St Ruadhán’s Abbey (5)

St Ruadhán’s Abbey (5)
single irish men
Image by Fergal of Claddagh

Ruadhán is said to have been of noble extraction. However, it is not easy to discover the place of his birth or family residence. Ruadhán was son to Birrus, and he descended, from the noble family of Duach, surnamed Gaelach. He sprung from the posterity of Dubrugy. Ruadhán seems to have been born, about or after the beginning of the sixth century, and to have been a child of election from his mother’s womb. During his very infancy, he was entirely devoted to the love God. Through an inspiration of Divine Grace, he left his parents and went towards the territories of Niall’s posterity, or Meath, for the purpose of reading the Holy Scriptures, and of subjecting himself to ecclesiastical discipline. He studied for a long time, under St. Finnian, Bishop of Clonard. When thoroughly instructed in Sacred Scripture, and perfect in all devout practices, our saint, taking leave of his Master, went to the country of Muskerry. Here, he is said to have taken up his residence, with Mac Cunethin. In that locality, he remained, until an angel was sent from God, to announce that it should not be the place of his resurrection. Then, Ruadhán left that particular spot, and, he went to another, where a city existed, at the time his Acts were written. Affrighted on his arrival, a wild boar fled hastily from a hollow tree, at this spot. It is said, that there St. Ruadhán founded his city, probably at Lorrah, anciently called Lothra, within the present barony of Lower Ormond, in the county of Tipperary. The site of this monastery lies about three miles eastward from the River Shannon, and its position is yet very picturesque. A collection of venerable ruins yet remain, but bearing a comparatively modern date. The old Dominican Abbey ruins are the most picturesque, and they are situate within a cemetery, beside a small stream, which flows into the Friars’ Lough, a little below the village of Lorrah, and thence into the Shannon. High old woods and copse trees crown the rising grounds, on its left bank. Beside the Dominican church ruins, those of a medieval mill are to be found, and on the stream’s right bank, where they are seen, a deep cut through a rocky surface may be traced. Besides the foregoing interesting remains, there is a singular old mediaeval house, at Lorrah. Its walls are massive, and perforated with windows. One of its gables was surmounted by a belfry. It consisted of two stories, and it is now thickly covered with ivy, on the gables. In the graveyard surrounding it are the pedestal and broken shaft of a massive Irish cross. This spot seems to have been the original site for St. Ruadhan’s Monastery, and it possesses the advantage of situation, over that occupied by the old Dominican Abbey. It is generally supposed, that our saint founded his religious house, at Lorrah, somewhat near A.D. 550.

About the same time, St. Brendan Mac-Tualt had erected a residence for himself, not far from Ruadhán, and in a town, called Tulach-Brendin. Both of these establishments were so near, that the bells of either churches were heard, at one and the same station. Whereupon, Brendan said : "I and Ruadhán cannot dwell together ; and, therefore, I am resolved on leaving this place for him." Brendan then went forth, and he built Clonfert, and Ruadhán blessed him, saying, "Thy city shall not be less important than mine." When St. Ruadhán went out from the northern parts of Ireland, he wrought many wonders, and he acquired a large parish. He wished, likewise, to establish a residence for himself, in that quarter ; but, a certain man, on whose lands he desired to build, took him by the hand, and prevented him. It is stated, that the sea and the sea-shore covered the fields of this man, so that they were no longer habitable.

On a certain day, when St. Ruadhán came to a city, which was called Snam Luthir, in the territory of Carbry’s Race, it chanced, that the dead body of the king, who ruled over this district, was brought in a chariot, to that city. All his former subjects were bewailing his death. Ruadhán, compassionating them, prayed to the Lord, and the king was instantly restored to life. Afterwards, the ruler presented his city Luthir, and his subjects, for the future disposal of St Ruadhán.

On a certain day, when St. Ruadhán came to a place, called Roys-Enni, he found a great crowd of people there, and he asked for what purpose they had assembled. They answered, saying, " In this city, during a great mortality, the people’s substance had been buried in the earth but, we know not, in what particular place, that treasure was hidden." Then, Ruadhán went through the circuit of the city, which he blessed, and sounding his bell, he prayed. Immediately, the earth’s surface opened over that spot, where the people’s substance lay. Wherefore, the inhabitants of this place, giving thanks to God, presented their city and the neighbouring territory to St. Ruadhán.

