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

Life 6


{MS page 222}

The Life of Old Ciaran of Saighir

There was a notable man in Ossory, of the Dal Birn, Lugna by name. He went on a circuit in the southern part of Ireland, in Corco Laigde to be precise, and took there a wife worthy of him, named Liadain. This woman saw a vision. It seemed to her that a star came from heaven, and entered her mouth, so that it enlightened all the men of Erin. She arose the next morning, and related all that she had seen; and this was the interpretation put upon it, that she would give birth to an eminent child, of whose mighty deeds and miracles all the West of the world would be full.

That proved true; the child was born, to wit Ciaran, and was fostered in Clear. And the grace of God was manifest upon him in many miracles and mighty deeds; and he was thirty years in that place, studying and praying diligently, though he had received neither baptism nor benediction, but only what he received of them (direct) from heaven. This was not surprising, for there was neither baptism nor belief in this island at that time. So Ciaran set out to go on a journey to Rome of Latium, for it had been revealed to him from heaven that it was there he should read his psalms, and receive episcopal orders, for that (city) was the head of the faith.

When he came {MS page 223} to Rome, he was baptized on his arrival, and read the scripture and the divine canon under the abbot of Rome, and was engaged in this study thirty years, till it was commanded him to go to his own land, for it was there it was ordained that he should abide, and that his mighty deeds and prayers should be famed throughout the whole world.

Ciaran went thence to Italy, and there on the way Patrick met him, and they greeted one another. And Patrick told him to go to his own land, and that a monastery would be built in the middle of the island, and that he would find an Úarán (little cold spring) there. ‘And stay by it, and I will meet thee (there) after thirty years.’ ‘I do not know the way to it,’ said Ciaran, ‘for I know not this Úarán at which I should abide, from any other.’ ‘Thou shalt take my bell,’ said he, ‘and it will be dumb till it reaches the Úarán, and it will ring when it reaches it, and Bardan Ciarain will be the name of it (the bell) till doom, and mighty deeds and miracles will be done by you (i. e. Ciaran and the bell) together, and Saighir will be the name of the place.’

They bade farewell to one another to wit Patrick and Ciaran, and Ciaran did as he was told, till he came


to the famous Úarán which is in Eile {MS page 224} of Munster; and his bell rang there as was promised. And he marked out his monastery thereafter.

God did many mighty works there for Ciaran. When he began to dig the cemetery all by himself, he saw a wild boar coming towards him, which began to cut and root, and with this rooting it cut down the whole wood, and turned up the ground, and levelled it. Afterwards he made a hut in which to stay while engaged on that great work, the wild animal cutting and dragging the timber for him till it was finished. God gave additional monks to Ciaran, and he saw coming to them a wolf with a badger and a fox in his train, and they remained with him doing him duty and service.

Thus they remained for a long time in this service, till it befell that the fox's native character came uppermost in his mind, and he stole Ciaran's shoes and fled to his earth (lit. cave house). As soon as Ciaran missed them, he said to the other monks, to the wolf and to the badger: ‘It is no fit practice for a monk,’ {MS page 225} said he, ‘to plunder and steal; and go,’ said he to the badger, ‘and bring him with thee willingly or by force, that he may be reprimanded for it.’

Then the badger set out and overtook the fox, and he bound him from his ear to his tail, and brought him with him by force. Ciaran said to him: ‘Fast, and do penance, for such ill conduct is no fit practice for a monk, and be sensible, and if thou hast any longings, God will give to thee as thou shalt desire.’ He did as Ciaran bade, and remained under the same service (as before), so that the name of God and of Ciaran was magnified thereby.

After that, when the fame and repute of Ciaran were heard of, his relations gathered to him from every quarter; and his mother came to him, and brought many virgins with her to serve God and Ciaran. And he raised a royal monastery and a choice temple to God, and gave frequent instruction in the words of God to the neighbouring districts, and to his own fatherland, Ossory; and great multitudes of men believed on God through the instruction of Ciaran.

It then befell that Patrick came to sow the faith among the men {MS page 226} of Ireland, and to baptize them, having been commanded so to do by Jesus on Mount Sinai when the Bachall Ísa (staff of Jesus) was given to him; and He (Jesus) approved and bound whatever Patrick should bind in this island. For before Patrick there were none to maintain faith and belief in Erin but Ciaran, and Ailbe, and Declan, and Bishop Iubar. All things were accomplished by Patrick as Jesus bade him; and he rescued the men of Erin from the hands of demons, and from the worship of idols.

