Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Bethada Náem nÉrenn (Author: [unknown])

Life 2


{folio 122b}

Life of Bairre of Cork

Now my Bairre was of Connaught by race, of the descendants of Brian son of Eochaid, to speak precisely; to wit, Bairre son of Amairgen, son of Dubduibne, son of Art, son of Carthann, son of Fland, son of Ninnid, son of Brian, son of Eochaid Muigmedon. The race and stock of St. Bairre removed subsequently from the borders of Connaught, and occupied a possession and land at Achad Durbcon in the district of Muscraige Mitine.

There Amairgen, the father of Bairre, owned a townland. This Amairgen was a notable smith, chief smith to the king of Rathlenn at that time, Tigernach son of Aed Uargarb (cold-rough), son of Crimthann, son of Eochaid, son of Cas, son of Corc.

Now there was a beautiful female slave in the house of this king.13 The king gave notice to his household that none of them should have intercourse with her. Amairgen did not hear this. The smith and the handmaid came together secretly; and their matter became known subsequently, for the handmaid conceived. After this the king Tigernach called the handmaid, and asked her by whom she was pregnant;14 and she said that it was by Amairgen.

Then the king ordered that they should both be bound, Amairgen and the handmaid, and further ordered them to light a great fire, and cast them both into it. But God did not allow him to do this; for there came lightning and thunder, and heavy rain, so that they could not light the fire, because St. Bairre was dear to God, even before he was born. Then the infant spoke from his mother's womb, and said: ‘O King, do not this wicked deed, for thou wilt not be the better loved by God, though thou do it.’ Then said the king to his household: ‘Wait a while, that we may see and know who is addressing us.’

Then15 the lightning and thunder and rain ceased, and Amairgen and the handmaid were saved from being burned. And the handmaid bore the wondrous boy,16 St. Bairre. Immediately after his birth he addressed the king, (saying) that his father and mother should be released to him. The king set them at liberty at his request, and surrendered himself and his seed to Bairre {folio áa} for ever.

After this the child did not speak (again) till the proper time.


Amairgen and the handmaid afterwards went to Achad Durbcon, taking the little child with them. There the child was baptized. It was Mac Cuirb, bishop of Dal Modula of Corco Airchind Droma, who baptized him. The original name given to him was Loán; and he was nurtured in Achad Durbcon for the space of seven years.

Now there were three clerks of the men of Munster who were on pilgrimage in Leinster at this time.17 They went in the course of a journey to visit their own country, and on their journey they came to the house of Amairgen, and saw the beautiful little lad in the house. Said the eldest of the three: ‘Fair is this little boy,’ said he; ‘the grace of the Holy Spirit shines in his countenance; and it would be a pleasure to us to teach him.’ ‘If it be your pleasure,’ said Amairgen, ‘take him with you, and let him be taught.’ The elder said: ‘We will not take him now, (but wait) till we come again on our way back into Leinster.’

Afterwards the same three came to the house of Amairgen in the time of summer, and took the boy with them. Now when they reached the hill called Muincille, that is Ros Coill, the little boy became thirsty, and cried, asking for a drink. The elder said to his servant: ‘Go to that doe there on the hill, and bring from her a drink for the boy.’ The servant went, and milked a vessel full of milk from her, and it was given to the little boy.

Then said the elder: ‘The place in which God wrought this wonderful miracle for the boy, is a fit place for his instruction to commence, for his hair to be shorn, and his name to be changed.’ And so it was done. The man who sheared him said: ‘Beautiful and fair (find) is the crest (barr) on Loán.’ Said the elder: ‘Thou hast spoken well; for this shall be his name henceforth, Findbarr’18 (Fair-crest).

This was the day on which Brendan of Birr came to Sliab Muincille, and he had reached the place where Brendan's crosses stand to-day. His chariot bounded three times under him, and he was thrown out of it. And he wept greatly, and smiled afterwards. And his household asked him why he wept first, and laughed afterwards. ‘A little lad has come here to-day,’ (said he), ‘for whom God has wrought a great miracle. This is the reason why I was {folio 123b} sad.’

