * is recom- 
mended to reside in contiguity to a principal church, 
in a secure house with one door, attended by one 
servant, whose work should be light, where only 
those should be admitted who converse of God and 
His Testament, and in special solemnities only. His 
time was to be spent in prayers for those who re- 
ceived his instructions and for all those who had died 
in faith, the same as if they had all been his most 
particular friends. The day was to be divided into 
three parts, devoted respectively to prayers, good 
works and reading. The works were to be divided 
into three parts ; the first was to be devoted to his 
own benefit, in doing what was useful and necessary 
for his own habitation ; the second part to the bene- 
fit of the brethren ; and the third to the benefit of 
the neighbours. This last part of his pious works 
was to consist of precepts or writing, or else sewing 
clothes or any other profitable industrial work : so 



that there shall be no idleness, as God says, Thou 
shalt not appear before Me empty.' ^ 

The 'desert ' in which these anchorites lived was 
simply a place set apart for themselves. Sometimes 
this was near the monastery, as at Glendalough; 
sometimes it was actually in it, as in the case con- 
templated by the rule just quoted, and as we know 
to have been the case at Kells. The desert was a 
place where penitents might retire for a while and 
obtain ghostly comfort and advice, for many of the 
anchorites were famous as anmcharas, or *soul 
friends.' For the regulation of these, both penitents 
and advisers, there was an officer appointed, who 
was called the * Head of the Desert.' 

When these facts are considered, it will be seen 
that it is most important that we should not be 
misled by words, when the terms used for the exist- 
ing circumstances in one country are transferred to 
those of another. The words, monastery, monk, 
anchorite, desert, and the like have done more than 
anything else to give wrong ideas as to what the 
ancient Irish Church was like. "We have seen that 
in Ireland the anchorite was simply a stricter monk, 
and when we remember that he was allowed to keep 
a servant and to receive visitors, we can scarcely say 
that his rule was too strict. It is very probable, 
however, that at first no such institutions existed, 
and that a considerable time elapsed before such a 
development was thought of. The ancient catalogue 

* O'Curry, MS. Materials ofAnc. Irish Hist., p. 374. The 
last sentence is given in Latin : * Ut Deus ait : Non apparebis 
ante me vacuus.' The passage occurs in four places (once in 
the Apocrypha), but in no case is the Vulgate exactly as here 
quoted. It will be noticed that the meaning unemployed 
is given to vacuus^ though the Biblical context requires the 
meaning empty-handed. 


of the Irish saints to which reference has been 
already made tells us that it was the third order of 
saints who * used to dwell in desert places, and to 
live on herbs and water and the alms of the faithful. 
They despised all earthly things and wholly avoided 
all whispering and backbiting.' But they were the 
least holy of the three orders, which shows that 
asceticism, though it existed at the time, was not re- 
garded as a sign of great sanctity. On the contrary, 
those were more highly esteemed who needed no 
such help for the overcoming of sin. The catalogue 
further tells us that they were later in date than the 
first order of saints, who established mixed monas- 
teries and had Saint Patrick for their leader. They 
were later also than the second order, which enforced 
celibacy, and indeed did not come into existence 
until the seventh century. That the movement was 
due to foreign influences is probable, from the fact 
that while some of them followed the usages of the 
Irish Church, others conformed to the rules observed 
by the Continental Churches. This is also borne out 
by the fact that the Annalists do not chronicle the 
death of famous anchorites until towards the close 
of the seventh century. 

The conclusion therefore to which we are led is 
that this institution never at any time had much 
resemblance to that of the same name in Egypt and 
elsewhere, and although characteristic of an early 
age of the Irish Church, was unknown in the very 
earliest times. 



The position occupied by women in the ancient 
Irish Church is a rather difficult, but most interest- 
ing subject. In the olden times the women of 
Ireland were admitted to many employments that 
are generally regarded as being outside their pro- 
vince. Even in the field of battle they took their 
place, and it was not until the year 690 that they 
were exempted from service in the military expedi- 
tions. When Tara was in all its glory, the * barrack 
of the warlike women ' stood within the enclosure, 
not far from the palace of the king. From the 
first they played an important part in the history of 
the Church. They were, as we have seen, admitted 
freely to the monasteries, or at all events to some of 
them, and being admitted, they were not always 
confined to the less important offices. Some of the 
abbots evidently did not care much for this mixed 
system. Columba is said to have objected even to 
cows, giving as his reason, ' where there is a cow 
there must be a woman, and where there is a woman 
there must be mischief.' This, by the way, has been 
triumphantly quoted to show that women were 
excluded from lona. But surely it is the very 
opposite inference that should be drawn. There 
were cows in lona ; therefore, according to Columba, 
there must have been women. 



If the Lwes of the Saints are to be believed, how- 
ever, there were some who obstinately excluded 
women from their communities. In doing so they 
encountered determined opposition. Kevin of Glen- 
dalough is said to have hurled a woman into the 
lake, because in no other way could he overcome 
the persistence with which she insisted on obtaininjg 
admittance into the monastery. A curious story is 
also told about Senanus, the saint who has given his 
name to the River Shannon, He established himself 
with his followers in an island, and on one occasion 
a woman sailed across and demanded admission. He 
met her with a repulse : * What have women in 
common with monks ? "We will not receive thee nor 
any like thee.' She began to argue with him: 
* What ! if thou believest that my spirit can receive 
Jesus Christ, why repulse my body ? ' But the 
saint was unmoved by the appeal, * I believe thee,' 
he said ; * but no woman shall ever enter here. Gto ; 
G-od save thy soul; but go, return to the world; 
among us thou wouldest give scandal ; thy heart 
may be chaste, but thy sex is in thy bodjr.' Stories 
like these could never have taken rise if it had not 
been a recognised institution at one time for women 
and men together to form portion of the same com- 

In other places they were far from resting con- 
tented with such unfriendly exclusion or grudging 
toleration. They became the instructors of men, 
and took upon them the training of those who were 
to be admitted to the priesthood. We read of one 
who did duty as * Erenach ' at Derry,^ and who 
must therefore have transacted all the business of 
the establishment, superintended the farm opera- 

» . 

iiinals of the Four Masters^ a.d. 1134. 


tions, and received the visitors. Of another, we are 
told that she acted as * soul friend/ or spiritual 
adviser to one of the opposite sex. In the Life of 
Saint Aidan, we are told, * After Aidan had come to 
Ireland, he said, I am sorry that I did not ask my 
instructor who in this island of Ireland should be 
my soul Mend. He was returning to Saint David, 
walking on the sea, when an angel met him and 
said. There was great confidence in what thou hast 
done, in going on foot over the sea. To which Aidan 
answered, I have not done this through confidence, 
but through the strength of faith. And the angel 
said to him, It is not necessary that thou shouldest 
have a soul friend, for God loves thee, and between 
thee and God there will be no intermediary one. If, 
however, thou wishest for a soul friend, thou shalt 
have Molue, the mother of Choche.' ^ A story like 
this could never have arisen if it were considered 
unworthy of a saint to have a woman for his soul 

Several instances are recorded of women rising to 
the highest offices in the Church, and becoming 
abbesses ; that is to say, not mere superiors to com- 
munities of women, but heads of establishments 
formed after the same pattern as the rest, with 
priests and bishops amongst the inmates, who 
meekly submitted to the rule of the woman who 
was the head of the religious ' family.' 

The most famous of these abbesses was Bridget, 
whose monastery at Kildare continued to be famous \ 
for many centuries. She was the il legitim ate I ^ 
daughter of one of the Irish chiefs, ana is said* / 
to have been remarkable for her beauty, until, find- 
ing it to be an obstacle to her usefulness, she prayed 

* Bees, Lim8 of the Camhro-British Saints, 



that she might be deprived of it ; from which time 
she became remarkably plain. Probably this simply 
means that she was disfigured by an illness such as 
small-pox, and was thus led to dedicate herself to a 
religious life. At all eveiits, she was one of the 
earliest converts, and for a time became the com- 
panion of St. Patrick, whom she accompanied in his 
preaching tours through the country. Eventually, 
she founded the monastic establishment at Kildare, 
which, like the others of that age, consisted of both 
sexes living together, and bound by the same rules. 
Having erected her monastery * on the sure founda- 
tions of faith,' it soon became * the head of nearly 
all the Irish churches, and the pinnacle towering 
above all the monasteries of the Scots, whose juris- 
diction spread through the whole Hibernian land 
from sea to sea.' 

After a time, she reflected that she ought * to pro- 
vide with prudent care regularly in all things for 
the souls of her people,' and came to the conclusion 
that * she could not be without a high priest, to 
consecrate churches and to settle the ecclesiastical 
degrees in them."^ Accordingly, after a time a 
bishop, who was also a worker in brass, was admitted 
to the community; but he became subject to the 
abbess in the same way as in some other places the 
bishop was subject to the abbot. Sometimes there 
was more than one bishop at Kildare. As far as 
we can judge, the establishment resembled in most 
respects the ordinary monasteries around them. 
There was the same entertaining of distinguished 
strangers and the coming and going of visitors ; the 
same ceremony of washing the feet was observed, 

^ See Todd, Life of St. Patrick^ pp. 11, 12, who here quotes 
from Cogitosus, Vita S, BriyidcR. 


only it was done bv the sisters instead of by the 
brothers ; the same kind of work, too, went on ; the 
ground was tilled, mechanical arts were pursued, and 
especially the work of producing illuminated manu- 
scripts occupied a considerable portion of their time. 
Giraldus Cambrensis gives us a wonderful account of 
a copy of the Gospels which existed in his time, and 
which must have been of the same class as the Book 
of Kells. He tells us that it was miraculously pro- 
duced. Every night an angel showed the scribe in 
a dream a copy of the designs he was to execute 
on the following day, and by the prayers of Bridget 
he was then enabled to reproduce them. *In this 
manner the book was composed, an angel furnishing 
the designs, Saint Bridget praying, and the scribe 

In later times the abbesses seem to have had less 
authority, and the establishment was nearly always 
under the control of some member of the royal family 
of Leinster, not unfrequently the heir to the throne. 
A remarkable peculiarity of the monastery at Kildare 
was the keeping up of a perpetual fire. Giraldus 
mentions it among the * Wonders and Miracles of 
Ireland.' He tells us that * this fire is surrounded 
by a hedge, made of stakes and brushwood, and 
forming a circle, within which no male can enter ; 
and if any one should presume to enter, which has 
been sometimes attempted by rash men, he will not 
escape the Divine vengeance. Moreover, it is only 
lawful for women to blow the fire, fanning it or 
using bellows only, and not with their breath,' There 
has been much speculation as to the meaning of this 
fire, but its origin is lost in mystery, and is not im- 
probably to be traced to the old Druidism. Henry 
de Londres, one of the Anglo-Norman archbishops of 
Dublin, believing it to be of idolatrous origin, caused 



it to be extinguished in 1220, but it was again re- 
lighted, and continued until the time of the dissolu- 
tion of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, 
It furnishes us with an example of how the old Celtic)) 
usages were often tolerated by the Bomish party 
when they could not be abolished. 

There were many establishments in Ireland which 
owed their origin to Kildare. Saint Bridget's in- 
fluence, we are told, * like a fruitful vine, spreading 
all around with growing branches,' extended itself 
through the whole country. But their record seems, 
for the most part, to have perished. In a few places 
we read of abbesses, as for example in Clonburren on 
the Shannon, and Clonbroney in the County Long- 
ford. The latter was founded in the year 734 by 
Samthann, who was a poetess, and who is herself 
celebrated in verse by the literary king, Hugh Allen. 
He writes concerning her : 

* Samthann for enlightening various sinners, 
A servant who observed stem chastity, 
In the northern plain of fertile Meath 
Great suffering did Samthann endure. 
She undertook a thing not easy, 
Fasting for the kingdom above, 
She lived on scanty food, 
Hard were her girdles. 
She struggled in venomous conflicts, 
True was her heart amid the wicked; 
To the bosom of the Lord, with a pure death 
Samthann passed from her sufferings.' * 

It is not quite clear whether there were other 
establishments in Ireland where both sexes were 
united under the rule of the abbess, as at Kildare. 

' Annals of the Four Masters, a.d. TS-l, 


But it is certain that in England and on the conti- 
nent there were many hke it, where Irish, or at all 
events Celtic, teachers had made their influence felt. 
In France, for example, Saint Fara's monastery at 
Brie followed at first the Eule of Saint Columbanus. 
Earcongota, daughter of Earconbert, King of Kent, 
and her kinswoman Ethelberga, were inmates, and 
the latter was at one time abbess. But the establish- 
ment included brethren as well as sisters, for when 
Earcongota died, ' many of the brethren of that 
monastery that were in the other houses declared 
that they had then plainly heard concerts of angels 
singing, and the noise as it were of a multitude 
entering the monastery.' ^ 

The famous Saint Hilda presided over such a 
monastery at Whitby in YorKshire, and was in her 
day the upholder of Irish customs, although at the 
time the Roman missionaries in England were using 
all their influence against them.^ She had been 
converted by Paulinus, first bishop of the North- 
umbrians, but had received most of her religious 
education from Saint Aidan, who came forth from 
lona. She was strict in her discipline, and insisted 
on community of goods, * so that after the example 
of the primitive Church no person was there rich, 
and none poor, all being in common to all, and none 
having any property.' * She obliged those who 
were under her direction to attend so much to the 
reading of the Holy Scriptures, and to exercise 
themselves so much in works of justice, that many 
might be there found fit for ecclesiastical duties, and 
to serve at the altar.' In this way she trained a 
large number for the sacred ministry, of whom no less 
than five became bishops. She seems to have been 

* Bede, Ecd. Hist, iii. 8. 2 j^.^ iij, 25. 


not only a ruler, but a preacher, for we are told that 
notwithstanding sickness, she never failed * publicly 
and privately to instruct the flock committed to her 
charge/ ^ 

Among those who acknowledged her as abbess 
was one whose name has come down to us as the 
first of the Anglo-Saxon writers, CsBdmon, whose 
Metrical Paraphrase of Holy Scripture is not only a 
monument of literature, but presents us with the 
earliest attempt to translate tne Bible into the vul- 
gar language of the people. ^ Bede tells us that * he 
sang the creation of the world, the origin of man, 
and all the history of Genesis : and made verses on 
the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt, 
and their entering into the land of promise, with 
many other histories from Holy Writ ; the Incarna- 
tion, Passion, Resurrection of our Lord, and His 
Ascension into heaven ; the coming of the Holy 
Ghost, and the preaching of the Apostles ; also the 
terror of future judgment, the horror of the pains of 
hell, and the delights of heaven ; besides many more 
about the Divine benefits and judgments, by which 
he endeavoured to turn away all men from the love of 
vice, and to excite in them the love of and application 
to good actions ; for he was a very religious man, 
humbly submissive to regular discipline, but full of 
zeal against those who behaved themselves other- 
wise ; for which reason he ended his life happily.' 

A branch of Hilda's establishment was founded 
thirteen miles from Whitby, and again a lady was 
placed at the head of it. Saint Bega, from Ireland, 
who is still commemorated by the name Saint Bees, 
which the place bears at the present day, and where 
in the well-known Theological College the same 

» Bede, Ecd, Hist., iv. 23. ^ u^ j^^^ 24. 


work of training candidates for Holy Orders is now 
carried on. At Barking, Coldingham and Watton 
there were monasteries conducted on similar prin- 
ciples. The arrangement does not seem to nave 
struck the Venerable Bede as incongruous or extra- 
ordinary, although he does relate some not very 
creditable incidents, which show that in some cases 
at least the system produced those evils which, on a 
priori grounds, one might expect would have destroyed 
it before a generation had passed. For example, one 
of the monks of Coldingham had, he tells us, a 
vision of an angel, who said to him, * I having now 
visited all this monastery regularly, have looked 
into every one's chambers and beds, and found none 
of them except yourself busy about the care of his 
soul ; but all of them, both men and women, either 
indulge themselves in slothful sleep, or are awake in 
order to commit sin ; for even the cells that were 
built for praying or reading are now converted into 
places of feasting, drinking, talking, and other de- 
lights; the very virgins dedicated to God laying 
aside the respect due to their profession, whenso- 
ever they are at leisure, apply themselves to wearing 
fine garments, either to use in adorning themselves 
like brides, to the danger of their condition, or to 
gain the friendship of strange men ; for which reason 
a heavy judgment from heaven is deservedly ready 
to fall on this place and its inhabitants by devouring 
fire.' ^ The result of this warning was a temporary 
reformation, but after a time, relaxing again into 
their former habits, the judgment threatened came 
upon them, and a fire destroyed the whole mon- 

All these English establishments, which were 

* Bede, Eccl, Hist., iv. 25. 


under the control of women, were founded by those 
who were of Irish origin, or had come under Irish 
influence. One may therefore conclude that this 
institution of the mixed monastery was one peculiar 
to the ancient Celtic Church, and that the position 
occupied by women was one of greater importance 
than was the case in any other country. 



In order to complete the description of the peculiari- 
ties of the Irish Church, a few words must be said 
on some Church oflficers which seem to have been 
found only in Ireland. 

The head of every monastery is sometimes called 
the abbot of the place, but still more frequently he 
is designated the Coarb of the founder. This title 
arose from the tribal organization. Coarb means 
inheritor or mccesfior. Thus, the Abbot of lona was 
Coarb of Columkill. The same title would be taken 
by the Abbot of Derry, or Kells, or Swords, or of 
any other Columban monastery. The Abbot of 
Clonmacnois was .Coarb of Kerian; the Abbot of 
Armagh was Coarb of Patrick; and similarly, the 
head of every establishment was called after the 
first founder. Sometimes the head of the chief com- 
munity of any order was called Arch-Coarb. This 
signified that he was the inheritor not only of the 
tribal rights of the founder, but that he had also 
authority over all the lesser places where the same 
rule was followed. Thus the idea of succession 
rather than of locality was that which was promi- 
nent in their minds. In other countries, the opposite 
rule held. The names of our own parishes and 
dioceses, for example, are simple territorial distinc- 
tions, and have no suggestion in them of each 



ecclesiastic carrying on the work begun by his 
predecessors. In Ireland, however, not only was 
this idea of inheritance kept in view, but they seem 
to have thought that other Churches were all formed 
on the same model. Even the Pope is spoken of as 
Abbot of Rome and Coarb of Peter, as if he were 
the head of an establishment in Rome similar in 
character to one of the monastic schools of Ireland. 
The Coarbs were elected in the same manner as the 
secular chieftains. Chiefs and kings obtained their 
positions by election, but the hereditary principle 
was so far recognised that no one could be elected 
who did not belong to the ruling family. In the 
same manner, every member of the community had 
his voice in the election of coarb, but was restricted 
in his choice to one of the family of the founder. 