Now Liadain, the mother of Ciaran, had a favourite fosterling, named Bruinech, and there was not in the world a woman more


beautiful or more virtuous. She was a daughter of one of the kings of Munster, and she had dedicated her virginity to God, and went to Ciaran with Liadain. One day the king of Cinel Fiachach89, named Dima, came to Ciaran, and saw the beauteous maiden, and was bewitched at the sight of her, and carried her off against her will without Ciaran's knowledge, and forced her afterwards.

This thing was a heavy grief to Ciaran, and he went to seek the maiden to the house of Dima; and Dima said to him: ‘Thou shalt not take the maiden,’ said he, ‘till thy {MS page 227} Lord commands me.’ ‘God is able to do that,’ said Ciaran. They had not been long there, when a voice above them said: ‘Release the maiden.’ He released the maiden (to go) with Ciaran after that, and she was pregnant. Ciaran then made the sign of the Divine Cross over her, and it (the foetus) vanished immediately without being perceived.

Some time after this, it came into the mind, of Dima to go to seek the maiden again, for he could not endure to be without her. When the maiden saw the king coming towards her, she felt sure that he had come to carry her off whether willingly or by force, and she died forthwith. When Dima saw the death of the maiden, his limbs shook, and his mind was bewildered, and he said to Ciaran thereupon: ‘Thou hast killed my wife,’ said he, ‘and it shall be avenged on thee; and thou shalt be swept off the place where thou art, and it shall not be thine any longer.’ ‘Thou hast no power herein,’ said Ciaran, ‘the God of heaven is between us; my weal or woe is not in thy power.’

Hereupon at this answer a son of the king's died; and the child's nurse came into the presence of Ciaran, lamenting bitterly, and the woman {MS page 228} said: ‘I offer that child and myself in service to thee,’ said she, ‘if thou help him at this time, for it is thou who didst slay him.’ Thereupon lightning struck the king's mansion, and it was burned, both men and cattle, and another son of the king was burned, viz. Duncad son of Dima.

When the king heard this, he went to Ciaran, and prostrated himself cross-wise before him with great contrition and deep sorrow, and implored him for help and forgiveness. Ciaran granted his request, and raised his two sons after death and burning so that they were whole. When Ciaran saw that the maiden was dead, he raised her from death in the same way, for he felt sure that the king would not again carry her off in his despite. The name of God and of Ciaran was glorified by these miracles.

Once upon a time Ciaran's cook came to him, and said: ‘We have no pigs, and we shall need them to feed our monks.’ ‘God


is able to effect that,’ said Ciaran. It was not long before they saw twelve pigs coming towards them. They remained with them, {MS page 229} and many herds were bred from them.

Another time the same cook came to Ciaran, and said to him: ‘We are in need of sheep; and we shall have to buy them, if they cannot be got (otherwise).’ ‘It is not more difficult with God,’ said Ciaran, ‘(to provide sheep) than pigs.’ And that proved true; they see a flock of white sheep in the plain. And they were scarcely able to tend their progeny (i. e. they became so numerous).

On one occasion there came an honourable man named Fintan who lived near Ciaran, bringing his dead son with him, named Laeghaire, for Ciaran to raise. Ciaran prayed to God for help, and made earnest prayer with cross-vigil for him to God. The son arose from death at Ciaran's word, and the name of God and Ciaran was magnified thereby. And he (the father) gave all his wealth and riches to God and to Ciaran; and further gave the spot on which he was, with its territory, to God and Ciaran in perpetuity. Raith Fera is the name of it.

It was at this time then that Patrick came to Cashel to meet the king of Munster, Aengus son of Nadfraech, and Ciaran went to join them there; and Aengus and the nobles of Munster {MS page 230} submitted to Patrick's baptism. There was a man of the Úi Duach of Ossory at that meeting, Erc by name, who stole the horse on which Patrick rode.

The man was bound (and taken) to the king; and Ciaran went to beg him of the king. He could not obtain him without payment (were made) for him. Ciaran gave a weight of gold for him; for the Ossory man was a favourite of his. The criminal was given to him. The gold melted away afterwards and vanished. The king was angry thereat and said: ‘Why hast thou given thy phantom gold to me?’ said he, ‘and it was a shameful thing for thee to do,’ and he threatened him severely. ‘All the whole world is naught but a phantom and a vanishing,’ said Ciaran. And he was furious with the king thereupon, and proceeded to curse and punish him, so that the king was blinded, and nearly died.