‘I had made request to God for three estates in Desmond that they might serve my successor after me, to wit from the Blackwater to the Lee, from the Lee to the Bandon and Bearhaven, from the Bandon to Cape Clear. And God did not grant them me; but God has given them to serve Bairre for ever.’ The three clerks above mentioned afterwards came into the district of Leinster, and Bairre with them. And it was he who marked out the church of Mac


Cathail (Kilmacahill) in Gowran Pass. And there Bairre read his psalms.

Once Bairre was reading his psalms, and there came a heavy fall of snow, so that there was a hood of snow round the hut in which Bairre was doing his lesson. Bairre said to his tutor: ‘I should like this hood to remain around my hut, till I shall have finished my psalms.’ God did so; for the snow melted from the earth, but the hood of snow remained round the hut till Bairre had finished his psalms.

Once a certain rich man, Fidach by name, came where Bairre was, to Lochan, to take him (Lochan) as his confessor. Lochan said to Fidach: ‘Kneel to that little lad there, to Bairre.’ Fidach said: ‘I think it a mean thing to kneel to him.’ Said Lochan to Fidach: ‘If I take him as confessor, wilt thou take him (also)?’ Fidach said that he would. Then the clerk knelt to Bairre, and Fidach knelt (also). And Lochan offered his church to God and to Bairre; and Fidach offered [himself] and his descendants [to him.] Bairre said to his tutor: ‘Receive from me this man and his descendants, in return for teaching me my psalms.’19

After this Bairre set out to go to Munster. He came to the place in Ossory where Cul Caissine stands to-day. He marked out the church, and it was offered to him for ever.20

After this Bairre came to Aghaboe, and he first settled there. Later on came Cainnech21 Mac Ua Dalann to Bairre, and begged him to relinquish the place to him. ‘What shall I have therefore?’22 said Bairre. ‘Thou shalt have {folio 124a} good therefore, O Bairre,’ said Cainnech; ‘the place in which thou shalt settle, and in which thy relics shall be, shall have continually abundance of learning and prosperity and honour in return for the honour which thou


showest to me.’

‘What else?’ said Bairre. ‘Thou shalt have,’ said Cainnech, ‘heaven for every one of thy successors.’ ‘Methinks thou hast said this too soon,’ said Bairre, ‘it is likely that they will be remiss, [lit. let go], and get it23 because of this word.’ Cainnech said: ‘When thy successor and representative dies, by the gift of the heavenly King, he shall not depart without confession.’ They marked out the church and the cemetery; and Bairre said: ‘Few will be the sons of perdition in this church.’ Cainnech said: ‘Not many will be the sons of perdition in thy cemetery.’

After this Bairre came to Bishop Mac Cuirb in Cliu. This Mac Cuirb was a notable man, and fellow-pupil to David of Cell Muine, both of them being pupils of Gregory of Rome. When then Bairre came to Bishop Mac Cuirb, the king, Fachtna Fergach24 (i. e. the Wrathful) the elder, son of Caelbad, of Muscraige Breogan, addressed him, and said to him: ‘I want you to bless my two children, my blind son and my dumb daughter.’ Bairre blessed them both, and they were healed, to wit the sight of the son, and the speech of the daughter.

As they were conversing25 together, Bairre and the king, they heard a great lamentation. ‘What is this?’ said Bairre. The king said: ‘My wife has just died.’ Said Bairre to the king: ‘God is able to raise her from the dead.’ After this Bairre blessed water,26 and they washed the queen with it, and she arose from death, as if she were rising from sleep.

As they were talking together, Bairre and the king,27 the king said: ‘Why, O Bairre, dost thou not do miracles in our presence as well?’ Bairre said: ‘God is able to do them, if it be His pleasure.’ It was then just the time of spring.28 Nevertheless there fell29 ripe nuts from the hazel tree under which they were, so that their bosoms were full of the nuts. Then the king Fachtna offered Rath Airtenn (or Airrtad) to Bairre in perpetuity.

