St. Ita
     Ita is born of the Déisi tribe near Waterford in 480. Originally named Deirdre, as a child she shows an unusual inclination to prayer and holiness, and for this, she is called Ita. Even at this time in her life, she has a remarkable presence, and those around her take note of her purity and grace.

In her youth, Ita dreams that an angel gives her three precious stones. So struck is she by the significance this, she awakens to puzzle over the symbolism. Thankfully, inspiration is at hand in the form of another celestial visitor who explains in a vision, that throughout her earthly life, Ita will experience dreams and visitations. The stones in the dream signify the gifts of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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     Ita's father doesn't share her faith, and he is reluctant to allow her to dedicate her whole life to it. In common with men of his time (and social standing), he arranges a marriage for his daughter with a young nobleman. Ita turns to God for deliverance from such an unwanted fate, and spends her days fasting and praying.

Ita's efforts bring reward, as an angel appears to the family, saying that she will serve God in another part of the country, and that many people will find salvation through her. With her family now convinced of the wisdom and grace of her desire, Ita moves west, settling near Sliabh Luachra. Other women come to join her, to dedicate their lives to God. Members of the Ui Conaill tribe come offering Ita land, but she takes only enough for a vegetable garden.


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     In her instruction of the novices, Ita conveys the concept of the saints as 'soul-friends'. It is an old concept, which came to Ireland from the desert fathers, via Egypt and North Africa. A soul-friend is a confidante and confessor, and in the case of the saints, such friendship bridges this world with the next.


Ita's dedication to the ascetic lifestyle is unswerving throughout her life, and at times, is almost dangerous. An angel comes to warn her about her excessive fasting, which sometimes continues into four days. Her spiritual gifts are beyond question and many are they who seek her healing, prophecy and advice.

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     As well as educating her nuns, Ita also establishes a school for boys, and has the honour of counting Brendan the Voyager among her pupils. She becomes a mentor to him and features in the future events of his life. One day, Brendan asks her what are the three things which most please and displease God.

Ita tells him that a pure heart with faith in God, a simple life with religious spirit, and generous charity are most pleasing to Him. A mouth that hates people, a heart full of resentment, and worship of material things, are most offensive to God.
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     Such is Ita's love of God that she prays for the gift of nursing the infant Jesus, a privilege granted to her in a vision. Along with Bridget, she becomes known as 'the wet-nurse of Christ'.


Ita foresees her death as an old woman in 570. Messengers come from Clonmacnoise, wanting her to bless water for their abbot, Aengus, who is very ill. She duly obliges, but after the messengers have left, she tells her sisters both herself and Aengus will die before the emissaries return to Clonmacnoise. She is correct on both counts. Her feast day is celebrated on the fifteenth of January.

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tIta's Legacy