Céli Dé in Ireland: Monastic Writing and Identity in the Early Middle Ages 1843832763, 9781843832768, 9781846154539

The C?li D? (`clients of God'), sometimes referred to as the Culdees, comprise the group of monks who first appeare

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Céli Dé in Ireland: Monastic Writing and Identity in the Early Middle Ages
 1843832763, 9781843832768, 9781846154539

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Studies in Celtic History XXIII CÉLI DÉ IN IRELAND MONASTIC WRITING AND IDENTITY IN THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES The Céli Dé (‘clients of God’), sometimes referred to as the Culdees, comprise the group of monks who first appeared in Ireland in the eighth century in association with St Máel Ruain of Tallaght. Although influential and important in the development of the monastic tradition in Ireland, they have been neglected in general histories. This book offers an investigation into the movement. Proceeding from an examination of ascetic practice and theory in early medieval Ireland, followed by a fresh look at the evidence most often cited in support of the prevailing theory of céli Dé identity, the author challenges the orthodox opinion that they were an order or movement intent upon monastic reform at a time of declining religious discipline. At the heart of the book is a manuscript-centred critical evaluation of the large corpus of putative céli Dé texts, offered as a means for establishing a more comprehensive assessment of who and what céli Dé were. Dr Follett argues that they are properly understood as the self-identified members of the personal retinue of God, in whose service they distinguished themselves from other monks and monastic communities in their personal devotion, pastoral care, Sunday observance, and other matters. A catalogue of céli Dé texts with manuscript references is provided in an appendix. WESTLEY FOLLETT is the LeConte Teaching Fellow in Medieval History at the University of Georgia.


General editors Dauvit Broun Máire Ní Mhaonaigh Huw Pryce Studies in Celtic History aims to provide a forum for new research into all aspects of the history of Celtic-speaking peoples throughout the whole of the medieval period. The term ‘history’ is inderstood broadly: any study, regardless of discipline, which advances our knowledge and understanding of the history of Celtic-speaking peoples will be considered. Studies of primary sources, and of new methods of exploiting such sources, are encouraged. Founded by Professor David Dumville, the series was relaunched under new editorship in 1997. Proposals or queries may be sent directly to the editors at the addresses given below; all submissions will receive prompt and informed consideration before being sent to expert readers. Dr Dauvit Broun, Department of History (Scottish), University of Glasgow, 9 University Gardens, Glasgow G12 8QH Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, St John’s College, Cambridge, CB2 1TP Dr Huw Pryce, Department of History and Welsh History, University of Wales, Bangor, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG

For titles already published in this series see the end of this volume




© Westley Follett 2006 All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner The right of Westley Follett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 First published 2006 The Boydell Press, Woodbridge

ISBN 1 84383 276 3

The Boydell Press is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc. 668 Mt Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620, USA website: www.boydellandbrewer.com A catalogue record of this publication is available from the British Library This publication is printed on acid-free paper Typeset by Pru Harrison, Hacheston, Suffolk

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddles Ltd, King’s Lynn

CONTENTS List of maps and figures Acknowledgements Abbreviations Sigla A note on orthography

vii ix x xi xii





Céli Dé historiography

II Irish asceticism before céli Dé


III Céli Dé as reformers: the evidence of the Tallaght memoir


IV A survey of texts attributed to céli Dé


V Towards a reassessment of céli Dé


Epilogue Appendix: A catalogue of texts attributed to céli Dé Bibliography Index

216 220 235 247


Places associated with céli Dé before 1100

Map 2.

Northern County Tipperary and environs


Map 3.

Places visited by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh, 1627–9


Figure 1. Possible relationships between manuscripts S, T, and F


Figure 2. Proposed manuscript transmission of the Tallaght memoir




For my parents

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am happy to acknowledge here the many persons and institutions whose support, advice, and assistance made this book possible. At the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, where I completed the Ph.D. thesis from which this book developed, I would especially like to thank Michael Herren, Ann Dooley, and Robert Sinkewicz for their invaluable guidance and many critical contributions. Among other things they led me to clarify sometimes muddled thinking, offered considerable linguistic aid, and pointed out bog-holes where I saw firm footing. Charles Wright at the University of Illinois, Urbana, provided needed commentary at an intermediate stage of the research and writing. I express gratitude to the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies for a postdoctoral scholarship and to Fergus Kelly, former director of the School of Celtic Studies where I did much of the work to transform the thesis into a book. During my time in Dublin, I first made the acquaintance of Máire Ní Mhaonaigh to whom, along with Dauvit Broun and Huw Pryce, her fellow editors of the Studies in Celtic History series, I have since become greatly indebted. They provided substantial assistance by way of correction and suggestion, and demonstrated tremendous patience with me all the while. I thank the University of Georgia for a teaching fellowship that permitted me the freedom of working on the book in its final stages. Brandon Manning and Garrison Bickerstaff at the University of Georgia kindly assisted with proof-reading. Krysia Haag at Research Media, University of Georgia, prepared the maps. The staff of the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies Library in Toronto, the Kelly Library at St Michael’s College in Toronto, the School of Celtic Studies Library at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, the Archives Service at University College Dublin, and the University of Georgia Main Library have all been extremely helpful. The persons mentioned above and still others unmentioned deserve much of the credit for seeing this work to fruition but remain entirely blameless for any flaws it contains. For these I alone am responsible. Finally, I would like to thank my family for their unwavering support and encouragement, particularly my parents, Marvin and Liz, and my long-suffering wife Tonya who now knows more about Irish monasticism than she ever imagined possible.



Annals of Inisfallen (ed. & tr. S. Mac Airt) Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters (ed. & tr. J. O’Donovan) Annals of Ulster (edd. & tr. S. Mac Airt & G. Mac Niocaill) British Library, London Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels Corpus Christianorum Series Latina Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies (formerly Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies) Chronicum Scotorum (ed. & tr. W. Hennessy) Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum Dictionary of the Irish Language (ed. E.G. Quinn) Henry Bradshaw Society Monumenta Germaniae Historica National Library of Ireland Patrologiae [Graecae] Cursus Completus (ed. J.-P. Migne) Patrologiae [Latinae] Cursus Completus (ed. J.-P. Migne) Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Royal Irish Academy Sources Chrétiennes Studies in Celtic History Scriptores Latini Hiberniae Trinity College Dublin University College Dublin Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie


SIGLA A B Br1 Br2 Br3 C F H Is L Lb Ld M N P R S T Ybl

London, British Library, MS Additional 30512 (s. xv) Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 3 B 22 (s. xv) Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 5100–4 (s. xvii) Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 2324–40 (s. xvii) Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 4190–200 (s. xvii) Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS C I 2 (s. xv/xvi) Dublin, University College, MS Franciscan A 31, item 10 (s. xvii) Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1285 (H. 1. 11) (s. xviii) Rome, St Isidore’s College, MS W 21.4 (s. xvii) Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1339 (H. 2. 18) [Book of Leinster] (s. xii) Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 P 16 [Leabhar Breac] (s. xv) Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 610 (s. xv) Maynooth, St Patrick’s College, MS M 48 (s. xix) Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 N 10 (s. xvi) Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 P 3 (s. xv) Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B. 512 (s. xv/xvi) Sean Leabhar Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 3 B 23 [Tallaght Codex] (s. xv) Dublin, Trinity College, MS 1318 (H. 2. 16) [Yellow Book of Lecan] (s. xiv–xvi)


A NOTE ON ORTHOGRAPHY When quoting Irish texts from published editions, as a general rule I have retained the editors’ orthography, including the placement (or omission) of length-marks, but supplied capitalisation and word-divisions where appropriate. In regard to personal names from before the twelfth century I have been guided by the spelling conventions of M.A. O’Brien, Corpus Genealogiarum Hiberniae, and R. Baumgarten, ‘Old Irish personal names’.


INTRODUCTION Céli Dé or culdees, as they are often called, appear about midway in the timeline of early medieval Irish monasticism. They emerged in the second half of the eighth century, some three hundred years after St Patrick began promoting the religious life to the Irish in the fifth century and a little more than three hundred and fifty years before the introduction of foreign religious orders in Ireland in the twelfth century.1 Céli Dé were religious, as the meaning of their name, ‘clients of God’,2 suggests, and in the view of most modern scholars who have written on the topic they were also strictly ascetic. 1


Regarding Patrick, see Herren, ‘Mission and monasticism’, 76–85. Augustinian canons and Cistercians were established in Ireland by St Malachy (ob. 1148), following his visit to Clairvaux. By the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion, 1169–75, there were fifteen Cistercian houses in Ireland, about sixty-two houses of Augustinian canons and as many as twenty-four of Augustinian canonesses. Some of the older Irish monasteries continued to function in the twelfth century, but many others changed into houses of Augustinian canons. By the thirteenth century nearly all of the older monasteries had either reformed or disappeared. The twelfth century thus marks the effective passing of early Irish monasticism. See Kenney, The Sources, 765–7; Gwynn & Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: Ireland, 2–4, 146–52. The history of the etymological debate on the term céli Dé makes an interesting story in its own right. See Reeves, The Culdees, 1–5, 67–71, 73. Credit for first recognising the true derivation of the term goes to John Toland, Nazarenus, 49–57, a native Irish speaker from Inishowen who rightly observed in 1718 that céli Dé is the plural compound of cé(i)le and the genitive of Dia, ‘God’. In the Milan glosses on the psalms and in the St Gall Priscian céle is the gloss on the Latin maritus, ‘spouse’; Thesaurus Palaohibernicus, Ml. 125a2 (edd. & tr. Stokes & Strachan, I.423): marito gl. ‘célib’; Sg. 60a3 (ibid., II.113): marítus gl. ‘céle más’; cf. Sg. 100a6 (ibid., II.139): generi gl. ‘céle ingine’. This is the sense in which Toland interpreted céle Dé, ‘signifying separated or espoused to God’; Nazarenus, 51. There are other meanings that Toland did not discuss and of which he was possibly unaware. Céle has a more technical sense in the legal tract Críth Gablach (ed. Binchy, 10, lines 250, 252, and 259, 13, lines 323, 330–1 [see 44, s.v. ‘cé(i)le’ for additional references], 80; cf. Hughes, The Church, 173 n. 3), from the eighth century, where it means ‘client’: a céle is one who receives land and/or stock from a flaith, ‘lord’. Whether céle is unqualified or qualified, as in céli giallai or dóerchéli, ‘base clients’, and sóerchéli, ‘free/noble clients’, it never denotes a servile status. The céle was not a slave; he could terminate the contract with his flaith at any time (see Kelly, A Guide, 31); cf. Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, Wb. 10a23 (edd. & tr. Stokes & Strachan, I.558): libertus est Domini, gl. ‘.i. sóirmug .i. is sóirchele do dia’, ‘a free slave, that is, he is a freedman unto God’. Understood in a legal context, a céle Dé would be someone who took God as his flaith in a client-master relationship. Like a dóerchéle or sóerchéle who received assistance from and was dependent upon his flaith for the land and stock necessary to make a living, a céle Dé received assistance from and was dependent upon God for life and salvation. This seems to be the idea conveyed in Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, Ml. 30c3 (edd. & tr. Stokes & Strachan, I.65): ‘is báes linni epert intí charas nech 7 fortét forcertar side iarum hiselbad ind fir sin foridtet amal asmberar is cele


Introduction While scholars have identified a number of early medieval Irish ecclesiastics as céli Dé, such as Dublitter, abbot-bishop of Finglas (ob. 796), Elair, anchorite of Loch Cré (ob. 807), and Mael Díthruib, anchorite and ecclesiastical scholar of Terryglass (ob. 840), the most frequently mentioned is Mael Ruain, abbot-bishop of Tallaght (ob. 792). His community is believed to have produced several Old Irish texts, such as the Old Irish Penitential and Félire Óengusso (‘Martyrology of Óengus’), both likely written in the first half of the ninth century.3 The most informative witness of the céli Dé is a consuetudinal tract purporting to contain the teachings of Mael Ruain, apparently as recollected by his disciple Mael Díthruib. It was written in the first half of the ninth century by an anonymous monk who was personally acquainted with Mael Díthruib and may have belonged to the community of Tallaght.4 While the complete tract is no longer extant, much of the original Old Irish text is preserved in a fifteenth-century manuscript and was published by Edward Gwynn and William Purton in 1911 under the title The Monastery of Tallaght. In the seventeenth century an unknown Irish Franciscan produced an Early Modern Irish paraphrase of the original text. This was published in 1927 by Gwynn who gave it the title Teaching of Mael Ruain, which he took from a scribal note in the manuscript: ‘Tegusg Maoil Ruain do Maoil dithribh a dhesgiobal’, ‘The Teaching of Mael Ruain to Mael Díthruib his disciple’.5 The Teaching of Mael Ruain would be a suitable designation for the original Old Irish consuetudinal


4 5

dae in fer hisin’, ‘it is customary with us to say that he whom anyone loves and helps is thrown afterwards into the possession of that man who helps him, as it is said, that man is a céle Dé’. The Latin context for this gloss, a commentary on Psalm 10:5, indicates that the benefactor here is most certainly God: ‘sicut etiam nobis moris est dicere: iste illius est, iste ad illum pertinet, id est, domini est potentis’, ‘just as we are accustomed to say, that man is that one’s, that man belongs to that one, that is, he is the Almighty Lord’s’. Pertinet is glossed ‘is dír .i. is dethiden do’, ‘is due, i.e. is a care to him’. To press this interpretation further, it may be expected that just as the dóerchéle and sóerchéle were obliged to offer their flaith food renders, manual labour, military service, homage, and personal attendance (see Kelly, A Guide, 30–3), so too the céle Dé assumed certain obligations and duties (Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 149, 151). A third and compatible sense of the term arises from a gloss in the Book of Armagh, found in Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, LA 11b 1e (edd. & tr. Stokes & Strachan, II.265): seruus Dei gl. ‘céle Dé’. As early as the fourth century servus Dei became a technical term in the Latin West for anyone pursuing a religious vocation; servire Deo was thus ‘to lead a monastic life’. Augustine of Hippo spoke repeatedly of the servi Dei in De opere monachorum, XXV.32 (ed. Zycha, 531–96), which addressed the question whether cenobitic monks ought to labour. Through the writings of Gregory the Great the term servus Dei was widely diffused, including, no doubt, into Ireland where the pope’s works were held in high regard (see Gregory, Dialogi, I.2.2, 3, 5 [ed. de Vogüé, II.24, 26, 28]; Reeves, The Culdees 1–2, 64–5). The application of servus Dei to episcopus Bronus, socius Patricii, in the Book of Armagh accordingly should be read in a monastic context: here was a monk-bishop and companion of Patrick who emulated men such as Augustine and Gregory. Neither work has been conclusively dated. On the basis of the language, D.A. Binchy, apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 258, thought the Old Irish Penitential was ‘certainly not later than the end of the eighth century’. For recent discussion of Félire Óengusso, see Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’. Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, xxi, 8–9. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 8–10), which relates Mael Ruain’s answer to Mael Díthruib’s question on how best to rule oneself.


Introduction tract, but general scholarly practice since Gwynn has used that title to signify only the Early Modern Irish paraphrase. To avoid confusion, I will likewise call the paraphrased text the Teaching of Mael Ruain. Colmán Etchingham’s rendering, ‘the Tallaght memoir’, is a serviceable reference to the original ninth-century source.6 A third witness to the Tallaght memoir survives in Leabhar Breac, an early fifteenth-century codex, and presents much of the same material found in The Monastery of Tallaght and the Teaching of Mael Ruain in the form of a rule for monks. It is generally known as the Rule of the Céli Dé and was edited by Gwynn along with the Teaching of Mael Ruain.7 While it is uncertain how pervasive céli Dé were, they were not unique to Tallaght or unknown after the mid-ninth century. Another text commonly associated with them which names the persons said to be in ‘union’ (óentu) with Mael Ruain has led some scholars to believe that céli Dé were also to be found in the Lismore-Dairinis area where it has been supposed the movement originated.8 Irish chronicles place céli Dé at Armagh, Clonmacnoise, Clondalkin, and other places in the eleventh and later centuries.9 Gerald of Wales wrote in the 1180s about the coelibes, ‘celibates’, of Loch Cré, called coelicolae or colidei, and the coelibes of Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island, North Wales) who were also called colidei.10 Beginning in the twelfth century, Scottish records refer to the presence of céli Dé (or keledei) at St Andrews, Dunkeld, and several other locations.11 The term céli Dé in its Latin and Gaelic forms remained in use as late as the seventeenth century in Ireland and the fourteenth century in Scotland, although it is probable that its application had altered considerably from its original use long before then.12 Until quite recently, general scholarly opinion of céli Dé has been that in their earliest manifestation they comprised a ‘reform’ or ‘religious revival’ intent upon restoring ascetic purity to Irish monastic life, which had grown lax in the face of rising ecclesiastical secularity.13 The development of what may be termed the reform theory of céli Dé identity will be traced along with other historiographic matters in the first chapter of this book. The views of a number of Scottish scholars from the sixteenth and later centuries will figure significantly in this review of the literature, but in keeping with the book’s focus on céli Dé in early medieval Ireland the subsequent chapters will not consider evidence for their presence in Scotland. It is my contention that the reform theory of céli Dé identity is mistaken. I am not the first to express doubt, but no one yet has published a substantive challenge to it.14 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Etchingham, Church Organisation, 260. Rule of the Céli Dé was published previously by Reeves, The Culdees, 84–97. Óentu Mail Ruain (ed. Ó Riain, Corpus genealogiarum, 162–3 §713.1–15). See O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 46. AU 921.8, AFM 1031.16, AFM 1076.9. See Reeves, The Culdees, 22–5, on céli Dé at Devenish, Clones, Pubble, and Scattery Island. See also O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 35–59. Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hiberniae, II.4 (ed. Dimock, 80); Itinerarium Cambriae, II.6 (ed. Dimock, 124). Reeves, The Culdees, 25–58; see 58–63 on the presence of Colidei at York and Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli). Regarding Dunkeld, see Veitch, ‘The Scottish material’, 14–23. Reeves, The Culdees, 2–3, 62–3; Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 140. Hughes, The Church, 174. See Chadwick, The Age of the Saints, 72–3; Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 151–2; Etchingham, Church Organisation, 361–2; Dumville, ‘St Cathróe’, 185; Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’,



Map 1. Places associated with céli Dé before 1100 47. Dumville’s introduction to a forthcoming reprint of the céli Dé consuetudinal texts, titled Ireland’s Desert-Fathers (edd. & tr. E.J. Gwynn et al.) evidently will also re-examine the perception of céli Dé as reformers (see Dumville, ‘St Cathróe’, 185, and ‘Félire Óengusso’, 30), but I have not yet seen this work. At a late stage in the preparation of the present work for publication I became aware of an unpublished Ph.D. dissertation by Craig Haggart, ‘The Céli Dé and ecclesiastical government in Ireland in the eighth and ninth centuries’ (University of Glasgow, 2003). While as of the time of this writing I have not had the opportunity to examine Haggart’s work in detail, it is evident that we have independently arrived at some similar conclusions. At pp. 140–1 he concludes that the idea that céli Dé were a reform movement ‘should be discounted’, and that talk of céli Dé as an ‘ascetic revival’ or ‘restoring monastic standards’ is misleading. Instead, he suggests that they were ‘concerned to introduce a minimum standard of teaching in theology and of competence in liturgical ritual and Latin literacy, in order to maintain what they considered to be an appropriate provision of pastoral care’.


Introduction The words ‘reform’, ‘revival’, ‘renewal’, ‘reformation’ (or ‘protoreformation’), and the like are frequently employed in discussions of religious change in the middle ages. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a modern textbook on medieval monasticism that does not use such terminology. The wide application these words have obtained in the religious history of Europe perforce colours any consideration of Irish monasticism which also employs them: to speak of a ‘céli Dé reform’ is to associate on some level the aims and activities of Mael Ruain and his associates with those of Benedict of Aniane in the ninth century, or of Odo of Cluny in the tenth century, or of Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century, or of any other person credited with effecting significant changes in the nature of western medieval monasticism.15 Investigation of the concept of reform in western tradition has shown, however, that varieties of what Gerhart Ladner called ‘renewal ideologies’ existed in philosophical, historical, and religious thought from antiquity to the middle ages.16 Historians’ indiscriminate use of ‘reform’ and similar terms – ‘renaissance’ is another favourite – to describe sometimes quite disparate historical phenomena tends to diminish the semantic value of these words. Accordingly, some clarification of the sense in which ‘reform’ is used in the present study will be helpful. Ladner’s investigation of the ‘idea of reform’ in the patristic era led him to define it as ‘the idea of free, intentional and ever perfectible, multiple, prolonged and ever repeated efforts by man to reassert and augment values pre-existent in the spiritual-material compound of the world’.17 Understood in such a manner, the Cluniacs may be said to have instigated a reform in as much as they looked to the Rule of St Benedict as it was observed a century earlier under the direction of Benedict of Aniane and implemented changes on an institutional level which were intended to restore the supposed purity of a bygone era to contemporary monasticism. This is essentially the sense in which I have understood the proponents of the reform theory of céli Dé identity. Céli Dé may be counted as reformers to the degree that they upheld a retrospective ideal of Irish monastic observance and fostered a programmatic return to this ideal among religious in their own day. The central premise of the reform theory as explained by James Kenney, Kathleen Hughes, and Peter O’Dwyer is that céli Dé arose in response to a general lapse in ascetic discipline in Irish monasteries.18 This lapse had in turn come about as the result of rising secularity which was manifest in a variety of ways, such as in the prevalence of lay-abbots, non-monastic laymen who presided over religious communities. That early medieval Irish monasteries were deeply involved in dynastic politics is disputed by no one. The history of this involvement, however, has generated some discussion. Richard Sharpe, in the course of his important 15


17 18

See Kenney, The Sources, 468; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 1–3. See Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism, 73–104 and 146–98, for a discussion of monastic decline and revival in the Carolingian period with Benedict of Aniane, in the tenth and eleventh century with the rise of Cluny, and in the twelfth century with the appearance of various new orders including the Cistercians. Ladner, The Idea of Reform, 1–34. See also idem, ‘Terms and ideas of renewal’, 1–33; Constable, ‘Renewal and reform’, 37–67; idem, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century, 3–4, 13–14. Ladner, The Idea of Reform, 35. Kenney, The Sources, 468–71; Hughes, The Church, 173–5; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, xi.


Introduction re-appraisal of the monastic character of the early Irish church, argued that secular issues and temporalities had always been a fundamental concern of monastic authority. In essence, lay-abbots were nothing new; whatever the eighth-century reformers were reacting to, it was not the secularisation of monasteries.19 More recently, Colmán Etchingham has given considerable attention to the figure of the lay-abbot (variously princeps, airchinnech, or comarbae) and his lordship over a church’s temporalities, including its ‘para-monastic’ lay-dependants (manaig). Upon examining the primary sources on Irish monasticism, he has concluded in agreement with Sharpe that the secularisation observed by Kenney, Hughes, and O’Dwyer had been a feature of Irish monasteries from the earliest period for which there are sufficient data, the seventh century.20 In light of these studies, one may doubt the premise that the céli Dé ‘reform movement was introduced to counterbalance a tendency towards the laicisation of monasteries’.21 If we cannot detect the rising secularity which supposedly tainted monastic churches in Ireland prior to the appearance of céli Dé, what then of the next link in the causal chain of the reform theory? Is there any evidence that Irish religious in the period leading up to céli Dé were less rigorous in their ascetic devotion than their predecessors? If the céli Dé reform was indeed precipitated by a degradation of ascetic standards, surely we may expect to find some indications of this degradation in pre-céli Dé texts. Fortunately, there is a sizable body of primary sources from the period in question which we can consult on the issue, including the earliest Hiberno-Latin saints’ Lives, penitentials, canon-law tracts, and devotional texts. The consideration of this material will be the objective of the second chapter. In surveying these works, I do not pretend to offer the thorough re-evaluation of the origins and character of Irish monasticism that Etchingham thought desirable;22 I intend only to determine if there was a general decline in ascetic practice among Irish religious at any time from the sixth century to the appearance of céli Dé in the late eighth century. Notice will be taken of how asceticism was understood during this period, to what degree this understanding was shaped by Continental sources, particularly the writings of John Cassian, and whether this understanding changed or became clouded over time. An ascetic decline might entail not only the cessation of certain activities or perhaps their substitution for less demanding practices, but also a misunderstanding of the proper end for such activities. The most frequently cited evidence that céli Dé were reformers arises from a few disparaging remarks in the Tallaght memoir about the ‘folk in the old churches’ (aes i senchellaib) in Ireland.23 The primary source requires careful handling. Hughes acknowledged that ‘ardent reformers are bad witnesses to the piety of their predecessors’ and felt that while these remarks may be taken as an accurate reflection of the reformers’ opinions, their sanctimonious tone may not be representative of the entire movement. The same text indicates that the people of the ‘old churches’ felt no antagonism toward céli Dé, and even gave them honour

19 20 21 22 23

Sharpe, ‘Some problems’, 263–7. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 47–104 and 363–454, 456. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, xi. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 319. The Monastery of Tallaght, IV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128).


Introduction and maintenance.24 Yet both Hughes and O’Dwyer were still satisfied that céli Dé writings support the reformist view. The third chapter will revisit the evidence of the Tallaght memoir and consider céli Dé criticism of other churches in Ireland in the context of longstanding, widespread ecclesiastical concern over the acceptance of material support from the unworthy laity. Ideally, any effort to ascertain who and what céli Dé were should proceed from a careful consideration of all their extant writings and not limit itself to a narrow reliance upon certain passages from the Tallaght memoir. The formation of a more comprehensive understanding of céli Dé, however, is not a simple undertaking because it remains uncertain what eighth- and ninth-century texts we can and cannot regard as representative of them. Since Kenney there has been more or less general agreement that céli Dé writings include the Tallaght consuetudinal texts (namely, The Monastery of Tallaght, the Teaching of Mael Ruain, and the Rule of the Céli Dé), Félire Óengusso, the Martyrology of Tallaght, the Old Irish Penitential, the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, the Rule of Mochutu (or Rule of Fothud na Canóine), and the Stowe Missal. Some scholars would add many other titles to this list. Flower credited the development of personal poetry in Ireland to the influence of céli Dé.25 Hughes discussed still more works in a céli Dé context, including Cáin Domnaig and Scuap Chrábaid.26 O’Dwyer took the most inclusive stance, accepting nearly all the authorial attributions previous scholars had made to céli Dé and adding a considerable number of his own. He significantly expanded the scriptural activities of céli Dé scribes and suggested that the Book of Dimma and the Rushworth Gospels were composed under their influence.27 The Milan glosses on the Psalms and the biblical narrative poem Saltair na Rann he also linked to céli Dé.28 O’Dwyer posited the existence of a school of hagiography at Tallaght and, it would seem, a later one at Terryglass, to which he credited Félire Óengusso, the Martyrology of Tallaght, the scholia preserved with the former, and the various hagiographical texts accompanying the latter in the Book of Leinster.29 Apgitir Chrábaid he thought may be connected to the reform’s early days in Lismore.30 As did Flower, O’Dwyer closely associated the development of the Irish personal lyric with the movement. A marginal poem found in the Book of Leinster copy of the Martyrology of Tallaght that mentions Mael Ruain and Tallaght is the only poem he knew of that is specifically connected to Tallaght,31 although other ninth- and tenth-century lyrics found elsewhere were ‘obviously written by anchorites’ and ‘fit in with the reform movement, which, as we have seen, was marked by the development of the dísert’.32 The works mentioned above would make an impressive corpus. But it is by no means certain that we can associate all of them with céli Dé. While some texts, 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

Hughes, The Church, 174–5. See also Haggart, ‘The Céli Dé’, 25–6, and 123–41. Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 72–3. Hughes, The Church, 179–80. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 159–60, 163. Ibid., 160–2, 164–5. Ibid., 172, 175, 197. Ibid., 177–8. Enlaith betha brig cen tair (edd. Best & Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght, 94–7); O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 140. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 189–90.


Introduction such as The Monastery of Tallaght, we may with a measure of confidence identify as being written by a céle Dé, the case for many others, such as Apgitir Chrábaid, can hardly be regarded as proven. The fourth chapter will sift through this body of work and attempt to determine which texts we may rely upon in our re-evaluation of who and what céli Dé were. Previous discussions of céli Dé texts have neglected manuscript history as a means of identifying céli Dé writings and elucidating their authorship, origins, relationships, and dissemination. All of these factors will be considered here in conjunction with the internal evidence of the texts. A catalogue of these texts will be provided in the appendix. I should add that because my interest is primarily in how céli Dé are seen through their own writings, I do not include in this investigation exclusively historic, annals-based analysis.33 While it would be unrealistic to expect that the present work will provide conclusive answers for all or even many of these texts, I hope that it will offer a more firm foundation of primary sources upon which to construct a better model of céli Dé identity than that which underlies the reform theory. The final chapter will examine these texts for their particular concerns and themes, striving for a comprehensive picture of céli Dé interests, practices, and aims. These texts demonstrate an abiding concern for a variety of matters touching on the religious life, including liturgy, devotion, and pastoral care. An interest in asceticism is certainly evident, but it is not paramount. Furthermore, they reveal considerable variety in céli Dé religious observance. Theirs was hardly a uniform vocation, much less an order – hence my own preference for a lower-case c when writing céli Dé rather than a capital C as has been the convention. As they are first known to us, céli Dé in Ireland were an informal association of religious broadly intent upon rendering service and honour to God, particularly through devotional practices, but they were not necessarily in agreement on how exactly to offer them. Their focus was inward and personal, not outward and institutional. In the 1840 re-edition of Jeremy Collier’s Ecclesiastical History of Great Britain, Francis Barham lamented, ‘the history of the Céli Dé has ever been a mystery, and will ever be so’.34 This book does not aspire to be the final word on céli Dé, but if it helps prove Barham wrong, then it will have been worthwhile.

33 34

See Haggart, ‘The Céli Dé’, 142–94, for an analysis of chronicle-material he deems relevant to céli Dé. Collier, An Ecclesiastical History of Great Britain, new edition with notes by Francis Barham, II.618.



For the last century or so academic interest in céli Dé has been relatively settled. The prevailing calm, however, belies a tumultuous past. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century the scholarship was characterised by etymological arguments, often quite specious, and rampant conjecture on céli Dé identity. Attention centred on Scotland where the term remained in use right up to the early modern period. Studies up to that time often revealed more about the sectarian biases of their authors then they did the subject at hand. There was little consensus regarding céli Dé among scholars and for some, like Francis Barham, not much hope that any would ever emerge. William Reeves traced the course of this early scholarship in an appendix to his 1864 essay, The Culdees of the British Islands.1 Since his survey is fairly exhaustive and available in reprint, it will not be necessary to reduplicate his efforts here; rather, I will note just the significant theories on céli Dé identity that circulated before Reeves advanced his own.

Early views ‘The Culdee Controversy’, as Reeves described the debate on céli Dé identity up to his own day, began in Scotland with the publication of Hector Boece’s History of the Scots in 1526. Boece appears to have been the first to use the Latin form culdeus, from which arose the English culdee. He believed that culdei, whose name he incorrectly supposed to be a transliteration of cultores Dei, ‘worshippers of God’, were the first Christian missionaries to the inhabitants of Scotland.2 Almost certainly he had in mind the monks of Iona, whose founding abbot, St Columba (ob. 595), was the most famous missionary Scotland has known. Boece did not, however, consider céli Dé origins further than this, and it fell to seventeenth-century scholars to publicise the existence of céli Dé in Wales and Ireland.3 In 1622, Thomas Dempster proffered another theory on céli Dé identity. He postulated that they were canons regular, that is, cathedral clergy who lived in common, as supposedly reformed by St Augustine.4 Dempster’s equation of céli 1 2 3 4

Reeves, The Culdees, 67–77; republished in 1873, ‘On the Céli-Dé’. Boece, Scotorum Historia, VI fo. 92b, apud Reeves, The Culdees, 67. Reeves, The Culdees, 68–9. Dempster, Apparatus ad Historiam Scotticam, I.13, quoted in Ussher, Britannicarum, 333: ‘Cum eo tempore nulli adhuc in Occidente monachi legantur, nec vero esse potuerint, monastica regula diu postea tantum formata; sequitur ut Canonici Regulares omnes ii fuerint: qui ab Apostolicis orti temporibus, magna sanctitatis et literaturae fama, majore in Ecclesia merito et auctoritate, a basilica sua Romae, Lateranenses,


Céli Dé in Ireland Dé with Augustinian canons would prove to be an enduring notion, his error regarding the origin of the latter notwithstanding.5 A few years after Dempster, Henry Spelman understood the term céli Dé, or rather what he presumed to be its Latin equivalent, colidei, to denote monks in Wales and what he termed ‘secular priests’ (presbyteres seculares) in Ireland.6 His view arose from the comments of Gerald of Wales on the colidei of Ynys Enlli, described as ‘most pious monks’ (monachi religiossimi), and the colidei of Loch Cré who tended a small church.7 By ‘secular priests’ Spelman seems to have meant something akin to collegiate clergy. Archbishop James Ussher, who supplied Spelman with some of his information, pointed out that within living memory there were priests (presbyteri) at Armagh known as colidei who served in the choir and celebrated the Divine Office under the direction of their own prior.8 While Spelman and Ussher did not equate céli Dé with Augustinian canons, their views were similar to Dempster’s: at Loch Cré and Armagh, céli Dé were clergy who lived in collegial fashion.