After these occurrences, our saint proceeded from the north, to his sister Daroi. It would appear, she lived within the country of Ailell’s Race ; and, at a place called Senchue, he founded an establishment of some sort. Its site had been presented to him, by the people, in perpetual fee. The following legend seems to have reference to this place. At a certain time, a cook brought milk from a cattle-stall, into the city. For seven successive days, as he entered the town, the milk was spilled on the ground. At length, St. Ruadhán went to the city entrance, to learn the cause for these accidents. There he saw two Demons ; one of these was at the right, and the other at the left, in the suburbs. Those malignant spirits struck the vessels, in which the milk was contained, and from either side. These vessels fell broken on the ground, off the horse that bore them. It is said, that the Demons acted in this manner, because the cook was not hospitable to the monastic guests. Then, St. Ruadhán sent the Demons to the depths of the sea, so that they might not inflict more damage upon human beings.

A certain young man, belonging to Aradaib-Cliachu, wishing to study the art of medicine, entreated St. Ruadhán’s blessing, on his hands. Then, our saint blessed his hands and eyes, when immediately he became perfect, in every branch of the healing art.

At the same time, the Queen of King Kualain, within a certain territory, was afflicted with an incurable distemper; and, we are told, that fifty physicians were in attendance on her, without their being able to restore her to health. Abandoning all hope of receiving relief, at the hands of her medical advisers, the Queen committed herself to the power of God and of St. Ruadhán. The Angel of the Lord came to our saint, and told him, that Kualain’s wife should be restored through him, as the physicians knew not the nature of her complaint. Our saint appeared to the Queen, in a nocturnal vision, and he was surrounded with great light. Then, he said to her, "Fear not, you must be restored to health ; for, I shall send to you a youth, clothed in a particular habit, on an appointed day. He shall heal you from this infirmity. Leave, therefore, those physicians, who cannot heal you." Saying these words, our saint disappeared.

On another day, St. Ruadhán called the young man, whose hands he had blessed, and he then said : “Go to Kualain’s Queen, and heal her." Taking his brazen vessel, which was filled with water, Ruadhán blessed it. Following certain instructions, this young man departed, and he executed the orders of our saint. Soon the Queen’s health was restored. According to the desire of our saint, this young physician would receive no other fee for his services, except linen, belonging to King Kualain. For a length of time, and to commemorate such a miracle, this linen was suspended over the altar, at Lothra.

We are told, that on another occasion, a ship belonging to Brandan was submerged in the depths of a sea, called Livemnech, whilst a son of the King of Britain chanced to be sleeping, in the prow of his vessel. Whereupon, Brandan said to his own people : "Go to Ruadhán : for to him hath the Lord granted the elevation of our ship, from the deep, and the resuscitation of the King’s son, who has been drowned in it." The messengers went to St. Ruadhán. He then proceeded with them, and he prayed at the place, where that vessel had been lost immediately, the ship arose from the deep, and bearing the king’s son, who was alive and safe within it. He even appeared as if he were sleeping. The prince then said that during the time he was beneath the water, St. Ruadhán had placed a hood around his head, so as to save him from suffocation.

The number of St. Ruadhán’s religious is said to have been thrice fifty men. By the bounty of God, these were furnished with a miraculous kind of food, procured for them, without further labour on their part, but such as proceeded from their prayers and fastings. In the place where they dwelt grew a linden tree, which distilled a certain luscious sap into a vessel placed beneath it. With this miraculous liquor, the monks and the guests of the monastery were regaled, and it had the taste of wine. Each of those, who partook of it, tilled a cup with the liquor. They fed upon herbs, also, and they lived in a very simple manner. But, the chief saints of Ireland, it is related, felt jealous regarding such miracles. They murmured against Ruadhán, because their monks and alumni left them, and went to him. Wherefore, with these complaints, they visited St. Finnian, Bishop of Clonard. He accompanied them to Ruadhán, to entreat his abandonment of this idle style of living, lest he should furnish occasion for envy and murmuring to other saints. When St. Finnian entered the city of Ruadan, and when he saw the tree already mentioned, elevating his hand, he blessed it. Immediately the sap ceased to flow, so that, on the night succeeding, the liquor sufficed only for sustenance of the monastic family, and not for its guests. Thereupon, the cook, with the guests, preferred a complaint to St. Ruadhán. The latter said, "Pour out spring water for our guests, and it shall be changed into wine for them." When the cook went to draw water from the fountain, suddenly a fish of wonderful size issued through the rocky bottom of the well. This fish was set before the guests, and also the water, which had been turned into wine. They felt inebriated, by this latter beverage, and fell into a sleep. Then, the Irish saints besought Ruadhán, that he would place his monks on the same standing, with their own religious brethren. He humbly complied with their desires. St. Finnian then said to Ruadhán, and to his monks, "Do you plough and reap your fields. These shall produce fruitful crops forever, without further culture or manure." Afterwards, St. Finnian blessed St Ruadhán, his house and lands, and then retired in peace.