The community itself was generally called a 
'famil3^^ We have this term used as late as the 
year 1203, when the * family of Derry' went over 
to help the '- family of lona ' in one of their dis- 
putes. Here again, it is needless to remark, we have 
the system of clanship showing itself. Every tribe 
was regarded as a family bearing the name of its 
first chief, and in the same way every religious 
establishment was a family bearing the name of its 
first founder. 

The business affairs of the brotherhood were in 
the hands of the Erenach and the EconomM. The 
former, who is often erroneously called an Arch- 
deacon by those who forget that such an office was 
unknown in the ancient Irish Church, used to man- 
age the outlying farms, which were sometimes let 
to heytagJis or Church tenants. They were the dis- 
pensers of hospitality, and in some cases distributed 
the alms of the community. The economist appor- 
tioned his work to each inmate of the monastery, and 



was bursar and general business man. He was not 
always a popular officer. When a brother was fond 
of reading and study, he did not care to be sent off 
to cut timber or engage in farm work. The econo- 
mist, however, had to be obeyed, and no one was 
allowed to shirk his share of the manual labour. 

The Anmchara or *soul friend' was one of the 
most remarkable institutions of the Irish Church. 
It has been often assumed that the office was simply 
that of confessor, and its existence has been appealed 
to as showing that auricular confession and priestly 
absolution were both practised in the early Irish 
Church. Such a view is reduced to an absurdity by 
the story already given about Saint Aidan. When 
his life was written it was not considered impossible 
that the office should be held by a woman. And all 
that we know of soul friends leads us to the same 
conclusion. They were advisers, not confessors; and 
they gave guidance and direction, not absolution. 
It is highly probable that Irish teachers of that age 
would have called Deborah the soul friend of Barak. 
The position she occupied was exactly that which the 
soul friends of old occupied. A few examples will 
be the best way of explaining the kind of service 
that they rendered. 

After the battle of Cooldreeny, and when Columba 
had been excommunicated by the Synod of Teltown, 
he sought his soul friend for advice, and it was he 
who suggested the missionary work which was 
begun and set forward in lona. 

We have another example in the life of Fintan or 
Munna, founder of Taghmon in the County Wexford. 
He was one of the many visitors at lona, and arrived 
there shortly after the death of Columba. To 
journey as far as lona had long been the great 
desire of his life, and one would have thought that 


the undertaking was not of such tremendous magni- 
tude but that he might fairly have made the journey 
on his own responsibility. He, however, thought it 
better first to have recourse to his soul friend, Colum 
Crag, and * take advice from his better counsel ' ; 
and it was only when he had ' laid his mind open to 
him,' and had received his consent and encourage- 
ment, that he began the journey. We are told that 
as the two were discussing the matter together, some 
of the brethren from lona arrived. On being asked 
about their journey, they answered, ^ We have lately 
landed from Britain, and this day we have come 
from Derry.' * Is your holy father, Columba, well ? ' 
asked Colum Crag. But they, bursting into tears, 
exclaimed with great sorrow, * The patron is indeed 
well, for a few days ago he departed to Christ.' ^ 

Another interesting example of a soul friend hav- 
ing been consulted is given in an old manuscript, at 
present in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. 
One of the minor kings, Fiacha by name, who lived 
in the middle of the seventh century, was killed by 
his own people, and his brother Donnchadh * came 
upon them in revenge ; but he stayed his vengeance 
until he should consult his soul friend, the Coarb of 
Saint Columkill, to whom he sent a message to lona, 
to ask his advice on the case.' The answer, brought 
back by two confidential clerics, was a strange one. 
Donnchadh was advised ^ to send sixty couples of the 
men and women of the offending tribe in boats out 
upon the sea, and then leave them to the judgment 
of God. The exiles were accordingly put into small 
boats, launched upon the water, and watched so that 
they should not land again.' A curious development 
of the story is that the Hwo confidential clerics,' 

^ Adamnan, Life, of Columba^ i. 2. 


instead of going back to their abbot, as of course 
they would have done if vows of obedience were 
then in force, * determined to go of their own will on 
a wandering pilgrimage,' and eventually followed 
the fortunes of the castaways, who had landed safely 
on an island. ^ 

A very remarkable * soul friend ' was Maelsuthain 
O'CarroU, who lived in the early years of the eleventh 
century. He was himself a chief, and for a great 
part of his life had lived as an ordinary petty King. 
In his later years, however, he was an inmate of the 
abbey at Innisfallen, in one of the Lakes of Killarney, 
and became soul friend to the famous Brian Boru. 
The Four Masters tell us that he was chief doctor of 
the Western world in his time, and that he died after 
a good life. His handwriting is still to be seen in 
the Book of Armagh. He was manifestly a very 
learned man, and seems to have been employed as 
scribe and historian by Brian Boru. Being a man 
of the world, he may well also have been adviser as 
to matters of state. But. with regard to the good 
life with which the Annalists credit him, the evidence 
seems to be all the other way. His immoralities 
were notorious — so much so, that it is difficult to see 
how he could have been soul friend with spiritual 
advantage to any one. 

In many ways there is considerable resemblance 
between the soul friends and some of the prophets of 
whom we read in the Old Testament. They were, 
it is true, quite unlike such men as Elijah and Isaiah 
and Jeremiah, but they were consulted much in the 
same way as Nathan was consulted by David and 
Micaiah by Ahab and Jehoshaphat. Like^ Samuel, 
they sometimes suggested that a war should be 

' O'Curry, MS. Materials of Arte. Irish Hist, p. 333. 


undertaken, and at one time it seems almost to have 
become a rule not to engage in battle until their 
opinion as to the merits of the contest had been 
obtained. In the story of the battle of Kilmashoge, 
as related by the Four Masters under the year 917, 
the soul friend plays much the same part as would 
have been taken by one of the old Hebrew prophets. 
The Irish leader, Neal Glunduff, was incited to 
attack the Danish invaders by his soul friend, who 
prophesied victory, accompanied the army into the 
field, and when the fortunes of war were going 
against his countrymen, refused to give Neal a horse 
to carry him away from the battle. 

All these instances, and many more that might 
be quoted, show us how different the soul friend was 
from a confessor. The office was simply what the 
name implied, and was very far indeed from carry- 
ing with it the ideas of auricular confession and 
priestly absolution. As an example of the kind of 
confession that was really practised in the Irish 
Church, and the doctrine of absolution that was 
preached, we may take the story of Fechnus, as 
related by Adamnan : * He (Fechnus) confessed his 
sins in the presence of all who were there. The 
saint then, shedding tears likewise, said to him, 
" Arise, my son, and be comforted. The sins which 
thou hast committed are forgiven, because, as it is 
written, a contrite and humble heart God does not 
despise." ' ^ 

It is a question of considerable difficulty to deter- 
mine how far the ancient Irish Church succeeded 
in making its influence felt on the people in general. 
The monastic form, while in one way a source of 

^ Adamnan, Life, of Columba, i. 30. The verse from Psalm 
li. 17, as here quoted, difters from the Vulgate in having 
spernlt instead of deapiciea. 


strength, because it joined men together in a holy 
brotherhood, yet was in another way a source of 
weakness, since it left those who were outside bereft 
to some extent of that leaven of goodness which the 
presence of even a few earnest and good men would 
have given them. The battles which were waged 
continually between the different tribes would make 
us suspect that the Gospel of peace had made but 
small progress in melting the hearts of the barbarian 
warriors; and when we find the Christian com- 
munities also joining at times in the fray, we are 
almost ready to conclude that the Church itself was 
corrupt, and had altogether failed in its mission. It 
is a subject, however, on which mistakes may easily 
be made. Many of the old battles that are duly 
recorded by the Annalists, would now be regarded as 
mere faction fights, and are only magnified by their 
antiquity into acts of national warfare. It must 
always bo remembered, too, that much of the dis- 
order of the age is due to the system of government. 
When a small country is divided into a large number 
of independent or semi-independent kingdoms, it is 
almost certain to have wars and fightings without 
end. Even the personal loyalty of the subjects, 
though an estimable quality in itself, would only 
help the disorder, because it made them ready to 
follow their leader in blind obedience, making his 
quarrel their own, without pausing to enquire as to 
the rights and wrongs of the question. 

On the other hand, the Church was in many cases 
the helper of the weak, the asylum of the fugitive, 
the arbiter of justice. As an illustration of how the 
Church interposed at times to secure justice between 
the different tribes, we may take the case of what 
was called the Boromean tribute. This was a tribute 
of cows which the King of Leinster was required to 


pay every third year to the monarch of Ireland. It 
was originally imposed in the first century of our ' 
era, as a punishment for the disgraceful conduct of 
the King of Leinster at that time. But for centuries 
afterwards it was exacted, and was from time to time 
the fruitful cause of war and bloodshed. The in- 
justice of continuijig the imposition for an offence 
personal in the first instance, and committed so long 
in the past, seems never to have been considered^ 
until the matter was taken up in the latter part of 
the seventh century by Saint Moling, who had 
founded a monastery in the County Carlow. This 
Leinster Christian effected what the Leinster armies 
were unable to accomplish. He brought the monarch 
to see that the tax was unjust, and ou^ht to be 
abolished. Accordingly Finachta the Festive, in the 
year 680, decreed that the tribute would be no 
longer required, and thus what had been the cause 
of more civil war than anything else in the whole 
history of the nation, came to an end. Strange to 
say, when the king on this occasion consulted his 
soul friend, he was advised by him to continue the 
tax ; but happily he had enough good sense to dis- 
regard the evil advice, and do that which was just 
and right. This was all the more remarkable, as 
the ecclesiastic whose guidance he followed belonged 
to the tribe of his enemies. 

A powerful weapon in the hands of the Church, 
and one not unfrequently employed, was what may 
be called the ' ecclesiastical curse.' The most re- 
markable instance in which this was used was the 
case of the royal palace and city of Tara, and it will 
illustrate well the great power which it enabled the 
Church to wield. The king, Dermot — the same 
monarch who fought with Saint Columba — took 
prisoner and afterwards condemned to death a 


brother of Saint Euan of Lorrha, in the County 
Tipperary. The judgment was unjust, and the 
cause was warmly taken up by the prisoner's saintly 
kinsman. But reasoning and entreaty were alike in 
vain, and the sentence was carried out. Saint Euan 
immediately repaired to Tara, and *laid his curse 
upon it ' ; the result being that the whole place was 
deserted, the Feast of Tara, which was one of the 
national institutions, was discontinued, and it ceased 
from that time to be the royal residence. 

It must have been this institution of the ecclesi- 
astical curse that Giraldus Cambrensis had in his 
mind when he penned the curious chapter in which 
he sets forth how the saints of Ireland appear to be 
of a vindictive temper. The explanation that he 
gives is a remarkable one, and is perhaps worth 
quoting in this place. ^As the Irish people,' he 
says, * possessed no castles, while the country is full 
of marauders who live by plunder, the people, and 
more especially the ecclesiastics, made it their prac- 
tice to have recourse to the churches, instead of 
fortified places, as refuges for themselves and their 
property; and by Divine Providence and permission, 
there was frequent need that the Church should 
visit her enemies with the severest chastisements ; 
this being the only mode by which evil-doers and 
impious men could be deterred from breaking the 
peace of ecclesiastical societies, and for securing 
even to a servile submission the reverence due to 
the very churches themselves from a rude and 
irreligious people.'^ 

Finally, it deserves to be noticed, as bearing on 
the influence of the Church, that it was a very usual 
thing for kings and other great men, after having 

* Giraldus Camb., Top, Hih„ ii. B5. 


spent the greater part of their life in warfare and in 
managing the affairs of state, to retire at length 
and finish their days in ^ one of the monasteries. 
Though thus retired from the world, they would be 
far from losing their influence. The young king 
would naturally consult his father in cases of emer- 
gencj'^ ; the youthful warriors would take counsel 
with those who had been the leaders of a former 
generation, and this would be in many instances 
almost the same as taking counsel with the abbot 
and bishop, so that the influence of the Church 
would be very powerful indeed. How much in this 
way it moderated violent passions, and promoted 
the cause of justice and goodness, it is not easy for 
us now to estimate ; but the Church which has left 
such an excellent record as a missionary organiza- 
tion, and in which the Word of *God was so much 
studied and honoured and prized, cannot have been 
other than a great power for goodness. We shall 
hereafter see how it promoted art and learning and 
civilization to an extent that we would never have 
imagined if we only thought of the barbarism and 
lawlessness which overspread the country at a later 



We have now to consider how the Irish Church 
came to be moulded by exterior influences. Up to 
the present our attention has been confined to such 
developments as took place independently. The 
Irish Church, as we have seen, stood alone beyond 
the reach of the revolutions and controversies that 
produced such changes in other parts of Christen- 
dom. It is a remarkable fact that it was her own 
missionary enterprise that first brought her within 
the sphere of foreign influence. The peculiarities of 
the Irish Church were well known. Columbanus 
and other Irish travellers had, in most countries of 
Europe, founded institutions which were formed 
after the model of those at home. The points in 
which they differed from those around them fur- 
nished subjects for discussion to popes and synods, 
but no effort seems to have been made to influence 
Ireland itself, or bring it into conformity with the 
other Western countries. It was only when in 
England the Irish missionaries met those who had 
been sent from Rome, and absolutely refused to 
regard them as other than heretical, that any action 
was taken ; and even then it was anything but 
effectual. In regard to the particular matter — the 
Paschal controversy — which was first in dispute, it 

was the influence of native scholars and travellers 



that at length prevailed, and the concessions that 
were made, were made on account of the arguments 
brought forward by them, and not in deference to 
any exterior authority. 

We shall first see how the Bomish and Irish 
ecclesiastics were brought into contact, and we will 
then consider the differences which made themselves 
at once apparent. 

The Saxons first landed in England in the year 
449, after which date they continued to arrive in 
successive immigrations, until they had occupied 
a great part of the country. It was not until a 
century and a half later that any serious effort was 
made tor their conversion. In the meantime they 
had driven the Britons before them, had destroyed 
the churches, and had set up the worship of Woden 
and Thor where the name of Christ had formerly 
been invoked. When Pope Gregory the Great was 
as yet but a deacon in Bome, he had a great desire 
to dedicate himself to the work of evangelizing this 
nation. But the obstacles raised by admiring friends, 
who desired to retain him in their midst, prevented 
liim from carrying his purpose into effect, and it 
was only after his elevation to the papal chair that 
he found another who possessed the same enthusi- 
asm, and was ready to undertake what must have 
seemed at the time to be a hazardous enterprise. 

The mission of Augustine of Canterbury, to whom 
this work was committed by Pope Gregory, is an 
event with which all readers of English history are 
familiar, and its story need not be repeated nere. 
The older historians have for the most part assumed 
that English Christianity was all the result of this 
mission from Rome. It is now recognised that such 
a view is quite erroneous. The work of Augustine 
was confined to the southern part of the country, 


and even there his success was more apparent than 
real, and has been magnified by succeeding writers, 
who considered it a matter of conscience to ignore 
or disparage any missionary effort that did not draw 
its inspiration from the Church of Brome. The 
whole enterprise depended on the enthusiasm of the 
one man. The companions of Augustine were re- 
luctant in entering upon the work ; they had 
scarcely put their hand to the plough when they 
wanted to turn back ; and they were ready to desert 
it as soon as he was dead. Then, the great majority 
of the converts were Christians only in name. The 
preachers, acting under the advice of the Pope, made 
every possible concession to idolatry. The idol 
temples for example were retained ; and, when 
dedicated to Christian worship, the people were en- 
couraged to make feasts beside them, in the same 
way as they used to do in celebrating the sacrificial 
rites of heathenism. 

The result was that when Augustine died, and 
the missionary enterprise passed into the hands of 
less enthusiastic workers, nearly the whole nation 
relapsed into idolatry. 

The British Church — now confined to the western 
parts of the country — held itself sullenly aloof from 
the work of evangelization. Augustine rightly 
regarded this as a dereliction of duty, and made 
overtures to them, in hopes that they might be 
brought to recognise their obligation in this re- 
spect, and would join with him in the common 
labour of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. He 
made arrangements for assembling a synod, which 
was to consist of both parties, at a place still called 
in the time of Bede, Augustine's Ac, that is of 
Augustine's Oak. Up to that time both he and his 
party had held the Britons and Irish in great esteem 


for sanctity, being, it would seem, quite unaware 
that their usages differed in any wise from those 
to which they had been accustomed in Rome. No 
sooner, however, was the synod assembled, than the 
differences made themselves at once apparent, and 
the party separated without coming to any con- 

A second meeting was arranged, and in the mean- 
time the British delegates took counsel with an 
anchorite, celebrated for his wisdom, who advised 
them to be led by Augustine, if he were a man of 
God. On being asked how they were to know this, 
the anchorite replied, that if he were a man of God 
he would be meek and humble, and would show his 
humility by rising up to greet them when they 
arrived at the synod. Unfortunately Augustine 
failed in the test. The Britons designedly came 
late, in order that Augustine, being already seated, 
should have the opportunity of rising up at their 
approach ; but he continued sitting in his chair, and 
the British delegates, observing this, were in a 
passion, charged him with pride, and endeavoured 
to contradict all that he said.^ 

The British Church was in doctrine and discipline 
almost identical with the Church of Ireland ; but 
the Roman missionaries were not aware of this fact, 
and were hoping better things from the Irish.* 
They learned, however, from Columbanus in France, 
that Irish and Britons were both alike, and when 
at length they did actually come in contact with 
an Irish bishop, he absolutely refused to join in their 
communion, and expressed his hostility not only by 
refusing to eat with them, but even to take his 
repast in the same house as that in which they were 

^ Bede, EccL lllst., ii. 2. ' 76., ii. 4, 


entertained. This looks like a display of temper ; 
yet, strange to say, this bishop (Saint Dagan) is said 
by Irish authorities to have been remarkable for 
his meekness.^ Probably he considered that eating 
under the same roof with them would be equivalent 
to the making of a league. . 