Two influential nineteenth-century theories The next significant contribution was from Reeves himself. For a number of reasons his essay The Culdees of the British Islands may be considered the foundation for all modern studies of céli Dé. In it he considered place-by-place the locations where céli Dé were known to have been, in Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales. In several appendices he outlined the history of the céli Dé debate from Boece to his own day. He provided the texts and translations of relevant references to céli Dé from hagiography, annals, registers, charters, bulls, and other records from Ireland and Scotland, and he published for the first time the Rule of the Céli Dé and a portion of the Rule of Fothud na Canóine, which he titled the ‘Metrical Rule of the Céli Dé’. His objective was ‘to put forward, not so much my own views upon the subject, as a comprehensive statement of trustworthy materials upon which to form a sound and philosophical opinion’.9 Reeves’s broad engagement of the primary sources and his systematic and localised approach to céli Dé


6 7 8 9

demum a S. Augustino reformatore appellati, inter Ecclesiasticos Scotiae ordines mire splenduerunt’, ‘At that time none yet in the West were called monks, nor indeed could they be, because a monastic rule was only formed some time later. It follows that they were all Canons Regular, who originated in apostolic times. Named after their basilica in Rome, the Lateran, and subsequently after the reformer St Augustine, they shone marvellously among the ecclesiastical orders of Scotland on account of their great reputation for sanctity and learning, and even more so in the Church for their worthiness and authority.’ While it took its inspiration from the apostolic life described in the New Testament and adopted the Rule of St Augustine for its use, the Order of Canons Regular was a product of the Gregorian Reform of the eleventh century. See Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism, 160–6. Spelman, Glossary, s.v. ‘Culdei’, apud Reeves, The Culdees, 68. Gerald of Wales, Itinerarium Cambriae, II.6 (ed. Dimock, 124); Topographia Hibernicae, II.4 (ed. Dimock, 80). Ussher, Britannicarum, 333. Reeves, The Culdees, v.


Céli Dé historiography history sets him apart from those who investigated céli Dé before him. His work has since been surpassed in many respects, but it remains a standard reference on the subject. Reeves declared the relatively late appearance of the term céli Dé in Scotland to be an importation from Ireland. Given the wide variety of its application in the former place – to hermits and conventuals, to regulars and seculars, to the celibate and the married, to those with property and those without – he rejected the notion that céli Dé in Scotland ever formed a uniform order. When the term at last became distinctive there, he argued, it identified those who maintained ‘old conventual observances’ in the face of ‘better organised and more systematic institutions’.10 In Ireland, however, Reeves believed that at the close of the eighth century the term céli Dé designated a particular ‘religious class or institution’. At Tallaght, Mael Ruain gathered round him a fraternity, for whom, amidst the prevailing corruption of religion and laxity of monastic discipline, he ordained certain rules of stricter observance, which consisted partly of precepts for conventual and sacerdotal guidance, but were especially distinguished by the principles laid down, and the regulations prescribed, for religious worship and the exercise of devotion.11 Simply put, céli Dé were religious reformers.12 Most scholars who have written about céli Dé since Reeves have followed this view. While he did not provide any particulars on their reform or on the supposed corruption and laxity that gave the reform its impetus, Reeves offered some speculation on céli Dé identity reminiscent of Dempster. Tallaght, he observed, was founded some twenty-four years after Chrodegang, the Benedictine bishop of Metz (742–66), instituted the order of canons, ‘an intermediate class between monks and secular priests’, among his cathedral clergy. Known as Fratres Dominici and later canonici, they were governed by Chrodegang’s Rule of the Common Life, which was subsequently adopted and expanded by the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 816–17.13 ‘Possibly’, Reeves surmised,

10 11



Ibid., 2–3, 27. Ibid., 7; cf. 6, regarding AFM 806.6 which reports the coming of ‘the Céle Dé’ (an Cele Dé) from across the sea, bringing with him a written roll given him from heaven, out of which he preached to the Irish. Reeves wrote, ‘One can easily perceive that it [AFM 806.6] records the arrival of a foreign monk whose object it was to bring about some reformation in morals, or change in discipline, among the natives, and whose exhortations possessed pretensions or force sufficient to invest his message with a heaven-sent character.’ Some two hundred years earlier John Colgan, Acta Sanctorum, 579, came to a similar conclusion regarding Mael Ruain but without identifying the abbot and his community as céli Dé: ‘Tamlactense Monasterium . . . ubi magnum monachorum caetum S. Molruanus regularis disciplinae eximius restaurator et pietatis promotor, sanctissime regebat’, ‘the monastery of Tallaght . . . where St Mael Ruain, the excellent restorer of regular discipline and promoter of piety, most worthily ruled a large community of monks’. Chrodegang, Regula Vitae Communis (ed. Schmitz); cf. Concilia Aevi Karolini, CXIIII–CXLV (ed. Werminghoff, I.307–466).


Céli Dé in Ireland the institution of Maelruain may have borrowed from, or possessed some features in common with, the order of canons: for certain it is that in after ages both the Keledei of Scotland and the Colidei of Ireland exhibited in their discipline the main characteristics of secular canons.14 After the mid-eleventh century, those colidei who favoured a stricter observance, in Scotland and Wales at least, changed their name to Regular Canons of St Augustine.15 If Reeves was hesitant to offer firm conclusions on céli Dé, William Skene was decidedly less reluctant. In his three-volume work Celtic Scotland, completed in 1880, he emphatically denied that the name céli Dé had any connection with St Columba and his community at Iona: In the whole range of ecclesiastical history there is nothing more entirely destitute of authority than the application of this name to the Columban monks of the sixth and seventh centuries, or more utterly baseless than the fabric which has been raised upon that assumption.16 His firm denunciation is indicative of the continuing appeal of Boece’s theory in the nineteenth century. The term céle Dé, Skene ventured, while not etymologically equivalent may nonetheless be taken as the Irish correlative of Deicola, an appellation on the Continent for an anchorite; so Evagrius of Antioch called St Anthony in his Latin translation of the Life of Anthony by Athanasius and so Columbanus in his sermons named the humble monk who wishes to be made God’s dwelling-place.17 According to Skene, céli Dé were clerics who lived in anchoritic association much like Deicolae. Moreover, just as Deicolae on the Continent eventually fell under the regulation of Chrodegang’s Rule of the Common Life, expanded for hermits and anchorites, céli Dé too in time received canonical guidance. The Annals of the Four Masters report that in the year 806 an unnamed céle Dé miraculously crossed the sea to Ireland bringing with him a letter from heaven out of which he preached to the Irish.18 This letter from heaven, Skene felt we may reasonably conclude, was the expanded Rule for hermits and anchorites brought over from the Continent. About this same time, keledei made their appearance in Scotland where the term eventually became nearly identical to that of ‘secular canons’.19 There are a number of problems with Skene’s argument, not the least of which is his apparent ignorance of the widespread Christian myth of the letter of Christ, which fell from heaven. The story goes back to a Latin version at least as old as 581 concerned with strict Sunday observance and the cessation of all labour on that day. The Four Masters’ 806 annal and several other Irish chronicles all appear to

14 15 16 17 18 19

Reeves, The Culdees, 10. Ibid., 62. Skene, Celtic Scotland, II.226. Ibid., II.251; Evagrius of Antioch (tr.), Vita S. Antonii, III (ed. Migne, PL, LXXIII, col. 129A); Columbanus, Instructio, II.2 (ed. & tr. Walker, 68–9). AFM 806.6; cf. CS 811. Skene, Celtic Scotland, II.250–5, 277.


Céli Dé historiography relate to this myth.20 For my purposes here, however, it is enough to comment on Skene’s contribution to the céle Dé-canon theory. He believed that céli Dé resembled not so much Chrodegang’s canons, as Reeves suggested, but rather the anchorites and hermits on the Continent who later came under the influence of Chrodegang’s Rule. For Reeves, céli Dé in their earliest manifestation were reformers, concerned with monastic laxity and religious corruption; for Skene, they were the reformed, an order of ascetic clergy brought under a foreign rule. They ‘might be called monks’, he concluded, ‘but only in the sense in which anchorites were monks’.21 Notwithstanding its flaws, Skene’s anchoritic theory of céli Dé identity would prove nearly as influential as Reeves’s reform theory. Twentieth-century scholars would later combine the two.

Conflation and consensus James Kenney’s remarks on céli Dé in his monumental work, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical, published in 1929, expanded the reform theory set out by Reeves. In a chapter he titled ‘The Reform Movement of the Eighth and Ninth Centuries – the Céli Dé (Culdees)’, Kenney placed céli Dé in the broad context of European ecclesiastical history which in the middle ages was characterised by ‘continually recurring reform movements aimed at the restoration of the spirituality and the energy of clergy and monks who were as continually slipping back into worldliness and laxity’.22 In Ireland, where the contemporary history of the Church was ‘very similar’, increasing secularisation and degeneracy among the older religious houses gave rise to a reaction against ‘decay’. Kenney saw evidence for this reaction in the appearance of céli Dé, the spread of díserta or hermitages near established monastic communities, the proliferation of more rigorous and puritanical ideals, and the emergence of reform-minded leaders. He identified several of the latter, who include abbots and bishops of the late eighth and early ninth centuries from the southern half of Ireland. The ‘chief apostle’ of the reform, however, was Mael Ruain, and Tallaght was its most important centre. On the basis of Mael Ruain’s name, which means ‘tonsured’, that is, devotee, ‘of Ruadán’, Kenney speculated that the founder of Tallaght came from the area of Lorrha, the church of St Ruadán. Other céli Dé houses were at Lismore, Finglas, Loch Cré, Terryglass, and probably Dísert Diarmata (Castledermot). The movement met a premature end, he believed, due to the Norse incursions of the ninth century. After about 840, Tallaght, which was only five miles away from Viking Dublin, must have continued to exist on sufferance of the pagan foreigners. In Ireland churches generally were subject to such repeated disturbances and plundering that the impetus for spiritual reform at Tallaght could not have long endured amidst the pressing concern for sheer survival.23 20 21

22 23

AFM 884.13, AU 887.3, CS 811 and 947, AI 947.1; see Kenney, The Sources, 476–7. Skene, Celtic Scotland, II.277. He wriggled around the incongruity of céli Dé adopting an imported rule in 806 when they supposedly already had the Rule of the Céli Dé, attributed to Mael Ruain who died in 792, by wondering ‘if Maelruain’s establishment belongs to this order’; ibid., II.255. Kenney, The Sources, 468. Ibid., 468–70.


Céli Dé in Ireland Kenney admitted that it was not entirely clear to him what céli Dé were, although he thought it certain enough that ‘they owed their origin as a distinct institution to the reform movement of the eighth century’. He did not believe the term céle Dé became a technical appellation for a spiritual association before the first half of the ninth century. In The Monastery of Tallaght, the term seems to designate monks living according to the strict ideals of Mael Ruain and his fellow reformers. On the other hand, he noted, the Rule of Fothud na Canóine distinguishes between céli Dé and monks. The theory that céli Dé were akin to Chrodegang’s secular canons, he felt, was ‘quite gratuitous’ although he acknowledged that the course of events in Ireland sometimes ran parallel to those on the Continent. ‘The most satisfying hypothesis’, he concluded, seems to be that the Céli Dé were the communities of religious who gathered around the reform leaders as the monks of an earlier age had gathered around the primitive church-founders; that their aim was to revive the ancient zeal and discipline of the monastic churches and that the method followed was to combine the austere life of the recluses or anchorites, already an element in the majority of the larger churches, with a community organisation and the close and strict supervision of a spiritual superior. In some churches, such as Tallaght and Roscrea, he speculated that céli Dé comprised the entire religious community or at least a separate one living at a distance from the rest of the monastic body, while in others, such as Armagh, they adhered to a stricter observance while remaining within the larger, more lax community.24 While one might wish that Kenney had provided more details of the ‘reform movement’ and the conditions that he believed had precipitated it, his brief discussion is significant for its reminder that céli Dé should not be studied in isolation, and for the importance it gives to anchoritic discipline in their programme of reform. In respect to the latter point, his view owes something to Skene who first compared céli Dé to anchorites. In a short but frequently cited paper presented to the Church of Ireland Conference in 1932, Robin Flower similarly equated céli Dé with anchorites, preferring in fact to speak of them as an ‘anchoritic movement’.25 He saw the increase of annalistic obits for anchorites and scribes – he maintained the two vocations were intrinsically linked – in the late eighth and ninth centuries as an indication of their period of greatest influence.26 The monasteries of Tallaght and Finglas, identified in the ninth-century Triads of Ireland as the ‘two eyes of Ireland’, he regarded as the ‘mainstays and chief propagandists’ of the movement.27 The early importance of the latter house he felt to be evident from the Annals of Ulster which records a ‘gathering of the synods’ (congressio senodorum) of the Uí Néill and Laigin at Tara in 780, attended by ‘anchorites and many scribes’ (ancorit” 7 scribe multi) under the leadership of Dublitter, abbot of Finglas (ob. 796). On the basis of Óentu

24 25 26 27

Ibid., 470–1. Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 67. Ibid., 68–9. For criticism of the supposed connection between scribes and anchorites see Hughes, ‘The distribution’, 261–6. Triads of Ireland, §8 (ed. Meyer, 2); Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 70.


Céli Dé historiography Mail Ruain, Flower believed that ‘the new ascetic discipline spread through Southern Ireland, nowhere more enthusiastically received than in Cork and Tipperary, already old centres of ecclesiastical culture and themselves perhaps involved in the earliest beginnings of the movement’. The aim of the movement was to enforce ‘an anchoritish severity of conduct in monastic life and in the direction of the lay conscience’.28 Flower was particularly impressed by the literary activities of céli Dé. He concluded that they were interested in liturgy and especially hagiology, as demonstrated by the production of two martyrologies associated with them, Félire Óengusso and the Martyrology of Tallaght, and thereafter by the addition of hagiographical memorabilia in the notes to the former and the compilation of numerous lists of saints accompanying the latter in the Book of Leinster.29 Indeed, the ascetic tone found in the Lives of the Irish saints, some of which he thought were probably composed at this time, indicates the general demeanour of the period. He also associated the emergence of personal poetry in Ireland with the ‘anchorite reform’. It is to the scribes and anchorites who lived ‘by the destiny of their dedication in an environment of wood and sea’, who ‘brought into that environment an eye washed miraculously clear by a continuous spiritual exercise’, that Flower would credit that body of early Irish verse which has come to be known as ‘nature poetry’. He was not the first to place nature poetry in a monastic context, but he was the first to regard it specifically as the product of anchoritic, that is, céli Dé, reform.30 The concept of ‘hermit poetry’, as the corpus of nature poetry has also been called, enjoyed some currency, notably through the influential work of Kathleen Hughes, but was eventually discredited in 1989 by Donnchadh Ó Corráin.31 Even so, Flower deserves credit for reminding us that significant changes in religious thought can have reverberations beyond the standard canonical and liturgical texts of the Church. Nora Chadwick likewise viewed céli Dé in an anchorite context, but she discounted their role as reformers. In her 1962 work, The Age of the Saints in the Early Celtic Church, she centred much of her discussion of céli Dé on the anonymous Catalogus Sanctorum Hiberniae, formerly thought to be an eighth-century document until Paul Grosjean re-dated it to the ninth or tenth century.32 According to the Catalogus there were three successive orders of saints in Ireland, comprised respectively of bishops, presbyters, and anchorites, in descending grade of sanctity. Most scholars, explained Chadwick, regarded the third order, ‘which clearly refers to the so-called Anchorite or Culdee movement’, as a reaction to the second order, which in turn was inferior to the first. However, upon dismissing the untrustworthy authority of the Catalogus and returning to the authentic sources of the period, she found reason to believe that the so-called Third Order has always been an integral part of the monastic Church; that there is little ground for regarding the religious of this Order as constituting a ‘Reform’; and that the literary 28 29 30 31 32

Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 71. Ibid., 72. For recent discussion of the Martyrology of Tallaght, see Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’. See Murphy, ‘The origins’, 87–102; Jackson, Studies, 93–109. Hughes, The Church, 185–6; Ó Corráin, ‘Early Irish hermit poetry?’. Grosjean (ed.), ‘Édition et commentaire’.


Céli Dé in Ireland movement with which they are associated is not the expression of a new development, but the formulation in writing of their early traditional beliefs and discipline.33 While conceding that the precise relationship of anchorites and céli Dé remains uncertain, Chadwick regarded céli Dé as the later and more fully developed expression of an anchoritic tradition which is to be associated with the Irish saints of the sixth century. Tallaght was thus ‘a centre of Anchorite discipline’, from which the pupils of Mael Ruain departed to govern their own monasteries according to his precepts. The notion of an eighth-century reform, she believed, doubtless stemmed from the fuller historical record that survives from that period and attested to anchoritic organisation.34 In contrast to Kenney and Flower, Chadwick stressed ascetic continuity over renewal. The reform theory, however, still had plenty of advocates. In his edition of the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, which he attributed to the ‘Tallaght school’,35 D.A. Binchy described the ‘Culdee movement’ as essentially a reform movement: it represented a sharp reaction against the laxity and corruption of the older monastic federations, ‘the people of the old churches’ (lucht na sencheld) or ‘the lax folk’ (lax-áes) as they are called with apparent disapproval in the ‘Monastery of Tallaght’ (§§26, 27). The composition of the Old Irish Penitential and the Rule of the Céli Dé, among other things, demonstrates the movement’s ‘insistence on the renewal of ancient ascetic zeal’.36 Although he did not explore the matter further, Binchy was the first to cite primary textual support for the view that Mael Ruain and his associates considered themselves reformers. The above-mentioned passages from the Tallaght memoir have coloured all subsequent discussion of céli Dé identity. We will consider them more closely in the third chapter. Kathleen Hughes restated the case for reform just a few years later in her landmark work, The Church in Early Irish Society. In a chapter titled ‘The “Abuses” of Power’, she observed the prevalence of lay abbacies, succession and pluralism of ecclesiastical office, monastic involvement in secular politics and wars, and inter-monastery violence during the eighth century. She took it as given that the cumulative effect of these so-called abuses was the growing, though not universal, relaxation of ascetic discipline. How this was so, however, she did not explain, nor did she specify the symptoms of the decline.37 In her following chapters, ‘Ascetic Revival’ and ‘The Influence of the Ascetic Revival’, she discussed the reaction to the decline. Like Chadwick, Hughes recognised that anchorites had long been a 33 34 35 36


Chadwick, The Age, 72–3. Ibid., 84–9. Binchy (ed. & tr.), ‘The Old-Irish table’, 49. Ibid., 53–4. Binchy’s second parenthetical reference to The Monastery of Tallaght is incorrect: for ‘27’ read ‘57’; see The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVI, LVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137, 148). Regarding orthography, Binchy gives ‘lax-áes’, while Gwynn & Purton read ‘lex áos’ in agreement with the manuscript, RIA 3 B 23 p. 41b line 11. Hughes, The Church, 157–72.


Céli Dé historiography part of the Irish church and she agreed that the teaching of Mael Ruain and his companions stemmed from the practices of the earlier saints. Even so, she insisted, ‘ascetic practices had not been generally maintained in the eighth-century church’. Consequently, ‘a new order of ascetics appears, men who call themselves céli Dé (culdees), “companions of God” ’.38 Unquestionably, they regarded themselves as reformers. Here she turned to the same passages Binchy cited from the Tallaght memoir. Noting comments on the ‘folk in the old churches’ (aes i senchellaib) whose ‘course was not suitable’ (manipad lor reim), who are known to ‘not lead a good life’ (nach beith beatha mhaith aca) and who were ‘corrupt, by reason of their own bad life’ (coirpthe, ar son a ndroch-bheathadh féin), and similar disparaging remarks,39 one is hard-pressed, according to Hughes, to conclude otherwise than that Mael Ruain and his associates saw themselves as the instigators of a reform promoting greater asceticism.40 Citing céli Dé teachings on chastity and women, she remarked that ‘in their attitude to the body the reformers reacted violently against the practices of the established church’. Their asceticism recalled many of the austerities of the early Irish saints, with their severe penances, cross-vigils, vigils in water, flagellation, total abstinence, and strict Sunday observance.41 Their devotional activities were also seen as part of the reform. Their return to prayer as the primary activity of the religious she found comparable to the contemporaneous reform of Benedict of Aniane in Carolingian France. What is more, ‘their concern with liturgy and ritual also suggests that in some of the old churches the liturgy may have been very casually performed, and prayer have been overlaid by other activities’. In other words, if céli Dé, who were known reformers, showed interest in such activities, it must have been because these practices were neglected elsewhere. Hughes, however, provided no evidence that this was indeed the case.42 For Hughes the failure of céli Dé to alter fundamentally the structure of Irish monasticism was easily understood. It was not the Vikings who doomed the movement, but rather the céli Dé inability to provide ‘new machinery for making permanent the effects of their enthusiasm’. The reform revived the spirit of the church, ‘but it brought no new constitution: its authority was moral and carried no powers of enforcement’.43 Family inheritance of ecclesiastical office, rivalry over appointments, monastic violence, and involvement in secular politics all continued unabated. The shortcomings of the reform are best illustrated, wrote Hughes, in the person of Feidlimid mac Crimthainn, king of Cashel in Munster (820–47). Although he is praised in the Annals of Ulster as ‘the best of the Irish, a scribe and

38 39

40 41 42 43

Ibid., 173–4. The Monastery of Tallaght, IV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 20–1); see also The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 159–60); The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXXII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 48–9); The Monastery of Tallaght, LVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 148). Hughes, The Church, 174–5. Ibid., 177–9. Ibid., 179–80. Ibid., 181–2.


Céli Dé in Ireland anchorite’ and his name even appears in Óentu Mail Ruain,44 Feidlimid was the scourge of the ninth-century church, seizing, sacking, and profaning religious houses as far north as Clonmacnois. Because the reform brought about no change in the constitution of the church, religious communities remained subject to the depredations of persons like Feidlimid. Even worse, with no central authority such as a metropolitan in Ireland, the quarrels of churchmen ran unchecked. Pressing her point, Hughes concluded, A revival of religion, however grand, can hardly continue for long or permeate a whole institution unless it is supported by administrative machinery. So the old practices went on, and while one anchorite dwelt alone in his hermit’s cell, renouncing this wretched world, another, who held a kingdom, assumed abbacies, burned churches beyond his own borders, and slew their inhabitants.45 Aside from her speculation on why the reform ultimately failed, Hughes offered little on céli Dé that had not been heard before. Even so, her discussion of ecclesiastical ‘abuses’ and ‘ascetic revival’ has proven very influential. Few scholars after her have questioned the decline of Irish asceticism and the central role of céli Dé in its renewal during the eighth and ninth centuries. The largest and most detailed study of céli Dé has long been Fr Peter O’Dwyer’s Célí Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900, first published in 1977 and followed by a revised and expanded second edition in 1981.46 His monograph may be taken as the most expansive summation of the céli Dé debate since Kenney. For the most part, he cogently built upon the views articulated by others, refining them and filling in the details; his is a work of synthesis. As is evident from his choice of sub-title, O’Dwyer believed that céli Dé comprised a reform movement. Following Kenney’s lead, O’Dwyer commenced his monograph on céli Dé with a few observations on religious reforms in Europe during the eighth century, notably those instigated by Boniface, Chrodegang of Metz, and Benedict of Aniane.47 Regarded in such company, céli Dé would seem neatly explained – they were an Irish manifestation of the cycle of decline and reform that has always marked the history of Christian monasticism. O’Dwyer contended that the origin of the Irish reform is to be sought in Ireland. Its aims, he felt, were both temporal and spiritual. Amongst the former, it sought to redress ‘a tendency towards the laicization of monasteries’. By this he meant essentially the same abuses noted by Hughes: the violation of churches, monastic violence, disputes over religious office, and significantly, the prevalence of the lay abbot. Largely on the strength of the Irish chronicles, he saw most of these as eighth-century developments, although he acknowledged the possibility that they had occurred in earlier centuries but escaped the attention of the annalists.48 44

45 46 47 48

AU 847.1: ‘Feidhlimidh .i. mc. Crimhthain rex Muman, optimus Scotorum, pausauit, scriba 7 ancorita’; Óentu Mail Ruain (ed. Ó Riain, Corpus Genealogiarum, 162, §713.9). Hughes, The Church, 189–93. O’Dwyer also wrote two articles on céli Dé which summarise his monograph: ‘The Céli Dé reform’, and ‘Celtic monks and the Culdee reform’. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 1–4. Ibid., xi, 4–7.


Céli Dé historiography On the spiritual side, the céli Dé reform strove, ‘by a return to the primitive spirit of the anchorite, to banish worldliness and to restore the pure ascetical spirit’.49 This clearly presupposes a decline in ascetic practice among the Irish. For evidence of such a decline O’Dwyer, like Hughes, pointed to the above-mentioned passages from The Monastery of Tallaght and the Teaching of Mael Ruain that seemingly demonstrate an enmity between the céli Dé of Tallaght and the folk of the older churches. The use in céli Dé documents of the terms fír-cléirech, ‘true cleric’, and fír-manach, ‘true monk’, he suggested, is further indication of how the reformers distinguished themselves from their more lax brethren.50 Additional evidence of the anchoritic nature of the reform comes from annalistic texts. Here O’Dwyer followed Flower’s lead. Tallying up by century the numbers of anchorites mentioned in Irish chronicles, he found a marked increase from the mid-eighth century to the end of the ninth.51 Concurrent with this is a rise in the number of scribes, many of whom were anchorites as well. From these annals it is obvious, claimed O’Dwyer, that in the first half of the eighth century a movement ‘tending towards the expansion of the anchorite ideal’ arose in reaction to the laxity of the older churches. The intent of the reform was to increase respect for the monastery by attention to spiritual concerns and to learning, reflected in the vocations of the anchorite and scribe respectively.52 How exactly the ‘expansion of the anchorite ideal’ would rectify temporal ills such as lay abbots O’Dwyer did not explain. The movement was welcomed, he said, but at the close of the eighth century conditions were unsuitable for a wide and lasting impact, in no small measure due to the arrival of the Norse. However, he related that Eoin Mac Neill had come to the conclusion that since there is no record in the chronicles of any attack on Tallaght or Finglas, the two monasteries nearest to Viking Dublin, they probably had some sort of agreement with the foreigners.53 Following Hughes, O’Dwyer believed the reform’s inability to bring about institutional change ultimately stemmed from its lack of judicial impetus and its failure to gain the support of a competent authority.54

Reaction Only in the last few years have the reformist views articulated by Hughes, O’Dwyer, and others been questioned. In the context of his examination of church organisation in early medieval Ireland, Colmán Etchingham reconsidered the supposed anchoritic emphasis of céli Dé. Regarding Flower’s and O’Dwyer’s use of the Irish chronicles to demonstrate the existence of an ‘anchoritic movement’ contemporaneous with céli Dé, he observed, The widespread tendency to extrapolate trends from the annalistic data relating to a selected topic involves a fundamentally flawed 49 50 51 52 53 54

Ibid., xi. Ibid., 1. Ibid., 10. Ibid., 15–16. Ibid., 29. Kenney, The Sources, 470, reached the same conclusion. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, xi, 192.


Céli Dé in Ireland methodology. It disregards the measurable changes that occur over time in the character of the record as a whole and instead implicitly treats the annals as if they were a homogeneous source.55 The greater number of anchorite obits in the annals of the eighth and ninth centuries may reflect nothing more than the changing quantity and quality of the chronicles over time; it is entirely possible that there were just as many anchorites during the previous centuries who simply escaped the notice of the annalists.56 We cannot conclude on the basis of the Irish chronicles that the communities of Tallaght and Finglas were a part – much less ‘the mainstays and chief propagandists’ – of an ‘anchoritish movement’ which supposedly sprang up in the late eighth and ninth centuries.57 Furthermore, Etchingham detected an ‘ambivalence about anchorites’ in the Tallaght material that ‘belies the received wisdom that texts which scholars associate with a céli Dé “reform movement” promote anchoritism, if by that be understood the solitary rather than the cenobite’.58 The Tallaght documents indicate that céli Dé in fact advocated and practised cenobitic monasticism, ‘combined with an ideology of anchoritic or eremitic mortification’. Nor was such a combination new, as indicated by prescriptive and hagiographical sources as early as the seventh century. ‘From then on’, he continued, ‘the adoption of a hybrid system of this kind by stricter observants was evidently a permissible permutation of monastic life.’59 In contrast to Hughes who saw a general decline in religious standards leading to ascetic revival, Etchingham noticed a consistent lack of uniformity in monastic observance: The Tallaght memoir, like the vernacular monastic ‘rules’ and the Old Irish Penitential, appear to speak above all of continuity and diversity in the practice of the stricter forms of monasticism. The latter had long co-existed with other elements of the Irish system of church organisation and, notwithstanding the misgivings of its devotees, continued to do so in the later eighth and ninth centuries.60 For this reason, Etchingham, like Chadwick, seems to doubt that céli Dé should be regarded as reformers. He speaks of an amalgam of cenobitic structure and asceticism [which] was from the 55 56 57 58

59 60

Etchingham, Church Organisation, 356. Ibid., 355. See also Chadwick, Age of the Saints, 86; Hughes, Early Christian Ireland, 174 n. 1; Firey, ‘Cross-examining the witness’, 44–5; Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 151–2. Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 70. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 354. Few of the anchorites mentioned in AU from the eighth century to the tenth appear to have been true solitaries. See MacDonald, ‘Notes on monastic archaeology’, 314–17, who concluded that the term anchorite in AU usually designates a churchman ‘having overall responsibility for those members of a community living a life of more advanced ascetic discipline’. Such a definition accords well with the perception of two prominent figures in the Tallaght consuetudinal texts, Mael Díthruib and Elair, who are identified as anchorites in their obits, AU 807.5 and AFM 840.2 respectively. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 354; cf. 320–40. Ibid., 355.


Céli Dé historiography first an esteemed mode of life, to which proven devotees of true monasticism might graduate. It is probably a mistake to see in sources for the later eighth and ninth centuries evidence of reform or reaction rather than of the continuation of the more rigorous tendency in more or less uneasy co-existence with greater laxity.61 The perception of céli Dé as elite ascetics such as Etchingham evidently regarded them, however, supposes an impulse not much different from the reform theory – dissatisfied with the level of religious observance in existing churches, céli Dé opted for a harsher regime. If they were not the restorers of ascetic severity or ‘true monasticism’ elsewhere, they were at least the preservers of it among themselves.62 Yet if diversity of practice in the stricter forms of monasticism was a longstanding feature of the Irish church, as Etchingham maintained, what exactly distinguished céli Dé from their devout contemporaries or from ‘the more rigorous tendency’ of an earlier time? What was so special about céli Dé? If the answer is the intensity of their asceticism, then we must suppose that either the general quality of religious life had indeed declined by the late eighth century, just as the reform theorists have long argued, or that céli Dé achieved a level of ascetic discipline previously unseen among Irish religious. We will explore both of these possibilities in the chapters ahead. In his examination of the poems of Blathmac mac Con-Brettan (fl. 750–70) in a céli Dé context, Brian Lambkin came to a similar conclusion to Etchingham and described céli Dé as ‘profoundly aristocratic’ in concept.63 Drawing parallels between Blathmac’s poems and Félire Óengusso, he supported the identification of Blathmac as a céle Dé, first suggested by James Carney.64 Among other things, he observed that both Blathmac and Óengus address an intermediary (respectively, the Virgin Mary and rígrad, ‘kingfolk’, that is, the inhabitants of heaven) and express a relationship of célsine, ‘clientship’, with God. ‘In the case of both Blathmac and Óengus’, Lambkin explained, ‘the poet is a céle who asks a more powerful céle or céli (clients) to intercede on his behalf with the “lord” which they have in common (God).’65 It is the centrality of the concept of célsine to the work of both Blathmac and Óengus, he felt, that compels us to find a céli Dé context for the poems of Blathmac. The significance of céli Dé, however, is still misunderstood, according to Lambkin.66 Turning to a legalistic sense of the term céle, he noted the distinction in early Irish society between the sóerchéle, ‘noble client’, and the dóerchéle, ‘base client’, each of whom owed certain duties to his flaith, ‘lord’, in return for land and

61 62 63 64

65 66

Ibid., 361. This seems to be the view of Sharpe, ‘Some problems’, 267. See also Herren & Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, 35–8. Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 142. Carney, The Poems, xiv–xv, argued this largely on the basis of ‘frequent similarities of diction’ between Blathmac’s two devotional poems and Félire Óengusso. Carney’s proposed date for Blathmac’s floruit, 750–70, seems to have been largely accepted, but his association of the poet with céli Dé has garnered both support and scepticism. See Mac Eoin, Review of Carney, 222–6; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 173. Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 133–5. Ibid., 139.


Céli Dé in Ireland stock.67 The céle Dé, according to Lambkin, was analogous to the sóerchéle and should be viewed in a similarly ‘aristocratic’ sense as one who belonged to the dám, ‘following’ or personal retinue, of his flaith, God: That the céle Dé was a spiritual aristocrat is indicated by the existence of the complementary term mog Dé (literally, slave of God), which may be taken as a reflection of the social and economic divisions within secular society between the sóer-chéle (noble client) and the dóer-chéle (base client) and the mog (slave). Not every man could be a céle Dé. The Céli Dé were a select group from among all the men on earth who were ‘followers’ of God and who could in suitably humble fashion call themselves collectively mogae Dé (slaves of God). In other words, the Céli Dé were ‘saints’, men of high status within the ‘following’ of God, marked out from the other mogae Dé by virtue of their spiritual wealth or holiness of life.68 In Lambkin’s view, the ‘spiritual wealth or holiness of life’ of céli Dé entailed strict ascetic observance. Considering the evidence of Blathmac’s poems, he wrote, A man became a céle Dé to improve his status. There was no higher status to which a man could aspire in this world. In order to prepare for this higher status and to earn it, the céle Dé set himself apart from his fellow men. He underwent a severe ascetic regime which was designed, like the training of a soldier, to prepare him for a spiritual battle with the forces of evil (gó) on behalf of his flaith in Heaven and his fellow men on earth.69 Asceticism was not, however, the sole mark of céle Dé distinction, according to Lambkin. Blathmac and Óengus both accorded to the céle Dé the duty of the secular céle to keen the death of his flaith and to keep alive his lord’s fame. The céle Dé derived his own status from the superiority of his divine flaith above all secular lords. He declared that superiority through his keen (coíniud).70 Lambkin’s argument is not without its difficulties. His equation of céli Dé with sóerchéle is problematic, as is his description of the former as ‘aristocratic’ – ‘spiritual elite’ is preferable, as it does not carry any connotation of social class.71 Even so, Lambkin has helped re-frame the debate on céli Dé identity. Like Etchingham, he did not see any reason to regard céli Dé as a reform movement. Indeed, we 67 68 69 70 71

See above, 1 n. 2. Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 142. Ibid., 151. Ibid., 139, 148–9. In a personal communication cited in Follett, ‘The Divine Office and extra-Office vigils’, Thomas Charles-Edwards pointed out that Lambkin’s argument is vulnerable to the evidence of Old Irish legal texts. In Críth Gablach the simple, uncompounded and unqualified use of the term céle refers either to base-clients or to clients of any kind, never to a sóerchéle, ‘noble-client’. Charles-Edwards wrote, ‘any logical shift from céle to sóerchéle, such as that in supposing that céle Dé must mean sóerchéle Dé, is illegitimate. The normal céle of these legal texts was an aithech; and, as the contrasting pair aire vs. aithech shows, there was nothing aristocratic about the base-client.’


