St. Ciarán

     Introducing Ciarán, the founder of Clonmacnoise. Fate could have been kinder to this man. As we encounter him, his monastic settlement is only seven months old, he himself is barely into his thirties, and he has been struck down by the plague. He isn't long for this world.

Ciarán's companion here is Kevin of Glendalough, his soulmate and confessor, or, as it is in Irish, his 'anam cara'.

As Ciarán lies looking out at Clonmacnois under the September sky, he sees something barely into its infancy as he himself hurries off to the next world. He shall have to content himself with having got the wheels in motion here.

He was born to parents from opposite ends of the country. His father, Beoit, a chariot-builder, came from Larne in County Antrim, and his mother Darerca, came from Kerry. Ciarán was known locally as 'Ciarán mac an tSaeir', the son of the craftsman.

  read more









     Growing up, Ciarán was renowned for his love of animals and vice-versa.
When he went to study with Finian of Clonard, he brought his own cow with him to the monastery, a common enough practice in itself. The milk yield of the cow anything but common, however, and she produced sufficient for the whole monastery!

Clonard, it transpired, was but the beginning of the odyssey that was to bring him to the situation in which we now find him. Following his spell with Finian, he studied with the holy man, Enda, on Aran Island. Here, he received a mystical vision of a tree in the middle of Ireland, with branches spreading out to the four corners of the land. The branches were laden with fruit and inhabited by birds.
Enda knew he had something special on his hands with Ciarán, someone whom he knew would do great things. He took Ciarán's vision to be of especial significance, and interpreted it as a sign of Ciarán's potential. Ciarán could be the tree - he could shelter Ireland with his grace, and feed men's spiritual hunger with his prayers and fastings. These were gifts that belonged in a wider setting, and Enda urged him to found a church on the banks of the Shannon, in the middle of the country.
  read more | back to the top










Journeying eastwards, Ciarán came to Hare Island on Lough Ree. It was here that he met and converted the men who were to help him establish his monastery. Together, they sailed further down the Shannon to find a suitable site, landing at last at Clúan Moccu Nois, the Meadow of the Sons of Nois.


As we see it now, Clonmacnois has barely begun, and its founding father lies dying. The wooden huts of Ciarán's seven companions give little hint of the grandeur to come. In spite of his imminent demise, Ciarán remains down-to-earth and unsentimental, his missionary zeal undiminished. He tells his disciples: "Go ye, let my relics bleach in the sun like the bones of a deer; better for you to dwell in heaven with me, than here with my relics."

  back to the top