In one respect the Britons and the Irish were very 
different. The former had carried their hate of the 
Saxons so far as to deliberately withhold from them 
any knowledge of the Christian reUgion. * We will 
not preach the faith/ they said, * to the cruel race 
of strangers who have treacherously driven our 
ancestors from their country, and robbed their 
posterity of their inheritance.' The Irish, on the 
other hand, were in the full enthusiasm of mis- 
sionary enterprise ; their labours among the Picts 
had been crowned with a brilliant success, and they 
now began a similar work in the north of Eng- 

Oswald, King of Northumbria, had once as a 
refugee been hospitably entertained in the island 
of lona. When he found himself with the reins of 
government in his hands, he asked that a teacher 
should come from thence to instruct his people in 
the religion of Christ. Bishop Gorman, who was 
first sent, met with no success, and soon returned, 
reporting that he had not been able to do any good 
to the nation he had been sent to preach to, because 
they were uncivilized men, and of a stubborn and 
barbarous disposition. A young man in the as- 
sembly, hearing this report, gave a gentle rebuke 
to the disheartened labourer. * I am of opinion, 
brother,' said he, * that you were more severe to 
your unlearned hearers than you ought to have 

^ See Card. Moran, Iriah Saints in Great Britairiy p. 211. 



been, and did not at first, conformably to the apos- 
tolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, 
till being by degrees nourished with the Word of 
God they should be capable of greater perfection 
and be able to practise God's sublimer precepts.' ^ 
This sentiment seemed to contain so much wisdom 
that the speaker, Saint Aidan, was at once fixed 
upon as the fittest for the work. He accordingly set 
out, accompanied by some companions like-minded 
with himself. They were favourably received by 
King Oswald, who allowed them to choose for them- 
selves a site on which to found their first establish- 
ment. They, taking lona as their model, chose the 
small island of Lindisfame, in which they repro- 
duced as nearly as possible the different features 
of the parent monastery. Their work, prosecuted as 
it was with vigour and tempered with wisdom and 
prudence, was eminently successful, and the whole 
nation was brought to the obedience of the faith. 
Lindisfarne became in the very best sense a second 
lona. In the meantime some of the faiut-hearted 
in the Roman mission, becoming ashamed of their 
cowardice, had returned to the conflict ; new helpers 
had joined them, and they began to build up again 
the Church which had been so suddenly destroyed. 
The result of all was that Saxon England had two 
Churches : one in the south in communion with the 
Church of Rome, and one in the north in com- 
munion with the Church of Ireland. When these 
two parties met, the isolation of the Irish Church 
was for the first time broken, and the differences 
between it and the Church of Rome became at once 

Let us now ask what these differences were. 

* Bede, Ecd* Hist^ iii. 5. 



The first and most important difference that showed 
itself when the Roman missionaries in England and 
the Irish Church came into contact was, that the 
former were subject to the Pope, whereas the latter 
was not. This has been denied by some, but the 
proof of it is simply overwhelming. Every point of 
ritual, unimportant in itself, in which the Irish re- 
fused to conform to the Romans goes to show that 
this difference existed. In all their discussions it 
is tacitly assumed. The favourite argument of the 
Romans is that they are followers of Saint Peter, 
an honour which they altogether deny to their 
opponents. The Irish consider it a sufficient reply 
that they follow Saint John, or even Saint Columba. 
On one famous occasion a decision was given against 
the Irish, not on the merits of the question, but 
because the one side could quote the verse, ' Thou 
art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, 
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of 
heaven ' ; wnereas the other side could show nothing 
of the same kind about Columba. Such a way of 
deciding the question would have been impossible 
if both sides acknowledged equally the supremacy 
of the see of Rome. Then, the ignorance which the 



Eomans display concerning Ireland and everything 
Irish, shows that whatever theory may have been 
held in papal circles as to the subjection of all other 
Churches, as a naatter of fact Ireland had been left 
to go its own way without any assertion of authority 
on the part of the Pope. Augustine and they who 
were with him never knew until they were in 
Britain that .the British Church was different from 
their own ; and when they were made painfully 
conscious of this fact, they still thought that the 
Irish must be like themselves. Finally, the fact 
that they denied the validity of the Irish ordina- 
tions is the clearest possible proof that in their eyes 
at all events the Church of Ireland was not in com- 
munion with Rome. 

It is of no avail to bring forward, as is often done, 
the many points of agreement between Some and 
Ireland. That the two Churches did agree in many, 
nay, in most points, is historically certain, and it 
would be a mistake to represent the Irish Church 
as being in all respects like the Protestants of to-day. 
But, just as the Churches of the East and West at 
the time when they were not only independent, but 
hostile, were yet in agreement on every ftindamental 
doctrine, so the Irish Church, though it differed 
from the Church of Rome only on those points in 
which Rome of the seventh centurj^ differed from 
Rome of the fifth, yet owed no allegiance to the 
papal see, and does not seem to have been conscious 
of the fact that Rome had already made a universal 
demand for such allegiance. 

A less important, but more striking difference 
between the two Churches, was the method of com- 
puting the time for holding the festival of Easter. 
Easter is always held on the first Sunday after the 
fourteenth day of the first Jewish month. As the 



Jewish months follow the moon, the feast necessarily 
comes each year at a different period, and in order to 
calculate this time correctly a computation is made 
of the number of years after which the moons will 
come on exactly the same days as before. This 
term of years is called a * cycle.' If in any year 
Easter falls say on the last day of March, it will 
again fall on that day when the number of years 
in the cycle have gone by. The calculation requires 
a considerable amount of astronomical knowledge, 
and a great many different numbers have been pro- 
posed. The Metonic cycle, called after its inventor 
Meton of Athens (b.c. 432), was a period of nineteen 
years. The Jewish cycle, followed by the early 
Christians, was one of eighty-four years. The 
famous Hippolytus (a.d. 230) proposed a cycle of 
one hundred and twelve years. The Alexandrians, 
after the Council of Nicaea, fell back on the old 
Metonic cycle of nineteen years ; but their adhesion 
to it was not constant. Theophilus of Alexandria 
(a.d. 380) proposed a cycle of four hundred and 
thirty-seven years, and Cyril of Alexandria (a.d. 412), 
one of ninety-five years. Meantime the Church of 
Rome had mostly followed the eighty-four year 
period, sometimes called the cycle of Anatolius (a.d. 
284), although really of much older date than his 
time. Finally a cycle of five hundred and thirty- 
two years was proposed by Victorius (a.d. 463), and 
this in the end received general acceptance. It is 
now generally known as the cycle of Dionysius 
Exiguus (a.d. B27), and is practically the cycle 
used at the present day. 

When Christianity was first preached in Ireland 
the eighty-four year cycle of Anatolius was in use. 
The Irish Church therefore continued to use it, and 
when the Church of Rome changed it for a better 


and more accurate computation, Ireland was uncon- 
scious of the change, and continued in the old way. 
They also followed the rule that when the fourteenth 
moon iell on a Sunday, Easter might be kept on 
that day, whereas the Romans, following the Nicene 
canon, held that it should not be kept until the 
Sunday following. The matter involved no doctrine, 
except indirectly the authority of Rome ; but as it 
led to the keeping of the great Christian feast at 
different times — the two computations sometimes 
ditiering by nearly a month — it was a diversity of 
use that was very apparent, and prevented union in 
worship more than other differences of much greater 
importance would have done. 

When the matter came to be argued there was an 
astonishing amount of ignorance or dishonesty dis- 
played. For example, the Roman missionaries 
charged the Irish with the quartadeciman heresy, 
This was either a mistake or a misrepresentation. 
The quartadeciman controversy was, it is true, about 
the time when the feast of Easter ought to be held, 
but it had no concern as to the particular cycle 
which should be employed. The Romans also boldly 
claimed the authority of Saint Peter for the cycle 
first put forward by Victorius in the year 463. The 
Irish, on their part, claimed the authority of Saint 
John for the cycle of Anatolius. In this they pro- 
bably were partly right. It is verj^' likely that this 
was the cycle actually used by Saint John ; but the 
subject is one on which we have little authentic 

It may seem strange to us that a question like 
this, which after all was astronomical rather than 
theological, could have been regarded as of such 
immense importance. But when we remember how 
often some outward act, indifferent in itself, may 


become the way of expressing belief in a particular 
doctrine, we can easily see that the controversy 
may, after all, have been as important as it was 
most certainly believed to be by both sides that took 
part in it. The difference between the two words 
hojnoousios and homoioufiioft may seem insignificant, 
yet underlying it was the great question which con- 
vulsed the whole Church at the time of the Arian 
controvers3\ In our own day it may seem a paltry 
subject of dispute whether a clergyman should 
stand at the side or end of the holy table ; yet it 
becomes quite different when the posture comes 
to be regarded as the outward expression of 
doctrine. In somewhat the same way this Easter 
controversv was regarded. It was the visible 
method of declaring to which Church a man be- 
longed. As Bede says of Saint Aidan, * He could 
not keep Easter contrary to the customs of those 
who had sent him.'^ In other words, this was 
his method of declaring that he owed his allegiance 
to the Church of lona, and not to the Church of 

Another difference, unimportant in itself, but 
zealously clung to for the same reason, was the ton- 
sure. The practice of shaving the head in token of 
dedication to God was found among some heathen 
nations, and was not unknown among the Jews. It 
was introduced into the Christian Church in con- 
nection with monasticism. In the Eastern Church 
the tonsure consisted in shaving the whole head ; 
in the Western, only the top of the head was shaved, 
leaving a circle of hair which was supposed to have 
a resemblance to the crown of thorns. The Celtic 
tonsure differed from both, and consisted in shaving 

^ Bede, EccL Hist, in. 25. 


the front of the head in a line from ear to ear. The 
origin of this curious custom has not as yet been 
satisfactorily investigated, nor is it possible for us 
now to say whence this Celtic tonsure was derived. 
But it will be easily understood how a peculiarity of 
this kind is clung to, when it becomes the badge of 
a party. History furnishes us with numberless 
examples in which some particular way of cutting 
the hair, some peculiarity in dress, some simple 
ornament, the wearing of one particular colour or of 
some flower, has been adopted as the distinguishing 
mark of a religious or political party, and has been 
at once raised to an importance that it would not 
otherwise possess. It has given zealous men an 
opportunity of displaying their zeal, it has compelled 
time-servers and waverers to declare themselves, it 
has shown the strength of the party, and for these 
reasons has been clung to with the greatest devotion. 
The white and red roses of York and Lancaster — 
the cropped hair of the Roundheads and the flow- 
ing locks of the Cavaliers — the broad-brimmed hats, 
poke bonnets, and sombre grey of the Quakers — the 
orange and blue of the Revolution — are all cases 
in point. In the same way the Celtic tonsure was 
regarded by the Irish as the outward mark of their 
ecclesiastical independence, and for that reason was 
zealously preserved. 

Of more importance was the question of ordina- 
tion ; but unfortunately we cannot now say in what 
the difierence between the two Churches consisted. 
Bishops among the Irish were consecrated by a 
single bishop, whereas among the Romans there 
were ordinarily three employed. But the rule was 
not a strict one. When Augustine of Canterbury 
asked the question, whether a bishop might be or- 
dained by him without other bishops being present. 


Pope Gregory answers, *As for the Church of 
England, in which you arQ as yet the only bishop, 
you can no otherwise ordain a bishop than in the 
absence of other bishops.' It is evident therefore 
that this of itself would not have rendered the Irish 
ordinations invalid in the sight of Rome. Yet it 
is quite clear that they were so regarded. The 
very answer of Pope Gregory shows it, for he 
completely ignores the bishops of the British and 
Irish Churches who were already in the country. 
According to modern Romish doctrine, the sacra- 
ment of orders cannot be repeated ; yet we find 
that re-ordination was insisted on in the case of 
Celtic bishops. 

Let us take, for example, the case of Saint Chad. 
When he was first consecrated bishop, the ceremony 
was performed by Wini, Bishop of the West Saxons, 
assisted by two British bishops who kept Easter 
according to the Roman method, ' for at that time,' 
Bede informs us, * there was no other bishop canonic- 
ally ordained besides that Wini ' — that is to say, 
the British and Irish were all regarded as outside 
the pale of the Church of Rome. Here we have 
the canonical number of consecrators, and one of 
them at least had orders which were recognised by 
the Church of Rome; but the form used on the 
occasion must have been the Celtic, for Archbishop 
Theodore of Canterbury afterwards upbraided Bishop 
Chad, that he had not been duly consecrated, and 
himself ' completed his ordination after the Catholic 
manner.' ^ Chad had received his religious training 
from the Irish, and in his youthful days had spent 
some years in Ireland ; for a long time, too, he had 
upheld the Celtic customs against the teachings of 

^ Bede, Eccl, Hist., iv. 2. 


Eome ; but at length, becoming a convert, he had 
experiences curiously similar to those with which 
the men who have followed his footsteps in more 
modern times have been made familiar. 

That this was not the mere excess of zefll of one 
particular archbishop, is shown by the fact that 
one of the canons of the old Anglo-Saxon Church 
enacts, * That such as have received ordination 
from the bishops of the Irish or Britons who in 
the matter of Easter and the tonsure are not united 
to the Catholic Church, must again by imposition 
of hands be confirmed by a Catholic bishop.' It 
is probable that the Irish on their part behaved 
similarly towards any that came from the Bomish 
party to them. We have no record as to how 
thej'' dealt with ecclesiastics, but ordinary people 
leaving the ' Catholic party ' had to undergo a 
forty days' penance before the Celts would receive 

On the subject of the celibacy of the clergy we 
must speak with less confidence, as the evidence is 
to some extent conflicting. When Saint Patrick's 
mission began celibacy was highly esteemed in Gaul 
and Western Europe, but was not universally im- 
posed on the clergy ; and this seems exactly to re- 
present the state of the case in Ireland. There is 
extant a Book of Canons, attributed to Saint Patrick, 
but which bears internal evidence of belonging to 
the eighth century, one of which ordains that when 
the wife of a clergyman goes abroad she must wear 
a veil on her head. The learned Cardinal Moran 
enters into an elaborate argument to show that the 
canon does not imply a married clergy — that the 
wife referred to is after all not the clergyman's wife. 
The subject, however, is not one for argument, 
but for taking words in their plain and obvious 


meaning. I therefore give the canon in the original 
Latin, leaving it to the reader to translate, and to 
decide whether the deduction I have drawn from it 
is justified. It is as follows : * Quicunque clericus 
ab hostiario usque ad sacerdotem sine tunica visus 
fuerit, atque turpitudinem ventris et nuditatem 
nop tegat, et si non more Romano capilli ejus 
torisi sint, et uxor [ejusj si non velato capite am- 
bulaverit, pariter a laicis contemnentur, et ab 
Ecclesia separentur.' ^ 

Shortty before the Anglo-Norman invasion, there 
is reason to believe that some of the highest ecclesi- 
astical dignitaries in the land were married men ; 
but, on the other hand, these cases must have been 
exceptional, for Giraldus Cambrensis, who delights 
in mentioning anything he can find disparaging to 
the Irish Church, whilst he charges the Irish clergy 
with habitual drunkenness, says that they are 
especially eminent for the virtue of continence, and 
goes on to remark that it may be considered almost 
a miracle that where wine has the dominion lust 
does not rule also. On the other hand, there was 
still in his day much resemblance between the 
Welsh and the Irish ; and he tells us that in the 
"Welsh Church there was to be found a married 
clergy, for he says, * The sons after the decease of 
their fathers succeed to the ecclesiastical benefices 
not by election, but by hereditary right, possessing 
and polluting the sanctuary of God.^ He also tells 
us that the same habit was followed in Brittany — a 

* Haddan and Stubbs Councils and Eccl. Documents relat- 
ing to Great Britain and Ireland, vol. ii. p. 328. Some MSS. 
omit the word ejus, put in brackets above, and the cardinal 
builds greatly on this. To any ordinary person, * a man and 
wife ' and * a man and his wife * would mean the same thing. 


place where Celtic influence continued until a very 
late date. The married clergy of Wales were an old 
institution, for we have the curious record under 
the year 1>G1 : ' The same year Padam, Bishop of 
Llandaff, died, and Rhodri, son of Morgan the Great, 
was placed in his room, against the will of the Pope, 
on which account he was poisoned. And the priests 
were enjoined not to marry without the leave of 
the Pope, on which account a great disturbance 
took place in the diocese of Tielaw, so that it 
was considered best to allow matrimony to the 
priests.' * 

In the case of the Irish abbots it, no doubt, must 
often have happened that the tribal instincts would 
prove stronger than the ecclesiastical, and that a 
married abbot would be chosen in preference to one 
of another family. The general tendency, however, 
seems to have been towards celibacy, but without 
imposing it as a hard and fast rule. 

As to the difference between the Irish and Bomish 
doctrine of confession and absolution, nothing need 
be added to what has been already said in connection 
with the * soul friend.' 

There were also some differences of ritual. The 
Irish Church had its own peculiar liturgy until the 
time of the Anglo-Normans. They administered 
baptism with rites different from those of Rome, 
using single instead of trine immersion, and omit- 
ting the use of chrism. But it is not necessary 
that we should go into these minor details — all 
the more so as our sources of information are very 

The points of difference between the Church of 
Ireland (or, to speak more correctly, the Celtic 

* Haddan and Stubbs, 


Churches, for the Scotch, British, and in many 
respects the Armorican Churches agreed with it) 
and the Churches of Western Europe may therefore 
be classed under seven heads : — 

1. Independence of Rome. 

2. Method of computing Easter. 

3. Tonsure. 

4. Ordinal. 

6. Toleration of Married Clergy. 

6. Public instead of Auricular Confession. 

7. Ritual and Liturgy. 



For a considerable time the two Churcheswith their 
diverse usages existed side by side in England, not 
without considerable friction. Matters were at 
length brought to a crisis by the inconvenience of 
having two Easters in the house of Oswy, King of 
Northumberland. The monarch himself followed 
the Irish computation, as did most of the clergy in 
his kingdom. The queen had been educated by the 
Roman missionaries, and followed the rule that was 
propounded by them. The result was that while 
one part of the household was keeping the fast of 
Lent, another part was celebrating the feast of 
Easter. It was then proposed to get over the diffi- 
culty by having a public discussion of the question 
in the presence of the king, and whichever side 
brought forth the best arguments was to be followed. 
by the whole kingdom. 

It is remarkable that when the matter came thus 
to be argued, the speakers on both sides were from 
Irish monasteries. On the Romish side was Wilfrid, 
who had received his early education at Lindisfame. 
After leaving that place he had travelled much, both 
in France and Italy, had been treated with great 
honour by the ecclesiastics of both countries, and 
had returned to England full of admiration for 
Romish ceremonies and altogether in sympathy 


with Romish ideas. The first ecclesiastical ofiice 
which he held in England was that of abbot of a 
monastery from which the Irish had been ejected, 
because they, 'being left to their choice, would 
rather quit the place than adopt the Catholic Easter 
and other canonical rites according to the custom of 
the Roman Apostolic Church.' His opponent in the 
controversy was Colman, Bishop of Lindisfame, who 
had been sent out from lona. 