Céli Dé historiography might well question whether they ought to be thought of as a movement at all, if by that term is understood an organised effort to promote a specific agenda. As he applied the term céle Dé to Blathmac and Óengus, it denotes a self-identified, intimate relationship with Deity rather than affiliation with a particular monastic community. This is a new and useful way of looking at céli Dé. Furthermore, Lambkin has caused us to look beyond asceticism as the mark of their distinctiveness. The notion that a céle Dé was characterised in part by his special praise and devotion to God bears further scrutiny.72 While many scholars continue to think of céli Dé as rigorous ascetics, there is growing recognition that they were distinctive for other reasons too. In an article examining their influence in ninth-century Scotland, Thomas Clancy observed that céli Dé ‘were also deeply interested in promoting those proper orientations and structures for church government and pastoral care which had been a main concern of ecclesiastical legislators in the eighth century’.73 Michael Herren recently described céli Dé as ‘a curious blend of Romani and Hibernenses’, referring to the two opposing parties in the Irish Church who prior to 716 had contended primarily over the correct way to determine the date of Easter. Like the Romani, céli Dé stressed the importance of the regular liturgy and the sacraments and showed great concern for the needs of the laity. However, in other respects, Herren noted, they also looked back to the Hibernenses, such as in their attachment to the Law of Moses, particularly evident in their sabbatarian prohibitions.74 Still, there are plenty of scholars who persist in describing Mael Ruain and his associates as reformers.75 The next two chapters will consider the validity of this view.

72 73 74


See Follett, ‘The Divine Office and extra-Office vigils’. Clancy, ‘Iona’, 118. Herren & Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, 36–8. On the Romani, the Hibernenses, and the paschal controversy, see Hughes, The Church, 103–7, and Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 391–415. Haggart, ‘The Céli Dé’, 140–1, who also rejects the notion that céli Dé comprised an ascetic revival, emphasises their concern for the provision of appropriate levels of pastoral care. See Bitel, Isle of the Saints, 142–3; Clancy, ‘Iona’, 118; Ó Maidín (ed.), The Celtic Monk, 9; Carey (ed.), King of Mysteries, 246–7; Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 4–5; Harrington, Women in a Celtic Church, 107. O’Loughlin, Celtic Theology, 130, takes a more nuanced position.



It is practically axiomatic in modern church scholarship that Irish religious in the early middle ages were deeply ascetic. In works that shaped the opinions of students for generations after, Charles Plummer, John Ryan, and Louis Gougaud regarded monastic austerity as a hallmark, indeed, ‘national tradition’, to use Ryan’s words, of the insula sanctorum that was pre-Norman Ireland.1 Only in recent years as long-held views on the supposed predominance of monasticism as an organising principle of the early medieval Irish church have begun to give way have scholars turned to reconsider the ascetic nature of early Irish religious.2 As already observed, the priority of asceticism in Irish religious practice is central to the theory that céli Dé were reformers who advocated a return to older standards of monastic austerity and piety. The aim of this chapter is to determine what in fact were the standards – or more accurately, the expectations – of ascetic observance in Ireland before the appearance of céli Dé in the second half of the eighth century, and whether the primary sources substantiate an ascetic decline that could have precipitated a monastic reform. Before proceeding further, it will be helpful to define some of the terms that will be central to this investigation. ‘Asceticism’, from the Greek ascesis, in its classical sense meant bodily exercise, especially athletic training. With the spread of Christianity to Greek-speaking peoples in the first century, images borrowed from the athletic heritage of the Greeks found their way into the works of early Christian writers such as the Apostle Paul, who used the Pentathlon as an object lesson of the moral struggle for self-mastery over the body (I Corinthians 9:24–7). In the third century the Hellenist theologians of the school of Alexandria, particularly Clement of Alexandria and Origen, spoke of a Christian ascesis physically expressed through continence, but undertaken with a spiritual aim: to free the soul from its passions and purify it for union with God.3 As used by Athanasius of Alexandria, who wrote a Life of St Antony around 357, ascesis signified the practice of virtue and mortification accompanied by unceasing exertion and labour, with the ultimate goal of attaining moral perfection, not for its own sake but to serve and please God.4 Although there is no direct equivalent for ascesis in Latin,5 Evagrius of 1 2 3 4 5

Plummer (ed.), Vitae, I.cxix–cxxiii; Ryan, Irish Monasticism, 408; Gougaud, Christianity, 89–98; cf. Hughes, The Church, 55–6, 173. See Etchingham, ‘The idea’, 14–18. Viller et al., Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, s.v. ‘ascèse, ascétisme’, I. cols 939–41, 964–6; Chadwick (ed.), Western Asceticism, 22–3. Lorié, Spiritual Terminology, 65–8. Latin authors sometimes used disciplina in a manner which seems to have encompassed the meaning of ascesis. See Blaise, Dictionnaire Latin–Français, 277, s.v. ‘disciplina’:


Irish asceticism before céli Dé Antioch, who translated Athanasius’s Greek Life into Latin (ca 370), and another anonymous translator of the same work usually rendered it propositum, institutum, studium, or conversatio. The physical components of ascesis were often expressed in these translations by words such as abstinentia, ieiunia, instantia, vigiliae, rigor, and labor.6 Patristic authors, including Jerome, Augustine, and Cassian, employed these same words in their own works to convey the idea of Christian ascesis.7 I use asceticism in the same sense which I believe Athanasius and Evagrius understood ascesis: a monastic endeavour that combines the cultivation of virtuous qualities with self-denial and mortification, manifest in practices such as sexual and dietary abstinence, fasting, self-imposed poverty, vigils, prayers, and physical labour, performed with God as the final objective. The ascetic ideal found fuller articulation in the writings of Evagrius of Pontus (ob. 399), but it was primarily through the writings of John Cassian who was deeply influenced by the latter that the Christian asceticism of the East was transmitted to the Latin West.8 We will consider Cassian’s ascetic theology in due course. When I speak of ‘Irish asceticism’, I mean no more than the practice of asceticism among religious native to Ireland, regardless of whether they were in Ireland, Britain, or on the Continent. As with ‘Irish monasticism’ or ‘Irish monks’, the modifier ‘Irish’ is not meant to imply that their observance was necessarily distinctive from that of non-Irish, nor to suggest that they were uniform in their vocation. Only a geographical reference is intended. The qualitative relationship of early Irish monasticism to Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, Egyptian, or any other kind of monasticism is part of the broader debate on the nature of Christianity in early medieval Ireland in relation to the rest of the Christian world. At the heart of this debate are several important questions: is it appropriate to speak at any time of a ‘Celtic’ Church in recognition of practices common to Ireland and Britain that were divergent from Rome, such as the calculation of Easter, the form of the tonsure, and the ordination of bishops? Can we refer to an Irish Church in an institutional sense, as we might the English Church in the days of Bede or the Frankish Church at the time of St Boniface? Or is it better to speak of Irish churches, in the plural with a lower-case c, so as to emphasise the variety of observance and lack of a central ecclesiastical authority in pre-Norman Ireland? These issues remain under scholarly discussion and I make no attempt to resolve them in the present work.9 I mention them only to acknowledge the comparable difficulties which can arise from the term ‘Irish asceticism’ and similar usages.

6 7 8 9

‘5. discipline, ordre, règle (monastique) (+skhsiv)’. In support of this definition, Blaise cites Benedict’s Regula Monachorum, LXII (edd. de Vogüé & Neufville, 640): ‘sciens se multo magis disciplinae regulari subdendum’, and Jonas of Bobbio’s Vita S. Columbani, I.4 (ed. Krusch, Ionae Uitae, 158): ‘quique [sc. Commogellus] et religionis studio et regularis disciplinae cultu praecipuus habebatur’. Cf. Du Cange, Glossarium, 130, s.v. ‘disciplina’. Lorié, Spiritual Terminology, 69–88. Ibid., 88–99. See also Stewart, ‘From lógov to verbum’, 14–20. Chadwick, John Cassian, 86. For recent argument in favour of a ‘common Celtic Church’ before ca 630, see Herren & Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, 3–9 and 104–36; cf. Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 241; Stevenson, ‘Introduction’, xi, xii. Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 13–17 and 355–79, employs the term ‘micro-Christendoms’ to discuss the


Céli Dé in Ireland The final term I mention here, ‘anchorite’, from the Greek anachorein, ‘to withdraw’, was a general appellation patristic writers used throughout the fourth century to describe the earliest Christian monks who retreated to the Egyptian desert, whether into total seclusion or to join a semi-ermitical monastic settlement such as at Nitria, Kellia, or Sketis.10 By Cassian’s time (ca 426), the term seems to have acquired a more precise meaning. Anachoretae, ‘anchorites’, were the second of the three kinds of Egyptian monks Cassian discussed in his Conlationes. The first kind, he explained, is that of the cenobites, who live together in a community and are governed by the judgment of one elder. The greatest number of monks dwelling throughout Egypt are of this kind. The second is that of the anchorites, who are first instructed in the cenobia and then, perfected in their practical way of life, choose the recesses of the desert. We too have chosen to be part of this profession. The third and blameworthy one is that of the sarabaites.11 Cassian describes a practice that seems to have become standard in Egypt by the second half of the fourth century whereby a monk would live for some years in a cenobitic community before pursuing a more solitary life in the further desert. Evagrius of Pontus wrote that the Egyptian elders approved of an anachoresis, ‘anchoretical vocation’, undertaken by degrees, after one had attained a level of accomplishment in the virtues while in a cenobium. One who is unable to prove himself in anachoresis and falls short of virtue should return to the cenobium.12 This distinction between the cenobite and the more advanced anchorite was taken up by western religious, although few patristic authors distinguished anachoretae from eremitae, ‘hermits’. Jerome, Augustine, and Cassian did not; Isidore of Seville did. The latter’s reason for doing so is not entirely clear, but it may have to do with the previous training he says anchorites received in a cenobium; he does not mention such a preparatory experience for hermits.13 Among Hiberno-Latin writers the term anchorite seems to have been used most often to designate a

10 11



localised and, at the same time, universal (but not unified) nature of Christianity in early medieval Ireland and Britain. On the early history of ascetic exile, see Guillaumont, Aux origines, 89–116. Cassian, Conlationes, XVIII.4 (ed. Pichery, III.14, tr. Ramsey, 637): ‘Tria sunt in Aegypto genera monachorum, quorum duo sunt optima, tertium tepidum atque omnimodis euitandum. Primum est coenobiotarum, qui scilicet in congregatione pariter consistentes unius senioris iudicio gubernantur: cuius generis maximus numerus monachorum per uniuersam Aegyptum commoratur. Secundum anachoretarum, qui prius in coenobiis instituti iamque in actuali conuersatione perfecti solitudinis elegere secreta: cuius professionis nos quoque optamus esse participes. Tertium reprehensibile Sarabaitarum est.’ Similar monastic categorisation is found in Jerome, Epistulae, XX.34 (ed. & tr. Wright, 134–7) and in Augustine, De moribus ecclesiae, XXXI.66–8 (ed. Migne, PL XXXII, cols 1337–9). Evagrius of Pontus, Tractatus ad Eulogium Monachum, XXXII (ed. Migne, PG LXXIX, col. 1136, among the works of Abbot Nilus; see Guillaumont & Guillaumont (edd.), Évagre le Pontique: Traité practique, I.33). Evagrius himself lived in the more communal setting of Nitria before retiring to the greater solitude of Kellia. Isidore, De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, II.16 (ed. Lawson, 74–5).


Irish asceticism before céli Dé religious dwelling not in complete isolation but in semi-seclusion near a cenobitical community, as was the case with one Fínán who, according to Adomnán of Iona, maintained the vita anachoritica beside the monastery of Durrow, or Eochaid son of Colcu, commemorated in the Annals of Ulster as anchorita of Armagh.14 A few comments are in order regarding the primary sources this survey will include and exclude. The primary basis for inclusion is whether a given text provides any insight into Irish asceticism as it was practised, theorised, or even idealised before the appearance of céli Dé (ca 774). The primary sources that meet this criterion are not all from Ireland. Among the earliest are texts from post-Roman Britain deemed to have had a formative influence on monasticism in Ireland, such as Penitentialis Vinniani. Some texts are by Irish peregrini, such as Adomnán’s Vita S. Columbae, written at Iona, and Columbanus’s Regula Monachorum, written in Burgundy. A few, such as Vita S. Columbani by Jonas of Bobbio, and Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, were not written by Irish authors but nonetheless offer a contemporary perception of Irish religious life. The works in this last category must be used with extra caution. It would be a mistake to regard Bede’s eighth-century account of Irish religious in Northumbria who lived several generations before him as a wholly reliable representation of Irish asceticism. While his description of Aedán of Iona (ob. 651) might be a fair enough second(or third-) hand remembrance, it would be best to read it as how Bede wanted the saintly Irish bishop of Lindisfarne to be remembered. It is not so much a record of Irish ascetic performance as it is an idealised representation of Irish ascetic performance from a non-Irish perspective. As our interest in this chapter is in Irish asceticism before the appearance of céli Dé, we will not consider yet any of the eighth- and ninth-century texts that scholars at any time have associated with the latter. This will exclude works such as The Monastery of Tallaght and the Old Irish Penitential, which have been widely accepted as céli Dé writings, as well as others such as Apgitir Chrábaid and Cáin Domnaig, whose connection with céli Dé remains questionable or even doubtful. The corpus of possible céli Dé texts will be examined in Chapter 4. We will also exclude evidence earlier than the sixth century. This is certainly not to suggest that monasticism did not exist in Ireland prior to that time. As is well known, in 431 Pope Celestine I sent the former deacon Palladius ‘to the Irish believing in Christ’ (ad Scottos in Christo credentes) as their first bishop.15 Some scholars have supposed that Palladius may have been a monk.16 If he was – documentary confirmation is entirely lacking – we can only speculate on his role in the establishment of asceticism in Ireland, as we have little knowledge of Palladius or the Christian communities in Ireland who received him as their bishop.17 Turning to the other, more famous bishop in fifth-century Irish history, the Briton Patrick, we know that he encouraged the ascetic life, or at least the celibate life, among his converts in 14

15 16 17

Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, I.49 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 88–91). AU 731.10; cf. Liber Angeli, XVI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 186–7). See MacDonald, ‘Notes on monastic archaeology’, 314–17. Prosper of Acquitaine, Chronicle, s.a. 431 (ed. Mommsen, I.473). Recently, see Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 224–5. See ibid., 202–14, for a summation of what is known about Palladius, and 233–9 for a discussion of the probable area of his activity.


Céli Dé in Ireland Ireland. In his Confessio Patrick marvels at the conversion of people who had only recently worshipped idols and that the sons of the Irish and the daughters of their kings had become ‘monks and virgins of Christ’ (monachi et uirgines Christi).18 While it is doubtful that we should understand these as cenobitic monks and nuns in a Pachomian or Benedictine sense, there is no question from Patrick’s remarks in the Confessio and his Epistola ad milites Corotici that the promotion of the religious life, and particularly its commitment to celibacy, was a central feature of his ministry to the Irish.19 It seems likely that Patrick’s virgins remained at home with their unbelieving families rather than forming a separate Christian community.20 As for Patrick’s ‘monks’, these may have been celibate clergy who performed the office of psalm-singing in parish or diocesan churches. As Michael Herren has indicated, however, nothing certain is known of them apart from their existence.21 Ultimately, it must be conceded that the question of whether or not Patrick fostered an ascetic culture in Ireland is moot, for we encounter the same problem trying to answer it as we do with Palladius: a lack of evidence. Patrick left behind no monastic rule or penitential, and of the churches he founded we know nothing of their possible monastic character.22 We have no reason to think they did not prosper, but neither can we dismiss the possibility that the ascetical fruits of Patrick’s labour withered away after his ministry and that Ireland’s ‘national tradition’ arose from another, later source. Patrick himself, it should be noted, feared that if he were to leave Ireland the labours he had begun would be lost.23 Whatever his achievements, his reputation seems to have lingered in some obscurity until the see of Armagh began to promote the cult of St Patrick in the seventh century.24 Bearing in mind all this uncertainty, it seems prudent to begin our examination of Irish asceticism in the sixth century when the documentary record becomes more substantial.

Sixth-century evidence Irish Christianity in the sixth century, as in the fifth, was shaped by close ties to the British church. Where Patrick embodied this link in the earlier century, Gildas and Uinniau, both also Britons, did so in the later one. Asceticism figures significantly

18 19


21 22 23 24

Patrick, Confessio, XLI (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 81). Herren, ‘Mission and monasticism’, 76–85. For other indications of Patrick’s ascetic predilections, see Confessio, XVI, XVII, XLIII, XLIV (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 65, 82–3). The question of monastic training for Patrick, possibly attained in Gaul at the monastery of St Germanus, bishop of Auxerre (418–48), remains unsettled. Patrick, Confessio, XLII (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 82). Perhaps they were not unlike the women Jerome met upon his return to Rome in 382 who practised household virginity; see Kelly, Jerome, 92–4. For similar behaviour elsewhere in the West, see Stancliffe, St. Martin and His Hagiographer, 265–77. Herren, ‘Mission and monasticism’, 83. See Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 224–5. Patrick, Confessio, XLIII (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 82). Sharpe, ‘St. Patrick’, 43. Still, old memories of Patrick and his ministry endured. At least as early as the seventh century Iona observed the feast day of St Mauchteus, a disciple of Patrick; see Sharpe, ‘Saint Mauchteus, 85–93.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé in their extant writings and in works produced at the end of the century which inform us of the vocations of two famous Irish abbots, Columba and Columbanus. De Excidio Britanniae Gildas is best known to us from his work, De Excidio Britanniae (‘The Ruin of Britain’), likely composed between 485 and 530.25 Taken by itself, this strident denunciation of the corruption and worldliness of Britain’s rulers and secular clergy provides slight illumination on contemporary Irish or British asceticism. Its seeming disregard for monasticism led Owen Chadwick to conclude that Gildas must not have been a monk.26 It is likely that had Gildas been a monk at the time he wrote De Excidio, he would not have asked that he might be forgiven by those religious ‘whose life I praise and indeed prefer to all the riches of the world. If it may be so, I desire and thirst to be a participant in that life before I die.’27 Still, the author is hardly indifferent to monasticism. Gildas clearly admires the monastic lifestyle and upholds it as the hope for renewal of the church in Britain which he so roundly condemns in De Excidio.28 His work impressed other individuals who were deeply concerned with ascetic behaviour and whose writings are central to understanding sixth-century religious activity in Ireland. The Irishman Columbanus, founder and abbot of the Continental monasteries of Annegray, Luxeuil, Fontaine, and Bobbio, and the author of a monastic rule and penitential, made use of De Excidio in his letters and was influenced by Gildas’s writing style.29 In a letter to Pope Gregory I, written ca 600, Columbanus enquired what was to be done regarding monks who, for the sake of God, and inflamed by the desire for a more perfect life, impugn their vows, leave the places of their first profession, and against their abbots’ will, impelled by monastic fervour, either relapse or flee to the deserts. Columbanus noted that ‘Vennianus the writer’, vexed with the same problem, had ‘questioned Gildas about them, and [Gildas] sent a most polished reply’.30 Scholars have generally identified this Vennianus with the author of the sixth-century Penitentialis Vinniani, discussed below. Gildas is here acknowledged to be an authority on monastic issues, such that others would seek his opinion.


26 27

28 29 30

The range given by Wood, ‘The end of Roman Britain’, 22–3. The orthodox date for the De Excidio has long been ca 540. Against it, O’Sullivan, The De Excidio, 48–76, argued that Gildas wrote the tract as a young man, ca 512–20, possibly while yet a deacon and before he became a monk. See Dumville, ‘Gildas and Maelgwn’, 51–9; Lapidge, ‘Gildas’s education’, 27–50. Chadwick, ‘Gildas’, 78–80. Gildas, De Excidio, LXV (ed. & tr. Winterbottom, 51–2, 118): ‘quorum vitam non solum laudo verum etiam cunctis mundi opibus praefero, cuiusque me, si fieri possit, ante mortis diem esse aliquamdiu participem opto et sitio’. Herren, ‘Gildas’, 71–6. Winterbottom, ‘Columbanus and Gildas’, 310–17. Columbanus, Epistulae, I.7 (ed. & tr. Walker, 8–9): ‘qui pro Dei intuitu et vitae perfectioris desiderio accensi, contra vota venientes primae conversionis loca relinquunt, et invitis abbatibus, fervore monachorum cogente, aut laxantur aut ad deserta fugiunt. Vennianus auctor Gildam de his interrogavit, et elegantissime ille rescripsit.’


Céli Dé in Ireland Fragmenta Gildae Remarkably, portions of what was apparently Gildas’s reply to Vennianus have survived. The Fragmenta Gildae, as they are known, are extant in a late ninthcentury manuscript, possibly from Tours, and in Collectio Canonum Hibernensis.31 Attributions to Gildas appear in each of these and are now widely thought to be genuine. The fourth fragment addresses the question raised by Vennianus, namely, what is to be done regarding monks who leave their monastery without their abbot’s permission in search of a stricter life: On monks who come from a worse to a better monastery Gildas says: Where an abbot has so far fallen away from the work of God that he deserves to be barred from the table of holy men and even to be loaded with the charge of fornication, not on suspicion, but as a clearly detected evil, you should welcome his monks with no scruple as ones taking refuge with you from hell fire, without any consultation with their abbot. But as for those whose abbot we do not, for any ill reputation, bar from the table of holy men, we ought not to take them in if he does not agree.32 By implication, ascetic laxity alone is insufficient reason for a monk to abandon his monastery. Only in the case of gross abbatial misconduct, deserving of excommunication, is a monk justified in deserting the place of his profession. The place of chastity in monastic life is also here affirmed. The fragment continues with some remarks on property, poverty, and pride: Still less should we welcome those who come from holy abbots under suspicion only because they possess animals and vehicles because it is the custom of their country or because of their weakness: these are things that do less harm to their owners, if they are possessed in humility and patience, than is done to those who drag ploughs and plunge spades in the ground in presumption and pride. But if any monk has a superabundance of worldly things, that should be put down as luxury and riches; but he will not be blamed for owning anything he is compelled to possess by need rather than choice, so as to avoid destitution.33 31



Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 279; the Hibernensis survives in multiple manuscripts (see Bradshaw apud Wasserschleben (ed.), Die irische Kanonensammlung, lxiii–lxxv). Sharpe examined the relationship between the Fragmenta and the Hibernensis in ‘Gildas’, 193–205. Gildas, Fragmenta, IV (ed. & tr. Winterbottom, 81, 144): ‘Gildas ait de monachis qui veniunt de loco viliore ad perfectiorem: Quorum abbas ita degeneravit ab opere dei ut mereatur ad mensam sanctorum non recipi, sed et fornicationis crimine, non suspectionis sed mali evidentis, onerari, suscipite sine ullo scrupulo monachos tales ad vos de flamma inferni confugientes, nequaquam eorum consulto abbate. Illos vero quorum abbatem de mensa sanctorum propter infamiam non arcemus, non debemus illo nolente suscipere.’ Ibid., IV (ed. & tr. Winterbottom, 81, 144): ‘Quanto magis venientes a sanctis abbatibus et nullo alio modo suspectis nisi quod habent pecora et vehicula vel pro consuetudine patriae vel sua infirmitate, quae minus laedunt habentes, si cum humilitate et patientia, quam aratra trahentes et suffossoria figentes terrae cum praesumptione et superbia.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé While poverty is commendable, Gildas warns against the pride that can arise from it. He speaks for moderation and tolerance; not every abbot abides by the same standards, but that is not grounds for condemnation and certainly not sufficient cause for monks to seek out a stricter monastery. The renunciation of property is pointless when it fosters the very emotions it was intended to abrogate. Moreover, we note that monks are expected to perform manual labour. The fifth fragment considers the other side of Vennianus’s question: Gildas says: An abbot of a stricter rule should not admit a monk from the monastery of a somewhat laxer abbot; and a laxer abbot should not hold a monk of his back if he is inclined to stricter ways. For priests and bishops have a terrible judge; it is his task, not ours, to judge them in both worlds.34 Here is the proper course of action for the monk who seeks a more perfect life: if dissatisfied with his monastery, rather than leaving it to find a more suitable place he ought to remain and, unhindered by his abbot, follow his own, stricter path. Such counsel, in effect, sanctions the existence of an ascetic elite within a monastic community. The converse, however, is not acceptable; there ought not to be any monk who is permitted a life more lax than the community standard. The last section appears to be another caution about pride, reminding us that ultimately it is not our place, but God’s, to judge the worthiness of one’s chosen path. The second and third fragments discuss the proper place of diet, fasting, vigils, and other ascetic practices in monastic life and reiterate the dangers of spiritual arrogance. Such activities should be accompanied by other virtues and not practised to excess, lest they corrupt where they were meant to refine. Without charity, abstinence from bodily foods avails nothing. Better to observe moderation with a clean heart than to abstain from meat or eschew travel by carriage or horse and thus think oneself superior to others. Fasting is of no profit, unless it is for the sake of other virtues. These who prefer ‘fasting to charity, vigils to justice, their own contrivances to concord, the cell to the church, severity to humility, and finally man to God’, who haughtily dismiss others who may be better than themselves, will in the end, says Gildas, face the burning anger of the Lord.35 If Gildas was not a monk at the time he wrote De Excidio Brittaniae, comments such as these in the Fragmenta Gildae leave little doubt that some time between writing the former and the latter Gildas realised his desire to become a monk.36 Taken together, the Fragmenta Gildae promote a moderate asceticism, practised with a view to virtues such as charity and humility. They recognise gradations




Quicquid autem monacho de rebus saecularibus superabundat, ad luxurias et divitias debet referri, et quod necessitate, non voluntate habere compellitur, ut non penuria cadat, non illi ad malum reputabitur.’ Ibid., V (ed. & tr. Winterbottom, 82, 144–5): ‘Gildas ait: Abbas districtioris regulae non admittat monachum alterius abbatis paulo remissioris: et qui remissior est, non retineat monachum suum ad districtiora tendentem. Habent quippe sacerdotes et episcopi terribilem iudicem, cui pertinent, non nobis, de illis in utroque saeculo iudicare.’ Ibid., II–III (ed. & tr. Winterbottom, 80–1, 143–4): ‘ieiunium caritati, vigilias iustitiae, propriam adinventionem concordiae, clausulam ecclesiae, severitatem humilitati, postremo hominem deo’. Herren, ‘Gildas’, 77–8.


Céli Dé in Ireland in observance from monastery to monastery, and while they justify the abbot who wishes to preserve the ascetic integrity of his community, they discourage extreme behaviour and soberly warn of pride and judging.37 While Richard Sharpe’s comment, ‘The surviving fragments form the most important source which we possess concerning monastic practice in the Celtic Churches in the sixth century’, overstates their significance,38 the Fragmenta Gildae are among the very earliest evidence for monasticism in Britain and they provide a remarkably good idea of what Gildas, a monastic authority highly respected among the Irish, thought about asceticism. Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia There is one more tract ascribed to Gildas to consider before moving on to Uinniau, Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia (‘Preface of Gildas on Penance’). Though there are strong reasons for rejecting the authorship of Gildas, the Praefatio has been dated to the sixth century and is almost certainly British.39 Among Irish religious it was a known and valued work, to judge by the extent to which the seventh-century Paenitentiale Cummeani relies upon it.40 Intended as a guide to the correction of monks and clerics, including clergymen who have taken the monastic vow, the Praefatio addresses a range of faults, with particular concern for sexual and dietary matters. The penance most often enjoined for wrongdoing is a special fast of a duration that varies according to the severity of the sin and whether the sinner is a junior or senior monk or a cleric in higher orders. The heaviest penance laid down by the Praefatio is for the deacon or presbyter under monastic vows who is guilty of fornication. His three-year penance entails a special weekly fast except between Easter and Pentecost, a strict diet with no meat, a bed with little hay to sleep upon, and during the three Lenten periods (the forty days before Easter, before Christmas, and after Pentecost) he was to add something further to his penance as much as his strength would permit. At all times he must deplore his wrongdoing from the depths of his heart, and above all he must demonstrate obedience most willingly. After a year and a half he may receive the eucharist and join his brethren in psalm-singing.41 Other passages require the penitent monk to recite a certain number of psalms, perform a standing vigil, do extra work, or simply go without supper.42 Activities such as fasting, dietary abstinence, vigils, and the imposition of bodily discomforts are important components of the ascetic vocation advocated in

37 38 39 40

41 42

Gildas, Fragmenta, VI–VII (ed. & tr. Winterbottom, 82, 145). Sharpe, ‘Gildas’, 197. Penitentialis Vinniani is at least as important. Herren, ‘Gildas’, 70–1; Bieler (ed. & tr.) The Irish Penitentials, 3; Sharpe, ‘Gildas’, 201; Lapidge & Sharpe, A Bibliography, 48. Cf. Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia, I–IV, IX, XII–XV, XIX–XXI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 60–3); Paenitentiale Cummeani, II.2–6, IX.1–10 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 112–15, 124–7). The Praefatio survives in two manuscripts, Cambrai, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 625 and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Latin 3182, which also contain other prescriptive texts of British and Irish origins. See Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 12–13; Kenney, The Sources, 239–40. Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia, I (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 60–1). Ibid., XIX–XXII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 62–3).


Irish asceticism before céli Dé Vita S. Antonii and in the writings of Jerome, Augustine, and Cassian.43 In the context of a prescriptive text such as Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia, however, these same acts of mortification take on disciplinary and expiatory significance. They are the means whereby the sinful monk is punished (plectatur) and may ‘wipe out [his] offence’ (deleat culpam).44 Modern scholars frequently regard such penitential activities as essentially ascetic in nature, with little or no recognition that they differed in function from the ascetic pursuits of St Anthony or St Martin of Tours. Yet the Desert Fathers and those religious in the Latin West who emulated them undertook fasts, vigils, and the like not for the expiation of specific sins or misdeeds but as part of their ascesis, their self-denial in the pursuit of virtuous qualities. In the early third century Tertullian used the Greek term exomologesis to designate a Christian public penitential discipline which entailed lying in sackcloth and ashes, dietary abstinence, fasting, prostration, prayer, groaning, weeping, and in general behaving as though one was in mourning.45 While exomologesis as Tertullian described it does not appear to have been widely observed in the Latin West where private confession was ultimately preferred, I find the term a useful designation for acts of mortification such as fasting that are performed as a fixed-term penance for specific sins rather than as part of an ongoing ascetic regimen. In this sense, early medieval penitential texts like Praefatio Gildae are more concerned with exomologesis than with ascesis. To what extent then can we use penitentials as evidence of ascetic practices? When penance is imposed as the consequence of transgressing a particular ascetic principle, it stands to reason that that principle was valued by the author of the penitential and observed by the community which adopted the penitential for its own use. As a case in point, according to the Praefatio a monk who vomits the host must perform four special fasts. If the misdeed is compounded by gluttony, that is, if ‘after loading his stomach’ (exundante ventre) a monk vomits the host and it is not on account of illness (et si non infirmitatis causa), then he shall ‘wipe out [his] offence’ (deleat culpam) with seven special fasts.46 In this example, the monk’s four special fasts may be regarded as a kind of exomologesis imposed as the consequence for desecrating the host. When seven special fasts are required, it is exomologesis imposed for the sin of desecration compounded by the sin of gluttony. The implication is clear: a monk ought to observe dietary restraint as part of his ascesis.47 The same may be said for the canons in the Praefatio which impose 43 44 45 46 47

Lorié, Spiritual Terminology, 76–8, 90–1. Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia, VII–VIII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 60–1). Tertullian, De Paenitentia, IX (ed. Munier, 180–2); cf. McNeill & Gamer, Medieval Handbooks, 8–9. Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia, VII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 60–1). Like the Fragmentae Gildae, the Praefatio recognises that the degree of ascetic observance will vary from house to house: XXII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 62–3): The monk who is defiled in his sleep, ‘si ceruisa et carne habundat cenubium, .iii. noctis horis stando uigilet, si sane uirtutis est. Si uero pauperem uictum habet, .xxviii. aut .xxx. psalmos canet stando suplex aut opere extraordinario pendat’, ‘if the monastic house is abundantly supplied with beer and flesh, shall make a standing vigil for three hours of the night if his health is strong. But if it has poor fare, standing as a supplicant he shall sing twenty-eight or thirty psalms or make satisfaction with extra work.’ Evidently, the


Céli Dé in Ireland special fasts or exomologesis for immoral acts: monks and clerics were required to be chaste.48 Regarded in this manner, medieval penitentials can yield evidence of ascetic expectations. Such texts must still be used cautiously: penitentials do not always indicate the ultimate end of these ascetic expectations, that is to say, why a monk ought to observe chastity or dietary abstinence or be obedient to his abbot.49 In Praefatio Gildae, the presumption seems to be that chastity, abstinence, and obedience are desirable ends in themselves. Even so, the text is valuable as it complements our understanding of the ascetic values transmitted to the Irish. Penitentialis Vinniani Penitentialis Vinniani (‘Penitential of Finnian’) may be read as further indication of the prominent role British churchmen played in the development of monasticism and asceticism in Ireland. The tract can be dated with some confidence to the sixth century, for Columbanus draws upon it extensively for his own penitential, probably composed soon after 591.50 The author, identified in the text as Uinniau,51 sets out his causa scribendi in an epilogue: These few things concerning the remedies of penance, my dearly beloved brethren, according to the pronouncement of Scripture and to

48 49 50 51

author of the Praefatio expected that some houses would be more restrictive in their diet than others. Ibid., I–V (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Pentitentials, 60–1). For a general discussion of the uses and limitations of penitentials as sources for medieval history, see Oakley, ‘The penitentials’, 210–23. Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 4. Uinniau and Finnian are respectively British and Irish hypocoristic forms of the name Findbarr. There are three prominent Irish saints known to us by this name, Finnian of Clonard (ob. 579), Finnian of Moville (ob. 549), and Findbarr of Cork, who lacks an obit. Later hagiographical tradition remembers St Finnian of Clonard as the disciple of Gildas and the teacher of many of Ireland’s saints, Ciarán of Clonmacnois and Columba of Iona among the most notable; see Kenney, The Sources, 376; Hughes, ‘The cult of St Finnian’, 27. Where Columba is concerned, the tradition may preserve a measure of truth, for Adomnán of Iona identifies the saint’s teacher alternatively as Bishop Findbarr / Uinniau / Finnio: Vita S. Columbae, I.1, II.1, III.4 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 12–13, 94–5, 186–7; see Sharpe (tr.), Adomnán, 317–18 n. 210). Scholarly debate continues on which St Finnian was the teacher of Columba and the Veniannus auctor mentioned by Columbanus and probable author of the Penitential. For a recent opinion, see Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 291–3, who has opted for Findbarr (Finnian) of Moville. However Ó Riain, ‘St. Finnbarr’, 63–82, has advanced reasons for regarding the patron saints of Clonard, Moville, and Cork as separate cult-manifestations of the same original figure. See Clancy, ‘The real St Ninian’, 25–8, for a similar perspective on St Ninian of Whithorn in Galloway. Dumville, ‘Gildas and Uinniau’, 213–14, has concluded that although no formal connection can be made between the auctor known to Gildas and Columbanus and author of the Penitential, the homonymous saints, and the teacher of Columba, the data surrounding them ‘may all combine to suggest that we are dealing with a single figure. He would most economically be seen as a British bishop who became associated with (and perhaps an important figure in) the mission in Ireland in the mid-sixth century.’ Following this view, I refer to him by the name given in the Penitential, Uinniau, and avoid exclusive identification with either St Finnian of Clonard or St Finnian of Moville.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé the opinion of some very learned men, I have tried to write down, compelled by love of you, beyond my ability and authority. There are still other authoritative decisions concerning either the remedies of the several kinds of those things that are to be cured, which now a concern for brevity, or the situation of the place, or the poverty of my talent does not permit me to set down. But if any diligent searcher of the divine reading should for himself find out more, or bring forth and write down better things, we, too, shall agree and follow him. Here ends the little work which Uinniaus adapted for the sons of his bowels, out of affection and in the interest of religion, overflowing with the waters of the Scriptures, in order that by all men all evil deeds might be destroyed.52 From this we may gather that the author was the head of a monastery and compiled his penitential for the benefit of his community. Judging from the various provisions of the tract, this community included monks, clerics, and married laymen who lived under church rule. Like the author of Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia, Uinniau prescribes several kinds of penances, but for a much larger catalogue of sins. His penitential addresses not only the churchman or layman who is guilty of fornication or other sexual sins,53 but also one who is covetous, wrathful, envious, a backbiter, dejected, or greedy.54 The remaining passages consider homicide, assault, perjury, theft, and other sundry offences. The penances assigned for these sins include special fasts and prayers, extended diets of bread, water, and salt, abstinence from wine and meat, and sexual abstinence (in the case of married laity).55 On the whole, the penances are more stringent than those advocated in Praefatio Gildae. The cleric guilty of fornication performs a three-year penance, the same as required in the Praefatio, but where the latter text allows the penitent a diet of dry bread, a dish with a little fat, vegetables, eggs, cheese and milk, with additional drink if he is a worker,56 for the same sin Uinniau mandates a year on bread and water only, followed by two years without wine and meat. If the penitent has long


53 54 55


Penitentialis Vinniani, epilogue (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 92–5): ‘Haec, amantissimi fratres, secundum sententiam scripturarum uel opinionem quorundam doctissimorum pauca de penitentiae remediis uestro amore conpulsus supra possibilitatem meam potestatemque temptaui scribere. Sunt preterea aliaque uel de remediis aut de uarietate curandorum testimonia, quae nunc breuitatis causa uel situs loci aut penuria ingenii non sinit nos ponere. Sed si qui diuine lectionis scrutator ipse magis inueniat aut si proferet meliora uel scripseret, et nos consentimus et sequeremur. Finit istud opusculum quod coaptauit Uinniaus suis uisceralibus filiis dilectionis gratia uel religionis obtentu de scripturarum uenis redundans, ut ab omnibus omnia deleantur hominibus facinora.’ Ibid., X–XXI, XXXV–XLVI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 76–81, 86–93). Ibid., XXVIII–XXIX (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 82–5). Corporal punishment (uirgis uirgeatur) is recommended only in the extreme case of the unrepentant cleric who ‘inuentus furerit et dispoliare ecclesias et monasteriis [sic]’, ‘is found to be despoiling churches and monasteries’: ibid., XXX–XXXI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 84–5). Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia, I (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 60–1).


