St. Caillin

St. Caillin patron saint of Fenagh was born in the 6th century and founded a famous monastic settlement at Fenagh. He was born in Galway and came from the Conmaicne Tribe, originally inhabited area in East Co. Galway. (Tuam Dumore)

In the 6th century the Conmaicne were ousted by the O’Connor’s and as a result the Conmaicne had to leave their own area and seek other lands to inhabit. They divided into three different groups

1. Conmaicne Mara – Connemara

2. Conmaicne Cuile Tola – South Mayo

3. Conmaicne Magh rein – South Leitrim and Longford

St Caillin belonged to the Conmaicne Magh Rein and was their 1st leader and patron.

The ancient Book of Fenagh is all taken up with the life and virtues and wondrous deeds of Caillin. The Matryology of Donegal which is usually content to give the mere names of our saints, or at most to add a sentence or two about them has a long paragraph concerning St. Caillin which a summary tells us Caillin was the son of Niantic and his mother’s mane was Died. It also tells us he was of the Conmaicne tribe. St Caillin performed a great miracle on the Druids, whom Fergal son of Fergus, King of Breifne sent against him when he commenced the erection of the monastery at Fenagh. St Caillin turned the Druids into stones hence we have the town land today Longstone. (Beside Edentenny on the Fenagh Ballinamore road.) These standing stones of the Druids are still visible to this day at Longstone.

On his mothers side his ancestry goes back to his great-grandfather Dubhthach the celebrated Druid who received St Patrick so courteously on the occasion of his visit to Tara. This would bring the date of Caillin’s birth to the first quarter of the 6th century, making him in accordance with what we know of him from other sources, the contemporary of Columcille Ciaran. And other famous saints of that age.

Among the most celebrated stories connected with the life of St Caillin is that concerning the recovery of the lost heroic tale the Tain Bo Chuailgne. This great epic tale had vanished almost completely from the memory of the Fili (story tellers-poets) of Ireland. Some of them knew one part and some another with the complete story being lost.

St Caillin was approached by Guaire King of Connacht to see if the great St. Caillin could do anything to have the heroic tale completed. Caillin invited the following saints Columcille, Ciaran of Clonmacnois, Brendan of Birr and Brendan son of Finnlogh, to meet him at the grave of the great hero of the Tain Bo Chuailgne Fergus Mac Roigh. There they fasted and prayed for three days and three nights, requesting that Fergus appear to them. Fergus had been dead for five hundred years. Their request was granted, the ancient hero appeared and related the whole story of the Tain, which was then taken down by Ciaran and Caillin and thus the celebrated epic was preserved in the book of the Cun Cow, so called because its parchment was made from the hide of Ciaran’s favourite cow.

Before St. Caillin came to Fenagh, he had a considerably long course of study in Ireland and his first tutor we are told was St. Fintan. To complete his studies he went to Rome and for this journey it is said St. Fintan gave him 300 ounces of gold. At the end of a long period of study in Rome messengers we are told came from the Conmaicne to ask Caillin to return and save them and this he did. He brought with him relics of the twelve apostles and the neck-cloth of the infant Jesus.

The founding of the Abbey at Fenagh – which site according to the following account taken from the Monastic Chronicle, was chosen by God. An angel appeared to Caillin and did not let him rest until he came to Fenagh – for here it was prophesied that the site of his church should be according to the instructions of God. The editor of the Annates says that the monastery at Fenagh was “celebrated for its divinity school which students from all over Ireland and Europe came to study.

The fame and glory of St Caillin spread through the land and soon Fenagh became a very important place. Its importance we may judge from the story that claims many of Irelands Kings are buried in the ancient graveyards adjoining the Abbey.

The importance of being buried in this ancient graveyard lives on to this day in a prophecy given by St. Caillin as he lay dying, that anyone buried in Fenagh Abbey graveyard and in full observance of the true faith will go straight to Heaven on their death.

St. Caillin’s mortal remains are in a vault attached to the wall (south) of the Abbey and here rests Fenagh’s most famous son. His Feast day is celebrated on November 13th.

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