The result of the discussion was a foregone con- 
clusion. "When the Irish had already been made to 
choose between conformity to Rome and expulsion 
from the king's dominions, it was not hard to guess 
to which side that king's verdict would be most 
favourable. He decided against the Irish use. Most 
of the Saxons who had been instructed in the Irish 
way were contented to abide by the king's decision. 
But Colman, with many followers, both English and 
Irish, chose to retire rather than conform. ' Perceiv- 
ing that his doctrine was rejected and his sect 
despised,' he returned to lona, and afterwards settled 
with his followers at Innisboffin, ' the island of the 
white heifer,' off the west coast of Ireland. 

Meanwhile, an effort, though not a very vigorous 
one, was made to bring the Irish Church itself to 
the Roman way of thinking. Laurentius, who was 
successor of Augustine in the see of Canterbury, 
wrote a letter in the year 605 to the ' Lords, bishops 
and abbots throughout all Ireland.' Only the be- 
ginning of this epistle has been preserved. And 
it seems to have been altogether without effect, as 
indeed might have been expected. It was not by 
such easy-going efforts that the Irish would be in- 
duced to give up the usages to which they had been 
for so long a time accustomed. 

In 634 Pope Honorius addressed a letter to the 


Irish, * earnestly exhorti ng them not to think their 
small number, placed in the utmost borders of the 
earth, wiser than all the ancient and modern Churches 
of Christ throughout the world ' ; and a further letter 
from Pope John IV. was sent shortly afterwards, in 
response to a letter of inquiry from some of the 
bishops of Ireland. In all these the keeping of 
Easter was the principal — one might almost say the 
only — subject discussed. 

The point was eventually settled by the Irish 
themselves. The contests between their mission- 
aries and the Romans, both in England and on the 
Continent, and the travels undertaken by some of 
their most eminent men, made them aware that 
their practice in this respect was singular, and 
naturally led them to study the subject on their 
own account. The south of Ireland, where there 
was most of this foreign intercourse, was the first 
to conform to the Roman method of computation. 

The chief mover in bringing about the change 
was Cummian, who had formerly belonged to lona, 
but who afterwards joined the Romish party. He 
wrote an apologetic letter on the subject, which is 
still preserved, and which is a remarkable production 
in its way. It displays very considerable learning, 
and it tells us that, however much the doctrines of the 
ancient Irish differed from those of Irish Protestants 
of to-day, the spirit displayed then was very much 
the same as now. The fact that any practice was 
followed by the Church of Rome was enough to con- 
demn it in their eyes, however innocent it may have 
been in itself. He represents the upholders of the 
Irish custom as saying, * Rome errs, Jerusalem errs, 
Alexandria errs, the whole world errs ; the Irish and 
the Britons alone think right.' His plea is one for 
mere toleration ; and his words on this subject would 



be worthy of remembrance in more modern contro- 
versies : * What I am saying is, I perceive, a burden 
to you ; what you say is also a burden to me, unless 
you shall prove it by the word of Holy Scripture. 
Let us then bear one another's burdens, and so shall 
we fulfil the law of Christ. For if we wound each 
other's weak conscience, it is against Christ we sin.' 
The conciliatory spirit displayed, and the excel- 
lence of the arguments brought forward, had their 
desired effect. The early years of the seventh cen- 
tury saw the whole of Munster following the Roman 
computation. It was not, however, until a century 
later that the north of Ireland and lona followed, 
and that conformity was established all through the 
land. But as this result was brought about by the 
arguments and investigations of members oi the 
Irish Church itself, the alteration was made without 
any surrender of independence. The change, too, 
was a gradual one ; and while it removed one of the 
barriers which prevented the Church of Ireland and 
the Church of Rome from coalescing, and thus pre- 
pared the way for events that happened some 
centuries later, it is to be remembered that these 
further changes were as yet in the distant future. 
On the one hand, no serious effort was made on the 
part of Rome to bring the Irish Church into subjec- 
tion; and on the other hand, the Irish Church, in 
admitting greater friendliness than before, had no 
intention of bartering her liberties, or of occupying 
any other than the independent position which she 
had held from the first. 



Several writers have remarked that the eighth 
century is a barren one in Irish ecclesiastical history. 
The Easter controversies were brought to a con- 
clusion in its early years, and the Danish invasions 
belong to the next century. No great event hap- 
pened in the meantime. It is therefore in one 
sense a period that has no history. 

Even in political affairs the time was compara- 
tively uneventful. A great battle was fought at the 
beginning of the century between the hereditary 
enemies, Meath and Leinster, in which the latter 
were victorious. In another great battle the Meath 
men avenged their defeat. Otherwise the period 
has little to record. 

The quietude of the country caused the Church 
to increase in power and usefulness. The great 
schools of Ireland rose to the zenith of their glory. 
Many countries sent their sons to obtain education 
in the peaceful establishments of the Western Isle ; 
and on the other hand, some of the alumni of the 
Irish schools, having left their native land, were 
distinguished for their brilliancy and learning in 
many a foreign kingdom. Such names as Clement 
and Albin, the wisdom-seekers, and Virgil the Geo- 
meter, are perhaps now seldom mentioned; yet in 

their day their fame had spread through many 



countries of Europe. Of the two first we have 
an interesting story given in the history of the times 
of Charlemagne. ' Two Scots of Ireland came to 
the shores of France with some British merchants. 
They were men who both in secular and sacred 
writings were incomparably learned. They used to 
expose nothing for sale, but to cry to the crowd 
who flocked round for the purpose of buying, If any 
of you wishes for wisdom, let him come to us and 
obtain it, for that is what we have on sale.^^ Of 
the last, Virgil, who became Bishop of Salsburg, it 
is said that he anticipated the discoveries of later 
astronomers, and hardly escaped being condemned 
as a heretic for maintaining the existence of anti- 

It is to this century that most of the illuminated 
manuscripts which still exist are to be attributed. 
In no age of the Church was the scribe held in such 
high esteem. ' Sixty-one remarkable scribes are 
named in the A^mals of the Four Masters as having 
flourished in Ireland before the year 900, forty of 
whom lived between a.d. 700 and 800.' ^ If no 
other evidence were left to us than the books them- 
selves, we should have reasons enough to conclude 
that the eighth century was an age of learning and 
art. Our only regret is that the remains of that 
period are so few. The Norseman of the next century 
cared little for books, and delighted in ' drowning ' 
the volumes which came into his sacrilegious hands. 
Most of the precious manuscripts therefore have 
been destroyed, yet enough is left to make us 
pause in astonishment, for no other country has ever 
had scribes like these. 

Connected with these manuscripts a very inter- 

* Migne, Patrol, Curs., torn, xcviii. p. 1371. 

'^ Miss Stokes, Early Christian Art in Ireland, p, 10. 


esting question arises. It is as to whether there 
existed a translation of the Bible peculiar to the 
Irish or Celtic Church. All the Irish Biblical manu- 
scripts of the eighth century are, it is true, copies of 
the Vulgate ; yet in many places they have read- 
ings peculiar to themselves. The subject is still 
one that awaits fuller investigation. Up to the 
present the Irish manuscripts have been regarded 
as the special possession of the archsBologists. The 
BibHcal critics do not seem to have thought of 
taking them in hand and collating them with other 
manuscripts of the same age. Their importance in 
this respect has, however, been partly realized, and 
Dr. Westcott says concerning them, that *they 
stand out as a remarkable monument of the inde- 
pendence, the antiquity and the influence of British 
(Irish) Christianity.'^ 

Haddan and Stubbs have collected for us a large 
amount of evidence bearing on this point. They 
have taken the different quotations from Scripture 
to be found in the earliest Latin works written by 
Celtic authors ; and they have compared them one 
with another, as well as with the Vulgate and with 
the old Latin translations which were in use in 
Africa and Italy before the time of Jerome. The 
conclusion they arrive at is that Saint Patrick was 
not acquainted with Jerome's Vulgate, but that 
after his time it gradually made its way in the 
Celtic Churches — traces of the old Latin being 
found as late as the tenth century. They say also 
that the evidence is * exceedingly strong,' that the 
version thus gradually superseded was a special 
British and Irish revision of the old Latin.^ 

* Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, Art. * Vulgate.' 
2 Haddan and Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical DocU' 
menfs relatimj to Great Britain and Ireland, 



It has been generally assumed that the Irish 
Church had no translation of the Bible into the ver- 
nacular. Haddan and Stubbs say briefly, ' There is 
no trace of any Celtic version of the Bible.' This 
is a mistake. There is actually in existence a copy 
of such a version, contained in an old manuscript 
volume, known as the Speckled Book, at present 
preserved in the library of the Royal Irish Academy. 
O'Curry tells as that this Speckled Book 'appears 
to have been written by some member of the 
learned family of the Mac ^gans, about the close of 
the fourteenth century. It is not a transcript of 
any one book, but, as will be seen, a compilation 
from various ancient books, preserved chiefly in the 
churches and monasteries of Connaught, Munster 
and Leinster.' Amongst its contents are found ' a 
Scripture narrative from the Creation to Solomon ; 
the birth, life, passion and resurrection of our Lord.' ^ 
In another work - he speaks of this part as a ' trans- 
lation, or rather paraphrase of the Old Testament,' 
and he gives two examples. One of these he renders 
into English in the very words of the Douay version 
of Exodus XV. 20 ; and the other, which is taken 
from 1 Samuel xxv. 18, he translates, ' The woman 
gave him five sheep, and two hundred loaves, and two 
paits (leather bottles) of wine ' — a rendering which 
represents in a fairly accurate way the original 
Hebrew. If these are to be taken as examples of the 
work, there can be no doubt that there was in early 
times a translation of the Bible into Irish ; and in 
any case the book gives evidence that the facts of 
Scripture were presented to the people in the lan- 
guage that they understood. 

^ O'Curry, MS. Materials of Anc, Irish Hist, p. 352. 
' Manners and Customs of the Anc. Irish, 


It was the glory of the ancient Irish Church that 
she always prized the Word of God and taught it to 
her people. In this connection we cannot do better 
than quote from an old Irish treatise, said to have 
been written towards the close of the period we are 
now considering. 'One of the noble gifts of the 
Holy Spirit is the Holy Scripture, by which all 
ignorance is enlightened and all worldly affliction 
comforted ; by which all spiritual light is kindled, 
by which all weakness is made strong. For it is 
through the Holy Scripture that heresy and schism 
are banished from the Church, and all contentions 
and divisions reconciled. It is in it well tried 
counsel and appropriate instruction will be found 
for every degree in the Church. It is through it 
the snares of demons and vices are banished from 
every faithful member in the Church. For the 
Divine Scripture is the mother and the benign nurse 
of all the faithful who meditate and contemplate it, 
and who are nurtured by it, until they are chosen 
children of God by its advice.^ ^ 

Although the eighth century was in one sense 
uneventful, we are not to suppose that it was without 
its important changes. Foremost among them was 
the bringing of Armagh into prominence, and the 
decline of the influence of lona and the Columban 
monasteries. Up to the present, when we have 
spoken of Church life, of missionary labour, of 
religious controversy, it has been mostly in con- 
nection with lona and its dependent establishments. 
Armagh has not played the same important part. 

^ From an Ancient Treatise on the Mass, contained in the 
Speclded Book. O'Curry, MS. Materials^ p. B76. In the 
remainder of the extract given hy O'Curry, the doctrine of 
the Eeal Presence is asserted, but not that of Transubstan- 


All this was reversed by the time that the eighth 
century had drawn to a close. The Four Masters 
refer to Armagh only six times in their annals of the 
seventh century. In the eighth century they have 
twenty-three references, and in the ninth fifty-one. 
On the other hand, lona, which is referred to twenty 
times in the eighth century, is only mentioned seven 
times in the ninth. Let us inquire how these 
changes were brought about. 

When lona was first established, the south-west 
portion of Scotland was under the same government 
and bore the same name as the north-east of Ireland. 
Under the influence of Columba the Scotch portion 
became an independent kingdom. The immediate 
results of this change were small. The Scotch resi- 
dents did not give up their nationality, but con- 
tinued to interest themselves in the affairs of 
Ireland, and to take part in the tribal quarrels as 
before. Nevertheless, the ultimate result was 
inevitable. They were drawn towards the Picts, 
who were their near neighbours, and who, by the 
efforts of Columba and his followers, were gathered 
into the Christian Church, while they were sepa- 
rated by the sea from their own fellow tribes in 
Ireland. The Irish never regarded them as other 
than an outlying and uninfluential kingdom. In 
Scotland they soon became the most powerful of all 
the clans. 

lona and its daughter monasteries in Ireland, 
though thus disunited* politically, were kept in close 
union by the power of missionary zeal. Men from 
different parts of the country — from Durrow and 
Swords and Derry and elsewhere — were coming 
and going to lona, and passed through on their way 
to their work amongst the heathen — first the Picts 
and then the Saxons. lona thus formed an outlet 


for enterprise and energy. The men of greatest 
learning and of greatest talent alike looked to her to 
provide scope for the employment of their abilities. 
All this was changed by the issue of the Easter con- 
troversies. The Saxons in a body went over to the 
Roman party, and those who refused to conform had 
to leave the country. The Irish missionaries were 
therefore compelled to retire from the field, and find 
for themselves other habitations. Thus Colman, as 
we have seen, led his small body of followers first to 
lona, and then to the west coast of Ireland. There 
could scarcely have been a greater change, and we 
find it hard to understand how men who had been 
accustomed to the one life could ever have been able 
to endure the other. At Lindisfarne they directed 
a great spiritual enterprise. They were the re- 
ligious leaders and teachers of the people. The 
work of education, of evangelization, and of the 
Christian ministry occupied their time; and they 
had besides the excitement of controversy, which 
though no doubt in many ways an evil, yet produces 
a certain amount of enthusiasm, and stimulates 
mental and spiritual activity in no inconsiderable 
degree. At Innisboffin all was changed. The mis- 
sionaries were forced to become hermits. Every 
condition of existence was reversed. We are not 
surprised that some of them found the new rdgime 
unendurable, and that those who could work together 
" with loyalty and good-will could not live together 
in comparative idleness, but had to separate into two 
distinct communities. 

In lona itself the change must have been very 
great. From the time of its foundation the very 
reason of its existence was its missionary work, and 
when suddenly its whole mission field was closed 
against it, the inmates must have felt that nothing 


short of a revolution had taken place. The prepara- 
tion and training of workers — the consecration of 
missionary bishops and abbots — the solemn sending 
forth of labourers with the blessing of the com- 
munity — the meetings at which reports of success 
and failure were discussed — all these, which formed 
the life and soul of the community, were at an end. 
In Ireland, the Easter disputes divided the Church 
into two parties. Bede tells us of Adamnan, who 
had been abbot of lona, and whose life of Saint 
Columba is one of our contemporary sources of in- 
formation about this period. In the year 683 the 
Saxons made a descent upon Ireland, devastated 
the great plains of Meath, and returned to England 
bearing with them a multitude of captives and 
great spoil. The year following, Adamnan went 
into Saxonland to plead the cause of the prisoners, 
and conducted their case with so much skill that he 
obtained the release of those who had been carried 
away, and a 'full restoration of everything he asked.' 
During his stay amongst the English, he learnt much 
about the ' canonical rites of the Church,' which he 
seems never to have known before, and after a time 
' changed his mind, and readily preferred those things 
which he had seen and heard in the English Church 
to the customs which he and his people had hitherto 
followed.'^ Returning to lona, he thought he could 
easily persuade his own people to follow his example. 
In this he was mistaken. So much did they resent 
his unfaithfulness to their traditional usages, that 
he soon found his position untenable, and he was 
forced to resign the abbacy and depart from them 
into Ireland. Here he met with greater success, 
and induced nearly the whole country, with the 

1 Bede, Eccl, Hist,^ v. 15. 


exception of those who belonged to the Colnmban 
monasteries, to accept the new ideas. There were 
therefore, as I have said, two parties : the followers 
of Columba on the one side, and the rest of the 
Irish Church on the other. 

A little before this time, and probably in connection 
with these very Easter disputes, the King of Ireland 
had decreed that the monasteries of Columba should 
not enjoy the same privileges as those of Patrick, 
Finnian and Keiran; that is, that lona and its 
dependencies should not be in as favourable a posi- 
tion with regard to immunity from taxation, and 
probably in other ways, as were the monasteries at 
Armagh, Clonard and Clonmacnois. Adamnan is 
said to have cursed the monarch for making this 
unrighteous law, but his own subsequent conduct 
only helped in the degradation of his order. 

Armagh soon identified itself with the new doc- 
trines, and as it was at this time rising into eminence, 
and was beginning to assert that supremacy which 
it afterwards obtained, its influence helped in great 
measure to destroy the old Irish peculiarities. 

The documents belonging to this age have many 
of them been framed manifestly with a view to up- 
hold the claims of Armagh. For example, the old 
manuscript volume known as the Book of Armagh, 
contains among other documents, a canon which 
provides that cases of extreme difficulty which are 
beyond the powers of ordinary judges are to be 
referred to *the archbishop of the Irish, that is, 
of Patrick, and the examination of this abbot,' and 
if found too difficult for him, to * the chair of the 
Apostle Peter, having the authority of the city of 
Rome.' This canon is said to have been decreed by 
Auxilius, Patrick, Secundinus and Benignus: but 
it need hardly be remarked that if really made by 



them and recognised by succeeding generations, 
much of the history which we have already sketched 
would have been impossible. It is generally believed 
to belong to the eighth century. 

The biographies of Saint Patrick have all the same 
tendency. Incidents the most improbable were in- 
vented, and stories of miracles were told — all with 
the purpose of exalting Patrick, and making it 
appear that Armagh was the central point from 
which his work was directed. It is a remarkable 
fact, when taken in connection with the extra- 
ordinary number of Lives of Saint Patrick written 
from the eighth century onward, that Adamnan, the 
biographer of Columba, never mentions him ; nor 
does Bede, whose information was derived from 
Columban sources, seem to have been aware of his 
existence. The first knowledge we have of him 
from any source besides his own works, is the simple 
phrase, * Patrick our Pope,^ used by Cummian in 

The influence of Armagh was for the most part 
directed to the bringing of Ireland into conformity 
with the practices of the Romans. The see rose into 
prominence as the upholder of the new fashions, and 
it was no doubt in turn helped in its struggle for 
supremacy by the exterior support which it thus 
obtained. The very name Celepedair, ' Servant of 
Peter, ^ borne by an abbot of Armagh who died in 
757, tells us how this devotion to Rome was begin- 
irig to take root. Irish ecclesiastics were fond of 
taking names of this kind. For example, we have 
Maelpaudhrig, which means Servant of Patrick; 
Malcolm, Servant of Columba; Celetighearnach, 
Servant of Tighernach, and many others ; but the 
saints they chose to serve were almost invariably 
natives of Ireland. 