Céli Dé in Ireland been in the habit of sin, this is compounded to three years on bread and water with loss of the clerical office, and no wine and meat for three years more.57 In his epilogue Uinniau regrets that he must leave out other ‘authoritative decisions’ (testimonia) also concerned with ‘either the remedies or the several kinds of those things that are to be cured’ (de remediis aut de uarietate curandorum).58 Such medical phrasing became common in medieval penitential texts, and while Uinniau’s work is among the very earliest penitentials, he was not the first to regard penance as medicine for the sick soul. The ‘authoritative decisions’ he omitted evidently expressed similar views. Furthermore, medical analogies also appear in the writings of the primitive church and in patristic texts. Particularly significant among the latter is John Cassian’s adaptation of the classical medical concept of curing contraries by their contraries.59 He explains in his Conlationes how the solitary monk can overcome his faults: When then anyone discovers by those signs which we described above, that he is attacked by outbreaks of impatience of anger, he should always practise himself in the opposite and contrary things, and by setting before himself all sorts of injuries and wrongs, as if offered to him by somebody else, accustom his mind to submit with perfect humility to everything that wickedness can bring upon him.60 Uinniau advocates precisely the same method of treatment in his penitential: But by contraries, as we said, let us make haste to cure contraries and to cleanse away these faults from our hearts and introduce heavenly virtues in their places: patience must arise for wrathfulness; kindliness or the love of God and of one’s neighbour, for envy; for detraction, restraint of heart and tongue; for dejection, spiritual joy; for greed, liberality.61 On the basis of this, it seems probable that Cassian was one of the unnamed ‘very learned men’ (doctissimi) whose opinions Uinniau consulted for his penitential. 57 58 59



Penitentialis Vinniani, X (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 76–7). Ibid., epilogue (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 94–5). This theory arose in the West at least as early as the first century B.C., and came to dominate medical practice by the end of the late classical period; see McNeill, ‘Medicine for sin’, 14–26. As summarised by Alexander of Tralles (525–605), the foremost medical authority of the period, ‘The duty of a physician is to cool what is hot, to warm what is cold, to dry what is moist, and to moisten what is dry’: ibid., 17. Cassian, Conlationes, XIX.14 (ed. Pichery, III.51, tr. Ramsey, 679–80): ‘Cum se igitur inpatientiae seu irae perturbationibus incursari illis quibus supra ostendimus indiciis unusquisque deprehenderit, contrariis semet ipsum obiectionibus semper exerceat, et propositis sibi multimodis iniuriarum dispendiorumque generibus uelut ab alio sibimet inrogatis adsuefaciat mentem suam omnibus quae inferre inprobitas potest perfecta humilitate subcumbere.’ Cf. Ibid., XIX.15 (ed. Pichery, III.53). Penitentialis Vinniani, XXIX (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, B84–5): ‘Sed e contrariis, ut diximus, festinemus curare contraria et mundemus ea de cordibus nostris et insinuamus uirtutes caelestes pro illis: patientia pro ira, mansuetudo et dilectio Dei et proximorum pro inuidia, pro detractione Continentia cordis et lingue, pro tristitia gaudium spirituale, pro cupiditate largitas nasci debet.’ Cf. Ibid., XXVIII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 82–3).


Irish asceticism before céli Dé These passages strongly suggest that, like Cassian, Uinniau and presumably the Irish who made use of Penitentialis Vinniani perceived penitential activities such as fasting and almsgiving as not only necessary for the punishment and expiation of sins62 – exomologesis – but also key to the purgation of the vices of the body and spirit and the cultivation of virtues in their place. This, of course, is the very aim of ascesis.63 Still, we must note that, like Praefatio Gildae and, for that matter, just about every other medieval penitential text, Penitentialis Vinniani does not articulate an ascetic theology. Penitentials are first and foremost concerned with the emendation of fault. As practical ‘handbooks of penance’ intended for the benefit of the laity as well as clergy and religious, there would have been little need for them to delve into more theoretical matters. The authors of these texts and the confessors who made use of them may very well have understood penance and ascesis in the context of an encompassing theology, in the manner of Cassian, but at the same time, in the absence of any positive evidence, we must allow the possibility that they regarded the defeat of vice as a desirable end in itself rather than as a means to something more. Amra Choluim Chille Our first hint of an Irish awareness of a greater ascetic objective arises from a work associated with Colum Cille or Columba, arguably the foremost Irish abbot of the sixth century. Most of what we know of the saint derives from a eulogistic praise-poem composed in his honour shortly after his death in 597 and more especially from his Life, written some one hundred years later by Adomnán, the ninth abbot of Iona (ob. 704). Both works offer some insight into the asceticism of Columba and his community at Iona. We will examine the Life with the seventhcentury evidence; the poem we will consider now. Amra Choluim Chille (‘Eulogy of Colum Cille’) is among the very earliest specimens we have of Old Irish verse.64 Although it survives in manuscripts no older than the eleventh century, on the basis of its linguistic evidence the text has been dated to the close of the sixth century.65 Within the body of the poem we learn that the work had been commissioned by ‘Great Aed’, who was almost assuredly Columba’s royal cousin, Aed mac Ainmirech, king of Cenél Conaill (ob. 598).66 Several of the manuscripts identify the author as the chief poet of Ireland, called

62 63


65 66

See Cassian, Conlationes, XX.8 (ed. Pichery, III.64–8). The monk’s immediate goal (skopos, Lat. destinatio), wrote Cassian, Conlationes, I.4 (ed. Pichery, I.81), is puritas cordis, ‘purity of heart’, by which is to be understood what Evagrius of Pontus, Practicus, prologue VIII (edd. Guillaumont & Guillaumont, II.492), referred to as apatheia (Lat. impassibilitas), ‘apathy’, a freedom from temptation achieved by the removal of all human passions, which is the necessary precondition for attaining the monk’s ultimate end (telos, Lat. finis), the kingdom of heaven. See Stewart, Cassian the Monk, 41–3; Chadwick, John Cassian, 84–5, 91–2; and Guillaumont & Guillaumont (edd.), Évagre le Pontique, I.98–112. Stokes offered an authoritative diplomatic edition of the Oxford, Bodleian, MS Rawlinson B.502 text and glosses: ‘The Bodleian Amra Choluimb Chille’, 31–55, 132–83, 248–89, 400–37. While a modern critical edition of the Amra is still needed, Clancy & Márkus provide an interim edition and translation in Iona, 96–128. On the manuscripts and date of the text, see Herbert, Iona, Kells, and Derry, 9–10. Amra Choluim Chille, VIII.1–2 (edd. & tr. Clancy & Márkus, 112).


Céli Dé in Ireland Dallán Forgaill (‘blind one of testimony’). We can be sure he was a Christian poet trained in the native genre of eulogistic poetry. His evident familiarity with Columba’s scholarly proclivities, monastic demeanour, missionary activities, and post-mortem graveside miracles suggests he enjoyed a more than passing acquaintance with people who knew the saint personally, if he did not himself.67 Scattered through the poem’s ten stanzas are several references to Columba’s ascetic disposition. Often these are coupled with remarks on his scholarly abilities and interests: His lifetime was short, scant portions filled him. He was learning’s pillar in every stronghold, he was foremost at the book of complex Law. The northern land shone, the western people blazed, he lit up the east with chaste clerics.68 The combination of austerity and learning recurs in the following passage which also contains the earliest explicit reference to John Cassian in an Old Irish text: ‘He fixed the Psalms, he declared the books of Law, those books Cassian loved. He won battles with gluttony. The books of Solomon, he followed them.’69 Gluttony is the vice Cassian placed at the head of his list of eight deadly sins.70 The line mentioning the books of Solomon also likely refers to Cassian. In his third Conlatio Cassian correlates the Old Testament books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, all traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, with the three renunciations of a monk, namely, (1) the wealth and resources of the world, (2) the vices and affections of soul and body, and (3) everything present and visible.71 In this context, to say that Columba ‘declared’ the books loved by Cassian and ‘followed’ the books of Solomon is to imply that the saint was familiar with Cassian’s threefold renunciations and sought to implement them in his own life.72 Regardless of whether or not this was true of Columba, this is a significant allusion to a passage in Cassian which expresses the ultimate objective of the ascetic. The renunciation of all things visible – that is, purity of heart – according to Cassian led 67 68

69 70 71


Ibid., 10–11, 97–100. Ibid., II.3–10 (edd. & tr. Clancy & Márkus, 106–7): ‘Boí saegul snéid, / boí séim sáth. / Boí sab suíthe cech dind, / boí dind oc libur léig-docht. / Lassais tír túath, / Lais túath occidens, / cot-ro-lass oriens / ó chlérchib crí-dochtaib.’ Ann Dooley has suggested to me that given the normal connotations of saegul and the vagueness of snéid to begin with, Boí saegul snéid might be better translated ‘His life was austere’. Ibid., V.4–8 (edd. & tr. Clancy & Márkus, 106–9): ‘Glinnsius salmu, / sluinnsius léig libru, / libuir ut car Cassion. / Catha gulae gaelais. / Libru Solman sexus.’ Cassian, Conlationes, V.2 (ed. Pichery, I.190). Ibid., III.6 (ed. Pichery I.146, tr. Ramsey, 124): ‘Nam Prouerbia primae abrenuntiationi conueniunt, quibus concupiscentia carnalium rerum ac terrena uitia resecantur, secundae abrenuntiationi Ecclesiastes, ubi uniuersa quae aguntur sub sole uanitas pronuntiantur, tertiae Canticum Canticorum, in quo mens uisibilia cuncta transcendens uerbo iam dei caelestium rerum contemplatione coniungitur’, ‘Corresponding to the first renunciation is Proverbs, in which the desire for the things of the flesh and for earthly sin are excoriated. Corresponding to the second renunciation is Ecclesiasticus, where the vanity of everything under the sun is proclaimed. And applicable to the third is the Song of Songs, in which the mind, rising beyond all things visible, contemplates all that is of heaven and is brought into union with the Word of God.’ Ó Néill, ‘The date and authorship’, 207–8.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé the ascetic to the contemplation of the divine. While we might wish for a more explicit statement in the Amra regarding this goal than we have here, it is our first indication from an unquestionably Irish source of an awareness of asceticism as more than just an end in itself. Certainly the renunciation of the flesh is a recurring theme in the Amra. In another passage describing the ascetic and scholarly Columba we read: By longing he is stretched, he sold his eye’s desire. A sound, austere sage of Christ [suí Críst]: no stain of drink nor stain of delicacy – he avoided the fill of his mouth. He was holy, he was chaste, he was charitable, a famous stone in victory.73 Here Dallán employs a vernacular title borrowed from the vocabulary of native learning. According to the testimony of the eighth-century legal tract Bretha Nemed Toísech, a suí, ‘sage’ or ‘seer’, was the highest grade of poet or fili.74 In the context of the Amra, we may understand Columba, suí Críst, to have combined the knowledge and foresight of the trained fili with the virtues of the monk; he was a learned ascetic.75 For the ascetic, concomitant with the renunciation of the flesh is the renunciation of worldly goods. This too, reports the poet, Columba has done: From among an idolatrous people, he abandoned possessions, for clerics, chariots. He fought a long and noble battle against flesh so that he will not go to the King’s son under God’s dual judgment in the second saying, the second verse [cf. Matt. 25: 31–41].76 Yet for all his austerities, Columba was not given to inappropriate excess. He remained orthodox, rejecting that which was not sanctioned by ‘the Lord’s Law’: He accepted neither indifference nor heresy. He would do no fast which was not the Lord’s law, that he might not die an eternal death. Living his name, living his soul, from the many he prepared under a holy rule. He averted his side’s softness. His body’s desire, he destroyed it. He destroyed his meanness.77 These last lines provide an immediate objective for Columba’s asceticism. The panegyrist could hardly have his saintly subject denying himself bodily appetites 73

74 75 76


Amra Choluim Chille, VI.8–14 (edd. & tr. Clancy & Márkus, 108–9, translating ceó as ‘stain’ or ‘fault’ rather than ‘fog’): ‘Ar [r]assaib rigthïer / rir accobur a súla. / Suí slán cress Crist: / ceó ní coirm, ceó ní sercoll – / sáith sechrais beóil. / Boí cath, boí cast, boí cartóit, cloth-ond oc búaid.’ On the specifically monastic connotation of sercoll, see Eska, ‘OIr. Sercoll’, 53–8. Breatnach (ed. & tr.), Uraicecht na Ríar, 22.31, 36.5. See Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 192–3. Amra Choluim Chille, VII.20–5 (edd. & tr. Clancy & Márkus, 110–13): ‘Tre thúaith n-ídlaig, / do-rumeoin rétu, / ar chredlu, cairptiu. / Cath sír soch fir fiched fri coluain / cona rega rígmac for déde Dé / i n-athguth, i n-athfers.’ Ibid., VII.7–14 (edd. & tr. Clancy & Márkus, 110–11, translating imbud as ‘many’ rather than ‘crowds’ and recht as ‘rule’ rather than ‘law’): ‘Ní foet na fuacht nad heris. / Ní óened ní na bu recht ríg, / nad etsa bás bith. / Béo a ainm, béo a anuaim, ar imbud fod-ruair fo recht noíb. / Fris-bert tinu a thoíb. / Toil a chuirp cuillsius. / Cuill a neóit.’


Céli Dé in Ireland and comforts as penance for sins – rather, the purpose of his austerity was the purgation of ‘desire’ (tol, specifically sexual desire) and ‘meanness’ (neóit), that is, a stingy or ungenerous character. Thus by means of asceticism Columba destroyed his vices. The outcome of his victory is evident in the fact that ‘the prophet [Columba] has settled at God’s right hand in Sion’.78 For those who would emulate the saint, the message is clear: the practice of asceticism can ultimately bring you to the presence of God. While this does not match the sophistication of Cassian’s ascetic thinking, it is beyond simple exomologesis. In the end it is important to remember that Dallán was commissioned to produce a work within a specific genre and was expected to meet certain conventions. As Máire Herbert observed, the poet both fulfils as well as subverts expectation. He does not eulogise a heroic warrior triumphant over his foes and resplendent in worldly glory, but rather a Christian saint who successfully battled the vices of the flesh and has now gone on to his celestial reward. In the final analysis, wrote Herbert, the Amra, like its counterparts in secular eulogy, presents a portrait of an ideal rather than of a well-defined individual. The work is more revealing of the commitment to Christian learning and to asceticism in the Irish Church at the close of the sixth century than it is informative about the details of Colum Cille’s career.79 Writings of Columbanus Straddling the turn of the sixth to the seventh century is the figure of Columbanus. He was a prolific author who left behind epistles, sermons, poems, a monastic rule, and a penitential – more than any other figure in Irish history before him, and for a long time after as well. Not since Patrick was there another whose works present so intimate an authorial portrait. As to the monastic vocation, his writings are rich in detail. Prior to Columbanus Irish monasticism has been glimpsed incidentally and piecemeal; here it appears more fully developed, underpinned by an ascetic theology articulated in greater detail than we have thus far seen in an Irish source. It should be noted that even though all his extant works appear to have been written after his arrival in Gaul around 590, with reasonable assurance we may still expect these texts to reflect the ascetic values Columbanus acquired in Ireland while he was a monk under the tutelage of St Comgall of Bangor.80 It seems unlikely that he would have radically altered his observance after his departure from Bangor at a mature stage in life. In his writings, particularly Regula Monachorum, Regula Coenobialis, and Paenitentiale,81 Columbanus mandates an assortment of practices for his monks 78 79 80


Ibid., I.7 (edd. & tr. Clancy & Márkus, 104–5): ‘in faith Dé de dess Sion suidiath’. Herbert, Iona, Kells, and Derry, 10–11. See Columbanus, Regula Monachorum, VII (ed. & tr. Walker, 128–9), in which he sets out the Divine Office in agreement cum senioribus nostris. Walker, xlvii, was probably correct to surmise that Columbanus looked to Bangor for his inspiration and summarised Comgall’s teaching in his own rule; see also Laporte, ‘Étude d’authenticité’, 1–8, who suggested that the first six chapters of the Regula are an abridgement of some work by Comgall. Only the first nine chapters of Regula Coenobialis appear to be the work of Columbanus


Irish asceticism before céli Dé both as part of an ascetic regimen and as exomologesis. Fasting is paramount. Regula Monachorum advises a daily fast concluded with an evening meal that consists of vegetables, beans, flour mixed with water, and some bread, ‘lest the stomach be burdened and the mind confused’.82 Of course the fast was not simply about an untroubled digestive tract and a clear head, it was also intended to foster spiritual progress: Use of life must be moderated just as toil must be moderated, since this is true discretion, that the possibility of spiritual progress may be kept with a temperance that punishes the flesh. For if temperance exceeds measure, it will be a vice and not a virtue; for virtue maintains and retains many goods. Therefore we must fast daily, just as we must feed daily; and while we must eat daily, we must gratify the body more poorly and sparingly; since we must eat daily for the reason that we must go forward daily, pray daily, toil daily, and daily read.83 Like Gildas whom he carefully studied,84 Columbanus urges moderation lest the virtue of temperance turn to the vice of pride. A fast is also the most frequently assigned penance in Paenitentiale Columbani. In some cases the penalty is remitted gradually. For example, the cleric or monk who lusts after a woman but is frustrated in his desires must subsist on bread and water for half a year; for a year thereafter he must refrain from wine and meat, as well as the eucharist.85 Chapter seven of Regula Monachorum sets out the cursus of psalms and prayers Columbanus required of his monks. It is our earliest extant description of the Divine Office from an Irish source. Comprising eight hour-services with three psalms sung at each of the daytime hours, twelve during the night hours, and from twenty-four to seventy-five psalms at matins, depending upon the day and season, it is a physically gruelling cursus.86 Reflecting on this, Jane Stevenson wrote, ‘The

82 83

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himself – the remaining six were probably added by his successors: see Walker (ed. & tr.), Sancti Columbani Opera, l–lii. Columbanus, Regula Monachorum, III (ed. & tr. Walker, 126–7): ‘ne venter oneretur et mens suffocetur’. Ibid.: ‘Ideo temperandus est vitae usus sicut temperandus est labor, quia haec est vera discretio, ut possibilitas spiritalis profectus cum abstinentia carnem macerante retentetur. Si enim modum abstinentia excesserit, vitium non virtus erit; virtus enim multa sustinet bona et continet. Ergo cottidie ieiunandum est, sicut cottidie reficiendum; et dum cottidie edendum est, vilius et parcius corpori indulgendum est; quia ideo cottidie edendum est quia cottidie proficiendum est, cottidie orandum est, cottidie laborandum, cottidieque est legendum.’ Winterbottom, ‘Columbanus and Gildas’, 310–17. Columbanus, Paenitentiale, B XI (ed. & tr. Walker, 174–5). For a detailed discussion of the composite nature of the Paenitentiale and its relation to Regula Coenobialis and Paenitentialis Uinniani, see Charles-Edwards, ‘The Penitential’, 217–39. Columbanus, Regula Monachorum, VII (ed. Walker, 128–33). The rule names three night offices, but does not specify the number of day offices. The Antiphonary of Bangor, composed about a hundred years after Columbanus’s departure, lists eight hours for the Bangor office. Although they disagree in other respects, Stevenson, ‘The monastic rules’, 209, and Curran, The Antiphonary of Bangor, 160–1, concur that there were also eight hours in the Columbanian office; cf. Walker (ed. & tr.), Sancti Columbani Opera, 131 n. 5, who counts only six. Columbanian psalmody appears to


Céli Dé in Ireland prospect of singing psalms continuously for (at a guess) about two and a half hours in the small hours of a winter’s night, with barely enough time to recover before starting again, is one which only the most fervently religious could bear to contemplate.’87 It is not difficult to see the appeal such a regimen would have had to the ascetic-minded Columbanus. Borrowing from Jerome, he wrote in the last chapter of his Regula Monachorum: ‘Let [the monk] come weary to his bed and sleep walking, and let him be forced to rise while his sleep is not yet finished.’88 Vigils were an important part of a monk’s mortification. He can no more be ruled by the desire for sleep than he can by any other bodily appetite – the ascetic must master them all. Yet there is much more to vigils than the deprivation of physical rest. Here as in other matters Columbanus is more concerned about one’s inner disposition than he is about outward performance: However, as I have said, the true tradition of praying is that the capacity of the man devoted to this work should be realized without wearying of his vow . . . And thus although the length of standing or singing may be various, yet the identity of prayer in the heart and mental concentration that is unceasing with God’s help will be of a single excellence.89 Chastity is expected as a matter of course in Columbanus’s prescriptive writings. The Paenitentiale allows that some clergy may have been married formerly, but after a vow of consecration these too are required to abstain from sexual relations: But if any cleric or deacon, or a man in any orders, who in the world was a layman with sons and daughters, after his profession has again known his wife, and again begotten a son of her, let him know that he has committed adultery, and has sinned no less than if he had been a cleric from his youth, and had sinned with a strange maiden, since he sinned after his vow, after he consecrated himself to the Lord, and has made his vow void. Therefore let him likewise do penance seven years on bread and water.90

87 88 89


have been modelled upon Egyptian practice, or at least as Columbanus understood it from his reading of Cassian; see Stevenson, ‘The monastic rules’, 212. Stevenson, ‘The monastic rules’, 210. Columbanus, Regula Monachorum, X (ed. & tr. Walker, 140–1): ‘Lassus ad stratum veniat ambulansque dormitet, necdum expleto somno surgere compellatur.’ Ibid., VII (ed. & tr. Walker, 132–3): ‘Ceterum vera, ut dixi, orandi traditio, ut possibilitas ad hoc destinati sine fastidio voti praevaleat . . . Et ideo licet longitudo standi aut cantandi sit varia, unius tamen perfectionis erit aequalitas orandi in corde ac mentis cum deo iugis intentio.’ Idem, Paenitentiale, B VIII (ed. & tr. Walker, 174–5): ‘Si quis autem clericus aut diaconus vel alicuius gradus, qui laicus fuit in saeculo cum filiis et filiabus, post conversionem suam iterum suam cognoverit clientelam et filium iterum de ea genuerit, sciat se adulterium perpetrasse et non minus peccasse quam si ab iuventute sua clericus fuisset et cum puella aliena peccasset, quia post votum suum peccavit, postquam se domino consecravit, et votum suum irritum fecit. Idcirco similiter vii annis in pane et aqua paeniteat.’


Irish asceticism before céli Dé Columbanus observes that a monk’s chastity is judged by his thoughts as well as his deeds. ‘And what profit is it’, the abbot enquires, ‘if he be virgin in body, if he be not virgin in mind?’91 Poverty is also requisite. In what is the clearest statement yet from an Irish source on monastic poverty, Columbanus warns of greed and likens it to putrefying disease: By monks, to whom for Christ’s sake the world is crucified and they to the world, greed must be avoided, when indeed it is reprehensible for them not only to have superfluities, but even to want them. In their case not property but will is required; and they, leaving all things and daily following the Lord Christ with the cross of fear, have treasures in heaven. Therefore, while they will have much in heaven, on earth they should be satisfied with the small possessions of utter need, knowing that greed is a leprosy for monks who copy the sons of the prophets, and for the disciple of Christ it is revolt and ruin, for the uncertain followers of the apostles also it is death.92 It is worth noting that Columbanus does not seem to have expected the complete renunciation of all goods, for the monks are permitted ‘small possessions of utter need’. They must take care, however, not to call anything their own or else suffer six blows in correction.93 Furthermore, poverty is not regarded as an end unto itself but rather the first step of monastic perfection. The Regula Monachorum continues: Thus then nakedness and disdain of riches are the first perfection of monks, but the second is the purging of vices, the third the most perfect and perpetual love of God and unceasing affection for things divine, which follows on the forgetfulness of earthly things.94 Here Columbanus demonstrates familiarity with Cassian’s teaching of the threefold renunciations of the monk. Returning to Cassian’s third Conlatio we read: Now something must be said about the renunciations which the traditions of the fathers and the authority of Holy Scripture show to be three 91 92

93 94

Idem, Regula Monachorum, VI (ed. & tr. Walker, 128–9): ‘Et quid prodest si virgo corpore sit, si non sit virgo mente?’ Ibid., IV (ed. & tr. Walker, 126–7): ‘Monachis, quibus pro Christo mundus crucifixus est et ipsi mundo [Gal. 6:14], cupiditas cavenda est, nimirum dum non solum superflua eos habere damnabile est, sed etiam velle. Quorum non census sed voluntas quaeritur; qui relinquentes omnia et Christum dominum cum timoris cruce cottidiani sequentes in caelis habent thesauros [Matt. 19:21]. Idcirco dum in caelis multum sunt habituri parvo extremae necessitatis censu in terris debent esse contenti, scientes lepram esse cupiditatem monachis imitatoribus filiorum prophetarum ac discipulo Christi proditionem atque perditionem, apostolorum quoque dubiis sectatoribus mortem.’ Ibid., II (ed. & tr. Walker, 146–7). Ibid., IV (ed. & tr. Walker, 126–7): ‘Ideo ergo nuditas et facultatum contemptus prima perfectio est monachorum, secunda vero purgatio vitiorum, tertia perfectissima dei continuata dilectio ac divinorum iugis amor, qui terrenorum succedit oblivioni.’ The phrase nuditas et contemptus omnium facultatem occurs with puritas cordis in Cassian, Institutiones, IV.43 (ed. Guy, 184).


Céli Dé in Ireland and which each one of us ought to pursue with all our zeal. The first is that by which in bodily fashion we despise all the wealth and resources of the world. The second is that by which we reject the erstwhile behaviour, vices, and affectations of soul and body. The third is that by which we call our mind away from everything that is present and visible and contemplate only what is to come and desire those things that are invisible.95 This passage may be taken as a fair summation of Cassian’s ascetic theology. The rejection of all things worldly, including the vices and frailties of the flesh, frees the monk to contemplate the divine. Only in this manner can he achieve what Cassian wrote elsewhere is the immediate objective of the monk’s profession, puritas cordis, by which he may obtain the kingdom of heaven.96 To this end, purity of heart, the monk directs all his activities: For its sake solitude is to be pursued; for its sake we know that we must undertake fasts, vigils, labours, bodily deprivation, reading, and other virtuous things, so that by them we may be able to acquire and keep a heart untouched by any harmful passion, and so that by taking these steps we may be able to ascend to the perfection of love . . .97 Columbanus gives every indication of having embraced Cassian’s ascetic theology. Asceticism, the Irish abbot understood, must have an internal focus. Prayer requires unceasing mental concentration. Bodily chastity avails nothing without chastity of mind. Poverty must be followed by the eradication of greed. In Regula Monachorum he declares mortification to be ‘the chief part of the monk’s rule’ (maxima pars regulae monachorum). But it is a mortification aimed at the inward vice of pride: Thus there is a threefold scheme of mortification: not to disagree in mind, not to speak as one pleases with the tongue, not to go anywhere with complete freedom. Its part is ever to say to a senior, however adverse his instructions, ‘Not as I will but as thou wilt’, following the example of the Lord and Saviour, who says, ‘I came down from


96 97

Cassian, Conlationes, III.6 (ed. Pichery, I.145, tr. Ramsey, 123): ‘Nunc de abrenuntiationibus disserendum est, quas tres esse patrum traditio et scripturarum sanctarum demonstrat auctoritas, quasque unumquemque nostrum omni studio oportet inplere. Prima est qua corporaliter universas divitias mundi facultatesque contemnimus, secunda qua mores ac vitia affectusque pristinos animi carnisque respuimus, tertia qua mentem nostram de praesentibus universis ac visibilibus evocantes futura tantummodo contemplamur et ea quae sunt invisibilia concupiscimus.’ The Cassianic motif of the three renunciations circulated separately with minor variations; see Wright, The Irish Tradition, 75 n. 128. Cassian, Conlationes, I.4 (ed. Pichery, I.81). Ibid., I.7 (ed. Pichery, I.84, tr. Ramsey, 45): Pro hac solitudo sectanda est, pro hac ieiunia, vigilias, labores, corporis nuditatem, lectionem ceterasque virtutes debere nos suscipere noverimus, ut scilicet per illas ab universis passionibus noxiis inlaesum parare cor nostrum et conservare possimus et ad perfectionem caritatis istis gradibus innitendo conscendere . . .’


Irish asceticism before céli Dé heaven, not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me, the Father’.98 Unbearable to the proud and hard-hearted, and a comfort to those who take pleasure only in what is lowly and mild, mortification is ultimately about humility.99 The disdain of worldly possessions, the purgation of vice, the ‘forgetfulness of earthly things’ – the equivalent of Cassian’s puritas cordis and Evagrius’s apatheia – will lead the monk to the ‘most perfect and perpetual love of God’, caritas dei, or agap« in Evagrian terms, and the ‘unceasing affection for things divine’.100 Columbanus continues, ‘We require purity of feeling by the grace of God, that we may understand spiritually what are those few gifts of love which are offered to Martha by the Lord.’101 Here he picks up an interpretation of the biblical story of Martha and Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:38–42) first employed by Origen and reiterated by Cassian in his first and twenty-third Conlationes as an allegory of the active versus the contemplative way of life.102 While Columbanus does not delve deeper than this into Cassian’s theology, he clearly recognises that contemplation is the fruit of ascetic purity, which itself is ultimately attainable only through God’s grace, even after all that one can do. George Walker observed that Columbanus was not a creative thinker but rather took all his leading ideas from other writers.103 Certainly this was the case with his ascetic views, which are so heavily reliant upon Cassian. To a lesser degree, Columbanus also drew from Uinniau and Jerome – the concluding chapter of his Regula Monachorum, titled De Perfectione Monachi (‘Of the Monk’s Perfection’), is taken almost verbatim from Jerome’s epistle to Rusticus, a young monk of Toulouse, written in 411.104 But it is to Cassian’s Conlationes more than any other work that we may turn for the source of Columbanus’s ascetic inspiration. To the extent that Columbanus’s view was typical of Irish monks in the sixth century, they undertook fasts, abstinence, chastity, poverty, vigils, physical labour, penance, and other ascetic practices because they understood them to be essential to the conquest of their vices and to the cultivation of the qualities which could gain them heaven. 98

99 100 101


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Columbanus, Regula Monachorum, IX (ed. & tr. Walker, 140–1): ‘Mortificationis igitur triplex est ratio: non animo discordare, non lingua libita loqui, non ire quoquam absolute. Suum est semper dicere seni quamvis contraria iubenti, Non sicut ego volo, se sicut tu vis [Matt. 26:39], iuxta exemplum domini salvatoris qui ait, Descendi de caelo, non ut faciam voluntatem meam, sed voluntatem eius qui me misit patris [John 6:38].’ In Instructio X.2–3 (ed. & tr. Walker, 102–5), Columbanus discusses voluntatum mortificatio in the context of martyrdom. Ibid., IV (ed. & tr. Walker, 126–7). See Chadwick, John Cassian, 91–3; Stewart, Cassian the Monk, 41–5. Columbanus, Regula Monachorum, IV (ed. & tr. Walker, 126–7): ‘Puritate autem sensus indigemus per gratiam Dei, ut intellegamus spiritaliter, quae sunt illa pauca caritatis, quae Marthae a domino suggerentur’, that is, what Mary already attained is held out or suggested to Martha. Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus listening to his word, was seen as the type of the contemplative life, while Martha, busy with serving, was the figure of the active life. Stewart, Cassian the Monk, 49, 51–3. Walker (ed. & tr.), Sancti Columbani Opera, lxx. Jerome, Epistulae, CXXV.15 (ed. Migne, PL XXII, cols 1080–1).