Then Mochuda came to beg Ciaran to arrest the punishment, and (promised) that the king would submit to him. He helped the king afterwards, (and it was) as if he rose from the dead. For every one thought that he {MS page 231} had (actually) died. And he gave innumerable treasures to Ciaran, and himself swore to do his will. And the name of God and of Ciaran was magnified through this miracle.

Once when the king of Munster, Aengus, was on a royal progress through Munster, he had minstrels and players with him. Some of them went on a circuit in Muscraige Tire. Enemies


attacked them for the sake of plunder, and the minstrels were slain, and hidden in a lough near by. There was a tree by the lough; and they were fastened to the tree together with their harps, after they had been stripped, for they (the robbers) did not wish that they should be discovered.

The king missed his minstrels sorely. He sent messengers to seek them, but no trace was found of them, whether alive or dead. The king went to Ciaran to inquire what had befallen his minstrels, for he was sure that he (Ciaran) was a prophet in heaven and earth. And Ciaran revealed to him all that he asked of him. And Ciaran went before the king to the lough, and prayed earnestly with cross-vigil to God, and the lough subsided, and it was plain to every one how {MS page 232} they were fastened together to the tree, as we said before.

Ciaran bade them arise out of the lough, and they arose as it were from sleep, with their harps in their hands, after having been a month under the lough. So that Loch na Cruitirigh (Harpers' Lough) is its name still. And the name of God, &c.

Another time the king went on the same circuit. A chief of his following went and lighted on Ciaran's pigs. They killed one of the pigs. The hue and cry was raised against them, and eleven men of them were slain, including the chief. The king and Mochuda went to Ciaran, and bade him come with them to the slain soldiers, to carry them to Ciaran himself (i. e. to his church) to be buried.

They go to them, and they had not enough men to carry them. Ciaran said (to the slain men): ‘Arise, and accompany your king, in the name of God,’ said he. They arose at once from the dead at Ciaran's word, and the pig with them also alive, and they gave their service to him as long as they lived. And the name of God, &c.

{MS page 233}

Ciaran went one day through a neighbouring wood, and saw a tall brake, with blackberries on it. He put a wisp of rushes on the bush, that it might remain in every season, whenever he might seek for them (the berries). It happened then that the king of Munster came on progress to the house of Concraid, son of Dui, king of Ossory. And the queen (of Munster), Eithne Uathach (the horrible), set her love upon him, for there was no man more comely than this Concraid; and Eithne whispered to him her desire.

Concraid consented not to this, for he had no wish to incur guilt in respect of the queen. So this is what Eithne did; she simulated decline and sickness, so that (as she alleged) she could not move. This was reported to Concraid, and he went to Eithne, and asked what would do her good. She said that nothing would be any good to her, unless blackberries could be got, for on them her desire was set, and they would be medicine and herbs of healing to her



Concraid went to Ciaran, and told him what Eithne had said to him. They went together to the blackberries {MS page 234} spoken of above, and took them to Eithne, and she ate some of them, and they had the scent of wine and the taste of honey. And she was healed of all the love and all the sickness that she had. And it was little Easter (Lowtide) at that time.

Eithne afterwards went to Ciaran and gave thanks to God and to Ciaran for her deliverance from the lust which had assailed her, and she confessed to him, and begged him to free her from every danger which might threaten her. Ciaran said: ‘I cannot free thee from the death which awaits thee; for a battle will be fought between the men of Munster and Leinster, and thou wilt fall there, and thy daughter and the king of Munster; and thou shalt receive the kingdom of heaven afterwards.’ And all that Ciaran said was fulfilled; for Aengus son of Nadfraech fell in the battle of Cell Osnad by the Leinstermen, as Ciaran foretold.

Another time there was an assembly of the Munstermen and Leinstermen in Ciaran's neighbourhood, to meet Patrick who was coming to baptize and instruct them in the word of God. There was no means of feeding them that night after the preaching, and Ciaran remained to satisfy them {MS page 235} in the name of God and Patrick.

Ciaran bade his cook to minister to them. The cook said that it was impossible that they should be ministered to: ‘for night is at hand, and I have only seven oxen, and that is not support for every hundredth man of them there.’ ‘Boil the seven oxen,’ said Ciaran, ‘for it was no easier for Jesus to satisfy the five thousand with the five loaves and two fishes, than to satisfy us with those seven oxen.’ That proved true; he satisfied all that were there, and each thought his own supper abundant. And he blessed the fountain afterwards, and it had the taste of wine or honey for every one who drank of it, so that the hosts were drunk as well as filled. So that the name of God, &c.

