Cape Clear and St. Ciaran

According to the Annals of Innisfallen St. Ciaran was born in Cape Clear, 352 A.D. The Annals give the following notices regarding the Saint.

“352 A.D.—St. Ciaran, Bishop of Saigher and patron saint of the people of Ossoraidhe (Ossory), was born in island called Cape Cleere (Clear), a promontory of Corca Laidhe, in the County Cork.”

“402 A.D.—Ciaran and Declan, two bishops, came from Rome to preach the Gospel in Ireland. Ciaran after having preached the Gospel in Inis Cleere, and all over Corca Laidhe, founded a Bishop’s See at Saigher in Ossory, and Declan also another Bishop’s See at Ardmore in the Decies.”

Besides the Annalists we have other testimonies.

Wills remarks:—

“At the coming of St. Patrick four Christian preachers are mentioned by old Irish testimonies to have been before him and still living in his time—these were Ailbe afterwards first Bishop of Emly; Declan of Ardmore; Ciaran of Saighre (by successive translation moved to Kilkenny), and Ibar of Beg Iri, a small island off the Wexford coast.”

Wright declares:—

“This Patriarch (St. Ciaran) is believed to have preceded St. Patrick by thirty years in his holy mission, and to have been the first to preach Christianity in Ireland.”

The Scholicist of Aengus gives the following particulars regarding the Saint:—

“Kieran was son of Brandubius, son of Bressalius, son of Bran, son of Fianboth, etc.; Liedana of the stock of Laidhe, son of Ith (paternal uncle of Milesius), was mother of St. Kieran, and Finthract is the name of the place in which he was born, and the inhabitants of Corca Laidhe were the first who believed in Christianity in Ireland. But Kieran inhabited Saigher (Ossory) thirty years before the arrival of St. Patrick. …

Kieran was primarius (first in order of time) of the Saints of Ireland. He was also a man rich in the possession of herds. His herd-house or bovile had ten gates, and ten special stalls, in each were ten heifers. … Kieran appropriated nothing of the produce or milk during his lifetime, but distributed the entire amongst the poor and distressed Christians. He also had fifty yoke horses for the plough and agricultural purposes; neither, however, did he partake of anything of their produce, nor did he eat wheaten bread in his entire life. His daily food, which he took only in the evening, was a mouthful of barley bread and a draught of cold water. His garment was made of deer-skins, bound round with a girdle of untanned hides, and when he rested for a while, his couch was a rock.”

From these testimonies we gather that St. Ciaran’s father was a native of Ossory and his mother a native of Corca Laidhe of the family of Ith. He was born in Cape Clear, and after making his studies repaired to Rome, where he was consecrated Bishop. He returned to Ireland, preached the Gospel in his native land, and the inhabitants of Corca Laidhe were the first "to believe in Christianity in Ireland." The latter part of this phrase may not be quite accurate for it is probable there were Christians in Ireland before our Saint. He certainly deserves to be called the Apostle of Corca Laidhe. After he had Christianised this part he went to his father’s country, inherited his property, was rich in herds, and became Bishop of Saighre.

His footsteps can still be traced in West Cork, and in Cape Clear his memory is quite fresh. His feast day, the 5th of March, is still observed as a holiday on the island. The church there is dedicated to the Saint, and called St. Ciaran’s Church. The strand near which he was born is called Tra-Ciarane. A pillar-stone in the centre of the strand is said to be erected by the Saint to commemorate his missionary work. A landing place in the centre of Bere Island is still called Tra-Ciarane, so the Saint must have landed here and preached the Faith to the inhabitants.

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