Céli Dé in Ireland

Seventh-century evidence Our picture of Irish monasticism and indeed of nearly all aspects of early Irish history expands considerably with the seventh century. This is so for the simple reason that more Hiberno-Latin and Old Irish texts survive from this period than from the previous two centuries. New penitentials appeared, the earliest extant Irish saints’ Lives were composed, liturgical and devotional texts were produced in increasing numbers, and secular law tracts were written. While not all seventh-century works in these genres provide insight into Irish asceticism, there are enough which do to demonstrate that asceticism remained a fundamental aspect of Irish religious life through the seventh century.105


Because of uncertainties of date and their slight relevance to our investigation, I limit discussion of the so-called ‘First Synod of Patrick’ and ‘Second Synod of Patrick’ to this lengthy footnote. Few, if any, scholars today would consider the ‘First Synod’ a genuine fifth-century document produced by Patrick and his fellow bishops in Ireland. Most are inclined to place it in the sixth or possibly the seven century. See Dumville, Councils and Synods, 3–17, 22, for recent comments and a new edition of the text. Addressed to Presbiteris et diaconibus et omni clero, the ‘First Synod’ largely concerns itself with regulating the affairs of the clergy. Among other things it recognises that clerics in orders as high as a priest may be married (VI, ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 54–5); this fact alone could be indicative of a date in the sixth century. Monks and nuns or virgins are mentioned in only three places, two of which implicitly and explicitly reconfirm the monastic commitment to chastity (IX, XVII, ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 54–7). The third recalls Gildas’s concern with monks who flee the monastery (XXXIV, ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 58–9). Two other passages directed at clerics refer to the Divine Office and communal prayer, and suggest that some clergy may have lived in a communal fashion (VII, XXVIII, ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 54–5, 58–9). The canons of the alleged ‘Second Synod’ we can date with more assurance to the seventh century; see Dumville, Councils and Synods, 22. Like the ‘First Synod’, the ‘Second Synod’ was an exemplar to Collectio Canonum Hibernensis. But while the canons of the ‘First Synod’ quoted in the Hibernensis are all attributed to Patricius, those from the ‘Second Synod’ are identified as the decrees of a sinodus Romana, or Romanorum, or of the Romani, whom Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 10, explained were the ‘Roman party in seventh-century Ireland’. The ‘Second Synod’ legislates for clerics, monks, and laity, and only a few of its thirty-one canons relate to asceticism. The canon titled De abstinentia insolubile a cibis (XIV, ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 188–91) expresses the same need for ascetic moderation voiced by Gildas and Uinniau. Another, De retenendis vel dimittendis monachis (XXI, ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 192–3), recommends that every monk ought to remain in the church where he was instructed, ‘nisi causa maioris profectus ad alterius ferre permissu abbatis cogat’, ‘unless the cause of greater success requires that he should bear [fruit] at another’s [church] with the permission of his abbot’. The problem of monks leaving their monasteries without permission may be evidence for continued variety in the levels of strictness at Irish monasteries. The canon De proposito monachorum (XVII, ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 190–1) is the most pertinent to the present study: ‘Monachi sunt qui solitariae sine terrenis opibus habitant sub potestate episcopi vel abbatis . . . Quae vero vita vivitur? Situs locorum coartat, sed superhabundantia in omnibus dividitur in vita, quia in frigore et nuditate et fame et siti, in vigiliis in ieiuniis [2 Cor. 11:27] vocati sunt’,


Irish asceticism before céli Dé Vita S. Columbani We begin our look at the seventh-century evidence with Vita S. Columbani by Jonas of Bobbio. Although it is not normally considered among works of Irish hagiography – Jonas was from northern Italy – it is nonetheless the oldest surviving Life of an Irish saint and a valuable historical source for the period in which it was written. Jonas entered the monastery of Bobbio in 618, three years after the death of its founder, Columbanus. He served as secretary to the second and third abbots of Bobbio, Athala (615–ca 626) and Bertulf (ca 626–40), and at the request of the latter wrote the Life of the saintly founder and shorter accounts of Athala and Eustasius, abbot of Luxeuil. Completing his work between 639 and 643, Jonas clearly benefited from the first-hand testimony of many who knew Columbanus personally and he also appears to have relied upon the saint’s own writings. There are some significant limitations, however, to using the Life as evidence of ascetic understanding and practice among Irish religious. Jonas wrote at a time when monastic life at Columbanian monasteries in Burgundy and northern Italy had been transformed into a vocation that has been described as irofränkisch.106 We cannot be confident that the picture of Columbanus that Jonas presents is representative of ascetic practice among contemporary Irish religious. Yet it is not without value to us, for it can tell us how Jonas wanted the Irish abbot to be perceived by a monastic readership of mixed nationalities. It is a statement of the Irish ascetic reputation in seventh-century Burgundy and northern Italy. It can be determined from his own writings that Columbanus departed Ireland for Brittany and then Gaul about the year 591.107 While he remained largely silent about what prompted him to leave the land of his birth, his hagiographer supplies an appropriately pious motivation. As a youth, Jonas tells us, Columbanus came to the cell of a devout holy woman (religiosa ac Deo dictata femina) who related to him how she had left her home years earlier and sought out her own place of pilgrimage (peregrinationis locum). Had the weakness of her sex not prevented her, she would have crossed the sea and sought a greater pilgrimage (potioris peregrinationis locum). Inspired by her words, Columbanus left behind his own home and family, sought out a monastic teacher, and subsequently entered the monastery of Bangor. Yet the holy woman’s wish for a ‘greater pilgrimage’ evidently impressed him with a desire for one of his own, as Jonas tells the story, for after fifteen years at Bangor, Columbanus ‘began to desire a pilgrimage’ (coepit peregrinationem desidere), to leave his country for a foreign land. After receiving the reluctant blessing of his abbot Comgall, the saint departed for Gaul

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‘Monks are those who dwell in solitude without worldly resources, under the power of a bishop or an abbot . . . What sort of life do they live? The site of their place is narrow, but excess is to be avoided in all things of life, for they are called “in cold and nakedness, in hunger and thirsts, in vigils and fasts”.’ Monks dwell solitariae, that is, ‘in solitary fashion’. But as they remain under the authority of a bishop or abbot, these were not solitaries in the strict sense but rather anchorites or cenobitical monks who as a community live apart from the rest of society. The point is their lack of worldly means. Their profession is an ascetic one, marked by austerity and privation and confirmed with a vow, all in fulfilment of scriptural injunction. No attempt is made in either the ‘First Synod’ or the ‘Second Synod’ to provide an ascetic theology. Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 345. Walker (ed. & tr.), Sancti Columbani Opera, x–xi.


Céli Dé in Ireland with twelve companions.108 Jonas provides us with one of the very earliest written descriptions of ascetic peregrinatio, a long-term or even lifelong voluntary pilgrimage from one’s native land. Although the concept was not original to Ireland,109 peregrinatio was an esteemed practice among Irish religious in the late sixth and subsequent centuries.110 It is interesting to compare the account of Columbanus’s departure from Bangor with the letter Columbanus wrote to Gregory the Great seeking guidance regarding monks who left the places of their first profession in search of a more perfect life. On the surface, the ascetic impulse in the Vita and in the letter appears the same – Columbanus just got permission from his abbot before leaving. Yet upon closer examination, a subtle difference emerges. The monks Columbanus mentioned in his letter to the pope were compelled by a ‘monastic zeal’ (fervore monachorum) such that they either relapsed in their profession or they fled to the desert.111 In his letter Columbanus, as did Gildas and Uinniau before him, seems to regard such individuals as inappropriately excessive. Jonas’s Columbanus, on the other hand, is said to have been moved by biblical precedent to leave his native land for a strange country, in obedience to the command which the Lord gave to Abraham: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred and from thy father’s house, into a land that I will shew thee’ (Gen. 12:1).112 It is worth noting that when speaking of the monk’s vocation and ascetic renunciation Cassian cited the very same passage about Abraham along with the complementary New Testament teaching, ‘Whoever hateth not father and mother and children and wife and lands, yea and his own soul also, cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:26), that inspired St Anthony to leave his home and head out into the Egyptian desert.113 Considered in this context, Columbanus’s departure from Bangor was a praiseworthy act of renunciation in which he forsook his homeland in response to scriptural injunction. Jonas accords the Irish peregrinus and, by extension, Irish monasticism the same spirit of 108 109


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Jonas, Vita S. Columbani, III–IV (ed. Krusch, Ionae Uitae, 156–60). Some two centuries before Columbanus, Sidonius Apollinarius in a letter to Faustus of Riez (Epistulae IX.3.3–4, ed. Loyen, III.135–6) used peregrinus and peregrinor in reference to both his exile from the Auvergne and his renunciation of sin and the world; Evagrius of Pontus (Tractatus ad Eulogium monachum, II.2, ed. Migne, PG LXXIX, cols 1096) discussed voluntary exile in the desert away from one’s homeland, family and possessions. See Angenendt, Monachi Peregrini, 151–2. Kenney, The Sources, 487–8. See also Hughes, ‘The changing theory’, 143–51, and Charles-Edwards, ‘The social background’, 43–59. Persons undergoing penitential exile, such as required in Penitentialis Vinniani, XXIII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 80), which instructs the cleric guilty of murder ‘to become an exile from his country’ (exterrem fieri de patria sua) for ten years, are often spoken of as peregrini as well; cf. Paenitentiale Columbani, BII (ed. & tr. Walker, 172–3), and Paenitentiale Cummeani, II.7 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 114–15). When undertaken as penance for an act of sin peregrinatio can be regarded as exomologesis, distinguishable from the ascetic peregrinatio Columbanus underwent. Columbanus, Epistulae, I.7 (ed. & tr. Walker, 8–9). Jonas, Vita S. Columbani, IV (ed. Krusch, Ionae Uitae, 159): ‘Peractis itaque annorum multorum in monasterio circulis, coepit peregrinationem deisderare memor illius Domini imperii ad Abraham: Exi de terra tua et de cognatione tua et de domo patris tui et vade in terram, quam monstrabo tibi [Gen. 12:1].’ Cassian, Conlationes III.4, 6 (ed. Pichery, I.142, 145).


Irish asceticism before céli Dé asceticism and obedience that characterised the patriarch Abraham and the Desert Fathers. In a valuable introduction to his French translation of Vita S. Columbani, Adalbert de Vogüé observed that while the monasticism lived and preached by Columbanus was ‘purement cénobitique’, it touched both the desert and the world, the solitary life and the pastoral.114 When festivals and various saints’ days drew near, so Jonas informs us, Columbanus was accustomed to withdraw from his cell and head out into the wilderness alone, residing in a cave some miles distant from the monastery. There, preserved in the isolation of the desert and free from disquieting cares, he could give himself more fully to prayers and the religious life, his food so attenuated that he scarcely seemed alive.115 Jonas portrays Columbanus as a sometime anchorite, who, removed but not totally cut off from the monastic community, enjoyed the benefits of solitary life without the extreme isolation of the hermit. There is, of course, an obvious precedent for a religious career that encompassed both the communal and the solitary life found in Vita S. Martini by Sulpicius Severus, and there can be little question that Jonas intended his readership to associate the Irish abbot with the ideal represented by St Martin. Whether or not Jonas accurately reports Columbanus’s ascetic proclivities matters little – he has preserved for us a seventh-century image of Irish asceticism, an image that he doubtless intended to inspire his fellow religious in Columbanian houses. Vita Prima S. Fursei It is appropriate to consider here the Life of another famous Irish peregrinus, the anonymous Vita Prima S. Fursei. St Fursa is best known for the several remarkable visions he experienced after taking up religious life in Ireland. Leaving his native land late in his career, he founded monasteries in East Anglia and Gaul where he died in 649. He was buried and translated at Péronne where the earliest Life of the saint evidently was composed not long after his death.116 The Vita provides very little information on Fursa’s career in Ireland, but its account of the saint and his brothers in East Anglia and Gaul is valuable for its perspective on Irish monasticism abroad.117 Ascetic renunciation figures prominently in this view. As a young man, Fursa, we are told, left his home and parents to obtain a religious education and thereafter built himself a monastery.118 He did not become a recluse, at least not yet, for his last ten years in Ireland were taken up with a preaching ministry. In the face of opposition to his message, however, he departed 114 115

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de Vogüé (ed.), Jonas, 51. Jonas of Bobbio, Vita S. Columbani, IX (ed. Krusch, Ionae Uitae, 167): ‘heremi secreta tutabatur, ut solida mentae et absque curarum inquietudine solius orationis vacaret et religioni omni conatu intenderet, erat cibis ita adtenuatus, ut vix vivere crederes’; cf. XII (ed. Krusch, Ionae Uitae, 172). Likely for the occasion of the saint’s translation four years after his death. See Krusch (ed.), Passiones uitaeque, IV.425; Sharpe, Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives, 394. Bede seems to have relied upon the Vita Prima for his own account of Fursa in Historia Ecclesiastica, III.19 (edd. Colgrave & Mynors, 268–76), but he also includes some details not found in the anonymous Life. He describes the saint as an Irish peregrinus who, cupiens pro Domino . . . peregrinam ducere vitam, came to East Anglia to preach the gospel for a time and then resolved to end his life in anchoretica conversatione. Vita Prima S. Fursei, II (ed. Heist, 38).


Céli Dé in Ireland Ireland with a few companions and, seeking a foreign shore (peregrina litora petens), made his way across Britain to Saxon lands.119 After establishing the monastery of Cnoberesburgh in East Anglia, Fursa ‘desired to free himself from all worldly concerns, even those of the monastery itself’ (ab omni seculi atque ipsius monasterii cura alienare se cupiens), and left the care of the monastery to his brother Foillán. He had another brother, Ultán, an anchorite, who after a lengthy probation in a monastery had been chosen for the solitary life many years previously by him [sc. Fursa]. Leaving behind all cares and belongings, [Fursa] proceeded unencumbered and alone to his brother Ultán, who already maintained himself in the contemplative life. There, he remained an entire year, devoting himself to daily labour and continual prayers.120 The anchoritical vocation is here presented as the epitome of ascetic renunciation. Having abandoned all, his home, parents, native land, ecclesiastical cares, and companions, nudus and solus, Fursa joins his brother Ultán, one of the earliest Irish anacoritae known to us.121 The hagiographer’s account of Ultán, who became an anchorite only after a long probation in a monastery, accords with the Egyptian monastic custom of taking up an anchoritical vocation only after one has proven oneself in a cenobium, as conveyed to the Latin West by Cassian. Ultán’s pursuit of the contemplative life (theorica vita) is worth comparing with Cassian’s comments in the Conlationes on the two types of spiritual knowledge: The first kind is praktik«, that is actual, which reaches its fulfilment in the emendation of behavior and in the purgation of vices. The other is theãr«tik«, which consists in the contemplation of divine things and in the understanding of most sacred meanings.122 As Cassian explains, practical knowledge, without which one cannot attain theoretical knowledge, is twofold: it entails first, knowing the nature of the vices and the means by which they are remedied, and second, discerning the virtues and forming one’s mind accordingly.123 This is, of course, the very intent of asceti-

119 120

121 122


Ibid., XXVI (ed. Heist, 48–9). Ibid., XXVIII (ed. Heist, 49): ‘Ultanum anacoritam, diuturna monasterii probatione ad heremitalem vitam multis iam annis ab eodem electum. Derelictis itaque omnibus curis et rebus, nudus ad fratrem suum Ultanum, qui iam theorica pascebatur vita, solus profectus est. Qui labori cotidiano et orationibus continuis deserviens, annum integrum ibidem permansit.’ Cf. AU 610.2, which records the death of Aedán, ancorita Bennchoir (Bangor). Cassian, Conlationes, XIV.1 (ed. Pichery, II.184, tr. Ramsey, 505): ‘Prima praktikŠ, id est actualis, quae emendatione morum et uitiorum purgatione perficitur: altera jewrhtikŠ, quae in contemplatione diuinarum rerum et sacratissimorum sensuum cognitione consistit.’ Cassian derived his distinction of the practical and contemplative lives from Origen and Evagrius; see Stewart, Cassian the Monk, 50–1. For a discussion of the use and frequency of the terms vita actualis/activa and vita theor(et)ica/ contemplativa in patristic and medieval sources, see Wright, ‘Bischoff’s theory’, 161–5. Cassian, Conlationes, XIV.2–3 (ed. Pichery, II.184–5).


Irish asceticism before céli Dé cism. For Cassian, the pursuit of these two types of knowledge is the object of the cenobitical and anchoritical vocations: The solitary life is greater and more sublime than that of the cenobia, and the contemplation of God – upon which those inestimable men were ever intent – than the active life that is led in those communities.124 Cassian does not strictly assign the actual or practical life to cenobites and the contemplative or theoretical life to anchorites – both types of monks could engage in both pursuits – but it is clear that he deems the higher calling of the contemplative life appropriate for an anchorite who had already experienced the active life in a cenobium.125 From all this it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the author of Vita Prima S. Fursei was familiar with Cassian’s ascetic views and likewise regarded the ascetic activities which characterise the active life as the means to a greater end. Written by an unknown author on the Continent, in all likelihood at Péronne, the Vita is not direct evidence for knowledge of Cassian in Ireland. Yet as we have already seen from Penitentialis Vinniani, Amra Choluim Chille, and the writings of Columbanus, Irish religious were familiar with Cassian at least as early as the sixth century. Certainly the seventh-century author of Vita Prima S. Fursei thought it quite plausible for a sixth-century Irish peregrinus to have been influenced by Cassian. The Life offers its audience a perception of Irish asceticism in accord with the ascetic theology of the most influential representative of Egyptian monasticism to the Latin West. Paenitentiale Cummeani Even though he has been called an ‘exasperatingly enigmatic figure’,126 Cummíne Fota (ob. 662) is still far better known to us than many other persons discussed in this chapter. Belonging to the Éoganacht of Munster, he is associated with the monastery of Clonfert where he ruled as a successor to St Brénainn, or Brendan, and possibly as bishop.127 Félire Óengusso, written in the century following Cummíne’s death, commemorates him as a man ‘with wisdom, science, with much prudence’.128 Manuscript evidence names him as author of the hymn Celebra Iuda and the Paenitentiale Cummeani. Four other Latin texts have been tentatively credited to him: a letter on the paschal controversy addressed to Ségéne fifth abbot of Iona (623–52) and one Béccán solitarius, the computistic tract De ratione computandi, a commentary on the Gospel of Mark, and the mnemonic De figuris apostolorum.129 Such a body of work, if indeed all Cummíne’s, would more than adequately validate the martyrologist’s praise. 124

125 126 127

128 129

Ibid., preface to the first part (ed. Pichery, I.75, tr. Ramsey, 29–30): ‘a coenobiis anachoresis et ab actuali uita, quae in congregationibus exercetur, contemplatio dei, cui illi inaestimabiles uiri semper intenti sunt, maior actuque sublimior est.’ See Chadwick, John Cassian, 88; Stewart, Cassian the Monk, 54. Walsh & Ó Cróinín (edd. & tr.), Cummian’s Letter, 12. Ibid., 12 n. 46. The evidence for his episcopacy was questioned by Mac Eoin, ‘The lament for Cuimíne Fota’, 17–31, and defended by Byrne, ‘The lament for Cuimmíne Foto’, 111–22. Félire Óengusso, 12 November (ed. & tr. Stokes, 234): ‘la suithi soas co mméit tiachrai’. Walsh & Ó Cróinín (edd. & tr.), Cummian’s Letter, 12–15, 216–21; Howlett, ‘Seven


Céli Dé in Ireland Paenitentiale Cummeani lends considerable credence to the identification of Cummíne as a learned monk-bishop. It contains provisions for clerics and monks living in a cenobitic community as well as for laymen, potentially married and presumably dependent upon such a community. While it does not provide the kind of detail on monastic life found in the writings of Columbanus – few other works can match the opera Columbani in that regard – it is a valuable witness for ascetic practice in the seventh century. Its reliance upon Cassian, Uinniau, and Gildas suggests a continuity of expectation from the previous century. Like the penitentials of the latter two figures, Paeniteniale Cummeani requires religious to observe dietary continence, to live chastely, to offer material excess to the poor, to render due obedience to their abbot, and to observe the Divine Office.130 It most often assigns a fast of bread and water as the consequence of wrongdoing; the more serious the sin, the longer the fast, although after an initial period it may sometimes be reduced to abstention from wine and meat.131 For some minor transgressions, the penitent may simply have to go without supper or perhaps recite a number of psalms with repeated genuflexions.132 In a few cases, correction is administered with blows, probably upon the hand.133 For the more serious sins, exile may be required.134 In terms of severity, Paenitentiale Cummeani is somewhat harsher than the prescriptive works considered thus far. A passage quoted nearly verbatim from Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia regarding a presbyter or deacon under monastic vows who fornicates increases the recommended penance from three years to seven.135 Where Uinniau mandates a ten-year exile for the cleric who murders, Cummíne pronounces the malefactor dead to the world in lifelong exile (cum peregrinatione perenni).136 After the final three chapters dealing with petty cases, the infractions of boys, and questions concerning the host, Cummíne closes his penitential with some pastoral advice: But this is to be carefully observed in all penance: the length of time anyone remains in his faults; what learning he has received; by what passion he is assailed; how great is his strength; with what intensity of weeping he is assailed; and with what oppression he has been driven to sin. For Almighty God who knows the hearts of all and has bestowed diverse natures will not weigh the weights of sin in an equal scale of penance.137

130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137

studies’, 49. The Excarpsus Cummeani or ‘Pseudo-Cummean Penitential’ is an eighth-century composite text probably from the Continent; see McNeill & Gamer (edd.), Medieval Handbooks, 266–7; Kenney, The Sources, 243–4. Paenitentiale Cummeani, I.4–6, II, III.3, 14, VIII.4, 17–18, IX.6 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 112–19, 122–7). Ibid., II.24 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 116–17). Ibid., II.15 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 114–15). Ibid., XI.29 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 132–3). Ibid., II.17 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 114–15). Ibid., II.2 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 112–13); cf. Praefatio Gildae, I (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 60–1). Paenitentiale Cummeani, IV.6 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 118–21); cf. Penitentialis Uinniani, XXIII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 80–1). Ibid., epilogue, I–II (ed. & tr. Bieler, Penitentials, 132–3): ‘Sed hoc in omni paenitentia solerter intuendum est, quanto quis tempore in delictis remaneat, qua eruditione


Irish asceticism before céli Dé Just as God will adapt his judgments as he sees fit, so also, counsels Cummíne, should the priest adjust the penance he assigns according to the circumstances of the sinner. Early Irish ecclesiastics have a reputation as having been stern disciplinarians. Paenitentiale Cummeani tends to support such a view, but at the same time it would be well to keep in mind the above passage before painting the Irish in too harsh a colour. As in previously observed aspects of Irish asceticism, here also moderation has its place. Like other penitential authors, Cummíne regarded penance as medicine for the soul. The opening lines of the prologue to the penitential read: Here begins the prologue on the medicine for the salvation of souls. As we are about to tell of the remedies of wounds according to the rulings of the fathers before us, let us first, my most faithful brother, indicate in a concise manner the medicines of Holy Scripture.138 The remainder of the preface, taken from Cassian’s twentieth Conlatio, lists the several ways by which, according to scripture, one may gain a remission of sins, such as through baptism, almsgiving, or the intercession of saints.139 As the opening to a penitential, the passage effectively highlights the performance of penance as another way to attain expiation for wrongdoing, that is, through exomologesis. What is perhaps the most telling feature of Paenitentiale Cummeani, its organisation according to Cassian’s eight principal vices,140 suggests that Cummíne also understood penance to be an integral part of the ascetic life. Categorised in such a fashion, the penances he prescribes are not solely for the expiation of sin; they are to help the monk eradicate the vices of the body and spirit which give rise to sin. This is exomologesis undertaken in the pursuit of an ascetic goal. Cummíne’s view on the way to combat the vices is also familiar. At the conclusion of the prologue we read: And so [the elders] determine that the eight principal vices contrary to human salvation shall be healed by the eight remedies that are their contraries. For it is an old proverb: contraries are cured by contraries. For he who without restraint commits what is forbidden ought to restrain himself even from what is permissible.141


139 140 141

inbutus, qua inpugnatur passione, qualis existat fortitudine, qua uidetur adfligi lacrimabilitate, quali compulsus est grauatione peccare. Omnipotens etenim Deus, qui corda omnium nouit diuersasque naturas indidit, non aequali lance paenitudinis pondera peccatorum pensabit.’ Paenitentiale Cummeani, prologue (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 108–9): ‘Incipit prologus de medicinae salutaris animarum. De remediis uulnerum secundum priorum patrum diffinitiones dicturi sacri tibi eloqui, mi fidelissime frater, antea medicamina conpendi ratione intimemus.’ Ibid. Cf. Cassian, Conlationes, XX.8 (ed. Pichery, III.64–6); Cassian in turn drew upon Origen, Homila in Leuiticum II.4 (ed. Baehrens, VI.295–7). Gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, dejection, languor, vainglory, pride: Cassian, Conlationes, V.2 (ed. Pichery, I.190). See Chadwick, John Cassian, 94–5. Paenitentiale Cummeani, prologue 15 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 110–11): ‘Statuunt itaque ut octo principalia uitia humanae saluti contraria his octo contrariis remediis sanantur. Uetus namque prouerbium est: Contraria contrariis sanantur. Qui enim inlicita licenter commisit, a licitis licet cohercere se debuit.’


Céli Dé in Ireland Thus the cleric with an excess of goods must give them to the poor; he who lies is condemned to a period of silence; the idler must perform extra labour; the slothful must observe a lengthened vigil.142 There can be little question that Cassian’s influence upon Cummíne was substantial. It should not be overlooked, however, that the penitential does not look beyond the struggle against the vices to a greater ascetic goal. Cassian made it clear that the monk’s triumph over vice is desirable not merely for its own sake, but because it leads to purity of heart and, ultimately, to the kingdom of heaven.143 If Cummíne shared this vision, he did not convey it in his penitential. Cambrai Homily Inserted into the text of an eighth-century manuscript copy of Collectio Canonum Hibernensis is the earliest extant Irish homily, known to scholars as the Cambrai Homily.144 Its editors dated it to the late seventh or early eighth century for linguistic reasons, although more recent opinion holds for the earlier end of that range.145 The homily is macaronic, but as Pádraig Ó Néill observed, the Latin text is limited to scriptural and patristic quotations which are then explicated in Old Irish. ‘This interchange between the functions of the two languages’, wrote Ó Néill, ‘would suggest an audience which did not understand Latin and needed to have the important points of the homily explained to them in their native language.’146 Though it is incomplete, the Cambrai Homily is a remarkable witness to the state of vernacular homiletics in the Irish church of the seventh century. Expounding on a passage from the Gospel of Matthew (16:24), it combines a selection from Gregory the Great’s Homilia in Evangelia with a discussion on the different kinds of martyrdom. It is the latter that interests us. The relevant section reads: Now there are three kinds of martyrdom which are counted as a cross to man, that is to say, white martyrdom, and blue martyrdom, and red martyrdom. This is the white martyrdom to man, when he separates from everything he loves for God, although he does not endure fasting or labour thereby. This is the blue martyrdom to him, when by means of them [fasting and labour] he separates from his desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance. This is the red martyrdom to him, endurance of a cross or destruction for Christ’s sake, as has happened to the apostles in the persecution of the wicked and in teaching the law 142 143 144



Ibid., III.14, III.15–16, VI.1, (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 118–21). See Cassian, Institutiones, V.2 (ed. Guy, 190–2); Chadwick, John Cassian, 91–2. Cambrai, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 679 (formerly 619), fos 37rb–38rb, written by a Carolingian scribe for Alberic, bishop of Cambrai and Arras (763–90). The scribe, who does not seem to have been familiar with Irish, evidently copied the homily from a leaf inserted into his Latin exemplar; see Ó Néill, ‘The background’, 137–47, especially regarding the misleading nature of the Stokes & Strachan edition which includes several lines of canonical text immediately preceding and following the homily in the manuscript. The homily properly begins with In nomine Dei summi. Stokes & Strachan (edd. & tr.), Thesuaurus Palaeohibernicus, II.xxvi; Ó Néill, ‘The background’, 146–7; Etchingham, Church Organisation, 292; Sims-Williams, ‘Old Irish feda’, 471. Ó Néill, ‘The background’, 144.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé of God. These three kinds of martyrdom are comprised in the carnal ones who resort to good repentance, who separate from their desires, who endure tribulations, who pour forth their blood in fasting and in labour for Christ’s sake.147 Clare Stancliffe examined this passage in the context of other Irish and Continental texts which associate different kinds of martyrdom with different colours. She observed that the Irish adopted the earlier Christian conceit of a bloody or ‘red’ martyrdom, experienced by those who lost their lives for the faith, and a bloodless or ‘white’ martyrdom, suffered by those such as St Anthony or St Martin whose asceticism was deemed a kind of daily martyrdom. To these the Irish added a third kind, glasmartre, ‘green/blue martyrdom’, which was experienced by those who took up a life of penitential discipline at or near a monastery.148 Other seventh-century texts such as Vita S. Columbae by Adomnán and Liber Angeli indicate that penitents not under monastic vows comprised a significant part of the population of some Irish churches and shared the hardships and austerities of monastic life.149 In later vernacular texts such persons are referred to as the aes aithrige, ‘people of penitence’.150 The existence of penitents as a quasi-monastic group distinct from lay society was not unique to the Irish. As early as the fifth century an ordo poenitentium, ‘order of penitents’, existed on the Continent which was comprised of laymen and women who had publicly confessed their sins and practised mortification, special liturgical obligations, abstinence, fasting, and almsgiving, usually under the direction of a bishop. In most cases, after a certain 147

148 149


Cambrai Homily (edd. & tr. Stokes & Strachan, Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, II.246–7, following the emendation by Ní Chatháin, ‘A reading’, 417; tr. Stancliffe, ‘Red, white and blue martyrdom’, 23): ‘Filus trechenélae martre daneu adrímiter ar chruich du duiniu, mad esgre báanmartre ocus glasmartre ocus dercmartre. Issí in bánmartre do duiniu intain scaras ar Dea fri cach reet caras cení césa aíni na laubir n-oco. Issí ind glasmartre dó intain scaras fria thola leó nó céssas sáithor i ppennit ocus aithrigi. Issí in dercmartre dó foditu chruche ocus diorcne ar Chríst amail tondeccomnuccuir dundaib abstolaib oc ingrimmim inna clóen ocuis oc forcetul recto Dée. Congaibetar inna trechenél martre so issnib colnidib tuthégot dagathrigi, scarde fria tola, céste sáithu, tuesmot a fuil i n-áini ocuis i laubair ar Chríst.’ Stancliffe preferred to translate glasmartre as ‘blue martyrdom’ rather than ‘green martyrdom’. Stancliffe, ‘Red, white and blue martyrdom’, 34–6. For Vita S. Columbae see below, 63–4; Liber Angeli, XV (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 186–7): ‘In ista uero urbe Alti Machae homines Christiani utriusque sexus relegiossi ab initio fidei hucusque pene inseparabiliter commorari uidentur, cui uero praedictae tres ordines adherent uirgines et poenitentes et in matrimonio ligitimo aeclessiae seruientes’, ‘In this city of Armagh Christians of both sexes are seen to live together in religion from the coming of the faith to the present day almost inseparably, and to this aforesaid (city) also adhere three orders: virgins and penitents, and those serving the church in legitimate matrimony.’ For a discussion of the tres ordines, comprised of virgins, penitents, and lay or married persons, see Wright, ‘Bischoff’s theory’, 151–6, who notes that such a tripartite division of the faithful was a commonplace in Hiberno-Latin works. See ‘Stowe tract on the Mass’, XVIII (edd. & tr. Stokes & Strachan, Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, II.255); Bretha Nemed Toísech, §3 (ed. & tr. Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 8); The Monastery of Tallaght, XI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 131–2); Fis Adamnáin, XXIII (edd. Windisch & Stokes, Irische Texte, I.185).