It ought perhaps also to be mentioned among the 
causes which led to the advancement of Armagh, 
that for thirty years of the eighth century the mon- 
astery numbered amongst its inmates Flaherty, 
King of Ireland, who, after a reign of seven years, 
relinquished his crown and took upon him the 
habit of a monk. The loyalty of the people would 
not be denied to the king because he no longer held 
the reins of government ; nor did it follow that he 
had given up all ambition because he had ceased to 
be a monarch and had become an ecclesiastic. 

But though the eighth century saw the pre- 
eminence of Armagh fairly established, we are not 
to suppose that this meant anything like the 
'primacy' of modern times. Ireland had many 
who were called archbishops from the very first, 
but they were merely men eminent among their 
own order. ' Arch ' was nothing more than a prefix 
of excellence, and might be applied to any office 
in the Church, and so we have arch-lector, arch- 
senior, arch-soul-friend, and the like. That some at 
this time entertained the idea of establishing a real 
arch-bishopric at Armagh is more than probable, 
and no doubt this would have been accompanied 
by a submission of the Church of Ireland to the see 
of Rome. Both these projects were postponed for 
some centuries by the events that were about to 
happen. It was not until the year 1152 that metro- 
politans were appointed in Ireland. Four of the 
Irish bishops were then raised to the rank of arch- 
bishop by the Pope, and received the pall at the 
hands of his legate. 




The position of Ireland, at the extreme west of 
Europe, has rendered it less liable to invasion than 
countries otherwise more advantageously situated. 
England was conquered by Romans and Saxons ; 
but the former never set foot on Irish soil, and the 
latter only came on insignificant plundering expedi- 
tions. The third invasion of England, however, 
was one in which Ireland had its share. In the 
year 787, three ships of Northmen from Denmark 
appeared off the south coast of England. Eight 
years later they had made their way round to the 
coast of Antrim. 

The story of their invjisions is in many respects 
very similar for both countries. Fii'st, they came 
only in small parties, as pirates rather than in- 
vaders, their one object being plunder. Then they 
formed larger and better organized expeditions ; 
they boldly attacked strongholds and fortresses ; as- 
sumed the offensive in warfare, and endeavoured to 
dethrone the reigning sovereigns and usurp their 
authority. Finally, they made for themselves settle- 
ments, built cities, and erected castles, relinquishing 
more or less their roving and unsettled life, and 
making for themselves a home in the land which 
they had gained with their swords. 

We should, however, be quite mistaken in sup- 



posing that the Danes of Ireland ever came in such 
formidable numbers as those who landed on the 
coast of England, or that the struggle with the in- 
vaders ever reached such a pitch of intensity as 
when in England the Saxons had to fight for their 
very national existence. Only once was there any- 
thing even remotely approaching an attempt to 
subjugate the whole island. On that occasion, a 
Norse leader named Turgesius is said to have united 
the different bands which up to that time had acted 
independently. With their help he made an attack 
simultaneously on different parts of the country, 
defeated the native kings, and set himself up as 
chief monarch of the land. The story is one highly 
coloured, and abounding in dramatic incidents. The 
subjugation of the country is said to have been so 
complete that all the churches were destroyed, all 
schools closed, all meetings prohibited. Every vil- 
lage had a Danish ruler. Every house had in it a 
Danish soldier. Every adult had to pay a tribute to 
the Danes for the mere right to live. The tyranny 
lasted for thirty years, until at length the country 
was delivered by the valour of fifteen beardless 
youths, who, disguised as maidens, went as escort to 
the king's daughter, after a demand had been made 
by Turgesius that she should be delivered up to 
him. These, suddenly producing daggers from be- 
neath their robes, killed the principal Danish war- 
riors, made the Viking leader himself a prisoner, and 
then raised the cry of battle from one end of the 
land to the other. 

That this whole story is founded on fact is no 
doubt true ; but it seems equally certain that it has 
been greatly exaggerated. The works of the Norse 
chroniclers are searched in vain for any mention of 
Turgesius, and this omission effectually disposes oi 



the idea that he was such a great leader as he is 
generally represented to be. On the other hand, 
the Annals of the Four Masters, which are very full 
in their record of the Danish incursions, only men- 
tion his name once, and the events which they nar- 
rate for the years in which he is said to have held 
sway would have been quite impossible if a tithe of 
the story of his oppression were true. The principal 
source of our information respecting him comes from 
English authors, like Giraldus Cambrensis, who 
imagined that the number and fierceness of the 
Danish warriors in England was to be taken as the 
measure of their strength in Ireland ; and who, when 
they met with a good story, had not the remotest 
idea that it was the duty of a historian to reject it, 
merely because it was not true. 

On this whole subject of the Danish invasions 
there has been an immense amount of exaggeration. 
On the one hand, their insignificant piratical ex- 
peditions have been spoken of as if they were great 
national movements ; and on the other, they have 
been credited with the introduction of that art and 
civilization which they did their best to destroy. 
There is perhaps no better corrective to the extra- 
ordinary statements which have been made on this 
subject than the study of local names. Nearly four- 
teen hundred names of Danish origin have been 
enumerated in the middle and northern counties of 
England. This tells us that there was a real in- 
vasion, carried on by an overwhelming and vic- 
torious force. Not more than fifteen of sach names 
can be found in the whole of Ireland, and these are 
nearly all on the east coast. ^ We may therefore 
conclude that nothing more than small seaport settle- 

^ See Joyce, Irish Names of Places, vol. i. p. 105. 


ments were ever attempted, or at all events accom- 
plished, by the Danes in Ireland. 

When they first came, the religious establish- 
ments, especially those on the coasts and in the 
islands, were the greatest suflFerers. The Norsemen 
have obtained for themselves a historical reputation 
for bravery. It is doubtful if this reputation would 
ever have been gained if they had nothing to show 
but the record of their campaigns in Ireland. Their 
first attacks were all directed against the monas- 
teries.' In them they encountered the least resist- 
ance, for though ecclesiastics sometimes joined in 
battle, they were necessarily for the most part given 
to peace. The monasteries, too, had the greatest 
wealth, and that of a portable kind. In them were 
produced the works of gold and silver and metal — 
in them the stores of industry were garnered — ^in 
them were to be found costly shrines, book covers 
and altar vessels, curiously wrought and adorned 
with precious stones. In- them, therefore, were the 
greatest hopes of plunder. As soon as the work of 
pillaging was accomplished, they retreated to their 
ships. They risked as few combats as possible. Once 
on board their vessels, they knew that they were safe. 

In the year 795 they made their first appearance, 
when a small company landed on the island of 
Rathlin, off the coast of Antrim, burnt the houses 
and churches, and carried off the shrines and all the 
other valuables they could find. Three years later 
they attacked the little island of Innispatrick, oppo- 
site Skerries. There the remains of Saint Dochonna 
were preserved in a shrine, which the Norsemen 
broke and carried away. Then, sailing towards the 
north, they cruised along the coast, landing and 
plundering whenever they found a favourable op- 


lona, from its exposed situation, suffered more 
than any other place. In 802 the Norsemen landed 
and burned a great part of the establishment. In 
806 they returned with a larger force, and seemed 
determined to destroy it completely. Everything 
on which they could lay their hands was seized ; 
sixty-eight of the inmates were killed, and the rest, 
hastily embarking in their coracles, and bringing 
with them whatever valuables they could collect, 
escaped to Ireland, made their way to the monastery 
of the same order at Kells, and there built a church 
and erected * as it were a new lona.' 

As the years went by they arrived in greater 
numbers. They even ventured inland, and met 
the native Irish in pitched battles. But till stheir 
tactics were the same. Churches and monasteries 
were the prey for which they sought, until in the 
end there was not a religious establishment of im- 
portance in Ireland which had not suffered more or 
less at their hands. 

It is not an unnatural mistake that many his- 
torians, both ancient and modern, have made in 
supposing that these expeditions of the Danes had 
a religious character, and that their deliberate aim 
was to destroy the Christian faith, and set up in 
its stead the worship of the Scandinavian deities. 
Among the stories about Turgesius is one, that at 
Armagh and Clonmacnois he actually used the 
Christian churches for the celebration of heathen 
rites, and that in the latter place his wife officiated 
as priestess. That such ideas should have been 
entertained at the time and have passed at once into 
history is not a subject of wonder ; and yet any 
one who considers the question will see that this 
view of the case is most improbable, particularly 
when another and much simpler explanation is forth- 


coming. The Norsemen were simply plunderers, 
and not religious enthusiasts ; and they attacked 
the monasteries and churches, not because they 
hated Christianity, but because they found in them 
the most booty and the least resistance. 

The result was almost as disastrous to the Irish 
Church as if the Danes had come of set purpose to 
destroy it. Amid all the troubles and disturbances 
of tribal warfare, the Irish had for the most part 
respected those peaceful settlements in their midst 
where the worship of God was celebrated. Occa- 
sionally, an act of sacrilege would be committed, but 
it was viewed with abhorrence by the nation in 
general. The result was that learning flourished, 
;ind the Church became more and more a power in 
the land. But the Danes changed all this. Bishops 
and teachers had to fly for their lives. Scribes saw 
their precious manuscripts in the rough hands of the 
barbarians, who took a brutal delight in destroying 
them, because they knew them to be so highly 
prized. And the native Irish were not long in fol- 
lowing the pernicious example. Soon it came to be 
a recognised method of warmre that one chief should 
destroy the sanctuaries in the territory of his rival. 
Sometimes the churches of a whole province were 
ravaged because an unfriendly king was making 
war on its ruler. Under such circumstances learn- 
ing could make but little progress. The Church 
itself became infected with the spirit of the age. 
The era of the * saints and doctors ' was at an end. 

One of the more immediate results was the emi- 
gration of several Irish ecclesiastics to England and 
the Continent ; and we learn incidentally that in the 
ninth century, as in the seventh, those churches 
which were in communion with the see of Borne 
refused to acknowledge the validity of the Irish 


ordinations. In a synod held at Chalons-sur-Saone 
in 813, one of the canons has the title ' On the nullity 
of the ordinations conferred by the Irish, who call 
themselves bishops.' And in 816, at a synod held 
at Cealcythe, in England, it was enacted that no 
one of the Irish race should be allowed to exercise 
any priestly function, the reason given being that 
amongst them * neither rank is given to metropoli- 
tans nor honour to other bishops/ ^ This shows us 
that however much the Irish Church may have ap- 
proximated to Romish doctrine, it had not gone far 
enough to be acknowledged as belonging to the 
Communion of the Romish Church. 

* Both canons are given in Todd*s Life of St. Patrick 
pp. 40, 43. 



We have seen that in the eighth century there was 
a decrease of influence in the Columban order, and 
a corresponding increase in the power of Armagh. 
The ninth century and the Danish invasions did still 
more for the diminution of the one and the advance- 
ment of the other. The repeated attacks made on 
lona itself, and the transference from thence of the 
leading members of the community with all their 
most precious possessions was in itself a terrible blow. 
Kells, the * new lona/ never obtained the prestige 
of the old, and ceased after a time to be considered 
the mother church of the order. Derry afterwards 
obtained the pre-eminence : but this shifting of the 
central authority, accompanied as it was with fre- 
quent attacks from the barbarians, could only weaken 
the influence of the order, and quickly bring to an 
end that supremacy which it once enjoyed. 

A serious dispute arose about this time between 
the followers of Columba and one of the most power- 
ful of the Irish kings of the ninth century. We are 
quite in the dark as to how the controversy arose, or 
what were the questions on either side. We only 
know that in 814 * the families of Columkill went to 
Tara and solemnly cursed and excommunicated the 
king.' There was a time when such a ceremony 

would probably have cost the monarch his throne. 




Tara itself was deserted simply because an ecclesi- 
astic had cursed it. But the ' families of Columkill ' 
were now of little account. The king was unmoved 
by the curse ; the other churches in Ireland did not 
recognize the excommunication, and the monarch 
died at length in the odour of sanctity. Such an 
incident must have done much to diminish the 
already lessened influence of the Columban order. 

On the other hand, the progress of Armagh was 
no less marked. Its inland position saved it from 
the first onslaughts of the Danes. While other 
churches were being burned and plundered, it re- 
mained in peace ; and when, at length, it began also 
to taste the horrors of war, the struggle had become 
a national one, the whole country had been already 
aroused, and Armagh came to be regarded as a centre 
of national life. In the early years of the ninth 
century she had a succession of ambitious and able 
prelates, whose aim was not merely to uphold her 
ancient prestige, but to extend her influence all over 
the land. In connection with these abbots we have 
to notice the curious fact that their right to the posi- 
tion was fiercely contested, and that for the first 
fifty years of the century there were opposing lines 
of ecclesiastical succession. With the meagre in- 
formation that we have on the subject, it is not easy 
now to decide exactly why this contention arose and 
continued so long. It is not improbable, however, 
that the opposing abbots were the nominees of rival 
kings, and that the contention was as much political 
as religious. 

In the year 783 the rule of Armagh was extended 
over part of Connaught. Up to that time it would 
appear that Armagh stood alone — an important place, 
it is true, but without daughter establishments like 
those which belonged tolona. In this year, however, 


Dubdaleithe went to Cruachain for ' the promulga- 
tion of Patrick's law/ in other words, to bring the 
establishment under the control of Armagh, and to 
impose on it the same rules. This Dubdaleithe was 
the first to raise a contest as to the abbacy. Fain- 
dealach was the rightful occupant, and the two were 
in contention, setting up rival claims, as long as they 

Connaught was again visited by the Abbot of 
Armagh m 810, and in 822 an emissary named 
Airtri, with the aid of the reigning kings, caused all 
Munster to be brought into subjection. After that, 
he completed the work begun in Connaught, * pro- 
mulgating the law of Patrick among its three divi- 
sions ; ' and finally he endeavoured to eject his 
superior, Eoghan, the Abbot of Armagh, and set him- 
self in his place. In this last, however, he was un- 
successful. Eoghan was soul friend to Niall, one of 
the most powerful chieftains of Ulster, and utilizing 
the influence which he thus possessed, ne sent to him 
this quatrain, threatening him with the ecclesiastical 
curse if he did not take up arms in his favour : 

' Say to Niall that not lucky for him will be the curse 
of Eoghan, son of Anmchad. 
He will not be in the kingdom in which he is, unless 
his soul friend be abbot.' 

The result was that the chieftains made the cause of 
the contending abbots their own. A fiercely con- 
tested battle was fought, which lasted three days, 
with the result that Niall was victorious and Eoghan 
was retained in his abbacy. Some members of the 
community would have wished the dispute to have 
terminated otherwise. One of the seniors of Armagh 
has left the record of his dissatisfaction in these 
words : — 


*Not well have we gained our goal, 
Not well have we passed by Leire, 
Not well have we taken Eoghan 
In preference to any pilgrim in Ireland.' 

Eoghau's rival died before him ; but no sooner had 
he himself passed away than the dispute sprang up 
afresh. Dermot, one 01 the ambitious school, became 
abbot, and proceeded to Connaught with the law of 
Patrick, for the western province does not seem to 
have taken kindly to the rule of Armagh, and re- 
quired several successive efforts to bring it into sub- 
jection. In 834, however, Forannan was put up in 
opposition to Dermot, and the two continued as rival 
abbots until the death of both in the same year, 851. 

These episodes deserve particular attention, and 
throw a great deal of light on the subsequent history. 
We see that the position of Abbot of Armagh had 
become so important that for years members of the 
royal families contended for its possession. We see, 
too, its influence becoming more and more widely 
extended, until the ruler at Armagh becomes ruler 
throughout the whole of Munster and Connaught, 
as well as of course Ulster, the province in which it 
is itself situated. An extension of power like this 
would be sure to arouse still greater ambitions. The 
time when the Abbot of Armagh was to enjoy archi- 
episcopal rank was as yet far in the distance, but the 
seeds were already sown which were sure to spring 
up in due time. Meanwhile, we may see how its 
political influence had increased, from an event which 
happened in the year 889. Two chieftains had 
' conflict and dissension ' at Armagh, and were with 
difficulty separated by the abbot. One would think 
that there the matter would have ended. A good 
deed had been done, and virtue might well have 
been left to be its own reward. Not so, however. 


Each of the contending parties had to pay for the 
abbot's peaceful interference, and were mulcted in 
the sum of thirty times seven cumhals (a cumhal was 
the value of three cows) ; he was also required to 
give hostages for his future good behaviour, and to 
give up four of his followers to be hanged. Thus it 
will be seen that the Abbot of Armagh had become 
like one of the ordinary chiefs. Like them, he 
demanded his * eric ' or fine, for the oflfence com- 
mitted, with the alternative of war. 

There are few countries in which the Church has 
not, at some time or other, gained abnormal secular 
power. This has never worked for good. The 
weapons of the Church's warfare are not carnal, and 
when she lays aside the armour that belongs to 
her, and assumes that of the world, she ceases to 
be of any power in the pulling down of the strong- 
holds of Satan. 

It will not surprise us now to learn that not only 
at Armagh, but in most parts of the country, the 
Church became thoroughly secularized. Forced as 
it was to take up arms in its own defence against 
the Norse invaders, those arms soon came to be 
used in internecine strife. Abbots and bishops who 
ought to have been foremost in promoting peace, 
became foremost in stirring up causes of civil war, 
and joined in the battles themselves, forgetful of 
their sacred profession. In Munster the ofl&ce of 
spiritual and civil ruler became united in one, and 
the succession of bishop-kings founded a kingdom so 
powerful that eventually it became the greatest in 
the whole country. The case of one of these bishop- 
kings will best illustrate the entire secularization of 
the Church, and the low ebb of spiritual life to which 
she was brought by the influences then at work. 

A certain Felim united in himself the offices of 


King of Munster and Bishop of Cashel in the early 
parts of the ninth century. We first find him associ- 
ated with Airtri, Bishop of Armagh, in bringing the 
churches of Munster under the ' law of Patrick.' 
From this we might conclude that he took a great 
interest in the spiritual welfare of his kingdom ; but 
when we see his subsequent career, and find also 
that this Airtri was put up as bishop in opposition 
to the nominee of the northern kings, we cannot 
help suspecting that this religious zeal covered an 
ambitious design — possibly the hope that he would 
become ArdrigU^ or chief king, by the help of the 
northern bishop — a dignity that was actually ob- 
tained by one of his successors, the famous Brian 
Boru. The next thing we read of Felim is his 
attacking the district near Clonmacnois. Shortly 
afterwards he burned the churches of the same 
place, and killed numbers of the * family.' The 
same year he was at Durrow in the King's 
County, where a Columban monastery existed, and 
he was still at the same work of sacrilege and 
devastation. He made several plundering expe- 
ditions into Connaught. He tooK the oratory at 
Kildare in defiance of Forannan, Bishop of Armagh. 
Several times he made incursions into Meath, plun- 
dering and burning wherever he went. Then 
he led an army towards Wexford, but King Niall 
went against him, and defeated him. In the ac- 
count of the battle we learn incidentally that this 
precious bishop — * the devout Felim,' a bard calls 
him — had actually taken his crozier with him into 
the battle. Finally, he went again to Clonmacnois, 
and plundered the sanctuary once more. This time 
he met a spiritual foe. An internal disease took him, 
and the aggrieved ecclesiastics at once asserted that 
Saint Keiran had appeared to him, and had given him 


a thrust of his crozier. He lingered in mortal sick- 
ness for nearly a year, and in the end died of the 

* internal wound inflicted by the miracle of God and 
Keiran.' After all this terrible record, the Annalists 
do not hesitate to speak of him as * anchorite and 
scribe, the best of the Irish in his time.' And one 
of the bards wrote concerning him : 

* There never went on regal bier a corpse so noble ; 

A prince so generous under the King of Albain never shall 
be born.' 