On one occasion the king of Tara came on a hosting into Munster, and the Munstermen assembled against him, so that they faced each other in northern Eile. Ciaran besought God for help; and there arose a huge {MS page 236} wood between them, and a river in high flood, named Brosna, and it remains there still.

So the armies separated; the men of Tara going to their homes, and the Munstermen remaining where they were for the night with Ailill king of Cashel. Ciaran sent a cow and a pig to them, and blessed them, so that they sufficed to satisfy the hosts, and with what was left (there was enough) for every man on the following day. So the name of God, &c.

It was a custom with Ciaran for all his monks throughout


all the diocese that belonged to them, to come to receive the Communion at the hands of Ciaran every Christmas Day. He had a foster-mother named Cuinche, who lived at Ross Banagher in Southern Leinster (read: Munster). She was a devout widow. Ciaran, after celebrating the Mass of the Nativity at Saighir, used to go to her to Ross Banagher, and she would receive the Communion at his hands on the morrow, and he would be at Mass at Sáighir the same day, though there was a great distance between them.

And he would go to pray together with Cuinche on a flood-surrounded rock, which was in the sea amid the waves to the south of Ross Banagher, {MS page 237} and it is still called Cuinche's rock. And he would return to Saighir the same day; and it is not known how he did it, unless it were angelic overshadowing from the Trinity which speeded him.

Now there was an honourable lady in Ciaran's neighbourhood, called Eichill. She fell against a rock so that every bone of her was dislocated. This was lamented to Ciaran. He went to her, and said: ‘Arise,’ said he, ‘in the name of the Trinity.’ And the woman arose from death at once at the word of Ciaran, and gave thanks to God and to Ciaran, and gave land to him, to wit, Leim Eichille (Eichill's leap).

A certain thief came westwards over Slieve Bloom, and stole a cow from Ciaran. Mist and unspeakable darkness rose against him, and a river in strong flood, so that he was drowned, and the cow returned to Ciaran again.

Now there were three stewards of the king of Erin, collecting his dues in every place. It happened that one of them killed a friend of Ciaran without any guilt on his part, but (out of) mere tyranny of his lord. Cronan was the name of the youth. The news of this reached Ciaran, and he went in search of the youth, and found him at the end of seven {MS page 238} days from his death. And he awoke him at once by prayer to God for him. And Ciaran said to the king of Eile: ‘Arrest that criminal, and burn him afterwards in revenge for the evil which he did without cause.’ And he did so.

After this the king of Erin, Ailill Molt, was wroth with Ciaran for the death of his servant, and reviled him with words. In punishment for this God caused a strangling of his speech, so that he was seven days without speaking. Then the king went to Ciaran and prostrated himself in cross-vigil before him, and granted him his full will. Ciaran made the sign of the Cross over his mouth, and he spoke afterwards as he had done before, and they separated afterwards in peace and amity, to wit, the king and Ciaran.

Bishop Germanus went from Patrick on a visit to


Ciaran. They go together into the stream to perform their devotions, according to Ciaran's wont. Germanus could not endure the water by reason of its icy coldness. Ciaran noticed this in him, and made a cross with his bachall on the stream, so that it seemed hot to Germanus after that.

Then said Ciaran: ‘The son of the king of Cashel, Carthach, will come to us to-morrow, and he is a faithful foster-child of mine; {MS page 239} and catch,’ said he, ‘the salmon which is passing by you.’ Germanus did as Ciaran bade him, so that he had a salmon in readiness for Carthach on the morrow. Carthach came as Ciaran foretold, and he confessed to him, and took him as his soul-friend, and departed afterwards with his blessing, after completing his tour, and fulfilling his penance.

There was a cruel king in the neighbourhood of Clonmacnois. He gave all his treasures to Ciaran of Cluain to keep. Ciaran distributed them to God's poor and to churches of the Saints. The king sent to demand them, and did not get them. He blamed Ciaran therefor, and imprisoned him, and said that he would not accept (any ransom) for him except sixty white cows with red ears. ‘God is able,’ said Ciaran, ‘to do that. Loose my chains, that I may go in quest of them.’ His chains were removed, and he went to Ciaran of Saighir.