Céli Dé in Ireland amount of time their penance would end and they would be reconciled to the church. The ordo poenitentium also came to include voluntary penitents, that is, persons not guilty of any great sin but who wished nonetheless to embrace the penitential life for an indefinite period.151 We may speculate that the Cambrai homilist had in mind the latter sort rather than confessed sinners performing their allotted penance, whom it is difficult to imagine as qualifying for the honour of glasmartre.152 While the homily does not provide any discussion of ascetic practice or theology, there can be no doubting the high esteem it accords ascetic life, whether expressed by the renunciation of all that one loves for God (bánmartre) or by the fasting and labour associated with penitence (glasmartre), both on a par with losing one’s life for Christ’s sake (dercmartre). Early Irish hagiography The latter half of the seventh century saw the flowering of hagiography in Ireland, some 250 years after Sulpicius Severus wrote the influential Vita S. Martini in Gaul. Christianity came relatively late to Ireland, and so it is not surprising that a tradition of hagiographical writing seems to have developed there at a later date than it did elsewhere in the West. We know the names of a remarkable number of early Irish hagiographers: Ultán moccu Conchobair, bishop of Ardbraccan (ob. 657), Ailerán, sapiens of Clonard (ob. 665), Cogitosus, probably of Kildare (fl. 650–90), Muirchú, probably of Armagh (fl. 661–700), Tírechán of Tirawley, disciple of Ultán moccu Conchobair, Cummíne Ailbe, seventh abbot of Iona (657–69), and Adomnán, ninth abbot of Iona (679–704). Judging from their extant works, the earliest known native hagiographers focused their attention entirely upon Ireland’s three pre-eminent saints, Patrick, Columba, and Brigit, which may reflect the predominance of the churches of Armagh, Iona, and Kildare at that time. These early Lives are particularly valuable for the relative closeness of their authors to their subjects, as opposed to the later Vitae and Bethada mostly written in the eleventh and twelfth centuries about Irish saints who lived, if at all, some five to six hundred years earlier.153 Vita S. Brigitae Cogitosus, author of a Vita S. Brigitae,154 has long enjoyed the distinction of being the earliest Irish hagiographer of record, on account of Muirchú’s acknowledgement of Cogitosus in his own Vita S. Patricii as being the only one before him to produce a saintly narrative.155 The Life by Cogitosus is fairly transparent propa151

152 153

154 155

Gaudemet, L’église, 80–7; Griffe, La Gaule Chrétienne, III.151–6; Stancliffe, ‘Red, white and blue martyrdom’, 43–4. See Etchingham, Church Organisation, 293–8, for a discussion of the difference between permanent and fixed-term penitents among the Irish. Stancliffe, ‘Red, white and blue martyrdom’, 44, is more circumspect. Excepting the so-called ‘O’Donohue’ texts, the dozen or so Latin Lives which Sharpe identified in his Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives, 297–339, as belonging to the ninth or tenth century. For notice of what they contribute to our knowledge of Irish monasticism, see Etchingham, Church Organisation, 336–9. Also known as Vita II S. Brigitae (ed. Bollandist, Acta Sanctorum, 1 Feb., 135–41). Muirchú, Vita S. Patricii, prologue (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 62–3). The primacy of Cogitosus has recently been challenged by Howlett, ‘Vita I Sanctae


Irish asceticism before céli Dé ganda for Kildare which is effusively praised as a metropolitan see with supremacy over all Ireland. For this reason, and his evident familiarity with the church at Kildare, Cogitosus very likely belonged to the community there or was closely affiliated with it. Both cenobitical and eremitical monasticism appear in the Vita. Kildare was in fact a double monastery with a community of ‘nuns and faithful widows’ (puellae et uiduae fideles) ruled by an ‘abbess’ (abbatissa) opposite an ‘archbishop with his monastic chapter’ (sumus pontifex cum sua regulari schola).156 This is the earliest mention we have of a specific community of female religious in Ireland. The distinction between puellae and uiduae is noteworthy. To judge from the notice of faithful viduae apart from uirgines in Patrick’s Confessio, an ordo viduarum seems to have existed in Ireland as early as the fifth century.157 It is not entirely clear what the activities of these faithful widows would have been, although Clare Stancliffe has found reason to believe that in Ireland some kind of assimilation occurred between the ordo viduarum and the ordo poenitentium, which would suggest that these women led an ascetic lifestyle comparable to that of the people the Cambrai Homily marked for glasmartre, the ‘blue martyrdom’ of the penitential life.158 As his purpose in writing lies elsewhere, Cogitosus provides little detail on the religious profession of the women and men mentioned in the Life. In what is the most frequently cited chapter of Vita S. Brigitae he describes the new basilica, in which the male and female communities came together and, separated by partitions, celebrated Mass.159 While he does not describe the observance of the Divine Office, he makes one casual but obvious reference to it, by which we may surmise that he wrote for an audience familiar with the Office: through creatures visible, [Brigit] praised the invisible creator of all things to whom all animate things are subject and ‘for whom all things live’, as one says in the recitation of the Office.160 The solitary life is represented in the person of the first bishop of Kildare, named Conleth in some manuscripts, who was a hermit (solitarius) summoned by Brigit ‘from the wilderness and his life of solitude’ (de eremo et de sua vita solitaria) to

156 157 158 159 160

Brigitae’, 1–23, who has argued that the anonymous Vita I S. Brigitae was written wholly by Ailerán of Clonard before Cogitosus composed his own vita. Howlett attributed a Brigitine hymn to Ultán of Ardbraccan: ‘The Brigitine hymn’, 79–86. Cf. Sharpe, ‘Vitae S. Brigitae’, 81–106; McCone, ‘Brigit in the seventh century’, 107–45. Cogitosus, Vita S. Brigitae, VIII.37 (ed. Bollandist, 141, tr. Connolly & Picard, 26 §32.2). Patrick, Confessio, XLII (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 82). See Gaudemet, L’église, 186–8, regarding the ordo viduarum on the Continent. Stancliffe, ‘Red, white and blue martyrdom’, 42–4. See above, 54–6. Cogitosus, Vita S. Brigitae, VIII.37 (ed. Bollandist, 141). Ibid., IV.24 (ed. Bollandist, 138, tr. Connolly & Picard, 20 §21.3): ‘collaudans creatorem omnium rerum invisibilem per creaturas visibiles, cui omnia subjecta sunt animantia, et cui omnia vivunt, ut quidam ait, officio gerendi’ (cf. Colgan (ed.), Triadis Thaumaturgae, XX.521: ‘ut quidam ait, officio parendi’). See Corpus Antiphonalium Officii, Invitatory for Matins, pro defunctis (ed. Hesbert, III.14.1131): ‘Regem cui omnia vivunt, venite adoremus’; Connolly & Picard (tr.), ‘Cogitosus’ Life of St Brigit’, 8.


Céli Dé in Ireland govern the church with her.161 Although he offers no further details about Conleth or the kind of life he led in eremo, Cogitosus obviously viewed the vita solitaria as an entirely worthy vocation and a fitting career for a bishop who would rule Kildare alongside the saintly abbess. As for the historical Brigit, if there was indeed such a person, Cogitosus is not a reliable source. In some regards his saint is little more than a christianised version of the old Irish goddess of the same name. For our purpose this hardly matters, since we are interested not so much in the person of Brigit as in the ascetic attitudes and activities she and her contemporaries are represented as having and observing. Brigit is acclaimed for her virginity, the paramount feature of female sanctity in the middle ages. When the time came for her to be married, we are told, rather than submit to her parents’ wishes she presented herself to a bishop, Mac Caille (‘son of the veil’), who placed over her head the pallium album (‘white veil’) and vestem candidam (‘white garment’) and formally consecrated her virginity to God as she knelt before the altar.162 Cogitosus likely describes here the usual ceremony by which a woman took up the religious life in the seventh century. Brigit is said to be famous for ‘such great miracles, [being] full of humility of heart, purity of mind, restraint of character and spiritual grace’.163 The hagiographer is in wonder of her ‘compassion, charity and almsgiving towards the poor’,164 and her miracles performed ‘by virtue of the privilege of her sanctity and the prerogative of her many virtues’.165 The power of God was manifest ‘through Brigit, distinguished as she was by her ineffable practice of sacred religion’.166 While to a great extent Cogitosus seems to have regarded Brigit’s virtues as innate – he would surely agree with the notion that a saint is born, not made167 – in these several passages he intimates a relationship between her miraculous powers and her religious vocation. He presents Brigit as the embodiment of the virtues monks and nuns strove to attain through their asceticism. Her occupation with ‘meditation on heavenly things’ (coelestium meditatio) and ‘contemplative meditation’ (meditatio theorica) brings to mind Cassian’s discussion of the two kinds of spiritual knowledge, the practica and the theoretica.168 As we have already seen in the evidence considered thus far, Cassian’s works figured prominently in the religious milieu of seventh-century Ireland. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that Cogitosus,

161 162 163

164 165 166 167 168

Cogitosus, Vita S. Brigitae, prologue 2 (ed. Bollandist, 135, tr. Connolly & Picard, 11, prologue §5). Ibid., I.5 (ed. Bollandist, 136). Ibid., III.14 (ed. Bollandist, 137, tr. Connolly & Picard, 16 §12.1): ‘tantis virtutibus illustris, humilitate cordis et puritate mentis, et morum temperantia, ac spiritali gratia plena’. Ibid., III.17 (ed. Bollandist, 137, tr. Connolly & Picard, 17 §14.1): ‘misericordiae et pietatis et in pauperes eleemosynarum’. Ibid., IV.23 (ed. Bollandist, 138, tr. Connolly & Picard, 20 §20.8): ‘privilegio sanctitatis et praerogativa virtutum multarum’. Ibid., V.26 (ed. Bollandist, 138, tr. Connolly & Picard, 20 §23.1): ‘per decoratam Brigidam cultu inenarrabili sacrae religionis’. Ibid., I.3 (ed. Bollandist, 135). Ibid., III.16, III.20 (ed. Bollandist, 137, tr. Connolly & Picard, 17 §13.2, 18 §17.2); cf. Cassian, Conlationes, XIV.1 (ed. Pichery, II.184). The preferred (although not exclusively) Irish antithesis was actualis–theorica; see Wright, ‘Bischoff’s theory’, 161–5.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé who wrote for an eminent and obviously wealthy church169 which presumably possessed a respectable library, was acquainted with Cassian’s views on spiritual knowledge. In this context, to say that Brigit engaged in meditatio theorica implies that she has transcended the practica – after all, she is a saint with no need to purge any vices – and operates at the higher, contemplative level of religious life. Cogitosus does not give us a developed theology of asceticism; indeed, he scarcely mentions any ascetic activities at all. Yet we have in Vita S. Brigitae an allusion to a theology which a monastic readership familiar with Cassian would have immediately grasped. The fruits which accrue from the ascetic life are manifest in St Brigit. She represents the ascetic’s goal. Vita S. Patricii The glorious St Patrick of the Muirchú and Tírechán narratives bears little resemblance to the humble British bishop we know from the Confessio and Epistola ad milites Corotici. Where the latter figure undertook an evangelical ministry in the face of considerable opposition, daily expecting death and continually expressing his inadequacies for the work, the former busied himself performing miracles, confronting druids, and converting pagan kings with a temperament that brooked no interference.170 As was the case with Brigit in the Life by Cogitosus, the ahistorical representation of this heroic saint need not concern us. Both Muirchú and Tírechán use the story of Patrick, richly embellished, as a vehicle to promote the interests of the see of Armagh in their own day,171 and in the process they reveal some contemporary perceptions of the ascetic life. While yet a young slave in Ireland, Muirchú’s Patrick already lived in the manner of an austere religious. Tending sheep for his pagan master, he served ‘with fear of God and trembling’, in the words of the Psalmist, with many vigils and prayers – he would pray a hundred times during the day and a hundred times during the night ‘giving gladly to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s’, and beginning to fear God and love the almighty Lord; for until then he had not known the true God, but now the spirit in him was fervent.172 At the end of six years of servitude in a foreign land, ‘after many tribulations there, after hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness’, he eventually escaped home to

169 170 171


See Cogitosus, Vita S. Brigitae, VIII.37–9 (ed. Bollandist, 141). For further comments on the differences between Patrick’s writings and his seventh-century hagiographers, see Binchy, ‘Patrick and his biographers’, 57–9. Their Patrician works are preserved together in the ninth-century Book of Armagh, written by Ferdomnach, sapiens et scriba optima Airdd Machae (ob. 846), according to the Annals of Ulster. For manuscript traditions and authors’ backgrounds see Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Patrician Texts, 2–20, 35–46. Muirchú, Vita S. Patricii, I.1.3 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 66–7): ‘cum timore Dei et tremore [Ps. 54:6] secundum psalmiste sententiam in vigiliis et orationibus multis – cencies in die et cencies in nocte orabat, libenter reddiens quae Dei sunt Deo et quae Caesaris Caesari [Matt. 22:21] incipiensque timere Deum et amare omnipotentem Dominum; nam usque ad id temporis ignorabat Deum verum, sed tunc spiritus feruebat in eo’; cf. Patrick, Confessio, XVI (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 65).


Céli Dé in Ireland Britain.173 In these passages Muirchú paraphrases Patrick’s own words from the Confessio. Yet he also emphasises Patrick’s ascetic character in other passages that are hagiographical elaborations of the saint’s story. As a grown man Patrick is said to have travelled to Auxerre where, under the instruction of bishop Germanus (ob. 448), in perfect subjection, patience, and obedience, he learned, loved, and practised knowledge, wisdom, chastity, and every good disposition of spirit and soul, as was his heart’s desire, with great fear and love of God, in goodness and simplicity of heart, a virgin in body and in spirit.174 Thanks to Vita S. Germani by Constantius of Lyons, Germanus of Auxerre was renowned for his ascetic vocation.175 By placing Patrick at Auxerre as the student of Germanus, Muirchú makes a deliberate statement on Patrick’s religious background – the apostle of Ireland was no country rube, but a deeply pious man who had received monastic training from a famous bishop at an eminently respectable Gaulish church. Whether or not the historical Patrick ever visited Gaul has long been the subject of scholarly debate.176 Muirchú is not a reliable source on this matter, but he does reveal something about contemporary perception of the saint and Armagh’s desire to accord itself an honourable heritage. Inasmuch as Patrick was believed in the seventh century to have been responsible for the introduction of religious life to Ireland in general and Armagh in particular, those who claimed to be his heirs could link their monastic vocation to an entirely worthy ascetic tradition on the Continent. On Patrick’s personal asceticism, Muirchú remarks in another passage, Concerning his assiduity in prayer, we shall attempt to write down a few of many things we might tell. He used to recite daily all the psalms and hymns and the Revelation of John and all the spiritual canticles of the Scriptures, whether he was staying in one place or travelling. He also signed himself with the victorious sign of the cross a hundred times at every hour of the day and night, and wherever he saw a cross he would descend from his chariot and go out of his way to pray before it.177 173


175 176 177

Muirchú, Vita S. Patricii, I.1.4–5 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 66–9): ‘post multas ibi tribulationes, post famen et sitim, post frigora et nuditates’; cf. Patrick, Confessio, XXVII (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 73). Muirchú, Vita S. Patricii, I.6.2 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 70–1): ‘in omni subiectione et patientia atque oboedientia scientiam sapientiam castitatemque et omnem utilitatem tam spiritus quam animae cum magno Dei timore et amore in bonitate et simplicitate cordis, corpore et spiritu uirgo, toto animi desiderio didicit dilexit custodiuit’. Constantius, Vita S. Germani, I.2–4,6, II.8 (ed. Borius, 124–8, 130, 136), written ca 480. See Howlett, The Book of Letters, for an argument in favour of Patrick in Gaul; also Herren & Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, 27. Muirchú, Vita S. Patricii, II.1 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 114–15): ‘De dilegentia orationis eius pauca de multis quae enarrare possumus scribere conabimur. Omnes psalmos et ymnos et Apocalipsin Iohannis et omnia kantica spiritalia


Irish asceticism before céli Dé Like the preceding passage on Patrick’s prayerful disposition as a youth, this is certainly a heroic if not fanciful display of liturgical devotion. Also impressive is the saint’s purported custom of nightly prayer while standing in a river.178 While we cannot presume the historical Patrick ever did such a thing, there is no reason to doubt that in Muirchú’s day the vigil performed in cold water was an actual practice among Irish ascetics. Such activities were intended to establish St Patrick’s reputation as an ascetic par excellence. Subsequent generations of Irish hagiographers depicted their saintly subjects in a similar fashion: Muirchú’s Patrick was the first of a long line of ascetic supermen to appear in the Lives of Ireland’s saints.179 Although most hagiographical works are of limited historical value as witnesses of the asceticism of their subjects, they offer some understanding of the ascetic ideal circulating at the time they were written. That this ideal owed much to the work of earlier, non-Irish hagiographers need not have lessened its impact upon the vocation of Irish religious. It would be short-sighted to suppose that Muirchú and other seventh-century Irish hagiographers and their readers took nothing more than literary inspiration from the hagiographical works of Evagrius of Antioch, Sulpicius Severus, or Gregory the Great.180 Vita S. Columbae For its historical content and literary qualities Vita S. Columbae by Adomnán ranks as one of the most important Hiberno-Latin texts of the early middle ages.181 Written at Iona near the end of the seventh century, it offers an unparalleled view of life at one of the most influential monasteries of the period. Adomnán, the ninth abbot of Iona (679–704) and heir to Columba’s monastic familia, was active in both secular and ecclesiastical affairs (often indistinguishable from one another) in Ireland and Britain. He attended the synod of Birr in 697 where he was instrumental in the enactment of Cáin Adomnáin for the protection of non-combatants in warfare, and he became personally involved in the Easter controversy, trying and ultimately failing to persuade his own community to join him in embracing the Roman observance. He was also the author of the travel narrative De Locis Sanctis (‘On the Holy Places’), which alongside Vita S. Columbae showcases the resources he had at his disposal in Iona’s library.182 We may take Adomnán at his word in the two prefaces to the Vita that his purpose in writing it was to provide a

178 179

180 181 182

scripturarum cotidie decantans siue in uno loco manens aut in itenere pergens, tropeo etiam crucis in omni hora diei noctisque centies se signans et ad omnes cruces quascumque uidisset orationis gratia de curru discendens declinabat.’ Ibid., I.28 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 102). For further examples of the vigil in cold water, see Vita I S. Brigitae, XV.93 (ed. Bollandist, Acta Sanctorum, Feb. vol. II, 132); cf. the anonymous Vita S. Cuthberti, II.3 (ed. & tr. Colgrave, 80–1). In the later Hiberno-Latin Lives, see Vita S. Coemgeni, XVIII, XXX (ed. Plummer, I.243, 250), Vita S. Ciarani de Saigir XXIX (ed. Plummer, I.229), and Vita S. Comgalli, XLVI (ed. Plummer, II.17). Palladius mentions the practice in Historia Lausiaca, XXXVIII (ed. Butler, II.121); on the general history of ascetic immersions see Gougaud, Devotional and Ascetic Practices, 159–78; also Ireland, ‘Penance and prayer’, 51–66. See Picard, ‘Structural patterns’, 67–82, on the influence of Continental authors on Irish hagiographers. Edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, Adomnán’s Life of Columba. O’Loughlin, ‘The library of Iona’, 33–52; Clancy & Márkus, Iona, 211–22.


Céli Dé in Ireland faithful account of the life and character of Iona’s founder and patron saint. Behind this, however, may lie an underlying propaganda element aimed at shoring up the declining prestige of the Columban paruchia at home and abroad in the aftermath of the Easter controversy and in the face of Northumbrian attacks on Columba.183 Amidst such concerns, it is not likely that Adomnán regarded asceticism as a primary topic as he wrote. That said, asceticism still figures quite prominently in Vita S. Columbae – indeed more so than in the Brigitine and Patrician Lives from the same century.184 To an extent, Columba’s asceticism appears as a matter of course. As an abbot-priest from a royal family and the saintly founder of numerous monasteries, he could hardly have been portrayed as anything other than deeply ascetic. Yet even if Adomnán or his sources were inclined to over-emphasise certain qualities of their beloved patron, it is not a great concern for us. Vita S. Columbae is certainly a record of ascetic observance, perhaps even accurately reported in some instances; but it is at least as valuable as a source on contemporary perceptions of the ascetic life, that is, on what in the late seventh century was considered exemplary religious behaviour for a sixth-century abbot and his community. Some measure of Columba’s ascetic reputation may be gauged from his purported training in Ireland as a deacon under Uinniau. As previously noted, the Briton Uinniau was not a clearly discernible figure to Irish hagiographers. Adomnán refers to him three times, using three different name-forms without localising any of them.185 Nonetheless, it is clear from the context that Columba’s magister is intended in each case, a saint who, apart from whatever cultmanifestations he had in the seventh century, was known and respected for the penitential bearing his name. Adomnán adds to Columba’s repute by associating him with a respected monastic teacher, just as Muirchú did by associating Patrick with Germanus. If Adomnán’s assertion is in fact correct – such an affiliation is not implausible – then to some extent the religious vocation at Iona may have reflected the training Columba received from Uinniau. As we read in the Vita, this vocation encompassed both the cenobitical and the solitary life. The former is readily apparent. The main body of monks, governed by their abbas, lived within a monasterium enclosed by a vallum and slept in a domus or communal house.186 They spent their days copying manuscripts, reading, labouring in the fields, and praying.187 There are several incidental references to the Divine Office. While Adomnán does not provide much detail, the Ionan cursus appears to have not been as onerous as the one Columbanus mandated.188 Nowhere 183 184 185


187 188

Picard, ‘The purpose of Adomnán’s Vita Columbae’, 171–7. Though to be fair, Adomnán’s work is considerably longer than that of Cogitosus or Muirchú. Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, I.1 (Findbarrum), II.1 (Vinniauo), III.4 (Finnio) (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 12, 94, 186); in each case he is called a bishop. See Sharpe (tr.), Adomnán, 317–18 n. 210. Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, I.1, I.24, II.29, II.45 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 16–17, 50–1, 136–7, 174–5). For comments on the archaeological features of Iona see Sharpe (tr.), Adomnán, 65–74, and MacDonald, ‘Aspects of the monastery’, 273–97. Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, I.23, I.24, I.37, III.23 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 50–1, 68–9, 222–3). Evidently there was only one night vigil, media nocte and nothing ad initium noctis;


Irish asceticism before céli Dé does Adomnán say that the monks had all things in common, but there is no reason to suspect that they lived any differently in this regard than monks elsewhere. The same may be said of monastic chastity. Fasting was a regular part of monastic life at Iona, although not to the degree it was at Columbanus’s Continental monasteries where a daily fast was observed. Columba’s monks fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, but the fast could be relaxed for the arrival of a guest.189 Columba himself was said to have been continually occupied with fasts and vigils: Living as an island soldier for thirty-four years, he could not pass even the space of a single hour without applying himself to prayer or to reading or to writing or to some kind of work. Also by day and by night, without any intermission, he was so occupied with unwearying labours of fasts and vigils that the burden of each several work seemed beyond the strength of man.190 Here, as well as when relating the saint’s custom of sleeping on bare rock with a stone for a pillow, the hagiographer seems to be demonstrating how Columba’s personal mortification exceeded the norm.191 While the saint’s ascetic performance may have been far beyond the capability of most others, the ideal would have been plainly evident to Adomnán’s readers: the pious monk will likewise give himself to continuous prayer, fasting, and vigils. In general, it may be said that, as described by Adomnán, monastic life at Iona was stern – Columba warns a layman seeking penance of the ‘hard and heavy discipline of the monastic life’ – but not excessively burdensome.192 It is clear from Adomnán that there were other religious or quasi-religious who were dependent upon the monastery but lived apart from the main community on islands near Iona. He frequently mentions two daughter-houses, one on Hinba and another on Tiree, both within a few hours of Iona by boat.193 These evidently consisted of penitents (penitentes) not under monastic vows who lived with



191 192 193

Columba spends the time between vespers and the midnight office lying on his bed: ibid., III.23 (edd. Anderson & Anderson, 222–5). See Curran, The Antiphonary, 161–2. Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, I.26 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 52–3). Adomnán does not specifically mention a Friday fast, but according to Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, III.5 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 226–7), Wednesdays and Fridays were the usual fast days of Aedán, the bishop of Lindisfarne, who came from Iona. The bi-weekly fast seems to have been the norm among the Irish, just as it was on the Continent; as early as the eighth century the Irish name for Wednesday was cét-aín ‘first fast’, for Thursday, dardaín ‘between two fasts’, and for Friday, aín dídin ‘last fast’; see Gougaud, Devotional and Ascetic Practices, 147–9. Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, 2nd preface (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 6–7): ‘Per annos xxxiiii insulanus miles conuersatus nullum etiam unius horae interuallum transire poterat quo non aut orationi aut lectioni uel scriptioni uel etiam alicui operationi incumberet. Ieiunationum quoque et uigiliarum indefesis laborationibus sine ulla intermisione die noctuque ita occupatus ut supra humanam possibilitatem uniuscuiusque pondus specialis uideretur operis.’ Ibid., III.23 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 224–5). Ibid., II.39 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 154–5): ‘dura et laboriosa . . . monasterialia . . . imperia’. Ibid., I.21, I.30, I.41, I.45, II.15, 39, III.5 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 46–7, 58–9, 74–5, 82–3, 114–15, 156–7, 188–9).


Céli Dé in Ireland regular monks under the authority of a prior (praepositus) for a predetermined period of time. The hagiographer tells the story of Librán, a forsworn fugitive who came to Iona from Ireland seeking penance for an unlawful killing. St Columba assigned the man a penance of seven years at the monastery of Mag Luinge on Tiree. At the end of this period, and after a brief trip back to Ireland to make restitution to his former master, Librán took the monastic vow and returned to Mag Luinge where he lived into old age as a monk.194 When visiting Hinba on another occasion, Columba permitted the relaxation of dietary restraints for the day, ‘even to the penitents’ (etiam penitentibus). The indulgence was refused, however, by one of the penitents who ‘after he had returned to the world’ (postea ad seculum reuersus) returned to a life of sin, in fulfilment of the saint’s prophetic word.195 From these stories it seems that penitents at Iona and its daughter-houses assumed an ascetic lifestyle not far different from that of the regular monks (the words etiam penitentibus suggest there may have been some distinction in the matter of observance), but unlike the latter, being without vows they returned to secular society at the conclusion of their penance. Although he is mostly concerned with cenobitic monasticism, Adomnán also writes approvingly of the anchoritical life. He tells us of one Fergnae (Virgno), a soldier of Christ from the monastery of Cluain Finchoil in Ireland, who came to Hinba and after completing irreproachably many years in subjection among the brothers, completed another twelve years as a victorious soldier of Christ, leading the life of an anchorite, in the place of the anchorites, in Muirbolc Már.196 Adomnán’s Fergnae, like the anchorite Ultán in Vita Prima S. Fursei, fulfils Cassian’s expectation that a monk should not become an anchorite without having passed a lengthy probationary period in a cenobium. Fergnae, it appears, first completed a period of twelve years (contrasted with alios xii.) among the brothers at Hinba before he went into seclusion, which is presented as the next step in his spiritual progression. Yet it seems doubtful that he lived in complete isolation. Adomnán says that Fergnae took up residence in Muirbolc Már, apparently on the island of Hinba, in a place known as the locus anchoritarum, doubtless because other anchorites lived there either concurrently or successively. The hagiographer also speaks of another ‘soldier of Christ’ known to him personally, named Fínán, ‘who for many years lived irreproachably the life of an anchorite beside the monastery of the plain of the oakwood [Durrow]’.197 As Adomnán uses the term, anchorita signifies a monk who has removed himself from a cenobitic community, but not at a great distance, to live in semi-seclusion perhaps with or near other monks similarly inclined. Adomnán does not specify what the ‘life of an anchorite’

194 195 196


Ibid., II.39 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 154–63). Ibid., I.21 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 46–89). Ibid., III.23 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 228–9): ‘post multos in subiectione inter fratres inreprehensibiliter expletos annos, alios xii. in loco anchoritarum in Muirbulc mar uitam ducens anchoriticam Christi uictor miles expleuit’. Ibid., I.49 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 88–91): ‘qui uitam multis anchoriticam annis iuxta roboreti monasterium campi inrepraehensibiliter ducebat’.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé entailed – no doubt he assumed this was common knowledge to his audience. Very likely his and his readers’ understanding of what it meant to be an anchorite did not differ significantly from that of patristic and other sources on monastic life, several of which could have been found in Iona’s library.198 Cassian, whose works were known to Columba, according to the testimony of Dallán Forgaill, regarded the anchoritical and contemplative life as greater and more sublime than the cenobitical and active life.199 Adomnán does not go quite so far as that – Columba was after all an abbot rather than an anchorite, and it would hardly do to have it said that he was engaged in an inferior work – but the hagiographer appears to have recognised the benefits of seclusion. On one occasion when Columba was residing on Hinba, for three days and as many nights, remaining within a house barred, and filled with heavenly light, he allowed no one to go to him, and he neither ate nor drank. From that house beams of immeasurable brightness were visible in the night, escaping through chinks of the door-leaves, and through the key-holes. And spiritual songs, unheard before, were heard being sung by him. Moreover, as he afterwards admitted in the presence of a very few men, he saw, openly revealed, many of the secret things that have been hidden since the world began. Also everything that in the sacred scriptures is dark and most difficult became plain, and was shown more clearly than day to the eyes of his purest heart.200 While he does not anywhere call the saint an anchorite, surely Adomnán had in mind the anchoritical life and recalled similar accounts of miraculous visions granted to the Desert Fathers when he recorded this story of Columba on the isle of Hinba, distinguished for its locus anchoritarum. If we can presume a causal link between Columba’s ascetical activities there and the ensuing revelation of ‘secret things’ he experienced, it may be that Adomnán is also demonstrating his own awareness of the spiritual fruits arising from the anchoritical or solitary life. On Hinba Columba enjoyed what Cassian termed ‘theãr«tik«, which consists in the contemplation of divine things and in the understanding of most sacred meanings’ and is associated with the anchoritical vocation.201 198 199 200


Such as Evagrius, Sulpicius Severus, and Gregory the Great; see O’Loughlin, ‘The library of Iona’, 33–52; Clancy & Markús, Iona, 211–22. Amra Choluim Chille, V.4–8 (edd. Clancy & Márkus, Iona, 106–9). See above, 38. Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, III.18 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 208–9): ‘per tris dies totidemque noctes intra obserratam et repletam caelesti claritudine domum manens nullum ad se accedere permitteret, neque manducans neque bibens. De qua uidelicet domu inmensae claritatis radii per rimulas ualuarum et clauium foramina erumpentes noctu uisebantur. Carmina quoque quaedam spiritalia et ante inaudita decantari ab eo audiebantur. Sed et multa quaedam, ut ipse post coram paucis admodum professus est, occulta ab exordio mundi arcana aperte manifestata uidebat. Scripturarum quoque sacrarum obscura quaeque et dificillima plana et luce clarius aperta mundissimi cordis oculis patebant.’ Cassian, Conlationes, XIV.1 (ed. Pichery, II.184, tr. Ramsey, 505): ‘jewrhtikŠ, quae in contemplatione diuinarum rerum et sacratissimorum sensuum cognitione consistit’; ibid., preface to the first part (ed. Pichery, I.75).


Céli Dé in Ireland Adomnán returns to the theme of ascetic withdrawal in his accounts of monks who undertook peregrinatio, something we have already encountered in Vita S. Columbani by Jonas of Bobbio. Adomnán’s most immediate example of a peregrinus is of course St Columba himself, who sailed away to Britain ‘wishing to be a pilgrim for Christ’.202 This was not a solitary endeavour, for later in Vita S. Columbae we learn that the ‘island soldier’ (insulanus miles) was accompanied by twelve disciples.203 Later sources hold that Columba’s departure from Ireland was an enforced penitential exile occasioned by his involvement in the battle of Cúl Drebene, two years previously.204 Adomnán was either unaware of this tradition (which may not have arisen until some time after him) or chose to disregard it, as he accords the saint an entirely positive reason for desiring to be a peregrinus – it was pro Christo. Somewhat more ambiguous, however, are the hagiographer’s accounts of two other peregrini, Baetán and Cormac Ua Liatháin, whose seafaring exploits he couches in eremitical terms. The immediate purpose of these stories is to showcase St Columba’s prophetic knowledge and miraculous command of the elements; accordingly, we should be cautious not to take them solely at face value. Read allegorically, however, they can also serve as moral tales warning of the spiritual dangers arising from overzealous ascetic pursuits. In the shorter of the two accounts, Baetán, prior to sailing from Iona with others in search of a ‘desert in the sea’ (herimum in mari; desertum marinum in chapter heading), approached Columba to ask his blessing. The text does not expressly state whether Columba gave it.205 If we are to infer the saint’s approbation in his farewell to the mariner, it was a mixed blessing, for he prophesied that Baetán would not be buried in a desert place (in deserto) but rather in a place where sheep will cross over his grave. After a long and unsuccessful voyage through unsettled seas, Baetán finally abandoned his pursuit and returned to Ireland to became the head of a small church. Shortly after his death there a woman was observed tending her flock over his burial place, just as Columba foretold.206 Cormac Ua Liatháin, similarly eager to find a desert place (cupiens reperire desertum), no less than three times sailed away to find a ‘hermitage in the ocean’ (herimum in ociano), but was also unsuccessful. The first time he failed, Columba observed, was because he improperly brought with him a monk who departed without the consent of his abbot.207 On his second attempt Cormac sailed as far as the Orkneys where he was delivered from an imminent death only through Columba’s appeal to the Pictish king to spare those ‘desiring to find a desert place in the sea that cannot be crossed’.208 When Cormac departed for 202 203 204 205

206 207 208

Adomnán., Vita S. Columbae, 2nd preface (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 6–7): ‘pro Christo perigrinari [sic] uolens’. Ibid., III.3 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 186–7). See Sharpe (tr.), Adomnán of Iona, 12–15. Cf. Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, I.18–19 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 42–45), where two other monks, one sailing to Ireland and the other to Tiree, presumably on monastery business, are clearly said to have obtained Columba’s blessing before departing. Ibid., I.20 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 46–7). Ibid., I.6 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 28–31). Ibid., II.42 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 166–7): ‘desertum in pilago intransmeabili inuenire obtantes’.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé a third time he again almost met his demise. Blown far to the north beyond human knowledge, he and his company encountered fearsome sea-creatures which nearly destroyed their ship. Only after Columba and his monks prayed for Cormac did the wind turn and he was able to return safely to Iona.209 Adomnán, who borrowed from the Evagrian Vita S. Antonii, likely intended the eremetical language of these tales to recall the careers of the Desert Fathers. Yet keeping in mind Baetán’s rather inauspicious end and Cormac’s triple failure to find his ‘hermitage in the ocean’, we are left wondering if the author of Vita S. Columbae did not entirely approve of such activities. Adomnán could hardly find fault with Columba for taking to the sea; but it may be that he sought to discourage the monks under his own charge from doing likewise, perhaps in response to changing Continental opinions of Irish peregrini.210 He would not have been the first Irish abbot to show concern for monks who, eager for a more ascetic life, rashly left the cenobium for the desertum, in the ocean or elsewhere. If Cogitosus provides us with some sense of the ascetic’s aim (meditatio theorica), without telling us much of the ascetic’s activities, the reverse is true for Adomnán. He gives a fair amount of detail on what at the close of the seventh century must have been deemed exemplary ascetic behaviour, but he is less forthcoming about the purpose for such endeavours. I have suggested that he hints at the vita theorica which Cassian associated with the anchoritical vocation, but he does no more than this. The composer of Amra Choluim Chille, Dallán Forgaill, implied that Columba was familiar with the writings of Cassian. If Adomnán was familiar with them as well, they did not greatly influence his own tribute to the saintly abbot of Iona.