After this Bairre read the book of Matthew and the book of the Apostles {folio 124b} with Bishop Mac Cuirb. And Bishop Mac Cuirb demanded of Bairre the fee for his instruction. Bairre said: ‘What fee dost thou demand?’ Bishop Mac Cuirb said: ‘This is my wish, that the resurrection of us both may be in the same place in the Day of Judgement.’ Said Bairre: ‘Thou shalt have thy wish, for in the same place (with me) shalt thou be buried, and we shall have our resurrection.’

After this Bairre dwelt on Loch Irce, in Edergole to the


east of the lough.30 And this was the school which Bairre had on the lough: Eolang his tutor,31 Colman of Daire Duncon,32 and Baichine and Nesan, and Garban son of Findbarr, and Talmach, and Finnchad of Donaghmore, and Fachtna of Ria, and Fachtna of Ros Ailithir, Luicer and Caman and Loichine of Achad Airaird, Cairine and Finntan and Eothuile who are in Ros Caerach, Grellan in Druim Draighnighe, and Cáelchú and Mogenna, and Modimócc, and Santan, and Luiger son of Colum. All these east of the lough.33 And this was the school which Bairre had on the lough: Eolang his tutor,34 Colman of Daire Duncon,35 and Baichine and Nesan, and Garban son of Findbarr, and Talmach, and Finnchad of Donaghmore, and Fachtna of Ria, and Fachtna of Ros Ailithir, Luicer and Caman and Loichine of Achad Airaird, Cairine and Finntan and Eothuile who are in Ros Caerach, Grellan in Druim Draighnighe, and Cáelchú and Mogenna, and Modimócc, and Santan, and Luiger son of Colum. All these offered their churches to God and to Bairre in perpetuity.

These also were with him in Edergole: Bairre's own sister, and Crothru daughter of Conall, and three daughters of Mac Carthainn, and Coch a nun of Ross Banagher, and Moshillan of Rathmore, and Scothnat of Cluain Bec, and Lasar of Achad Durbcon, and three daughters of Lugaid, Dune,36 and Er, and Brigit of Airnaide. All these offered their churches to God and to Bairre in perpetuity.

Bairnech Mór in the district of Muscraige Mitaine, Iuran the Briton first settled there, and Nathi and Bróccán. They offered their church, Bairnech Mór, to Bairre; and Bairre left with them a reliquary37 and the four books of the Gospel. Lugaid son of Fintan of Dal Modúla of Airther Cliach was the first to occupy Cenna Dromma in Carn Tigernaigh in the district of Fermoy; he offered his church to Bairre, and he received from Bairre an offertorium of white bronze. Baetan son of Eogan occupied Glenn Cáin in the district of Úi Luigdech of Eile, and Modimócc also, a pupil of Bairre; and these two were bishops. They both offered their church, Glenn Cáin, to Bairre in full possession. {folio 125a} Druim Eidnech in the district of the Úi Luigdech of Eile was occupied by Sáran. He offered his church to Bairre, and received from Bairre his bronze reliquary containing the Host.38

Goban Corr (?the dwarf) settled on Fán Lopaist, and offered his church to Bairre, and Bairre gave him an offertorium of silver and an altar-chalice of gold. Fintan and Domangen occupied Cluain Fota, and Tulach Min, and they offered their church to Bairre. Bairre gave them an offertorium and altar-chalice of glass. Bairre performed a wonderful miracle there; he healed a boy of blindness and [a girl] of dumbness, and healed a leper so that he was whole. Brogan son of Senan39 was a pupil of Bairre, and he did three lessons daily with Bairre till orders were conferred upon him. He offered himself and his church, Clúain Cárnai, to Bairre in perpetuity.


Afterwards Bairre, with an angel guiding him, came to his own district, and built the church of Achad Durbcon. There is a cave there called Cúas Barrai (Bairre's Cave), and a fair pool beside it, from which was brought every night to Bairre a salmon caught in a net of a single mesh. The angel said to Bairre, ‘Not here shall be thy resurrection.’