If in Felim we have the bishop-prince at his worst, 
in Cormac, one of his successors, we have the same 
character at its best. He was a warrior, but not a 
plunderer; he had all the ability of a statesman, and 
at the same time he was the liberal patron of art and 
literature. Though he never actually secured supre- 
macy for himself, he made it an easy task for his 
successors to place Munster at the head of all the 
kingdoms of Ireland. Yet his greatness was alto- 
gether that of a soldier and king ; and from the very 
excellence of his character we can see how incon- 
gruous was the combination of secular and spiritual 
rule in the one person. We may admire the brave 
king leading his followers to battle, and falling in 
the midst of the fighting men ; but when we find 
him described as ^ a bishop, an anchorite, a scribe, 
and profoundly learned in the Irish tongue,' we 
cannot help thinking that his place should have 
been in the quiet cloister, rather than in the noisy 

The monastic system of the Irish Church, modified, 
as it was by the tribal organization, had proved itself \ 
excellent in many ways. It had provided peaceful \ 
retreats where pursuits of learning and industry 1 
might be followed, even in the midst of turmoil and 1 


strife. It had proved itself effectual as a missionary 
organization ; but it failed to stand the test of time, 
and it utterly broke down under the strain of foreign 
invasion. A Church differently organized might not 
have produced so many ' saints ' and men of learn- 
ing, but it would not have suffered such complete 
demoralization merely because some of its sanctuaries 
had been destroyed. 



By the middle of the ninth century the Danes had 
established themselves permanently in settlements 
along the coast, and had founded the seaport towns 
of Dublin, Waterford and Limerick. From that 
time they maintained a continuous warfare with the 
natives, and had varying success. Sometimes they 
penetrated into the interior of the country, at other 
times they were driven from their own strongholds ; 
but notwithstanding these vicissitudes, their position 
remained practically unchanged. They never ex- 
tended their dominions beyond the few cities at first 
occupied, and from these positions the Irish were 
never able permanently to dislodge them. Before long 
they took their place to all intents and purposes as 
one of the tribes of Ireland. They formed treaties 
with the different kings, and fought side by side 
with the natives in the tribal disputes which form so 
large a part of the history of the country at that time. 
After defeat, they were quite ready to give hostages, 
pay tribute, and acknowledge the supremacy of the 
Irish kings ; but they held their ground, and as soon 
as they felt strong enough, they renewed the contest, 
and shook off the yoke that had been placed on them. 
This state of things continued down to the time of 
the Anglo-Norman invasion. 

The Norsemen who thus made a settlement in the 



land were at the first all pagans, and as far as 
we can learn, there was no serious effort made on 
the part of the Irish for their conversion. It was 
through the influence of their own compatriots in 
England that they were at length brought to the 
knowledge of the truth. 

The Danes who landed in England found no insur- 
mountable obstacle to prevent their coalescing with 
the Angles. They were of the same race, and spoke 
alosmt the same language ; they had the same forms 
of government, and very nearly the same code of 
laws. When at one time the Danes became rulers 
of the nation, the transference of power was scarcely 
perceived by the people in general — the same laws 
and usages continued in force ; it caused no break in 
the national life. It was more like a mere change 
of dynasty than the subjugation of the country by a 
foreign power. The political result was that Danes 
and Saxons became in the end one homogeneous 
people. The religious result was that the paganism 
of the Danes imperceptibly faded away, and that by 
degrees they accepted the religion of Christ, which 
was established all around them. 

During all this time the Danes of Ireland did not 
forget their kinsmen beyond the Channel. Though 
settled in Dublin, or Waterford, or Limerick, they 
were not Irish. Just as in an earlier age the in- 
habitants of the south-west of Scotland belonged to 
the Irish, and not to the Pictish people, so these 
Danes were really Englishmen living in Ireland. In 
times of defeat they sent to England for help ; and 
when some of their warriors could be spared from 
the defence of their possessions, they went across 
the water and took their part in the contests with 
Saxons and Britons which were being continually 
carried on. When the Danes of England became 


Christian, the conversion of their brethren in Ireland 
followed as a matter of course. The change was 
very gradual, and the Christianity which they at 
first professed was very httle removed from the 
paganism which they abandoned. Eventually, how- 
ever, idolatry became quite extinct amongst them ; 
they founded churches more imposing in proportions 
than any others to be found in Ireland, and they 
established a ritual and liturgy similar to that which 
was followed at the time by the Churches of England. 
It is not easy to assign dates to these events, but ' 
speaking generally, we may say that the conversion ; 
of the Danes was being accomplished from the \ 
middle of the tenth to the middle of the eleventh ■ 
century. Ireland was thus brought for a second i 
time in contact with the Church of England. 

We have seen how in England the missionaries 
from lona were forced to retreat before the para- 
mount influence of Eome, and how the English 
Church thus became subject to the Pope. It was 
easier, however, to banish the teachers and abolish 
the ceremonies of the Irish than to alter the tone 
which they had given to the Church. Of course 
this, too, would have been changed in time, if the 
advantage gained by the Romanists had been vigo- 
rously followed up; but the unsettled state of Sie 
country, consequent on the Danish invasions, cut off ■/ 
England to some extent from intercourse with the^ 
Continent; and the result was that the Anglo-Saxon 
Church drifted into a state of quasi-independence. 
In theory it acknowledged the Pope, and was in 
communion with the other Churches on the CSonti- . 
nent, but practically it was independent. 'It was to ^ 
an extraordinary degree a national church: natiolial 
in its comprehensiveness, as well as in its exolusive- 
ness. . . . The interference of foreign Churched^' 


was scarcely, if at all, felt. There was no Roman 
legation from the days of Theodore to those of Offa, 
and there are only scanty vestiges of such inter- 
ference for the next three centuries; Danstan boldly I 
refused to obey a papal sentence. Until the evel 
of the Conquest, therefore, the development of the 
system was free and spontaneous, although its sphere 
was a small one.' ^ 

This independence was far from being an unmixed 
blessing. The fighting bishop became as well known 
in England as he had been in Ireland. * Two West- 
Saxon prelates fell in the battle of Charmouth in 
A.D. 835 ; and Bishop Ealhstan of Sherborne acted 
as Egbert's general in Lent in a.d. 826, and was one 
of the commanders who defeated the Danes on the 
Parret in a.d. 845.'^ Despite the efforts of reformers 
such as Dunstan, the Church had become secularized, 
and sorely needed an infusion of new life. Such 
was its condition when both Church and State were 
revolutionized by the Norman conquest. 

One of the first acts of William the Conqueror 
was to place men of his own nation in all the most 
important bishoprics. These foreign ecclesiastics — 
men of ability and energy — set themselves to repro- 
duce in England the state of things to which they 
had been accustomed on the Continent. Thus, when 
the realm of England was brought under the sway 
of the Conqueror, the Church of England was 
brought under the sway of the Pope. 

With the exception of Donat, first Bishop of Dub- 
lin, who was consecrated in 1038, all the Danish 
bishops of Ireland were appointed subsequently to the 
advent of William the Conqueror. They were there- 

* Stubbs, Constitutional Hist, of England^ 2nd ed., vol. i. 
p. 245. 
2 lb., vol. i. p. 237. 


fore, to all intents and purposes, Bomish bishops. 
They all of them went to Canterbury for consecra- 
tion, and regarded themselves as sumagans of the 
Primate of England. Some historians have seen in 
this submission * a wholesale betrayal of the liberties 
of the Irish Church.' This, however, is a mistake. 
That it paved the way for the subjection of the Irish 
C'hurch is true enough; but there was no betrayal. 
The case was exactly analogous to the case of Gib- 
raltar at present. The Bishop of Gibraltar is subject 
to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not because he 
wishes to bring the Spanish Church into subjection 
to the Anglican metropolitan, but simply because 
Gibraltar is English, and not Spanish. In the same 
way the Danish bishops of Dublin were subject to 
Canterbury, because Dublin was an English and not 
an Irish city. 

In the pontificate of Alexa nder IL it was ordered 
that no bishop should exercise his functions until he 
had received the confirmation of the Holy See. 
Possibly it was in pursuance of this edict that 
Patrick, second Bishop of Dublin, proceeded to Rome, 
after he had been consecrated by Lanfranc, Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury. Hildebrand, the actual framer 
of the decree, was then the occupant of the papal 
chair ; and as he was always watchful for opportuni- 
ties of extending the sway of that ' city of God,' 
which it was the one object of his life to establish, 
we can well believe that he gave directions to the 
Danish bishop to use his influence for the bringing 
of the Irish Church into a stat« of canonical obedi- 
ence. At the same time he himself wrote to Turlogh 
O'Brien, King of Ireland, telling him that the Holy 
Church is placed above all the kingdoms of the earth, 
the Lord having put into subjection unto her princi- 
palities and powers and all that seems possessed of 


grandeur and dignity in the world, and that the 
Universal Church owes to Peter and to his vicars a 
debt of obedience, as well as of reverence. He then 
exhorts that this debt of obedience should be dis- 
charged by the Irish, and that they should cherish 
a.*id maintain the Catholic peace of the Church. A 
few years afterwards Gilbert, Danish Bishop of 
Limerick, was appointed Papal Legate — the first \ 
that Ireland had ever seen. Waterford, too, had/ 
its Danish bishop consecrated at Canterbury. Thus 
the Church of Rome obtained a footing in the coun- 
try. We shall see that it was not long before the 
whole Irish Church was brought under its power. 



We must now retrace our steps, and ask how the 
Irish Church itself fared in that age which saw the 
conversion of the Danes and the establishment of a 
branch of the English Church on Irish soil. We 
have seen how the old monastic system broke down, 
and ceased to be an effective power against the sur- 
rounding lawlessness. Some of its worst features, 
however, survived. From the first, the rule was fol- 
lowed that wherever possible the abbot of every 
monastery should be of the same family as the 
founder. This easily developed into a kind of 
heredity. Celibacy, though encouraged, was never 
very strictly enjoined , and often the abbacy or 
bishopric passecl irom father to son. When ecclesi- 
astical positions became sources of wealth and influ- 
ence, they were as jealously confined to the ruling 
families as were the offices of king and chieftain. 
In Armagh the one family kept possession of the see 
for two hundred years, and Bernard of Clairvaux 
stigmatizes it as ' an evil and adulterous generation, 
for although clergy of that race were sometimes not 
to be found amongst them, yet bishops they never 
were without.' ^ 

It is, however, not at all certain that this condem- 

* Bernard, Life of MalacTiy. 



nation was fully deserved. The turning of the 
bishopric into a hereditary office was no doubt a 
great evil ; still, it is well to remember that the 
authority of the hereditary abbot and bishop (for 
both offices were now united) was cheerfully recog- 
nized by bitterly opposing factions. The period of 
which we are treating saw a long-continued struggle 
between North and South ; but the kings of Mun- 
sfcer were as ready to acknowledge Armagh as were 
those of Ulster. Perhaps, after all, this very heredi- 
tary succession secured the peace of the Church as 
nothing else could have done. If reigning families 
fought for spiritual as they did for temporal power, 
the whole country would have relapsed into barbar- 
ism, and soon no religion of any kind would have 
been left. 

I have shown that as Armagh increased in power 
there was a corresponding decrease in the influence 
of the Columban order. In the period we are now 
considering, Armagh occupies by far the most promi- 
nent part of the history. But it is to be remembered 
that the materials at our disposal for the history of 
this period are nearly all derived from sources in sym- 
pathy with Armagh, and that therefore it is hard for 
us to say in how far it really enjoyed ecclesiastical 
pre-eminence. When we read of a bishop resigning 
one see because he has been appointed to another, 
we naturally conclude that the new appointment is 
one of more importance than the old. This is what 
actually happened in 988. Dubhdalethe was Abbot 
and Bishop of Armagh. He was an able and ambi- 
tious man. He aspired to the abbacy before it was 
vacant ; and Muiredeach, who held the see in 966, 
was set aside in his favour. In 973 he made a cir- 
cuit of the churches of Munster, demanding and 
obtaining tribute from them. In 986 he asserted 


his rights against the monarch of Ireland. The 
king had removed the shrine of Saint Patrick from 
Ardee to Assey on the river Boyne. For this not 
very heinous oifence he was obliged to pay a heavy 
fine to Dubhdalethe, giving tribute from every por- 
tion of his kingdom. Some of the bishop's historical 
poetry remains ; he was therefore a bard as well as 
an ecclesiastic, and in that age this would have 
added greatly to his reputation. 

In 988 he ' assumed the coarbship of Columkill 
by the advice of the men of Ireland and Alba.' ^ 
Ten years he continued in his new office, and in the 
meantime Muireagan of Bordoney took his place as 
Abbot of Armagh and Coarb of Saint Patrick. That 
a man such as Dubhdalethe appears to have been, 
would have relinquished a greater for a lesser posi- 
tion, is not to be believed. We are therefore led to 
conclude that as late as the end of the tenth century 
the Coarb of Columkill took rank above the Coarb 
of Patrick. We have no other example that we can 
place beside this, and the incident is therefore to be 
regarded as the last token of that ascendency which 
lona had once enjoyed. 

One hundred years later, the see of Armagh had 
advanced immensely. There could no longer be any 
question as to its supremacy. The abbot had be- 
come a veritable prince of the Church, imposing and 
receiving tribute from all parts of the country. 
But in other respects he had few of the prerogatives 
of an archbishop. It was by no means considered 
necessary that his advice should be asked or sanction 
obtained before other bishops were consecrated. 
They owed him no canonical obedience. They did 
not repair to him for ordination. 

^ Annals of the Four Masters^ a.d. 988. 



Under the old Irish monastic system, the bishop 
was merely one of the, officers of the community^. 
Nearly every monastery had a bishop — sometimes 
more than one — amongst its inmates. When that 
system broke down, the eflFect of this unusual 
arrangement remained. In some cases the bishops 
had for diocese the territory of the tribe to which 
they belonged — in other cases they seem to have 
had no jurisdiction. Anselm of Canterbury com- 
plains concerning them, * The episcopal honour 
suffers no little disparagement when he who is in- 
vested with the pontificate knows not when he is 
ordained where he is to go, or over what certain 
place he is to preside in his episcopal ministry.' 
Every bishop felt quite free to consecrate another 
bishop, if he were a man of learning and eminence, 
even though he was to have no diocesan authority. 
The rule of requiring three consecrators was one 
that had never been followed in the Irish Church. 
It is manifest that all this would require to be com- 
pletely changed before the head of Armagh could in 
any real sense be said to be an archbishop. At first 
the exaction of tribute was all that was desired ; but 
afterwards foreign travel made the heads of the 
Church acquainted with the ecclesiastical arrange- 
ments of other countries ; and nearer home, the 
three Danish bishops rendering canonical obedience 
to the Archbishop of Canterbury, furnished a pat- 
tern which the ambitious prelates of Armagh soon 
endeavoured to reproduce in Ireland. 

The first steps towards thus modifying the con- 
stitution of the Church of Ireland were taken by 
Ceallach, who became Coarb of Patrick by the election 
of the men of Ireland in a.d. 1105. He was not for- 
getful of the temporalities of his see. In Ulster he 
exacted * a cow from every six persons, or a heifer 


in calf for every three persons, besides many other 
offerings/ In Munster he obtained 'seven cows, 
seven sheep, and half an ounce of silver from every 
cantred, besides many lewels.' Other places fi:ave 
him siiUar offerings When the see of Dul)Un 
became vacant by the death of Bishop Samuel in 
1121, Ceallach assumed the episcopal office in that 
city. Bishops were elected by tlhe votes of both 
clergy and laity, and he obtained a majority in his 
favour. Although Dublin was a Danish kingdom, 
the Irish in it far outnumbered the Danes, and on 
an occasion like this could secure the election of 
any candidate they pleased. But the minority 
of foreigners were not to be baffled in this way. 
Seeing that they were outvoted at the first assembly, 
they held another meeting on their own account; 
selected one of themselves, Gregory, a layman, for 
the vacant post ; sent him off to Canterbury for 
consecration to all three orders of the ministry, and 
wrote at the same time a letter to the archbishop, 
requesting him to promote their nominee to the 
order of episcopacy, if he wished to retain Dublin 
under his jurisdiction, or that otherwise the rights 
of Canterbury would be usurped by Armagh. 

Ceallach was equally energetic in the reformation 
of what he considered to be defects in the govern- 
ment of the Church. He assembled synods at 
different places, and caused enactments to be made 
reducing the number of bishops, appointing to each 
bishop his diocese, and imposing on them, as far as 
possible, the obligation of canonical obedience to 

In these efforts he found an able helper, or rather 
director, in Gilbert, Danish Bishop of Limerick. 
This Gilbert had been the disciple of Anselm, had 
been accustomed in his early days to the ecclesiastical 


arrangements of France, was a devoted adherent of 
the Papacy, and was the first in Ireland who ever 
held the office of legate to the Pope. To his mind 
the irregularities of the Irish Church rendered it 
schismatical. He therefore spared no labour in 
endeavouring to bring the liturgy and government 
of the Church into conformity with England and 
Rome. He attended the synods which Ceallach 
assembled, and helped to frame their canons. Ac- 
cording to Romish authorities, he presided at these 
synods in his capacity of papal legate. The Irish 
Annalists, however, say that it was Cellach who 

No immediate success crowned these labours. 
The institutions which had existed from the very 
first were not to be so easily set aside. It was not 
difficult to frame rules. It was a task of much 
greater magnitude to put the rules into practice. 
One thing was soon made evident : that no effectual 
change could be brought about so long as the 
hereditary system of succession to ecclesiastical 
appointments prevailed. Armagh itself was the 
greatest offender of all in this respect, and its won- 
derful growth in importance made it the subject 
of special notice. Cellach was a member of the 
family that for two hundred years had thus obtained 
possession of the see. It seemed therefore as if the 
greatest obstacle of all was without remedy. 