Eighth-century evidence Moving on to the eighth century we draw near to the appearance of céli Dé. Texts from this period that are sometimes associated with céli Dé but were not necessarily produced by them, such as Apgitir Chrábaid and the so-called Rule of Patrick, will be considered in the following chapter. Those discussed here include further penitential and hagiographical writings, canonical and secular law tracts, as well as works less suited to categorisation, such as Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica and Navigatio Sancti Brendani. It is among these eighth-century works that we might expect to see signs of the ascetic decline in Ireland that supposedly precipitated the céli Dé reform. Bigotian Penitential The Bigotian Pentiential, so called after one of the two manuscripts in which it survives, has been dated to the late seventh or the early eighth century. I include it here at the beginning of the eighth-century material solely on the strength of Lapidge and Sharpe who assigned it to the first half of that century.211 Bieler felt the penitential was ‘not purely Irish’ and had probably come to the Continent 209 210 211

Ibid., II.42 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 168–71). Hughes, ‘The changing theory’, 144. Kenney, The Sources, 241–2; Lapidge & Sharpe, A Bibliography, 157 no. 614.


Céli Dé in Ireland before taking its extant form.212 Its overall Irish character, however, seems assured by its considerable reliance upon Paenitentiale Cummeani and its use in the somewhat later Old Irish Penitential.213 The main body of the text agrees with Paenitentiale Cummeani in composition and chapter headings divided according to Cassian’s eight principal vices. The prefatory matter draws upon two pseudo-patristica ‘of unmistakable Irish character’, according to Bieler, material from Cassian, Ambrose, Isidore, and Gregory, and an entire chapter of Benedict’s Regula Monachorum.214 The ascetic content of the Bigotian Penitential is much like that of the other penitentials already considered. A fast of bread and water is the most common penance assigned, sometimes followed by a period of abstention from wine and meat. Penitential exile under another abbot, the recitation of psalms, a period of silence, sexual abstinence (in the case of married laity), extra labour, and vigils are mandated with somewhat less frequency.215 Various proscriptions make it clear that religious were expected to be chaste, obedient, and to work.216 No mention is made of monastic poverty, but the cleric with an excess of goods was required to give it to the poor.217 The only reference to solitary monasticism equates the status of an anchorita to that of a scribe, bishop, great princeps, or king.218 The Penitential offers no indication of what an anchorite did, but it is clear that his way of life was greatly esteemed. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Bigotian Penitential is its emphasis on inner qualities. The prefatory material stresses penance not only as the means to expiate sinful deeds, what I have termed exomologesis, but also as the way to obtain spiritual remedy for the vices which foster sin.219 Following a catalogue of the vices ‘which sever the human race from the kingdom of God’ is a listing of virtues ‘which restore the human race to the kingdom of heaven’.220 Passages taken from Isidore and the New Testament discuss the principal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, and charity,221 and the selection from

212 213 214 215

216 217 218

219 220


Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Pentientials, 10; he gives no date for it. Charles-Edwards, ‘The pastoral role’, 74 n. 64. Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 10. Bigotian Penitential, II.5.5 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 222–3); ibid., I.4.1, II.1.7–8, II.4–5.1, 5.6, II.9, VI.1, VI.2 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 214–15, 218–23, 234–5). Ibid., II.1–2, VI.1, VIII.4 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 218–21, 234–5, 238–9). Ibid., III.6.2 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 226–7). Ibid., IV.6.5 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 230–1); this passage is taken from the Canones Hibernenses, I.29 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 162–3), a group of six unrelated canonical texts, transmitted separately but edited together. All but the second of the six (De arreis) are introduced as the decrees of an Irish synod. Their dates are indeterminate, but Bieler, 8–9, felt that with the exception of De arreis none are later than the mid-seventh century. Bigotian Penitential, preface, viii (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 198–9). Ibid., preface, xxxvii–xlvii (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 204–8): ‘quae humanum genus separant a regno dei’; Ibid., preface, xlviii–xlix (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 208): ‘qu(a)e genus humanum reparant ad regna caelorum’. Ibid., preface, l–lv (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 210).


Irish asceticism before céli Dé Benedict’s Regula Monachorum outlines the instruments of good works.222 Cassian taught that asceticism has an inward focus directed at obtaining a pure heart, untouched by any harmful passion, which will permit the monk to ascend to the perfection of love.223 Asceticism is as concerned with fostering positive attributes as it is with overcoming pernicious desires. The Bigotian Penitential, which includes Cassian among its sources, reflects that conviction. Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’) offers an English perspective on Irish monasticism. Completed in 731 at the Northumbrian monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow where the author resided most of his life, the Historia recounts the conversion of the English people which commenced in the south with a Roman mission under the direction of Augustine in 597, and in the north with an Irish mission led by Aedán of Iona in 635. Bede clearly admires the sanctity and devotion of the Irish missionaries, but he cannot entirely escape his English bias. In particular he is sharply critical of the Irish adherence to the Celtic Easter and tonsure.224 Considering the circumstances in which he wrote, that is, in Northumbria some sixty-seven years after Colmán and his monks left Lindisfarne, Bede was not a likely observer of the ascetic practices of the Irish, and he is not always considered in studies on Irish monasticism.225 Yet he was a careful historian, and as he explains in the preface to the Historia, he relied upon both written records and the oral testimony of those ‘who either knew or remembered these things’.226 Furthermore, the region in which he had lived since at least the age of seven had converted to Christianity only a generation previously through the labours of Irish missionaries. Closer to his own day it is evident that some contact persisted between Irish monasteries and Northumbria, as demonstrated by his quotations from papal and episcopal letters to Ireland, his comments upon Irish schools, his knowledge of numerous English religious in Ireland, his references to Adomnán and De Locis Sanctis, his use of a computus based upon an Irish exemplar, and the use of Irish minuscule in the scriptorium at

222 223




Ibid., preface, lvi–lxviii (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 210–12); cf. Benedict, Regula Monachorum, IV (edd. de Vogüé & Neufville, I.456–64). Cassian, Conlationes, I.7 (ed. Pichery, I.84): ‘Omnia igitur huius gratia gerenda adpetendaque sunt nobis. Pro hac solitudo sectanda est, pro hac ieiunia, uigilias, labores, corporis nuditatem, lectionem ceterasque uirtutues debere nos suscipere nouerimus, ut scilicet per illas ab uniuersis passionibus noxiis inlaesum parare cor nostrum et conseruare possimus et ad perfectionem caritatis istis gradibus innitendo conscendere . . .’ For example, he praises Aedán’s gentleness, piety, moderation and zeal, but dourly notes that it was ‘non plene secundum scietiam’: Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, III.3 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 218–19); cf. ibid., III.17 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 266–7). Etchingham, Church Organisation, takes little note of Bede; his chapter on ‘Monasticism in its primary sense’, 319–62, might have benefited from some discussion of the Historia Ecclesiastica. Bede, Historia, preface (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 6–7): ‘qui haec scire uel meminisse poterant’.


Céli Dé in Ireland Wearmouth-Jarrow.227 Although he was not a primary witness to many of the things he describes, Bede was not far removed from the religious milieu of the Irish monks who came from Iona to Lindisfarne and left such an indelible mark upon the early history of northern England. According to the Historia, Lindisfarne’s first bishop, Aedán, was a monk before he was sent forth by the Iona seniores, and while it appears that the demands of his ministry did not permit him to live a strictly cenobitical life – Bede describes him as a kind of itinerant preacher – he remained deeply ascetic.228 Indeed, asceticism seems to have been a significant part of Aedán’s message. Bede writes: He taught the clergy many lessons about the conduct of their lives but above all he left them a most salutary example of abstinence and self-control; and the best recommendation of his teaching to all was that he taught them no other way of life than that which he himself practised among his fellows. For he neither sought after nor cared for worldly possessions but he rejoiced to hand over at once, to any poor man he met, the gifts which he had received from kings or rich men of the world.229 It would seem that the clerici he taught were English (as opposed to ‘among his fellows’, cum suis), and were expected to live in abstinence and poverty. His own clergy appears to have included both monastic and non-monastic personnel: His life was in great contrast to our modern slothfulness; all who accompanied him, whether tonsured or laymen, had to engage in some form of study, that is to say, to occupy themselves either with reading the scriptures or learning the psalms. This was the daily task of Aedán himself and of all those who were with him, wherever they went.230 This passage is significant for another reason; it is our first indication that religious standards prior to the appearance of céli Dé may have grown lax. It is probably best, however, not to make too much of the ‘slothfulness’ Bede observed. He is describing the glorious beginnings of the Northumbrian church, when the miracleworking Aedán brought the light of Christianity to the English in the North. It would hardly be surprising if a certain amount of nostalgia should tint his view of 227 228 229


Kenney, The Sources, 231; Ó Cróinín, ‘The Irish provenance’, 229–47; Parkes, ‘The scriptorium’, 93–120. The saint who continues in religious austerity despite elevation to high ecclesiastical office is a commonplace in hagiography. Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, III.5 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 226–7): ‘Unde inter alia uiuendi documenta saluberrimum abstinentiae uel continentiae clericis exemplum reliquit; cuius doctrinam id maxime commendabat omnibus, quod non aliter quam uiuebat cum suis ipse docebat. Nihil enim huius mundi quaerere, nil amare curabat. Cuncta quae sibi a regibus uel diuitibus saeculi donabantur, mox pauperibus qui occurrerent erogare gaudebat.’ Ibid., III.5 (edd & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 226–7): ‘In tantum autem uita illius a nostri temporis segnitia distabat, ut omnes qui cum eo incedebant, siue adtonsi seu laici, meditari deberent, id est aut legendis scripturis aut psalmis discendis operam dare. Hoc erat cotidianum opus illius et omnium qui cum eo erant, ubicumque locorum deuenissent.’


Irish asceticism before céli Dé how things used to be. Also, it is well to remember that Bede speaks not of Ireland but of Northumbria, some three generations after the departure of Colmán. As for Aedán’s personal asceticism, Bede reports that the saintly bishop used to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until the ninth hour, and by his example encouraged others to do the same.231 The Wednesday and Friday fast, as we have noted, appears also to have been the custom at Iona. Often he secluded himself on Farne Island, the same place where St Cuthbert later made his own hermitage, to pray in solitude and silence.232 Despite the fact that he did not keep the Roman Easter, we are assured that he was a man of exemplary virtues, triumphant over vices, and full of good works: Such were his love of peace and charity, temperance and humility; his soul which triumphed over anger and greed and at the same time despised pride and vainglory; his industry in carrying out and teaching the divine commandments, his diligence in study and keeping vigil, his authority, such as became a priest, in reproving the proud and the mighty, and his tenderness in comforting the weak, in relieving and protecting the poor.233 Bede also praises Aedán’s successors in the see of Lindisfarne, Fínán (651–61) and Colmán (661–3), both of whom were also sent from Iona. Again, he highlights the austerity of the Irish: How frugal and austere [Colmán] and his predecessors had been, the place itself over which they ruled bears witness. When they left, there were very few buildings there except for the church, in fact only those without which the life of a community was impossible. They had no money, but only cattle; if they received money from the rich they promptly gave it to the poor.234 In their refection they were content with simple daily fare, for their sole concern was ‘to serve God and not the world, to satisfy the soul and not the belly’.235 In this as well Bede seems to be drawing a contrast to his own day. So respected was the religious habit at that time, he continues, that wherever a cleric or monk went he

231 232 233



Ibid. Ibid., III.16 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 262–3). Ibid., III.17 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 266–7): ‘studium uidelicet pacis et caritatis, continentiae et humilitatis; animum irae et auaritiae uictorem, superbiae simul et uanae gloriae contemtorem; industriam faciendi simul et docendi mandata caelestia; sollertiam lectionis et uigilarum; auctoritatem sacerdote dignam redarguendi superbos ac potentes; pariter et infirmos consolandi ac pauperes recreandi uel defendendi clementiam’. Ibid., III.26 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 310–11): ‘Quantae autem parsimoniae, cuius continentiae fuerit ipse cum prodecessoribus suis, testabatur etiam locus ille quem regebant, ubi abeuntibus eis excepta ecclesia paucissimae domus repertae sunt, hoc est illae solummodo sine quibus conuersatio ciuilis esse nullatenus poterat. Nil pecuniarum absque pecoribus habebant; siquid enim pecuniae a diuitibus accipiebant, mox pauperibus dabant.’ Ibid., III.26 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 310–11): ‘Deo seruiendi, non saeculo, tota cura cordis excolendi, non uentris.’


Céli Dé in Ireland was gladly received by all as God’s servant. While to some extent Bede idealises the Irish who came to Northumbria, he is not hesitant to point out what he viewed as their shortcomings, namely their method of calculating the date of Easter and their tonsure. In the end, his descriptions of Aedán, Fínán, and Colmán may be taken as a fair representation of religious observance at Iona in the seventh century.236 The three last named are not the only Irish religious mentioned in the Historia. Drawing from the anonymous Vita Prima S. Fursei, Bede recounts the career of St Fursa, though he includes some material not found in the latter work. In contrast with the Vita which has Fursa leave Ireland because of opposition to his preaching, Bede presents the saint as a peregrinus, who was ‘anxious to live the life of a pilgrim for the Lord’s sake’.237 Other Irish monks to attract Bede’s notice include Dícuill (fl. 678) who shared a monasteriolum at Boshom, in southern England, with a handful of brothers serving the Lord ‘in humility and poverty’,238 and Adomnán of Coldingham (fl. 683) who only took food and drink on Sundays and Thursdays and often passed the entire night in vigil and prayer.239 Adomnán’s austerity and devotion, which Bede seems to single out as unusual, began as penance for a sin committed in his youth, but continued even when it was no longer requisite on account of his love of God and because he delighted in its rewards. He would seem a likely representative of the ordo poenitentium, one of the permanent penitents whom the Cambrai Homilist thought worthy of glasmartre.240 In all this, although Bede relies upon the testimony of others to describe Irish religious who died as much as eighty years before he wrote the Historia, in retelling their stories


237 238



At the Synod of Whitby, Colmán is reported to have said of Columba and his successors at Iona, ‘quos ipse sanctos esse non dubitans, semper eorum uitam, mores et disciplinam sequi non desisto’, ‘And as I have no doubt that they were saints, I shall never cease to follow their way of life, their customs, and their teaching.’ In reply his opponent Wilfrid similarly commented, ‘De patre autem uestro Columba et sequacibus eius, quorum sanctitatem uos imitari, et regulam ac praecepta caelestibus signis confirmata sequi perhibetis . . .’, ‘So far as your father Columba and his followers are concerned, whose holiness you claim to imitate and whose rule and precepts (confirmed by heavenly signs) you claim to follow . . .’: ibid., III.25 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 304–5). Ibid., III.19 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 268): ‘cupiens pro Domino . . . peregrinam ducere uitam’; cf. Vita S. Fursei, XXVI (ed. Heist, 48–9). Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, IV.13 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 372–3): ‘in humili et paupere’; Bede mentions Dícuill in the context of Wilfrid’s preaching mission among the South Saxons following Wilfrid’s expulsion from York in 678. Ibid., IV.25 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 422–5); he was a contemporary of Æbbe, the abbess of Coldingham (it was a double monastery), shortly after whose death around 683 the monastery burned down. Bede says he heard the story of Adomnán from a former inhabitant of Coldingham who had come to Wearmouth-Jarrow after the fire. See above, 54–6. Bede names many other Irish in the course of the Historia, but he does not always comment on their religious aptitude; see Kenney, The Sources, 231 n. 216, for a more complete list. Wright, The Irish Tradition, 346, has noted, ‘In the Historia Ecclesiastica Bede reserved the term continentia (sometimes magna continentia) almost exclusively for Irish ascetics (Columba, Fursa, Aidan, and Adamnán of Coldingham) or for their English followers (Chad and Cuthbert, as well as the Anglo-Saxon monks at Mayo).’


Irish asceticism before céli Dé he reaffirms for his own day the Irish reputation for ascetic living. That he does so with such open admiration, not withstanding his evident pride in the accomplishments of the English Church and his staunch support of the catholic observance, underscores this reputation. Collectio Canonum Hibernensis While questions still remain regarding its origin and date, the great compilation of canon-law texts known as Collectio Canonum Hibernensis is generally accepted as the work of Irish canonists in the first half of the eighth century. Among the numerous manuscripts in which it survives, in two recensions, one of the very earliest is Cambrai, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 679 (619), written by a Carolingian scribe using a Hiberno-Latin exemplar for Alberic, bishop of Cambrai and Arras, between 763 and 790.241 A jumbled colophon appearing only in a ninth-century Breton manuscript copy of the A-recension yields the names Rubin of Dairinis and Cú-Chuimne of Iona.242 Both men are commemorated in the Annals of Ulster as learned ecclesiastics (scriba and sapiens respectively), Rubin under the year 725 and Cú-Chuimne under 747. On the strength of this single colophon many scholars have accorded authorship of the Hibernensis to these two, although David Dumville has pointed out some difficulties with this attribution.243 Internal evidence in the A-recension, the earlier of the two, strongly suggests a date of composition after ca 700.244 The use of the Hibernensis in the vernacular law-tract Bretha Nemed Toísech, composed in Munster between 721 and 742, provides an approximate terminus ante quem.245 Notwithstanding the continuing lack of a modern critical edition, scholarly understanding of the Hibernensis has progressed considerably in the past couple of decades. Thomas O’Loughlin has noted a growing awareness of the Hibernensis as less a ‘Celtic phenomenon’, as Maurice Sheehy once described it, than a part of a larger process of the systematisation and dissemination of canon law in Western Europe.246 Previous views expressed by Kathleen Hughes that the Hibernensis was partly antiquarian, containing canons no longer pertinent to conditions in Ireland, have given way to a recognition of the text as a living document whose contents were relevant to the church at the time.247 According to its preface the

241 242 243 244

245 246


Lowe, Codices, VI.1161; this is the same manuscript that contains the Cambrai Homily, inserted into the text of the Hibernensis. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Latin 12021, fo. 139r. See Kenney, The Sources, 249 n. 273: ‘Hucusque Ruben & Cú-Cuimne Iae & Durinis’. Dumville, ‘Ireland, Brittany and England’, 86. The latest source in the A-recension is the Penitential of Theodore, the archbishop of Canterbury (669–90), which is unlikely to have circulated in Ireland prior to ca 700; ibid., 86–7. The latest source in the B-recension is Adomnán of Iona, who died in 704. For purposes of this study only the A-recension will be considered, in the edition by Wasserschleben, based primarily upon the Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 243, s. ix. Breatnach, ‘Canon law’, 439–59. O’Loughlin, ‘The Latin sources’, 103–4; Sheehy, ‘The Collectio Canonum Hibernensis’, 525; for a discussion of the diffusion of the Hibernensis, see Dumville, ‘Ireland, Brittany, and England’, 85–95. Hughes, The Church, 124, 133; Sharpe, ‘Some problems’, 236–7; Etchingham, Church Organisation, 48; on the sources of the Hibernensis, see Richter, Ireland and her


Céli Dé in Ireland Hibernensis was intended to be a complete, harmonious, and, above all, useful exposition of existing synodical exempla: Observing the vast number of copies of synod-books, foreseeing that the obscurity of very many of them is hardly useful for inexperienced readers, and also seeing that the variety of the rest is contradictory, and destroys rather than builds up, I have set out a brief, but complete and harmonious exposition of the huge forest of writings in the compass of a single volume.248 As such, the sixty-four books of the A-recension (sixty-nine in the B-recension) cover a wide range of topics, such as the different orders and sub-orders of the clergy, the burial of the dead on church property, and the nature of the soul. Significant portions of the work address the religious life, notably the books De monachis (XXXIX) and De quaestionibus mulierum (XLV). De monachis is the most relevant to the present study. The first two chapters of the book, citing a Sinodus Hibernensis and Isidore’s De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, reaffirm the ascetic character of the monk in his solitude and renunciation of the world. They recall the biblical origins of the anchoritical vocation with the figures of Elijah, Elisha, and John the Baptist, all distinguished for their austere desert lifestyles, as well as the careers of the Desert Fathers of Egypt, after whose example monasticism spread everywhere.249 The third and longest chapter of the book presents three slightly different categorisations of monks. The first of these again relies upon Isidore and quotes his description of six types of monks, good and bad. Among the good ones are cenobites (coenobitae), who live in common after the biblical example of the apostolic community in Jerusalem, hermits (heremitae), who with contempt of the world live in desert solitude on wild herbs or bread and water, and with pure minds enjoy divine conversation (divino tantum conloquio perfruuntur, cui puris mentibus inheserunt), and finally anchorites (anachoretae), who having first perfected themselves in cenobitical life (iam coenobiali conversatione perfecti) reside in cells far from the view of men and persevere living in solitary theoretical contemplation (in sola contemplatione theorica viventes perseverant).250 Interestingly, in the Hibernensis the passage on anchorites continues with the following comment which is not found in Isidore: ‘But




Neighbours, 216–25. For recent studies on the Hibernensis, see articles by Meens, Reynolds, Jaski, Richter, and Davis in Peritia 14. Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, preface (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 1; tr. Wright, apud Dumville, ‘Ireland, Brittany and England’, 92): ‘Synodicorum exemplarium innumerositatem conspiciens ac plurimorum ex ipsis obscuritatem rudibus minus utilem providens nec non ceterorum diversitatem inconsonam, destruentem magis quam aedificantem prospiciens, brevem plenamque ac consonam de ingenti silva scriptorum in unius voluminis textum expossitionem degessi.’ Ibid., XXXIX.1–2 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 147); cf. Isidore, De Ecclesiasticis Officiis II.16.2–9 (ed. Lawson, 74–7). Early Christian and medieval writers frequently invoked Elijah, Elisha, and John the Baptist as models of monastic asceticism; cf. Cassian, Conlationes, XVIII.6.2 (ed. Pichery, III.17). Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, XXXIX.3a (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 147–8).


Irish asceticism before céli Dé from the trials of the cenobitical life they were elected to this contemplation through obedience, having proven themselves in all the disciplines of the monastery after thirty years.’251 If this is an interpolation by the compilers of the Hibernensis, it may indicate their desire to codify how long one ought to remain in a monastery before taking up the solitary life. Cassian, as we have already noted, was among the earliest Latin writers to regard a cenobitical career as a prerequisite to an anchoritical one, but neither he nor Isidore specified how long the former should last before commencing the latter.252 The remaining three types of monks in the Isidore citation are to be avoided. They illustrate the dangers of the solitary life, the pride and vainglory that can arise in one who prematurely or for the wrong reasons leaves the cenobium. In all this, Isidore relies considerably upon Cassian. His mention of the contemplatio theorica of the anchoritical life recalls Cassian’s comments upon the two types of spiritual knowledge, practica and theoretica. He cites directly from Cassian for the fourth type of monk, unnamed but described as one who starts out in the cenobium with a short-lived fervour yet proves lukewarm, who is attracted by the image of the anchorite but disdainful of the rule of the elders.253 Cassian had a good deal to say elsewhere about the difficulties and dangers of the solitary life.254 Returning to the Hibernensis, the second categorisation of monks in the third chapter of De monachis cites an otherwise unknown catalogus describing four types of monks: hermits (heremitae), cenobites (coenobitae), and two bad kinds, vagabundi and sarabaitae. Hermits, ‘who have nothing in common with the world’ (qui nihil commune cum mundo habent), support themselves by their own labour and thereby ‘maintain a contemplative as well as an active life’ (hi theoricam vitam et actualem continent), or they may receive sustenance from others and so occupy themselves entirely with prayer (orationi tantum vacantes). Here again we encounter a reference to Cassian’s two kinds of spiritual knowledge.255 Cenobites, the catalogus continues, ‘live in common in the likeness of the community of the apostles’ (in commune vivunt in instar apostolorum familiae) and are continually occupied with reading or prayer or assisting a neighbour (Numquam horam vacuam relinquunt, sed sive legunt sive orant sive utilitatem proximi faciunt).256 Isidore, as we have seen above, and Cassian before him also refer to the Apostolic community in Jerusalem as the primary model for cenobitic monasticism.257 The third categorisation of monks cited in the Hibernensis is a supposed letter from Jerome to Benedict. While the attribution is manifestly false, as Jerome died about 419 and Benedict of Nursia was not even born until over sixty years later, the text bears some resemblance to Jerome’s well-known letter to 251 252 253 254 255

256 257

Ibid.: ‘Sed isti de examinatione coenobiorum probati in omnibus monasterii disciplinis per XXX annos ad hanc contemplationem per oboedientiam eleguntur.’ See Cassian, Conlationes, XVIII.4 (ed. Pichery, III.14). Ibid., XVIII.8 (ed. Pichery, III.21). Ibid., XIX.3–8 (ed. Pichery, III.40–6). Yet another is found in Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, XLII.1 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 161): ‘De vera ecclesia non habente nisi tria. Hieronimus: Tria tantum ecclesia custodit et nutrit: theoricam et actualem et penitentem, ultra nec sumit nec custodit ecclesia.’ Ibid., XXXIX.3b (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 149). Cassian, Conlationes, XVIII.5 (ed. Pichery, III.14–16); Acts 4:32–4.


Céli Dé in Ireland Eustochium, dated to 384, which describes three kinds of monks.258 The passage has an even stronger affinity, however, with Benedict’s own Regula Monachorum, composed at Monte Cassino in the first half of the sixth century, which names four kinds of monks.259 The ‘Letter to Benedict’ does not differ much from the other categorisations in the Hibernensis, other than to say that cenobites, ‘soldiers [of God] under a rule and an abbot’ (militans sub regula et abate), are the best kind of monks.260 The remaining thirteen chapters of De monachis are much shorter. Citing Gregory the Great, Augustine, Jerome, several Continental synods, Gildas, and the so-called ‘First Synod of Patrick’, they reaffirm the essentials of monastic life. The rule of poverty is evident in passages requiring a monk to have nothing of his own and to surrender any acquisitions to his abbot,261 the rule of celibacy in a passage mandating the punishment of a monk who procreates,262 and the rule of obedience in several passages emphasising the importance of remaining under the authority of an abbot and not abandoning the monastery to wander about.263 The final two chapters outline under what circumstances a cenobitic monk may become a solitary: Agathene Synod: Monks are not allowed to withdraw from the monastic community into solitary cells, unless it is permitted to those who have been approved by their abbots after worthy labours. Then, remaining within the enclosure of the monastery, they may have separate cells. Aurelien Synod: No monk may presume out of ambition or vanity to build a cell without the permission of his abbot.264 These two chapters seem to have in mind the anchoritical rather than the more isolated eremetical expression of the solitary life and concur with the expectation noted above that one may become an anchorite only after proving oneself in a cenobium. In large measure, the book De monachis seeks to curtail inappropriate monastic tendencies. The safest and, according to at least one source, best form of 258 259 260

261 262

263 264

Jerome, Epistulae XXII.34 (ed. & tr. Wright, 134–7). Benedict, Regula Monachorum, I (edd. de Vogüé & Neufville, I.436–40). Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, XXXIX.3c (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 149); cf. Benedict, Regula Monachorum, I (edd. de Vogüé & Neufville, I.440): ‘His ergo omissis, ad coenobitarum fortissimum genus disponendum, adiuvante Domino, veniamus.’ Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, XXXIX.5, 8 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 150–1). Ibid., XXXIX.14 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 152), cf. Ibid., XLVI.11d (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 188): ‘Habitantibus illis in habitu religioso copulari non permittitur.’ Ibid., XXXIX.4, 7, 9–13 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 149–52). Ibid., XXXIX.15–16 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 152): ‘Sinodus Agathensis: Monachis ad solitarias cellulas non liceat a congregatione secedere, nisi forte probatis post meritos labores ab abbatibus permittatur, ita tamen, ut intra eadem monasterii septa manentes separatas habeant cellulas. Sinodus Auriliensis: Nullus monachus ambitionis et vanitatis impulsu cellam sine abbatis sui permissione construere preasumat.’


Irish asceticism before céli Dé monasticism is cenobitical. Solitary monasticism is a worthy and authoritatively sanctioned endeavour, but it should be permitted only within controlled circumstances. The place of women in religious life is addressed in the forty-fifth book of the Hibernensis, titled De quaestionibus mulierum. Several chapters discuss the two orders of women who take the veil, virgines and penitentes, compared in one source to the clerical grades of bishops and presbyters, respectively.265 A chapter attributed to the Romani, generally thought to have been Irish supporters of the Roman observance, decrees that women should live under the authority of pastoral direction (sub manu pastoralis regiminis): Virgins, dressed in the habit of virginity, ought to be segregated apart from the view of all men, and should so live until death. Penitent women however should be compelled to obedience, and where they have known weakness, they must become more cautious.266 The ascetic nature of the virginal life is evident in a chapter attributed to Jerome (not found in his extant works), on the worth of virginity: It is strong in abstinence, firm in humility, sincere in charity, the foundation of prayer, diligent in vigils, prompt in fasts, the victory of life, the companion of angels. Virginity follows the Lamb, wherever he will go, it ever abides in the sight of the Creator.267 Other chapters discuss widows, possibly to be associated with the penitentes, above, and the ordo poenitentium, ‘who are maintained by the support of the church and ought to be continually about the work of God, so that they may aid the church through their prayers and service’.268 Although female religious do not always attract the same amount of attention as their male counterparts, the canonists of the Hibernensis clearly recognised their potential for ascetic life and valued them for it. The two books discussed above mention several ascetic practices associated with the religious life. Fasting, probably the most common of these, is addressed in greater detail in De ieiunio, the twelfth book of the Hibernensis. It cites several biblical examples that illustrate various reasons for fasting and the benefits that can accrue from it.269 It distinguishes between partial and complete fasts, and

265 266




Ibid., XLV.12 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 183). Ibid., XLV.14 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 183): ‘virgines habitu virginitatis ornatae sine omnium virorum conspectibus segregentur, et sic vivant usque ad mortem; penitentes vero obedientiae subditae sint, et quanto expertae sunt fragilitatem, tanto fieri cautiores debent’. Ibid., XLV.1 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 180): ‘Haec robusta est in abstinentia, in humilitate firma, in caritate sincera, solidamentum orationis, sollicita in vigiliis, prompta in ieiuniis, victoria vitae, consortium angelorum, viginitas sequitur agnum, quocumque ierit, quae semper in intuitu creatoris manet.’ Ibid., XLV.7e (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 182): ‘quae ecclesiae stipendio sustentantur, tam assidue in opere Dei esse debent, ut orationibus et meritis ecclesiam adjuvent’. Ibid., XII.2a–c (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 33).


Céli Dé in Ireland recognises Wednesdays, Fridays, and the forty days of Lent as statutory fasts.270 The ascetic value of fasting is highlighted in the chapter De laude ieiunii (‘On the praise of fasting’): Isidore said: Fasting is a sacred thing, a heavenly work, the door to the kingdom, the form of the future, because he who does it piously is joined to the Lord, is separated from the world, and is made spiritual. For through it the vices are overthrown, the flesh is humbled, and the constraints of the devil are defeated. Jerome: Fasting castigates the body, it restrains the vices, and stimulates the virtues of the soul. Augustine: Fasting unlocks the mysteries, shuts out the vices, and enlightens the soul.271 Fasting is clearly understood here to be a means to an end. The same point may be taken from this about asceticism in general. As is evident from the preface, the Hibernensis was intended to be a practical resource for ecclesiastics at the time it was composed. Presumably the compilers (or compiler – the preface is written in the first-person singular) included all these sources of varied origins and dates because they were deemed applicable to the circumstances and needs of the eighth-century Irish church. This being so, the Hibernensis is positive evidence for the continued ascetic character of religious life for both men and women at that time. Conventuals forsook private property to live in common, were sexually abstinent, submitted in obedience to an abbot and a rule, and occupied themselves with prayer, study, vigils and fasting. Solitaries went a step further and renounced the whole world in pursuit of the contemplative life. In much of this, Cassian remained a fundamental influence. His conceptualisation of practical and theoretical spiritual knowledge shaped canonical views on the very aims of the religious vocation. His reservations regarding solitary monasticism and its inherent dangers are reflected in passages intended to regulate those who would withdraw from the world and insist that they have previous cenobitical training.272 Nowhere does the Hibernensis give the impression that religious life in Ireland at any time had degenerated in some fashion or had become less ascetic. On the contrary, the canonists’ considerable use of patristic sources and a wide range of Continental synodical decretals intimates a degree of continuity with ascetic practices elsewhere in the West and at earlier times. Bretha Nemed Toísech Partly derivative of the Hibernensis is the Old Irish legal tract Bretha Nemed 270 271


Ibid., XII.2d (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 34). Ibid., XII.3 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 34): ‘Isidorus ait: Jejunium res sancta, opus celeste, janua regni, forma futuri, quod qui sancte agit, Domino conjungitur, mundo alienatur, spiritalis efficitur. Per hoc enim prosternuntur vitia, humiliatur caro, diaboli temperamenta vincuntur. Hieronimus: Jejunium castigat corpus, Jejunium refrenat vitia, incitat virtutues animae. Augustinus: Jejunium reserat mysteria, excludit vitia, inluminat animam.’ Cf. Isidore, De Ecclesiasticis Officis, I.42 (ed. Lawson, 48). The ‘Jerome’ and ‘Augustine’ passages are otherwise unknown to me. For other, less-relevant uses of Cassian in the Hibernensis, see Richter, Ireland and her Neighbours, 220.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé Toísech (‘First judgments of privileged persons’).273 Composed in Munster, according to an external source, during the second quarter of the eighth century by three Uí Búirecháin kinsmen said to have been a bishop, a poet, and a judge, it is a tripartite work that discusses in turn churches and privileged churchmen, poets, and judges.274 Our interest is in the first part. Not infrequently in Irish law the relationship between church and lay society was described as a contract; in return for providing pastoral care, sacraments, prayers for the dead and the like, a church was entitled to the tithes and offerings of the tuath.275 While there are other tracts more directly concerned with this reciprocal relationship (for example, Córus Béscnai and Riagail Phátraic), Bretha Nemed Toísech discusses some of the stipulations. Among the ‘good qualifications ennobling a church’ (dagfolad sóertho ecalso), that is, which ensure its legal standing and rights are: the shrine of a righteous man, the relics of saints, divine scripture, a sinless superior, devout monks; the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, the seven grades of the church with their divisions and with their proper functions being in it; people praying for those who serve it, serving people obedient with regard to seeking permission and to bell and psalm and prior and the sacrament, penitents attending the sacrifice under the direction of a confessor with pious sayings . . .276 Contrasted to these are the ‘disqualifications debasing a church’ (mífolad dóertho ecalso) and diminishing its legal rights: being without baptism, without communion, without mass, without praying for the dead, without preaching, without penitents, without the active life, without the contemplative life; water through it onto the altar, driving guests away from it; disobedience, misappropriation, private property, complaining, providing for clients; an ex-layman tending it, a young boy in its stewardship, a nun announcing its canonical hours . . .277


274 275 276


Partially edited and translated by Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 1–40; the citations below are to this edition. For the complete text see the diplomatic edition by Binchy, Corpus Iuris Hibernici, 2211–32. On the relationship of Bretha Nemed Toísech to the Hibernensis see Breatnach, ‘Canon law’, 439–59. Breatnach, ‘Canon law’, 459. Charles-Edwards, ‘The pastoral role’, 63–77. Bretha Nemed Toísech, III (ed. & tr. Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 8–9): ‘martarlaic fíréoin, reilgi nóeb, scriptuir déodae, airchinnech etail, manaig cráibthig; secht ndánae in Spiruto Noíb, secht ngráda ecalso cona fodlaib 7 cona n-ordaib córaib do buith indi; áes airnaigthe ar chách foda-gní; áes fognamo airlaithe, eter cet 7 chloc 7 …alm 7 …ecnapaid ocus …acarbaic; áes aithrige ascnamo sacarbaic a réir anmcharat co n-erroscaib crábaid’. Ibid., VI (ed. & tr. Breatnach, 10–11): ‘buith cen bathais, cen chomnai, cen oifrend, cen immon n-anmae, cen phrecept, cen áes n-aithrige, cen achtáil, cen teoir; uisce tree for altóir, esáin oíged úaidi; nac, díchmairc, sainchron, fodord, frithairle chéile; athláech inna haritiu, gillae inna ferthigsiud, caillech do fócru a tráth’. The translation of caillech as ‘nun’ is open to question. Its basic sense is ‘veiled woman’ but it may also be taken to mean a serving woman; see Ní Dhonnchadha, ‘Caillech and other terms’, 71–96.