After this Bairre crossed the river40 to Cell na Cluaine, and built a church there, and remained in it some time, till two pupils of Ruadan [of Lothra] came to him, Cormac and Buichin,41 who had asked of Ruadan a place for themselves. Ruadan said to them: ‘Go with my blessing, and the place where its tongue shall strike your bell, and in which the strap of your book-wallet shall break, there will be your resurrection.’

When they came to Bairre to Cel na Cluaine all these things befell them according to the word of Ruadan. They were much cast down thereat, for they did not think that the church would be given up to them. Bairre said to them: ‘Be not sad nor downcast; I give this church and all its treasures to you and to God.’ So then Bairre built twelve churches before he came to Cork, and gave them all up out of humility and the greatness of his charity.

{folio 125b}Afterwards the angel guided Bairre from Cell na Cluaine to the place where Cork stands to-day, and said to him: ‘Abide here, for here shall be thy haven of resurrection.’ Bairre then kept a fast of three days in this place, when there came to him Aed son of Comgall of the Úi mic Ciair, seeking a cow that had wandered away to drop her calf; and he found her with the clerks.

Aed asked them: ‘What has brought you here?’ Bairre answered: ‘We are seeking a place in which we may pray God for ourselves, and for the man who shall give it to us.’ Aed said: ‘I give thee this place, and the cow which God has led to thee there.’ After this came Aed son of Miandach, and offered to Bairre Foithrib Aeda (Aed's Wood) in Magh Tuath, and42 his own service and that of his offspring. And Aed came afterwards, and offered himself and his offspring to Bairre in perpetuity.

After this the angel of God came to attend on him, and said to him: ‘Is it thy will to remain here?’ Said Bairre: ‘Yes, if it be God's will.’ The angel said: ‘If thou remain here, fewer will be the sons of life who will go to heaven hence. Go a little further to the place to the east of thee where there are many waters, and remain there by the counsel of the Lord, and many will be the sages and sons of life of that place (who will go) to heaven.’


The angel then went before him to the place appointed him by God; and the angel marked out the church and blessed it; and Bairre remained in it afterwards.

Bairre went after this to Rome43 to receive episcopal orders together with Eolang, and Maedoc of Ferns, and David of Cell Muine, and twelve monks with them. Now Gregory was successor of Peter at that time. So when Gregory lifted up his hand over Bairre's head to read (the service of) orders over him a flame came from heaven on to his hand, and Gregory said to Bairre, ‘Go home, and the Lord himself will read (the service of) episcopal orders over thee.’

And thus it was fulfilled; for Bairre came to his own church, and the Lord Himself read (the service of) episcopal orders over him at the {folio 126a} cross in front of the church, where his remains were afterwards buried; and oil flowed abundantly out of the earth there, so that it rose over his shoes, and over the shoes of the elders who were with him.44 Then Bairre with his elders blessed the church and the cemetery, and they said (that there would be) abundance of wisdom continually in Cork.

After this Bairre remained in Cork and had with him there a great school of saints; Fachtna occupied Cell Ria, Eltin son of Cobthach occupied Cell na h-Indsi; Fergus of Fennor occupied Fennor of the kings, Condire son of Fortchern occupied Tulach Ratha. Bishop Libair occupied Cell Ia; Bishop Sinell occupied Cluain Bruices. Fingin and Trian occupied Dcmnach Mor of Mitaine. Mocholmoc son of Grillen settled at Ross Ailithir, and Fachtna son of Mongach also. Bishop Colman occupied Cenn Eich; Bishops Muadan and Cairpre occupied Cell Muadain. All these offered their churches to God and to Bairre.45

Bishop Mac Cuirb said to Bairre: ‘If my body is the first to go under the ground here, and my soul goes [forthwith] to heaven, I will not allow any one who dies within the circuit of Cork46 to go to hell.’ And afterwards the corpse of Bishop Mac Cuirb was the first to go under the soil of Cork.