On the death of Cellach, an effort was made to 
break through this long prescription. He was at 
Ardpatrick in the County Limerick at the time 
when he was taken with his last sickness, and had 
therefore near him Gilbert and those who were 
urging him on in his schemes of reformation. Under 
their influence he was induced on his death bed to 
make a kind of will, appointing Malachy, Bishop 


of Down and Connor, to succeed him in the see of 
Armagh. This would have been to introduce new 
blood into the succession, and by bringing in one 
whose sympathies were decidedly with the Bomish 
movement to pave the way for still greater changes. 
That an episcopal see should be treated as a legacy 
and made the subject of a will was of course contrary 
to all order. It was just as uncanonical as the 
hereditary succession which it was intended to dis- 
place ; but it seems to have been thought that in 
no other way could the old arrangement be broken 
through ; and, as a matter of fact, it eventually 
accomphshed all that was intended. 

Not at first, however, nor in the way that had 
been anticipated. Cellach's successor was appointed 
from the same family, in utter disregard of any 
claims that Malachy could put forward. The new 
bishop, Murtagh, took possession of the insignia of 
office — the Book of Armagh, and the ancient crozier, 
known as the Staff of Jesus, and having these he 
was acknowledged by the whole country as the 
rightful coarb. Gilbert assembled a synod of clergy, 
in which the claims of Malachy were upheld. But 
the time had not yet come when the Pope's legate 
could assert his authority as such ; so it was all to 
no purpose. Then, as now, possession was nine 
points of the law. Murtagh had possession of the 
see, and he retained it to the day of his death. 

As soon as the bishopric was again vacant, the 
struggle was renewed. Niall, kinsman of the 
deceased prelate, was immediately installed in his 
place ; but this time, partty by physical force and 
partly by purchase, Niall was deposed, and Malachy 
took his place. The next year, however, the contest 
was renewed ; the abbacy was restored to Niall, and 
Malachy was again without his coveted prize. 



After this Malachy gave up the contest, and 
devoted himself to the carrying but of his designs 
in a different way. He professed to be contented 
with his small diocese of Connor, but he managed 
that another rival should be put in opposition to 
Niall. Against himself there seemed to be a popular 
prejudice, and it suited him as well to have in 
Armagh one whom he could bend to his own will. 
A bishop, therefore, was brought from Derry, Mel- 
bride O'Brolcan, one of a family that had been for 
many years most influential in the Irish Church. 
He was put up in opposition to Niall, and receiving 
the popular suffrages was made coarb in his stead. 
From what we know of the O'Brolcans, it is very 
doubtful whether Melbride would have lent himself 
to the designs of Malachy ; but the question never 
arose. Scarcely had he enjoyed his elevation for two 
years when he died. The same year Niall passed 
away, and thus at length every obstacle seemed to 
have been removed. Malachy, however, made no 
further attempt to assert his right ; but he managed 
to secure the election of Gelasius, one like-minded 
with himself, who was contented to take him as 
guide and leader in everything. 

Bishop Gelasius was appointed in the year 1139, 
and retained his bishopric until 1174. Between 
these two years lie some of the most eventful inci- 
dents of Irish history. He himself changed his 
position of simple Coarb of Patrick for the more 
magnificent rank of Archbishop of Armagh and 
Primate of all Ireland. When he was appointed, 
Ireland was a nation ; when he died, it was an 
English province. A similar change passed over 
the Church. When he was appointed, the Church 
of Ireland was independent ; when he died, it had 
been brought into subjection to the see of Home. 


Gelasius, however, was one who had greatness 
thrust upon him. In all these events he was a 
leading figure, yet his actions were for the most 
part controlled by others. The real work of sub- 
jecting the Church of Ireland to the see of Borne 
was done by Malachy. 

With regard to this Malachy we have a very 
remarkable source of information. His Life has 
been written by no less a personage than Bernard 
of Clairvaux. From that life we learn that in his 
early years he came under the influence of the 
Danish Bishop of Waterford, that he learnt the 
Romish method of chanting and of saying the Mass, 
and became so much enamoured with foreign usages 
and ways, that in the end he became quite unlike 
an Irishman. 'He was born in Ireland,' says 
Bernard, ' of a barbarous race. There he was edu- 
cated; there he received the knowledge of letters; 
but for the rest he drew no more from the barbarous 
country of his birth than the fishes of the sea draw 
from their native element.' 

Bernard's life is a panegyric, and he intends these 
words for praise. They explain to us why his 
friends were among the Danish bishops rather than 
the Irish, why his sympathies were with Borne 
rather than with his own country, and why he 
preferred the gorgeous ritual of the continental 
churches to the simple modes of worship in his own. 

Bernard, whose information must have been 
largely derived from Malachy himself, speaks of 
Irish Christianity as if it were no better than 
paganism. Thus he describes the diocese of Con- 
nor, telling us that when Malachy first went there, 
* this man of God saw that he had to deal not with 
men, but with beasts. Nowhere had he met such 
people, no matter how barbarous the place; nowhere 


had he found any so froward in their manners, so 
gloomy in their forms of worship, so unfaithful to 
their oaths, barbarous in their laws, stiflF-necked 
with regard to discipline, unclean in their lives ; 
Christian in name ; in reality, pagans/ 

After this terrible tirade he descends to parti- 
culars, and it is quite a relief to find that the awful 
crimes which he so unsparingly condemns are as 
follows : ' They did not give either tithes or first- 
fruits ; they did not enter into lawful wedlock ; 
they did not make confessions ; there could not be 
found any who either desired penance or would 
impose it.' This, after all, was only saying that 
the Church of Ireland was primitive, and not Boman. 
The only serious charge in the list — that they did 
not enter into lawful wedlock — can only mean that 
their marriage rites were not like those of the 
Romans, for we have abundant evidence that con- 
jugal fidelity was at that time strictly enforced and 

In another place he tells us that ' there was 
throughout the whole of Ireland a relaxation of 
ecclesiastical discipline, a weakening of authority, 
a mere empty kind of reUgion. Everywhere instead 
of Christian gentleness there has crept in unaware 
a savage barbarism ; indeed, it is a kind of paganism 
that has been introduced under the Christian name.' 
Here, again, is a very sweeping statement, and we 
might be led to conclude from it that religion had 
altogether departed from the island. We are re- 
assured, however, when we read on, and find that 
what he means by * savage barbarism ' and ' pagan- 
ism ' is that ' bishops are changed and multiplied, 
without order, without reason, at the will of the 
metropolitan, so that one bishopric was not contented 
with one bishop, but that almost every church must 


have its own separate bishop.' This was no doubt 
contrary to ecclesiastical law, but it was the system 
in vogue when Ireland showed her religious vitality 
by her missions, and when the successful and 
enthusiastic preachers of her race contrasted most I 
favourably with the faint-hearted workers sent from] 

Although, therefore, Bernard's work is useful 
and instructive, it must not be impKcitly followed. 
Happily we have other and more reliable sources ot 
information, which enable us to correct in some 
measure the extravagances into which he allowed 
himself to be led. One idea, however, runs through 
the whole of his book. It is that the Church of 
Ireland did not acknowledge the authority of the 
Pope, and was not in ecclesiastical subjection to him. 
The Life of Malachy is meaningless on any other as- 
sumption. The life-work of Malachy was to bring 
about a change in this respect. It is for this that 
he is lauded by his biographer. It was in recogni- 
tion of his success that he obtained the unique honour 
of being the first Irishman resident in Ireland who 
was canonized by the Pope. If the Irish Church 
was already subject to Rome, the whole biography 
is inexplicable. 

We have already noted the doctrines and usages 
in which the Church of Ireland differed from Rome 
in the seventh century. We are now at the twelfth. 
It may be well to pause again, and ask how the case 
stood after five hundred years had passed away. 

The controversies as to the time of keeping 
Easter and of the mode of tonsure had become 
things of the past. In the other points which have 
been noted, the old customs survived, and the posi- 
tion of the Church was very much the same in the 
twelfth century as in the seventh. The attitude 

- ki 


with regard to the Pope was unchanged. His 
supremacy was neither admitted nor rejected. It 
was simply ignored. This was shown very clearly 
in the way in which bishops and the more powerful 
ecclesiastics were appointed. Clergy and laity alike 
had their voice, and when their votes were given, no 
other sanction was thought necessary. When, as 
in the case of Malachy, a candidate came with 
the recommendation of the Papal legate, he was 
promptly rejected, and the popular nominee success- 
fully held the place against him. 

In the matter of ordinations exactly the same 
differences continued as before. Only one bishop 
officiated in the consecration of new bishops, and 
the institution of archbishop did not exist. The 
celibacy of the clergy was little insisted on, and in 
the higher orders was seldom followed. Auricular 
confession was unknown, as was priestly absolution 
and the so-called sacrament of penance. They still 
had their peculiar liturgy, stigmatized by the Pope's 
legate as schismatical, and so dijfferent from the 
Romish that a person accustomed to the one form 
of worship found himself unable to follow the service 
when the other form was employed. In baptism 
they still omitted the use of chrism. 

That many believed in the doctrine of transub- 
stantiation is more than probable. That the doctrine 
was not universally received is shown by an interest- 
ing incident related by Bernard. The case arose in 
Lismore. This was one of the places where an old 
Irish monastery existed, with an Irish monastic 
bishop and abbot. No sooner, however, was a Danish 
bishop appointed to the neighbouring town of Water- 
ford than he began styling himself ' Bishop of Lis- 
more,' as if he were the representative of the old 
Irish Church, whereas he really had no jurisdiction 


beyond the walls of the town, and was by education 
and ordination an Englishman. One of the Irish 
clergy in this place, — ' a man of exemplary life, so it 
is said ' — gave public expression to his views on the 
Holy Communion. 'He, being wise in his own eyes, 
presumed to say that in the Eucharist there was 
only a sacrament, and not the thing represented by 
the sacrament ; that is to say, that there is only a 
consecration, and not the true Body.' Malaohy 
reasoned with him in private, but it was all to no pur- 
pose. Then a meeting was summoned, from which, 
contrary to the Irish customs, the laity were ex- 
cluded. Here ' he endeavoured with all tne strength 
of no mean abilities to assert and defend his error.' 
Malachy met him first with argument and then with 
threatening, but all to no purpose. He left the 
meeting ' discomfited but not corrected,' and pro- 
testing that * he was conquered not by reasoning, 
but overpowered by the authority of the bishop.' 
A sentence of excommunication was pronounced 
against him, but he was still unmoved. * Thou, O 
Malachy,' he said, ' without reason thou hast con- 
demned me this day. Thou hast spoken not only 
contrary to the truth, but against thine own con- 
science.' Then turning to the rest of the assembly 
he added, ' All you care for the man rather than the 
truth. I accept no man's person, if in doing so I 
must forsake the truth.' 

Bernard tells us that this sturdy Protestant re- 
pented on his death bed ; but he never admits that 
Malachy made a mistake or failed in any enterprise 
he took in hand. He altogether suppresses the 
fact that Malachy was unable to retain the see of 
Armagh, and attributes to his great humility his re- 
treat from the position which he found to be unten- 
able. We may therefore be excused for suspecting 


that this incident of the death-bed repentance is an 
embellishment put in by Bernard to save the credit 
of his hero. But whether this be the case or not, the 
significance of the incident remains the same. The 
denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation comes 
from an Irish clergyman. The assertion of the 
doctrine and condemnation of the heretic comes not 
from the Irish, but from the Romish party. There 
can be no doubt, however, that the leaven of Roman- 
ism was spreading, and that the country was thus 
being prepared for the important events which were 
shortly to take place. 



Whkx Mai achy had secured the election of Gelasins 
to Armagh, the way seemed clear for the carrying 
out his scheme for Romanizing the Church of Ire- 
land. With this end in view, one of his first acts 
was to rej)air to Rome, and seek a personal audience 
with the Pope. On his way he visited the monastery 
at Clairvaux and made the acquaintance of Bernard, 
who afterwards became his biographer. When he 
arrived at Rome, he was graciously received by Pope 
Innocent II., who inquired of him particularly con- 
cerning Ireland, and who, before his departure, gave 
him special tokens of his favour, and appointed him 
legate in the place of Grilbert of Limerick, who now 
through old age and infirmity was no longer equal to 
the duties of the office. 

Malachy placed his views before the Pope, and 
presented his schemes of reformation — chief amongst 
which was the establishment of a regular hierarchy 
under the control of the papal see : the Pope to send 
palls to the archbishops, thus at the same time as- 
serting his authority and procuring from them an 
acknowledgment of the same. The Pope at once 
entered into his ideas, and agreed to raise the sees of 
Armagh and Cashel to metropolitan rank. 'With 
regard to the palls, ^ said the sovereign pontiff, 4t is 

well to act in a more solemn way. Having called 



together bishops, clergy and nobles of the land, you 
must hold a general council ; and thus by the con- 
sent and common vote of all, send some honourable 
persons over to ask for the pall, and it shall be 
given you.' 

On his way back from Rome, Malachy again 
visited Bernard, and arranged that some young men 
from Ireland should be received at Clairvaux, and 
after having spent some time there, should return to 
their own country with others from the same con- 
vent, and establish a branch of the Cistertian order. 
The result of this was that in 1142, the abbey oi 
Mellifont, near Drogheda, was founded. Shortly 
afterwards several other branches of the same order 
were planted in different places. The influence of 
these Cistertian monks did more than anything 
else to hasten the Romanizing of the Church of 

We have so often spoken of the monastic institu- 
tions of the Irish Church, that one might readily 
fall into the mistake of supposing that we have here 
nothing more than the mere bringing in of a new 
order of monks, who were to take their place side 
by side with those already in the country. But 
we must remember that the same name is often 
given to things that differ most materially. We 
speak of the constitution of the ancient Irish Church 
as ^ monastic,' and we speak of the establishment 
at Mellifont as ' monastic ' ; we use the same name, 
but the two systems had scarcely any resemblance. 
The Irish Christian * families,' busied with the 
cultivation of the ground, with the work of education 
and the arts of civilization, had nothing in common 
with the cloisters where men were bound with the 
vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Malachy 
and Bernard knew well that the two tilings were 


quite different, for the one says of his countrymen 
that they might have heard of the name, but had 
never actually seen a monk; and the other asserts 
that Ireland never had any experience in monastic 

The Cistertians thus imported into the country 
were zealous propagandists. Like all enthusiasts, 
they were narrow-minded, and could see no merit in 
anything beyond their own system. They therefore 
toiled incessantly, and laboured in season and out of 
season for what they deemed to be the reformation 
of the Church. 

Agreeably to the Pope's instructions, Malachy 
assembled a synod for the purpose of sending a 
formal request to Rome that the pall should be 
bestowed on the Irish archbishops. But for some 
unexplained reason several years were allowed to 
elapse before this was done. In the meantime, 
besides establishing branches of the Cistertian order, 
he endeavoured to obtain the election of his own 
supporters whenever a see became vacant. In this 
way he secured that the bishops of Clogher and 
Cork, as well as the three Danish bishops and the 
Archbishop of Armagh, should be supporters of his 
policy and ready to second him in anything that he 
would propose. The synod was at length held at 
Holmpatrick in the year 1148. It is worthy of note 
that this place, which has now reverted to its old 
Irish name of Skerries, was within the Danish king- 
dom of Dublin. This fact, together with the long 
delay and the fact that the synod was a small one, 
would lead us to suppose that the project which he 
had in mind was one that did not commend itself to 
the majority of the people. There are few things, 
however, that cannot be carried in a popular 
assembly when a small band know exactly what 


they want, and work together in order to obtain it. 
The synod accordingly agreed to ask for the palls, 
and Malachy himself undertook to go to France, 
where the Pope was at the time, and present the 
petition in person. Death came to him before he 
could accomplish his mission. He had gone as far 
as the monastery at Clairvaux, but found that the 
Pope had returned to Italy. While waiting there, 
intending shortly to pursue his journey, he was 
taken with fever, and after a few days breathed his 
last in the place where above all others he would 
have wished to die. 

The petition which he had intended to present to 
the Pope was taken in hand by the Cistertians, who 
forwarded it in due course to Rome — the result being 
that after a time Paparo, a cardinal, was deputed 
to visit Ireland, and bestow the palls that had been 
desired. He arrived towards the end of the year 
1151, and spent some time in the country. He 
remained a week at Armagh, and probably visited 
some other of the bishops. Early in the following 
year arrangements were made for the holding of a 
synod, which actually met at Kells on the 9th of 
March. The place was well chosen, as Kells was 
the site of an important Columban monastery, and 
it might disarm opposition to have the meeting held 
at a centre where all the associations were -purely 
Irish. But the whole business of the assembly was 
managed by the foreign monks of Mellifont, and the 
synod was regarded with suspicion by many of the 
native Irish. The Columban party stayed away. 
Even the Bishop of Kells kept aloof, and several 
others were conspicuous by their absence. 

As soon as the proceedings opened, it was made 
manifest that this synod was to be different from 
any ever held before in Ireland. Formerly, when 


laity and clergy met, it was to take counsel, and 
decide by a majority of votes what was for the good 
of the Church. Now it appeared that they were 
merely assembled to receive the commands of their 
ruler. At Holmpatrick they had asked for two 
palls — one for Armagh and the other for Cashel. The 
Pope, however, was swayed by other influences, and 
had already decided that four were to be bestowed. 
Dublin and Tuam were also to have archiepiscopal 
rank, and thus the Danish see, which had been only 
a few years in existence, and had never been in 
communion with the Church of Ireland, was put on 
a level with places which had historic associations 
and had grown with the Church's growth. Some 
of the clergy were indignant, specially those of 
Armagh and Down. An old Irish account tells us 
that ' it was in violation of the rights of the clergy 
of Patrick and Columkill that the pall was given 
to the church of Dublin, or even to that of Tuam.' ^ 
But it was too late now for such protests. When the 
Coarb of Patrick was only third — an 'Italian priest 
(Cardinal Paparo) and a Danish bishop (Christian, of 
Waterford, papal legate) taking precedence before 
him — when no place at all was found for the Coarb 
of Columkill — when French Cistertians were masters 
of the ceremonies, and Irish abbots were barely 
tolerated : there was no place left for the assertion 
of Irish independence. As a free and national insti- 
tution, the Irish Church ceased to exist at the Synod 
of Kells. 

* Book of FlciH)} MavEoga)}^ quoted by Bp. Reeves. Anti" 
qultles of Don: n^ Connor and Dromore^ p. 141. 