He found Brendan there on his arrival. They were greatly pleased and delighted at seeing Ciaran of Cluain. Ciaran of Saighir asked {MS page 240} his cook what provision he had for those high saints. ‘I have nothing,’ said the cook, ‘except bacon, and it is greasy.’ ‘Let it be prepared quickly,’ said Ciaran, ‘and taken into the refectory,’ This was done. Ciaran blessed it, and produced for them honey, wine, oil, and pottage. A certain monk said that he would not eat aught of them, because they had been made of the bacon. Ciaran answered: ‘Thou wilt desert thy habit,’ said he, ‘and thou wilt eat meat in Lent, and do every kind of evil, and thou shalt not have heaven at last.’

They ate their supper, and gave thanks afterwards, and Ciaran of Cluain said: ‘Let there be abundance of riches and prosperity in this place till doom.’ ‘Let there be grace of learning and devotion on thy place continually,’ said Ciaran of Saighir. Ciaran of Cluain told his errand. ‘Let us go in quest of them,’ said Ciaran of Saighir and Brendan.

They set out, and they had not been going long, when God sent (the kine) to them. And Ciaran of Cluain offered them to the king in place of his treasure. And after they had been given to the king, they all melted away {MS page 241} and vanished. When the king saw that, he prostrated himself before Ciaran, and prayed God to forgive him this fault; and he remitted all his treasure to Ciaran, and they were at peace after that.


There was a rich man in Clonmacnois, and he was cunning in many kinds of evil. His name was Trichem. He went to Ciaran of Saighir. Now with Ciaran the Easter fire was never extinguished from one Easter to another. Trichem put out the fire. ‘Ill befell thee, thou devil,’ said Ciaran, ‘to extinguish the fire; and we shall be without fire till next Easter, unless it comes from heaven. And thou shalt die forthwith; and wolves shall devour thy body’; and this was fulfilled.

This was revealed to Ciaran of Cluain, and he went to Saighir. Ciaran (of Saighir) welcomed him, and when he saw that he had no fire wherewith to prepare food for these elders, he lifted up his hands to heaven, and entreated the Lord that fire might come to him. A ball of fire fell in his presence, and therewith their supper was boiled for them, and set before them.

Said Ciaran of Cluain: ‘I will not touch food,’ said he, ‘till the son of my household be brought to me.’ ‘We knew that that was thine errand,’ said Ciaran of Saighir, ‘and it is my will, if it be God's will, that that man come to thee whole and sound.’ Thereupon he came at Ciaran's {MS page 242} word, and ate together with them; and departed thence with Ciaran to Cluain, and afterwards forsook the devilry that was in him.

Once upon a time Ruadan of Lothra came on a visit to Ciaran. A demon came and put out Ciaran's fire. When Ciaran saw this, he blessed a huge stone, and struck flames of fire from it, and carried it all blazing in his hand into Ruadan's presence for him to warm himself at it.

After this the hospitaller brought a pail of milk to the clerks. The demon came and spilt the milk and broke the pail. The pail was carried to Ciaran, and he made the sign of the Cross over it; and it was whole with its full of milk in it.

When Ciaran's last days were approaching, he himself knew the time of his death, and he asked three requests of God before his death. The angel came to him and said that he should receive everything that he asked. ‘Every one,’ said he, ‘who shall be buried in my monastery, that the gate of hell shall not be closed upon him’; and that every one who honoured and reverenced his festival, should have pre-eminence of stock and riches in the present life, and the kingdom of heaven in the other; and that pre-eminence in battle should rest upon the men of Ossory, and that they should never be ejected from their own territory, for he himself belonged to them by origin.

Now it occurred to the mind of Finnian of Clonard that the last days of Ciaran were approaching. Finnian went to {MS page 243} visit him, for he was his tutor, for it was with him he studied his psalms and every kind of learning that he had; and a great many of the


saints of Ireland resorted to him, for he was tutor to a large proportion of them.

There were thirty bishops with him of those who learned of him, and on every one of whom he had conferred priest's orders. And Ciaran went before them all into the church at the time of his death, and received Communion and sacrifice; and there came a multitude of angels to meet the soul of Ciaran, and bore his spirit with them to heaven, after pre-eminent fasting and repentance, after overcoming the devil and the world, to be welcomed by the family of heaven. He was buried in his own monastery at Saighir on the fifth day of the month of March with great honour and regard in the eyes of God and men. And though great was his honour on the day of his death, it will be greater in the assembly of the Judgement in the company of the nine heavenly orders, in the company of the apostles and disciples of God, in the company of the blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I entreat the mercy of God through the intercession of St. Ciaran, that we may attain to that company in secula seculorum. Amen.90

The End.