Bairre was much concerned at being without a confessor after the death of his elder. So he went afterwards to visit Eolang; and God revealed to Eolang that Bairre was coming to him. And he said to his (monastic) family: ‘Noble guests will come to us to-day, and you must wait upon them in respect of refection and bathing.’

Presently Bairre arrived, and Eolang's hospitaller met him, and


welcomed him, and said: ‘The elder is fain of your coming; let (your raiment) be taken from you, and bathe yourselves.’ Said Bairre: ‘We would first address the elder.’ The hospitaller went to confer with Eolang, and told him Bairre's answer. Eolang said: ‘Let Bairre bathe first, and we will converse afterwards. Let him go to his monastery however to-morrow, and I will come to him at the end of a week.’

And this was fulfilled; {folio 126b} for Eolang came to Cork at the end of a week, and knelt forthwith to Bairre, and said as follows: ‘I offer to thee my church, my body, and my soul.’ Then Bairre wept, and said: ‘This was not my thought, but that it would be I that would offer my church to thee.’ Eolang said: ‘Let it be as I say that it shall be; for this is the will of God. And thou art dear to God, and thou art greater than I. But I ask of thee a guerdon for my offering, that our resurrection may be in the same place.’ Said Bairre: ‘This shall be thine; but I am still troubled about the confessorship.’ Said Eolang: ‘Thou shalt receive to thyself a confessor worthy of thee at my hand to-day.’

And this was fulfilled; for Eolang placed Bairre's hand in the hand of the Lord Himself by Eolang's monument in the presence of angels and archangels; and he said: ‘O Lord, take to Thee this just man.’ And the Lord then took to Him the hand of Bairre (leading him) to heaven. But Eolang said: ‘O Lord, take not Bairre from me now, till the time of his release from the body come.’ The Lord then released the hand of Bairre. And from that day no one could look upon his hand because of its radiance; therefore he used to wear a glove on his hand continually.47

It occurred to Bairre to seek some additional relics for his cemetery. Then an angel came to converse with him, and said to him: ‘Go up to-morrow to the district of the Úi Crimthann,and there are relics of bishops there.’ Bairre went on the morrow to Disert Mor. And he saw there a company carrying to burial the relics which he had come to seek. ‘Well then,’ said Bairre to Fiama, son of Eogan, ‘what art thou doing there?’ ‘This,’ said Fiama, ‘an angel of God came to converse with me last night, and told me to go for these relics to the place in which they were; and so I have taken them therefrom.’

‘That is the business which has brought me from my house,’ said Bairre. ‘What shall be done in the matter then?’ said Fiama. ‘Unquestionably the relics shall be left to thee,’ said Bairre. ‘That is good,’ {folio 127a} said Fiama, ‘and thou shalt have guerdon therefor; this place shall be thine with its relics from now


till doom.’ ‘I accept,’ said Bairre, ‘the place will be good, and its coarb will be honourable in the earth.’ For this Fiama merited to administer the body of Christ to Bairre in the day of his death.

Too numerous to recount or narrate are the miracles and mighty works which God wrought for St. Bairre. For no one would be able to narrate them all, unless he himself or an angel of God should come to relate them. Still, this little of them may suffice as an illustration of his inner life and his daily conversation, his lowliness, his obedience, his compassion, his sweetness, his patience and gentleness, his love and pity and readiness to forgive, his fasting and abstinence, his earnest prayer, his patient waiting, and his mind continually intent on God. No one can tell it unless he himself should come or an angel of God to tell it.

For there were many excellences in this Bairre; he was a just man with transparency of nature like a patriarch; he was a true pilgrim like Abraham; he was compassionate, simple, and forgiving of heart like Moses; he was a laudable and choice psalmist like David; he was a treasury of wisdom and knowledge like Solomon son of David; he was a chosen vessel to proclaim righteousness, like Paul the apostle; he was a man full of the grace and favour of the Holy Spirit, like the youth John. He was a lion for strength and power; he was a king for dignity and distinction, to free and to enslave, to kill and to make alive, to bind and to loose. He was a serpent for cunning and wisdom in everything good; he was a dove in gentleness and simplicity [in the face of all evil].