After the death of Tuathal Maelgarbh, Monarch of Ireland, who was slain at Greallach-Eillte, in the year of Christ 544 ; Diarmaid, son to Fearghus, who had been in exile, claimed his right to succeed him, on the throne. King Diarmaid established peace throughout all Ireland. About that period, the prefect of King Dermot, and his herald, whose name is said to have been Mac-Lomm, went towards the territory of Connaught, and into the country of the Mani race. But, instigated by the Devil, that herald entered into a fortress, belonging to a chief named Odo Guori, and having a spear placed across his mouth, so that thus the castle gates might be opened for him. Then, Odo-Guori, destroying his castle, afterwards killed the herald. Through fear of Diarmaid, Odo fled to Bishop Senach, in the territory of Muscraige, where he appears to have lived. We are informed, that the mother of Odo, and the mother of Bishop Senach, were two sisters. But, Bishop Senach brought Odo to St. Ruadhán for protection ; for, it so happened, that the two sisters of Ruadhán, named Kyell and Ruadanis, had fostered Senach himself. Afterwards, it seems, that Odo, had been brought into Britain, by St. Ruadhán. Yet, Diarmaid sent a message into Britain, which prevented Odo from dwelling there, and he was again sent back to St. Ruadhán. Then, he dwelt at a place, called Poll-Ruodan, in Ireland. There is no doubt that there was animosity and rivalry between Ruadhán and King Diarmaid, but the King had a healthy regard for the abbot. When one of the nobles fled from the King, he took refuge first with his relative Senan, but Senan passed on this cousin of his, who was called Odo, to Ruadhán, reckoning that he would give him greater protection. Ruadhán had a chamber or crypt beneath his oratory and concealed the fugitive there, placing a chair over the hatch. Dermot, arriving at the cell, seated himself on the chair and demanded where Odo was hidden. Ruadhán answered truthfully, "I cannot say, unless he is beneath your chair".

Later Ruadhán invoked a solemn curse against Diarmaid for violating the sanctuary of the monastery saying; Upon Tara’s green was a vast and wide-foliaged tree, and eleven slaves hewing at it; but every chip that they knocked from it would return into its place again and there adhere instantly, till at last there came one man that dealt the tree but a stroke, and with that single cut laid it low. Desolate be Tara forever and ever. It is said that the curse was so efficacious that Tara was ruined and deserted from the day of Ruadhán’s curse.

While himself and his community were at Dare-Enech, the son of Darane Dairimoir, sent to St. Ruadhan a great measure full of butter. And, when this measure on a particular morning had been placed upon two wild oxen, these animals passed through a bog, from Daire-moir. Through this bog they discovered a road, very firm and level, such as no person had seen there before, or since. That measure of butter served St. Ruadan and his 150 monks, from the beginning of spring, until the day of Pentecost, when it was found to have been yet full, having suffered no apparent diminution in quantity.

At a certain time, when Ruadan was in Araib, a sorrowing mother approached ; and, in tears, she besought him to raise her dead son to life. When the Abbot prayed, her boy was again restored.

In the territories of Lugdeck’s posterity, he raised another youth, from the dead ; for, when the boy was placed under St. Ruadhán’s chasuble, he immediately came to life.

Our saint similarly preserved a third boy’s life in Hi-Cuillin, within the territory of Heli; and, the place where this miracle was wrought, bore the name of Tulach Ruodan. We are told, moreover, this boy’s father presented him forever to St. Ruadhán, together with that field, in which he had been restored.

The Church of Ireland (Anglican) church at Lorrha is built on the site of St. Ruadhán’s monastery, and the stumps of two High Crosses are to be found in the church yard there. The Stowe Missal, with its fine shrine, now in the National Museum in Dublin used to be at this monastery, and St. Ruadhán’s Bell is in the British Museum in London. St. Ruadhán’s hand was preserved in a silver shrine at Lorrha until the great vandalism of the Reformation.