The decrees of the Synod of Kells were followed up 
by other measures which had the same end in view : 
the bringing of the Church of Ireland into conformity 
with the Church of England and of Rome. At a synod 
held at Clane, on the Liffey, it was enacted that the 
teachers in all the ecclesiastical schools should receive 
their education at Armagh. This, if it could have 
been carried out, would have been the most efficacious 
method of all. Then the Cistertians extended them- 
selves, and soon six large establishments were in 
connection with the order in Ireland. But all this 
might have had but little effect were it not for an 
event — the most momentous in Irish history — which 
happened shortly after, and which completed the 
work of bringing Ireland under the power of the 
Pope. I mean the Anglo-Norman conquest. 

Early in the reign of Henry II. of England, the 
king had turned his attention to the conquest of the 
neighbouring island. A plausible pretext for thus 
attacking a perfectly independent state presented 
itself in the slave trade which the Irish had long 
carried on, buying the children of needy English- 
men, and disposing of them in different parts of 
Ireland. As further justification there was the 
religious one, that Ireland alone of "Western nations 



was not subject to the see of Rome, and that, 
according to the current ideas of that time, the posi- 
tion of her Church was schismatical and heretical. 

Henry, though not overburdened with religion, 
was fully alive to the advantage of the Church's 
sanction. It was by the interposition of the Church 
that he had been raised to the throne ; for it was the 
Archbishop of Canterbury who arranged the terms 
of the Treaty of Wallingford, whereby it was agreed 
that Stephen was to hold the throne for his life, but 
the succession was to be secured to Henrj'. A trusty 
messenger, therefore, laid his designs concerning 
Ireland before the Pope, who, by a strange coincid- 
ence, happened to be the first and last Englishman 
that ever occupied the papal chair. The result was 
that a Bull was issued authorizing the conquest, 
recognizing that to subjugate Ireland would be to 
* widen the boundaries of the Church,' claiming 
that Ireland belongs of right to the Holy See, simply 
because it is an island, and reserving an annual 
tribute of one penny for every house in the country. 

No sooner had this BuU been received than Henry 
brought the subject forward at the Council of Win- 
chester, proposing that an expedition should set out, 
and that the kingdom should be conquered and 
handed over to his brother, William of Aiijou. The 
opposition which the king received caused him to 
relinquish the project for a time ; and soon other 
concerns so fully occupied his attention that it 
seemed as if the authorization he had obtained 
would never be utilized. 

At length an opportunity presented itself, arising 
from the disputes among the Irish leaders themselves. 
Dermot, King of Leinster, had drawn upon himself 
the enmity of Tiernan, Prince of Breffni. The chief 
King of Ireland took up the prince's quarrel, and in 

. i 


the battle that ensued Dermot was defeated and had 
to fly for his life. He made his way to England, 
and thence to France, presented himself before the 
King of England, and obtained his sanction to raise 
what forces he could among the king's subjects. 

The story of the conquest of Ireland is one 
that belongs to the secular history, and need not 
here be repeated. We have only to consider its in- 
fluence on the religious condition of the country. 
On the English side the conquest was regarded as a 
holy war. The Irish were enemies to the Church, 
and were to be subdued in order to bring them to 
obedience. The papal blessing was bestowed on the 
project from the first. Not only did Pope Adrian 
issue the Bull to which reference has been already 
made, but his successor, Alexander III., followed it 
up with a confirmatory Bull, and wrote letters on 
the subject to nearly all the parties concerned. In a 
letter of this latter prelate, he accuses the Irish of 
the crimes of incest and concubinage ; but he some- 
what weakens the force of his rebuke by coupling 
with them, as crimes of equal enormity, that they 
eat meat in Lent, and pay no tithes. In another 
letter he says, that * our dearly beloved son in 
Christ, the illustrious Henry King of England,' 
undertook the subjugation of Ireland, because ' he 
was pressed in his conscience by the voice of a 
Divine inspiration.' The whole expedition, there- 
fore, was undertaken under cover of religion, and 
had for one of its professed objects the subjugation 
of the Irish Church. 

One of the first acts of Henry in Ireland was to 
assemble those of the ecclesiastics who were willing 
to answer his summons. The bishops answered with 
alacrity. We have already seen that the dominant 
party amongst them consisted of men who were either 


foreigners or Irishmen brought up under foreign in- 
fluence, and who, like Malachy, ' drew no more from 
the country of their birth than the fishes of the sea 
draw from their native element.' Their sympathies 
were with Henry more than with any Irish ruler. 
Answering to the king's summons, they assembled 
in synod at Cashel in 1172, and passed enactments 
decreeing uniformity between the Irish and the 
English Churches. 

Only one thing remained to be done. It was to 
destroy those establishments where the old Irish 
monastic system remained still in force. According 
to the Romish view, these places were well described 
by Pope Adrian as * nurseries of vice.' They kept 
alive a spirit of opposition to the innovations of the 
new-comers ; and they had with them the hearts of 
the people — a thing in which the new-comers had to 
a great extent failed. As long as they remained, 
the decrees of synods were made only to be broken. 

If Henry had been able to establish a vigorous 
control over the whole of the island, this work 
could have been easily and promptly accomplished. 
But the English over-lordship was for a long time 
only a moderate extension of the old Danish settle- 
ments. The allegiance rendered by the native kings 
who swore fealty to the English sovereign, was very 
like the allegiance which in former times they gave 
to their own ardrigh or chief king ; that is to say, 
it was a variable, and often a negative quantity. 
Within certain circumscribed limits English law 
reigned supreme, and in these districts the native 
establishments were ruthlessly destroyed. New 
monasteries were founded on the ancient sites, and 
in some places it was made a rule that no Irishman 
should for the future be admitted as an inmate. 
These proceedings caused bitter hatred on the part 


of the natives, but the new rulers utterly disregarded 
them. . 

A tragic story is told of Hugh de Lacy, to whom 
was given the lordship of Meath. He was the 
founder of many monasteries, which he richly en- 
dowed with wealth that was not his own. In found- 
ing these he destroyed many of the old Irish estab- 
lishments. Amongst other places, he built an abbey 
at Durrow, in the King's County, and before doing 
so dispersed one of the oldest and most important of 
the Columban communities. He also erected a castle 
at the same place. One day while he was superin- 
tending the erection of the new buildings, a young 
man suddenly rushed upon him, severed his head 
from his body with one blow of his axe, and before 
the bystanders had recovered from their surprise he 
had made his escape to the friendly Irish, by whom 
he was sheltered and regarded as a hero. * This was 
in revenge of Columkill,' is the remark made by the 
Annalists. They tell us, too, that De Lacy was * the 
profaner and destroyer of many churches.' The 
foreign monasteries thought differently. The monks 
of St. Thomas, Dublin, contended with the Cister- 
tians of Bective for the honour of obtaining De 
Lacy's body, just as if his relics were the relics of a 
saint. The authority of the Pope had to be invoked 
for the settlement of the dispute. 

In the more remote parts of the country, where 
English authority did not extend, the case was 
different. There the old Irish customs still pre- 
vailed, and the people clung to the traditions of their 
fathers. But the cause was a failing one, The new 
regime had everything in its favour. The old sys- 
tem had lost its vitality, and only showed the last 
gasps of a life the vigour of which belonged to 
another age. 


For the most part the English Church party 
treated the Irish with the bitterest hostility. But 
its friendship was still more to be dreaded. An Irish 
abbot or bishop who accepted any rank from the 
new-comers gave up at once his independence, and 
by the very act made himself subject to the Pope. 
And when it suited their purpose they could change 
their hostility to friendliness. 

We have an example in the case of Flaherty 
O'Brolcan, a contemporary of Gelasius of Armagh. 
He was Abbot of Derry, and became the leader of 
the Columban party in Ireland. Under his vigorous 
rule there was a partial resuscitation of the old life 
of the order. But it held quite aloof from the inno- 
vating movements, and was therefore for the most 
part ignored by the Danish and English party. An 
effort was, however, made to identify Flaherty with 
the Romanizers. A synod was held near Trim in 
1158. The papal legate was present, with bishops 
and clergy, but the laity were excluded. This was 
in itself characteristic of the new methods, for the 
Irish synods always admitted the laity. Here Fla- 
herty was given rank, like the other bishops, and the 
special dignity of Arch-abbot of Ireland was invented 
for him. But they were only partially successfiil in 
securing his adhesion, and so we hear no more men- 
tion of the arch-abbacy. 



Little more remains to be said. We have seen that 
the two parties continued for a time to exist side by 
side. Envy, bitterness and bigotry remained long 
after every other distinction had passed away. 
Strange as it may seem, the enmity between Protest- 
ants and Roman Catholics, which is still charac- 
teristic of some parts of the country, is historically 
connected with this bitterness of feeling which once 
existed between the Irish and the Romish Church. 

If we are to pay attention to the foreign sources 
of information which have come down to us, we 
must believe that the Irish Church had sunk so low 
that there was nothing to regret in its final extinc- 
tion. Immorality and incest are said to have been 
openly practised in the land ; and it must be ad- 
mitted that several authorities bear the same testi- 
mony. Nothing in the native sources of information, 
however, would lead us to conclude that there was 
the least truth in the charge. It is admitted, too, 
on all hands that it was a question of morality 
which first gave the Anglo-Normans a footing in 
Ireland., and that it was they who supported the 
adulterer, and not the Irish. There is also reason to 
suspect that all the authorities who charge the Irish 
with immoral practices derived their information 

from the same source, and that they represent, there- 



fore, not many testimonies, but only one, and that 
one most unfriendly and unjust to the Irish. Surely, 
then, we may allow that the charge labours under 
considerable doubt, and is certainly very much 

A further charge has also been made that the 
Irish had become uncivilized and barbarous. With 
regard to this, it is no doubt true that in backward 
places there were then, as now, some who were not 
abreast with the progress of the age. But that the 
charge is otherwise without foundation is shown by 
the clearest of all arguments. A few of the works 
of that age have escaped the destroyer, and remain 
to the present. In buildings, there are the round 
towers and the stone-roofed oratories; in stonework, 
there are the sculptured crosses ; in metal, there are 
the various shrines, book-covers and croziers. These 
all display an originality and ability far removed 
from barbarism. The next age swept most of such 
things away, and brought in nothing to take their 
place. There is not one ancient Irish work of illu- 
minating, sculpture, or metal-working which does 
not date from before the time when the Church of 
Ireland was made subject to the Church of Borne. 

One cannot help regretting that no reformer was 
raised up by Grod to bring into order those things 
which had become disordered, at the same time re- 
taining the independence of the Church. But God's 
ways with communities, as with individuals, are 
past finding out. Perhaps there is still some work 
reserved for the Irish Church. Once she held aloft 
the lamp of truth, and was a shining light to all 
Western Europe. The Lord may again choose her 
for the accomplishment of His high and holy pur- 
poses. When that call comes, God grant that she 
may be ready ! 


Abbots, J6 ; liow elected, H8. 

Abyssinia, founding of Chui*ch 
of, la 

Adamnan, Abbot of lona, Life 
of ^'^ Coluniba, 59 ; visits 
iSaxonland, 187 ; adopts and 
advocates Koman Easter, ib, ; 
banished from lona, ib. 

Adrian, Pope, Bull of, 182. 

Aidan, 8aint, 91, 114. 

Alexander III., Bull of, 183. 

Anchorites, 81, sq. ; not in ear- 
liest times, 88 ; enclosed, 86. 

Anmchara or soul friend, 101 : 
an adviser, not a confessor ^ 
ih. ; resemblance to Old Tes- 
tament prophets, 103. 

Archbishop, title given to those 

who were not Metropolitans, 

Ardrigh, 28. 

Armagh, rises to prominence in 
eighth century, 134 ; Book of, 
138 ; influence of, on E-omish 
side, 139; contest as to the 
abbacy of, 149, sq. ; rule ex- 
tended to Connaught, etc., 
149, 150. 

Augustine, fcJaint, of Canter- 

bury, his work confined to 
south of England, 110 ; over- 
tures to the British Church, 
111 ; meets the British dele- 
gates, 112 ; curious test as to 
his character, 112. 

Baithen, Abbot of loua, 65. 

Bede, 8. 

Bega, or, Bees, Saint, 96. 

Bernard of Clair vaux. Saint, 
Life of Malachy^ 8, 170; his 
description of the Irish 
Church, 171. 

Bishops, position of, 46; great 
numbers of, ib. ; fighting, 139. 

Boromean tribute, 105. 

Bridget, Saint, 91 ; bishops sub- 
ject to, 92. 

Brie, Saint Fara's monastery 
at, 95. 

British and Irish Churches 
alike in doctrine, 112. 

Brude, King of the Picts, 58. 

Caedmon, 96. 

Cashel, archbishopric of, ISO ; 

synod of, 184. 
Celestius, 15. 




Celibacy, 43, 122. 

Cellach, Bishop of Armagh, 

Chad, Saint, ordination of, 121. 

Churches, dedication of, 47. 

Cistertian Oi'der, introduction 
of, 177. 

Claue, synod of, 181. 

Clement and Albin, 130. 

Coarb, 01). 

Coldingham , 07. 

Columba, or Columkill, Saint, 
birth of, 54; founder of 
Derry, i6. ; dispute with Fin- 
nian, 56 ; leaves Ireland, 57 ; 
preaching of, 58; death of, 

Columbian Order, decline of, 
134, 148. 

from Columba, 70; meaning 
of name, 71, 72 ; writings of, 
71; settles in Burgundy, 72; 
banished by Theodoric, 73 ; 
reform of monasticism, 74 ; 
rule of, 74, 75 ; letter to the 
French bisho^js, 77 ; to Pope 
Boniface, 77, 78; to Pope 
Gregory, 78; on the supre- 
macy of Rome, 80. 

Comgal, monastic school of, at 
Bangor, 71. 

Confession and absolution, 104. 

Cooldreeny, battle of, 50, 101. 

Cormac of Cashel, 154. 

Cormac Mac Art, 33. 

Cornian, Bishop, fails to evan- 
gelize the Saxons, 113. 

Cummian, 128. 

Curse, ecclesiastical, 106. 

Danes, 141, sq. ; invasions of, 
141 ; not as formidable as in 
England, 142; attacked the 
monasteries, 144; first appear- 
ance of, %K ; not religious en- 
I thusiasts, 145; settlements 
of, 156; retained their con- 
nection with England, 157; 
conversion of, 158 ; their 
bishops ordained at Canter- 
bury, 160. 

Dermaid, King, remarkable 
decision of, 55. 

Dermot, King of Leinster, 182. 

Deserts in Irish monasteries, 85. 

Destruction of British Christi- 
anity, 53. 

Druidism, 29, 42. 

Dublin, Archbishopric of, 180. 

Easter controversy, 116, ^q., 
126, aq, 

Easter fires, 29. 

Eastern monasticism, Irish re- 
semblances to, 41 ; differences, 

Economist, 100. 

Erenach, 100. 

Family, ecclesiastical, 100. 
Felim, Bishop and King of 

Cashel, 153. 
Fintan, visit to lona, 101. 

Gall, Saint, 78. 
Gelasius of Armagh, 169. 
Georgia, founding of the Church 

of. 13. 
Gilbert, first papal legate in 

Ireland, 161, 166. 




Gildas, 83. 

Giraldus Cambrensis, 8. 
Gregory, Pope, sends Augustine 
to England, 110. 

Henry II., King of England, 181. 
Hereditary succession in Irish j 
bishoprics, 162. ' 

Hilda, Saint, 95. 

Holmpatrick, synod of, 178. j 
Honorius, Pope, letter of, 127. 
Hugh de Lacy, death of, 185. 

Immorality, charged against , 

Irish Church, 187. 
lona, 58, 60, aq.^ 135 ; decline of, 

136 ; attacked by Danes, 145. 
Isolation of Irish Church, 53; j 

increased by Saxon invasion ! 

of England, ih. 
Island of Saints, 50. 

Justin Martvr, 11. 

Jewish rites in Irish Church, 67. 

I^ells, the new lona, 115; 

synod of, 179, sq. 
Kildare, 91; illumination of 

manuscripts at, 93; sacred 

lire of, ih. 

Learning in Irish monasteries. 

Lindisfarne, 114. 

Maelsuthain, soul friend to 
Brian Boru, 103. 

Alalachy, Saint, appointed 
Bishop of Armagh, 167 ; ejec- 
ted, 168 ; Life of, by St. Ber- 

nard, 8, 170; visits Eome, 176 ; 

death of, 179. 
Mansuetus, 15. 
Manuscripts, illuminated, 64. 
Mellifont, 177. 
Molaise, soul friend to Columba, 

Monastery, Irish, described, 40; 

for both sexes, 44, 95. 
Monastic system of Irish 

Church, 14, 38, 66 ; origin of. 

38; disadvantages of , 50 ; dif- 

fei*s from modern monasti- 

cism, 177. 
Monastic Kules, lax and strict, 


Needfire, 29. 

Norsemen, not evangelized until 
a late period, 13. 

O'Brolcan, Flaherty, 186. 

Ordinations, difference of, be- 
tween Rome and Ireland, 120 ; 
of Irish not admitted by 
Rome, 147. 

Oswald, King of Northumbria, 

Palladias, 116. 

Palls for Irish Archbishops, 176. 

Paparo, Cardinal, visits Ireland, 

Paschal Controversy, 77, See 

Patrick, Saint, captivity in 
Ireland, 17 ; writings of, 18 ; 
life in Britain, 22; bio- 
graphies of, 8, 23, J39; con- 
nection with Gaul, 24; sup- 



posed mission from Rome, 
24, 25; preaching of, 26; 
Breastplate^ 34; evangelical 
doctrine preached by, 36; 
' family ' of, 47. 

Picts, missions to, 54. 

Prosper of Aquitaine, 15. 

Saints, three classes of, 44. 
Hamthann, abbess, 94. 
Scotland, name of, 57. 
Scribes in eighth century, 131. 
Scriptures, Celtic revision of, 

132; vernacular translation 

of, 133; esteemed by the 

Irish, 134. 
Secularization of the Church, 

Senan, Saint, 90. 

Soul-friend, see Anmchara. 
Supremacy of the pope rejected, 

Tara, 29 ; desertion of, 107. 
Teaching of Irish Church, 66. 
Teltown, synod of, 56. 
Tonsure, 119, sq, 
Transubstantiation, 173. 
Tribal system, 27, 45, 56. 
Trim, synod of, 186. 
Tuam, archbishopric of, 180. 
Turgesius, 142. 

Virgil the Geometer, 131. 

William the Conqueror, 159. 
Women, ministry of, 89, »g. ; 
Columba^s objection to, 89. 

Btttl«r k Tanner, Iht Selwood Friutiug Works, Yrome, and London. 





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