He was a fair garden full of herbs of virtue. He was the crystal fountain whereby were washed away the sins of the people whom God entrusted to him to be bettered by the transparence of his teaching. He was also the heavenly cloud wherewith was fructified the ground of the Church, that is, the souls of the righteous with the drops of his peaceful and virtuous teaching. He was the golden lamp lighted by the Holy Spirit, from which flee darkness and sin in the house of the Lord, that is, in the Church. He was {folio 127b} the shining fire with heat to warm and kindle love in the hearts of the sons of life. He was, too, the ever-victorious bark which conveyed the hosts of many peoples across the storms of the world to the shore of the heavenly Church. He was the consecrated ensign of the heavenly King, that made peace and concord between God and man.

He was the high-steward and most noble overseer whom the High King of heaven sent to exact the tribute of virtues and good deeds from the clans of the Gael. He was the precious stone with which the heavenly palace was adorned. He was the crystal vessel wherewith was distributed the wine of the word of God to the many peoples who follow it. He was the rich prosperous


high husbandman of wisdom and knowledge who paid the righteous poor with the abundance of his teaching. He was a branch of the true vine, that is Christ, to satisfy and bring life to the world. He was the true leech who healed sicknesses and diseases of the body and soul of every believer in the Church. Many then were the excellences of St. Bairre, so that a man cannot recount them by reason of their number.

There are seven evident miracles here, which God granted to Bairre beyond all other saints, to wit, his speaking before his birth in the womb of his mother; his speaking clearly a second time immediately after his birth before the proper time; the offering made to him before his baptism; miracles done for him without his pleading for them; angels conducting him and accompanying him in every way that he went; Eolang placing his hand in the hand of God; and the sun (shining) twelve days after his death without being darkened by clouds; and a golden ladder in his church awaiting the holy souls (who were to mount) by it to heaven, as was seen therein by Fursa the ascetic.

When then the death day arrived of the man in whom were all these many excellences, to wit, St. Bairre, after he had healed the blind and the leper, the lame, the deaf and the dumb, and other sick folk of every kind, after founding many churches and {folio 128a} cells and monasteries for God, and after ordaining in them bishops, and priests, and people of every other grade, for unction, confirmation, consecration, and benediction of tribes and races, for baptism and communion, and confession, and instruction, and maintenance of the faith and belief in those districts continually, Bairre then went to Cell na Cluaine to visit Cormac and Baithine.

Fiama also came to meet him to Cell na Cluaine, and they blessed each other as holy brethren; and Bairre said to them: ‘It is time for me to be released from the prison of the body, and to go to the heavenly King who is calling me to Him now.’ After this Bairre took the sacrifice there from the hand of Fiama, and sent forth his spirit to heaven by the cross in the middle of Cell na Cluaine.

After this his monks and disciples and the synod of the churches of Desmond came to wake and honour the body of their master, St. Bairre, and bear it with them to the place of his resurrection, Cork.

This day—the day of St. Bairre's death—was prolonged to the elders. God did not allow the sun to go beneath the earth for twelve days afterwards, that is so long as the synods of the churches of Desmond were busied about the body of their master with hymns and psalms, and Masses and recitation of hours. Then the angels of


heaven came to meet his soul and carried it with them with honour and reverence to heaven, where he shines like the sun in the company of patriarchs and prophets, in the company of the apostles and disciples of Jesus, in the company of the nine heavenly orders who sinned not, in the company of the divinity and the humanity of the Son of God, in the company that is higher than any company, the company of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.48 Amen. It endeth.


The poor friar Michael O'Clery copied this life of Bairre at Cork in the convent of the brethren from a vellum book belonging to Domnall O Duinnín (Donald Dinneen) June 24, 1629.49 50