Céli Dé in Ireland It was expected that in addition to having the requisite clergy to perform the sacraments, a church should have religious, some pursuing the active life (achtáil, from the Latin actualis) and others the contemplative life (teoir, from the Latin theoria).278 The latter pray (aes airnaigthe) for those who serve the church; the former serve (aes fognamo) in obedience to monastic authority and to the bell that summons them to sing the Divine Office. Mention of the common life is to be noted as well. Further complementing a church’s population are penitents (aes aithrige), who attend mass under the direction of a confessor (anmcharae). These same three groups are summarised in verse further on in the text: There are three lights which characterize privileged ecclesiastics: the first, maintenance of the contemplative life, makes them known; the second which is assigned is activity, by which it performs the active life; then is reckoned the penitent, pious in word and deed.279 Liam Breatnach observed that this threefold schema of contemplative, active, and penitent, among other portions of Bretha Nemed Toísech, was derived from the Hibernensis.280 From the latter work, under the chapter heading De uera ecclesia non habente nisi tria in the book De ecclesia et mundo, we read: ‘Jerome: These three only a church protects and supports: the contemplative, the active and the penitent; more than this the church neither accepts nor protects.’281 Penitents, as we know from Adomnán’s Vita S. Columbae and Liber Angeli, were attached to both Iona and Armagh in the seventh century.282 The evidence from Bretha Nemed Toísech indicates that they were expected to be present at most churches in the eighth century as well. That they are said to attend mass under the direction of a confessor suggests that the aes aithrige were not confessed sinners performing an allotted penance, who according to the penitentials were normally barred from communion, but rather laity who had voluntarily taken up a life of penance as an act of piety, much like Adomnán of Coldingham.283 Associated as they are in Bretha Nemed Toísech and the Hibernensis with the contemplative and active religious (that is, anchorites and cenobites), penitents were evidently thought of as being religious or semi-religious in their own right. Though Bretha Nemed Toísech offers slight evidence for specific ascetic activities, if we can presume that the aes aithrige assumed a manner of life not unlike that prescribed in the Bigotian Penitential or Paenitentiale Cummeani from the previous century, characterised by fasts, sexual abstinence, and regular prayer, then we have here an indication that asceticism remained a prominent feature among the laity at Irish churches in the 278 279

280 281

282 283

Cf. the Old Irish glosses on I Corinthians 12:15 in Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, Wb. 12a23 and 12a24 (edd. & tr. Stokes & Strachan, I.572). Bretha Nemed Toísech, XII (ed. & tr. Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 12–15): ‘Téora soilsi sluindte neimthiu: / noíthius in chétnae, cumtach teoir; / in tánaise taisilbther gním, / gnís n-achtáil n-airchenn; / ad-rímther íarum aithrigech, / irisech bréithir la gním.’ Breatnach, ‘Canon law’, 445–7. Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, XLII.1 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 161): ‘Hieronimus: Tria tantum ecclesia custodit et nutrit: theoricam et actualem et penitentem, ultra nec sumit nec custodit ecclesia.’ I am unaware of such a passage in Jerome’s extant works. See above, 55, 63–4. See above, 72.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé eighth century, where persons not in orders or under monastic vows could assume an ascetic lifestyle comparable to that of clerics and monks. Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis The final item considered in this survey was one of the most popular works of the middle ages, Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (‘Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot’). Extant in some 120 manuscripts, none earlier than the tenth century, it was widely read in Latin and several vernacular languages across Western Europe.284 It belongs to an Irish literary genre called immrama (from imm-rá, ‘rows around’, ‘navigates’), which developed within a Christian milieu towards the end of the seventh century.285 Inspired by the actual overseas travels of Irish peregrini,286 the immram is a frame-tale for any number of episodic adventures at sea or on islands encountered during a voyage.287 Until recently, most scholars have dated the composition of the Navigatio to the ninth or tenth century. Dumville, however, has posited a date before 786 on the basis of the familial and dynastic ties accorded to St Brendan in the first chapter of the text.288 This later eighth-century date has been accepted elsewhere, and for that reason I include the Navigatio here.289 As there is no manuscript tradition for the text in Ireland, its modern editor imprudently concluded that it was composed on the Continent.290 Yet it seems to be an unmistakably Irish work. It displays familiarity with Munster dynastic claims as well as toponymical knowledge of Ireland’s southwestern coast. Kenney felt it nearly certain that it was composed in Ireland, and more recent scholars agree.291 Possibly it has connections to Clonfert, mentioned in the beginning of the text, which was Brendan’s primary foundation and the site of his shrine. As for St Brendan, hagiographical tradition names Kerry as his birthplace, where numerous landscape features bear his name. His cult however seems to have been widespread, with other foundations credited to the saint in Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. The earliest manuscripts of the Navigatio come from the Rhineland and the Low Countries.292 The earliest historical record of Brendan is in 284 285

286 287

288 289

290 291 292

Selmer (ed.), Navigatio, xxxi–xxxii. Dumville, ‘Echtrae and Immram’, 74–6, 89–90; other examples of the genre are the later Vita S. Brendani, and the vernacular tales Immram curaig Máele Dúin, Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla, and Immram curaig Ua Corra, all edited by Van Hamel, Immrama. Irish monks embarked on peregrinatio as late as 891, on the evidence of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (edd. Whitelock, Douglas, and Tucker, 53). Dumville, ‘Echtrae and Immram’, 75; Kenney, The Sources, 409–10; Hughes, ‘The changing theory’, 148–9; see also Wooding’s introduction to his anthology, The Otherworld Voyage, which reprints many of the more important articles on Brendan scholarship. Dumville, ‘Two approaches’, 87–105. See Lapidge & Sharpe, A Bibliography, 105 no. 362; Sharpe, Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives, 17–18, 390; Wooding, ‘Fasting, flesh, and the body’, 162, 173–4 n. 3, on the controversy over the priority of relationship between the Navigatio and Vita S. Brendani. Selmer (ed.), Navigatio, xxviii–xxix. Kenney, The Sources, 415; O’Meara (tr.), The Voyage, x. Selmer (ed.), Navigatio, xvii–xix; for a listing of the Latin manuscripts, see ibid., 105–16.


Céli Dé in Ireland Adomnán’s Vita S. Columbae, where in the company of Comgall of Bangor (ob. 601 or 602), Cainnech of Aghaboe (ob. 599 or 600), and Cormac Ua Liatháin,293 he is said to have visited Columba on the isle of Hinba.294 The Annals of Ulster report his death in 577 or 583. As a witness to the historical Brendan and to religious life in the sixth century, the Navigatio is unreliable. As a literary reflection of the monastic values and practices of the eighth century, however, it is of considerable worth. It must be used with caution, as in many regards these values and practices are highly idealised. Asceticism, not surprisingly, features prominently in the work. At the very beginning of the text, Brendan is praised as ‘a man of great abstinence, famous for his deeds’.295 Since his ordination he had never eaten meat.296 Prior to setting out he and his monks fast for forty days, and regularly thereafter, eating only once every three days whenever they are at sea.297 They assiduously observe the Divine Office throughout their adventures, and keep a vigil all night long on Easter eve.298 At other times Brendan keeps vigil alone or with his host while his companions sleep.299 The renunciations a monk must make are mentioned early in the work, when Brendan’s community reminds him: Abbot, your will is ours. Have we not left our parents behind? Have we not spurned our inheritance and given our bodies into your hands? So we are prepared to go along with you to death or to life. Only one thing let us ask for, the will of God.300 The voyage to the Terra repromissionis sanctorum is cast as a further sort of renunciation, wherein the monks abandon themselves entirely to the will of God, who provides their food and drink, directs their boat, and preserves them from danger.301 During their travels Brendan and his monks repeatedly visit the Island of the Community of Ailbe, presented as an ideal monastery. The twenty-four monks who live there have observed the rule of silence for eighty years, raising their voices only in praise to God. When Brendan enquires how such a life can be endured, Ailbe reveals that since coming to the island eighty years ago, none of them has ever suffered infirmity in body or mind.302 Their remarkable discipline and devotion, it would seem, have preserved them from all ailments. In this chapter and elsewhere in the Navigatio we find allusions to Benedict’s Regula Monachorum. The most obvious of these is Ailbe’s remark to Brendan that it is 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300

301 302

The erstwhile mariner of Adomnán’s Vita S. Columbae; see above, 66–7. His obit is unknown. Adomnán, Vita S. Columbae, III.17 (edd. & tr. Anderson & Anderson, 206–7). Navigatio, I (ed. Selmer, 3): ‘uir magne abstinencie et in uirtutibus clarus’. Ibid., XVI (ed. Selmer, 48). Ibid., forty days, III (ed. Selmer, 10); at sea, passim. Ibid., Divine Office, passim; Easter eve, XV (ed. Selmer, 41). Ibid., VI, XII (ed. Selmer, 15, 35). Ibid., II (ed. Selmer, 9–10, tr. O’Meara, 7): ‘Abba, uoluntas tua ipsa est et nostra. Nonne parentes nostros dimisimus, nonne hereditatem nostram despeximus et corpora nostra tradidimus in manus tuas? Itaque parati sumus siue ad mortem siue ad uitam tecum ire. Unam tantum queramus, Dei uoluntatem.’ Ibid., VI, XIV, XIX (ed. Selmer, 12–14, 39–40, 55–6). Ibid., XII (ed. Selmer, 35–6).


Irish asceticism before céli Dé time for them to return to the refectory while there is still light, which recalls Benedict’s injunction that meals should be taken while there is daylight.303 We have seen previous evidence that the Irish were familiar with the Benedictine Rule in the Bigotian Penitential, which quotes an entire chapter, and in Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, which evidently paraphrases another chapter from the Rule.304 Vita S. Benedicti by Gregory the Great, it may be added, was among the works Adomnán consulted when writing his Life of Columba.305 The extent to which Benedict’s Rule influenced Irish religious observance remains an open question. In the evidence we have seen, although it was known, it does not seem to have been necessarily preferred among the Irish. While it primarily addresses the cenobitical life, the Navigatio presents monasticism in its anchoritical and eremetical forms as well. The catalyst for the voyage is the visit of Barrind, abbot of Drumcullen (Co. Offaly), to Brendan in Clonfert. Barrind recounts his own voyage to the Promised Land of the Saints, to which he had been directed by Mernóc, a former monk of his who had left Barrind’s monastery to take up the solitary life (uoluit se esse solitarium). Mernóc found a suitable island (apparently near Slieve League, off the coast of Donegal) and was eventually joined by many monks. Barrind descibes Mernóc’s island community thus: As we were crossing in a boat to the island the brothers came, like bees swarming, from their various cells to meet us. Their housing was indeed scattered but they lived together as one in faith, hope and charity. They ate together and they all joined together for the Divine Office. They are given nothing to eat but fruit, nuts, roots and other greens. But after compline each remained in his own cell until the cocks crowed or the bell was struck.306 Surely this is an idealised portrayal of a community of anchorites.307 In the course of their own travels Brendan and his companion reach the insula anachoritarum, where three choirs of boys, youths, and elders take turns in a continuous psalmody


304 305 306


Ibid., XII (ed. Selmer, 34): ‘ “Pater, iam tempus esst ut reuertamur ad refectorium, ut omnia fiant cum luce.” Et ita fecerunt ad hunc modum, sicut ad refectionem. Finitis omnibus secundum ordinem cursus diei, omnes cum magna alacritate festinabant ad completorium’; cf. Benedict, Regula Monachorum, XLI (edd. de Vogüé & Neufville, 582): ‘Sed et omni tempore sive cena sive refectionis hora sic temperetur, ut luce fiant omnia’; see also Selmer, 87 n. 44. Cf. Navigatio, I (ed. Selmer, 5): ‘At post completorium’; the hour of Compline is a Benedictine office; see Curran, The Antiphonary, 163–4. See above, 68–9, 76. Sharpe (tr.), Adomnán, 59. Navigatio, I (ed. Selmer, 4–5, tr. O’Meara, 3): ‘Nauigantibus nobis in predictam insulam occurrerunt obuiam sicut examen apum ex diuersis cellulis fratres. Erat enim habitacio eorum sparsa, sed tamen unanimiter illorum conuersacio in fide, spe et caritate, una refectio, et ad opus Dei semper fuit coadunata. Nihil aliud cibi ministratur nisi poma et nuces atque radices et cetera genera herbarum. At post completorium singuli in suis singulis cellulis usque ad gallorum cantus seu pulsum campane permanserunt.’ Cf. Sulpicius Severus, Vita S. Martini, IV.10.4–9 (ed. Fontaine, I.274). The resemblance to St Martin’s community at Marmoutier is not likely by chance.


Céli Dé in Ireland and join together to sing the hours of the Office.308 Near the end of the voyage the expedition arrives at the Island of Paul the Hermit (heremitam spiritalem). A former resident of the ‘monastery of St Patrick’ (monasterio sancti Patricii) for fifty years, Paul had come to this island to await the day of his death, in obedience to a vision of St Patrick.309 There he lived alone in a cave, naked except for his long hair and beard that covered his body. For thirty years he was fed by an otter that brought a single fish to him every three days. For sixty years after that, his only sustenance was from the spring near his cave.310 Such extreme asceticism, however fantastic, illustrates the contemporary perception of the eremitical vocation as the ultimate expression of the religious life. Upon first seeing him, Brendan unhappily contrasts his own state to that of the hermit: Alas for me who wear a monk’s habit and have many owing allegiance to me by virtue of being monks, when I see a man already in the angelic state, untouched by the vices of the body, although he is still in human flesh.311 Understood in Brendan’s comment is the corresponding relationship between Paul’s lifestyle and his freedom from corporal vices. The saint seems to feel that his own responsibilities as abbot hindered him from attaining the same status.312 For all its fanciful content, the Navigatio may be secured within a real monastic context. Much of the author’s attention is taken up with liturgy, especially the Divine Office. Stories in chapters XI and XVIII set out the cursus psalmorum in some detail. Upon examining the liturgical content of the Navigatio, Michael Curran found it in considerable agreement with the Antiphonary of Bangor and Regula Columbani. He concluded, the author of the Navigatio must have drawn on an Irish tradition, possibly the observance of the hours in one of St Brendan’s communities in Ireland, to express what the ideal monastic office should be. The agreement between the two stories we have recounted from it [in chapters XI and XVII], as well as the manner in which the office there outlined is rooted in tradition, are a firm indication that it is not an imaginary office, but one which existed in reality.313 This being so, the Navigatio is a remarkable testament to the continuation of Irish 308 309

310 311



Navigatio, XVII (ed. Selmer, 49–53). Brendan’s encounter with Paul the hermit is clearly modelled on Jerome’s Vita S. Pauli, IX–XIV (ed. Migne, PL XXIII, cols 24–7), written ca 375, wherein St Anthony meets the elderly Paul of Thebes who lives alone in a cave and is fed by a bird which brings him bread. Navigatio, XXVI (ed. Selmer, 70–6). Ibid., XXVI (ed. Selmer 72–3, tr. O’Meara, 62–3); ‘Ve mihi, qui porto habitum monachicum, et sub me constituti sunt [multi] sub nomine illius ordinis, cum uideo [modo] in angelico statu hominem in carne adhuc sedentem inlesum a uiciis corporis.’ Paul’s comment, ‘Ego uero miser sedeo sicut auis in ista petra, nudus exceptis meis pilis’, ibid., XXVI (ed. Selmer, 73, tr. O’Meara, 63), in context seems to refer to his physical condition, not his emotional disposition. I would translate miser as ‘wretched’ or ‘poor’ rather than ‘unhappy’. Curran, The Antiphonary, 172.


Irish asceticism before céli Dé religious life in the latter half of the eighth century, as well as to the enduring admiration of the solitary vocation in both its anchoritical and eremetical modes. The spirit of asceticism pervades the entire work.

Summary Having surveyed the evidence for Irish asceticism prior to the appearance of céli Dé, we may now draw some conclusions. To start, it should be remarked that we can make few certain claims about asceticism or monasticism in general in Ireland during the fifth century. While it is evident that Patrick encouraged his own followers and converts to take up the religious life, or at least the celibate life, there is no indication that his teaching and example shaped ascetic observance thereafter. For the foundation of an enduring ascetic tradition in Ireland we must look to the sixth century. British clerics Gildas and Uinniau deserve credit for helping establish regular monastic life among the Irish. Gildas, it seems, corresponded with Uinniau in Ireland regarding a range of abbatial concerns, and Uinniau became the object of a widespread cult that venerated him as the founder of monasteries and the teacher of many of Ireland’s saints. The reliance of later monastic authors such as Columbanus and Cummíne Fota upon the writings of Gildas and Uinniau demonstrates the continued respect that Irish religious held for the two Britons even after Irish monasticism had reached maturity. As there are no others to whom we may point in this early period, we may well consider them the fathers of Irish monasticism. From the sixth century on, then, we can trace the course of asceticism in Irish religious life. In its earliest manifestation, as evident from the works of Gildas and Uinniau, cenobitic monks (among which may be included clerics under monastic vows) lived in chastity, poverty, and obedience to their abbots. They fasted, abstained from certain foods, performed manual labour, kept vigils, and sang psalms, all as part of their normal religious regimen, but also as penance for wrongdoing. The extent to which these ascetic activities were observed appears to have varied from monastery to monastery. Where one community might have strict dietary rules in place, another might permit beer and meat; where some monks might employ draft animals to perform their labours, others elsewhere preferred to drag their ploughs themselves. The level of asceticism evidently differed from house to house enough to prompt some, more zealous, religious to leave the places of their first profession and seek out a stricter abbot. Such transience was discouraged, however, for it was deemed better to remain under a laxer rule than to impugn one’s vows and disobey abbatial authority. In fact, the early sources promote a moderate asceticism, for an overly strict observance often generated pride and arrogance. A fuller picture of cenobitic life emerges from the writings of Columbanus. His monastic rule, which may well reflect the rule at Bangor under St Comgall, entailed all the ascetic practices mentioned by Gildas and Uinniau. In some regards, notably the demanding cursus psalmorum required for the Divine Office, the Columbanian observance seems to lie at the more rigorous end of the spectrum of ascetic life. Yet perhaps not too much should be made of this, for Columbanus also stressed the importance of moderation and the need for discretion in charting a course between insufficiency and excess. Complementing the testimony of the 85

Céli Dé in Ireland opera Columbani is Vita S. Columbani, written a generation after the saint’s death. In the latter work we find one of the earliest manifestations of peregrinatio, that is, pilgrimage as an ascetic renunciation of home and family. Solitary monasticism as well finds expression in the Life of St Columbanus, whom the hagiographer portrays as an occasional anchorite after the fashion of St Martin of Tours. The anonymous Vita Prima S. Fursei is one of the very first texts to name an Irish anachorita – Columbanus is never actually called such – who we are told renounces all cares and belongings, and in solitude undertakes the contemplation of the divine (theorica uita). The accounts of Columbanus and Fursa, it should be remembered, were written on the Continent and, at least in the case of the former, not by an Irish author. A number of other texts composed in Ireland, however, confirm that Irish ascetic practice abroad, or at least the perception of it, was in large measure representative of that at home. Paenitentiale Cummeani mentions all the ascetic practices of the earlier texts, but also indicates that varying degrees of strictness continued to characterise Irish monasticism in the seventh century. Moderation, as before, was urged. Paenitentiale Cummeani is somewhat more severe than its predecessors, but its reliance upon Praefatio Gildae and Penitentialis Vinniani indicates a degree of continuity in penitential expectations. Irish esteem for asceticism is manifest in the Cambrai Homily, also an important witness to quasi-monastic penitentes, laymen and -women who took up a life of penitential fasting and labour at a monastery. Seventh-century saints’ Lives refer to both cenobitical and anchoritical monasticism, and presume as a matter of course that their subjects, Patrick, Brigit, and Columba, were ascetically devout and entirely worthy of praise and emulation. Adomnán’s Vita S. Columbae, the most detailed of the early Irish Lives, mentions nearly all the ascetic practices we have hitherto encountered in Irish monasticism – poverty, chastity, obedience, fasting, prayers, vigils, and manual labour. While it is primarily concerned with the saintly abbot and his cenobitical community, also appearing in its pages are anchorites, monastic peregrini, and lay penitentes. Moving into the eighth century we reach the point in time where we might expect to see signs of the ascetic decline that the céli Dé reform theory alleges took place. Yet none of the evidence prior to the appearance of céli Dé indicates that this was in fact the case. The Bigotian Penitential reiterates the place in religious life of nearly all of the ascetic activities asserted by the earlier penitentials. Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica expresses some dissatisfaction with contemporary religious life among the English in Northumbria, but there is considerable praise for the Irish who had been there, aside from the date of their Easter observance. Collectio Canonum Hibernensis is a testament to the continuity of Irish monasticism in both its cenobitical and anchoritical modes. Relying upon both Insular and Continental sources, it affirms the continued observance of the full range of ascetic practices known to the Irish from at least the sixth century. The legal tract Bretha Nemed Toísech, which draws in part upon the Hibernensis, is evidence for the mixed character of Irish monasteries, where the presence of clerics, conventuals, solitaries, and lay penitents all together ensured the legal rights of a church. In some ways the most remarkable text from this period, Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis is a further witness to the varied nature of Irish religious life. In this immensely popular work, cenobitical, anchoritical, and eremetical monks engage in ascetic pursuits entirely consistent with our earlier sources against the backdrop 86

Irish asceticism before céli Dé of a detailed monastic office that shows the influence of the Benedictine Rule. However fantastic the story, the monasticism of the Navigatio reflects an ideal that was very much alive. In sum, while throughout the period in question the level of strictness could vary from place to place, or even within the same community (given the different sorts of religious possibly in residence there), there are no indications that Irish religious in the eighth century or at any other time prior to the appearance of céli Dé disregarded or turned away en masse from previous standards of ascetic life. In point of fact, vindicating Nora Chadwick’s view some forty years ago, the extant sources demonstrate a considerable degree of continuity in religious ideals observable from the sixth down to the eighth century. To what degree attachment to an ideal demonstrates continuity of actual practice is difficult to say. Doubtless there were cases of religious lethargy or laxity here and there ever since the establishment of monasticism in Ireland in the sixth century. From what evidence remains to us, however, such aberrations must have been generally unremarkable, for none are mentioned and there is nothing to suggest that a widespread decline of ascetic activity had occurred to the degree envisioned by O’Dwyer and other scholars preceding him. When it comes to the matter of Irish understanding of the reason for ascetic activities, the evidence is less conclusive. Some of the texts we have considered provide very little insight as to why, apart from exomologesis, one might want to fast, remain sexually abstinent, or give away one’s possessions to the poor. Several works demonstrate familiarity with the writings of John Cassian, the most influential ascetic thinker in the Latin West. Yet we are not assured about the extent of Irish comprehension of his theology. When Dallán Forgaill mentions Cassian in the Amra, is he acknowledging Columba’s (and Iona’s) intellectual and spiritual debt to the Church Father? Or is he just dropping names? Does the adoption of Cassian’s eight primary vices as the organising principle of two Irish penitentials reveal a profound appreciation of the relationship between penance and the pursuit of puritas cordis? Or is it merely demonstrative of a penchant for numerical structuralism and categorisation? Do references in the Hibernensis and the vitae of Irish saints to the active and contemplative lives of monks permit us to conclude that their authors grasped the true end of asceticism as Cassian did? Or did they miss the ‘telos’ forest for the ‘skopos’ trees?314 It should not be overlooked that the Irishman who displays the most profound understanding of Cassian, Columbanus, was a peregrinus writing in Burgundy and northern Italy. Still, even if few in Ireland were as conversant as Columbanus with the intricacies of Cassian’s ascetic discourse (we might ask how many in Britain or northern Gaul were, for that matter), there is enough evidence to suggest that, generally speaking, Irish religious prior to the appearance of céli Dé perceived asceticism not as an end in itself but as a means to an end: the self-denial and mortification it entailed were intended to combat the inherent vices of the flesh and to cultivate the development of virtues in their place. Asceticism’s focus, as they saw it, was entirely inward. This much, I believe, the primary sources will allow. Cassian’s impact upon medieval Irish monasticism deserves further study.315 314 315

See above, 37 n.63. Owen Chadwick gave some attention to the matter of ‘Cassian and the Celts’ in an


Céli Dé in Ireland At the end of all this we may firmly dispose of the notion that the emergence of céli Dé in the eighth and ninth centuries was precipitated by an ascetic decline among Irish religious. The evidence from pre-céli Dé sources shows that there was neither a decline of ascetic ideals nor a discernible misapprehension of the purpose of asceticism during the period in question. We turn now to the Tallaght memoir to consider whether or not céli Dé saw themselves as reformers, as the received wisdom would have us believe.

appendix to the first edition (1950) of John Cassian, 201–3. He thought it ‘doubtful whether the Conferences reached Ireland apart from the Roman and Benedictine and Columban influence from the continent during the seventh and eighth century’. I would not go so far as this – the prologue to Paenitentiale Cummeani suggests otherwise – but he rightly questioned the premise of earlier scholars of Irish monasticism that ‘Cassian was a principal source for the earliest Irish spirituality’.



The evidence that proponents of the reform theory have cited most often in support of their position consists of statements in the Tallaght memoir expressing céli Dé displeasure with the state of discipline in other churches. D.A. Binchy was the first to call attention to a couple of passages in The Monastery of Tallaght which show the ‘obvious disapproval’ of céli Dé of their religious contemporaries. It was clear to him that the céli Dé ‘movement’ was ‘a sharp reaction against the laxity and corruption of the older monastic foundations’.1 Binchy was followed by Kathleen Hughes, who was no less confident that ‘the Culdees certainly regarded themselves as reformers’. Upon considering other passages from the Tallaght memoir comparable to those Binchy cited, she remarked, it is difficult to maintain, in the face of these and similar statements, that according to one who knew of their views, Máel-ruain, Máeldíthruib, Hilary, and other culdees did not regard themselves as reformers, advocating a stricter life and condemning certain accepted practices.2 Peter O’Dwyer, who relied upon Binchy and Hughes, similarly detected ‘a certain enmity between Maeldithruib and the members of the old churches who had not performed their duties properly’.3 For these scholars and many who followed them, the evidence of the Tallaght memoir demonstrates that Mael Ruain and his associates perceived themselves as reformers at a time when the older monastic foundations in Ireland had grown lax and corrupt.4 To this evidence we now turn. The Monastery of Tallaght relates that Mael Ruain was approached by one Colcu, an anchorite of Slane (Co. Meath), who was ‘much given to austerities and strict abstinence’.5 As an anchorite, dependent upon others for his sustenance, 1 2


4 5

Binchy (ed. & tr.), ‘The Old-Irish table’, 53; The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVI, LVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137, 148). Hughes, The Church, 174–5; Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 20–1); The Monastery of Tallaght, IV, LXXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128, 159–60). She also cited but did not quote The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 127). O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 1. In support of this statement O’Dwyer cited The Monastery of Tallaght, IV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128) and the equivalent passage in the Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 20–1). Recently, see Dumville, Three Men in a Boat, 58–9, and Herren & Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, 275. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 159–60): ‘Rochachti iarum commór corroabstinit.’


Céli Dé in Ireland Colcu received dairy goods and food stores from the church community (muinter), a portion of which he was accustomed to giving to the poor. He had recently become disturbed, however, about the propriety of accepting the community’s produce when those who gave it to him were not pure (anidan) and now he desired to join Mael Ruain. After reproving Colcu for the inadequacy of his diet which left him incapable of work and therefore unfit to remain at Tallaght, Mael Ruain advised him to eat more so that his life would not be cut short. Furthermore, ‘As to what shall be brought to you out of the patron’s fruits’, said Mael Ruain, ‘though all who bring it be impure, it is pure for him who is holy. It shall be exhibited on the floor of your house, for the patron’s fruits belong to you rather than to them. It is not forbidden to you, for your conscience’s sake, to distribute to the poor the fruits of the patron’s land.’6 The ‘patron’s fruits’ (torad ind érlama) doubtless refers to the produce raised on church land by manaig, lay tenants of church land and stock, and rendered as tithes and offerings to the érlam, the founding or patron saint (who in the case of Slane would be St Patrick) or, more accurately, his heirs who now ruled the church in his stead.7 Mael Ruain’s comment indicates that in his view there were indeed some at Slane who were not pure, but Colcu could still receive sustenance from their hands without scruple. Another passage likewise condoning the acceptance of material aid from ‘idle folk’ (lex aos) probably refers to Mael Ruain: He considers it not unlawful that somewhat should be accepted from idle folk, and your giving to the poor afterwards anything that remains from the muinter’s portion, because if it remains with the idle, perhaps they would give none of it to the poor.8 Providing for the impoverished was evidently a greater concern to supposedly reform-minded céli Dé than the possibility of becoming spiritually unclean through the receipt of tainted offerings. Mael Ruain was not alone in his opinion. This is what Elair of Loch Cré had to say on the matter in a conversation with Mael Díthruib: Mael Díthruib of Terryglass asked Elair of Loch Cré whether, if the course of the folk in the old churches was not suitable, he should accept any of the fruits of the church from them. ‘Indeed,’ said Elair, ‘its acceptance. For it does not defile you, provided you have no part in receiving those folk or in maintaining them in orders. For even though they are defiled,’ he said, ‘they do not defile the fruits of the patron’s church. For that is more rightly due to us,’ he said, ‘than it is to them’. 6

7 8

Ibid.: ‘And doberthar dano deit ol Maolruaoin do torad ind érlama cith anidan ind cách is idan sancto taisfentar for lár dotegtisiu ar is disliu det siu torutt na naérlam quam ildis. Ni aurcuil dano deit a tír ind erlama fort chubus do fodil a toraid do bochtaib.’ Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland, 118–19; Etchingham, Church Organisation, 249–71. The Monastery of Tallaght, LVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 148): ‘Ni haurcul laisim dano cid arfaomtar ní o lex áos 7 a tabirt detsiu iarum do bochtaib neich forbé lortid do muintire de fobithin mad leisim bess ni tabrait ní de dena bochtaib.’


Céli Dé as reformers The only bread that used to be brought to him, on his island [Loch Cré], was the bread of Ros Cré. Elair said, ‘Let it be Mochua’s bread that is brought to us’.9 The context is again anchoritical: a younger and presumably less-experienced anchorite asks a respected authority figure about whether or not he should accept support from the unworthy. The answer, once again, is affirmative: so long as one bore no responsibility for keeping the ‘folk in the old churches’ in their positions, it was proper to receive the produce of the church from their hands. Indeed, the worthy anchorite may consider such produce to be his by right. It is uncertain if Elair considered the church of St Mochua at Ros Cré, from whence he received his own food, to be one of the ‘old churches’ (senchella) where people (aes) did not observe a proper course (réim), but presumably Mael Díthruib so regarded Terryglass where he was an anchorite himself.10 The confessor who is approached by those whose course (réim) was unsuitable is offered this advice: If the course of life of those who come to confess in the church where you are be not satisfactory, and if each hinders you, without correcting himself, merely send him away from your confession gently and kindly; if they do anything at your bidding, it is well. If they do not repent, it is best to dismiss them merely.11 How to deal with persons in the church who were leading a less than ideal 9

10 11

The Monastery of Tallaght, IV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128): ‘Iarfacht Maoldithruib tiri daglais do hElair locha cre manipad lor reim iond aosa i senchellaib dús ind gebad ní do thorad ionda cildi huadaib. Issed asbert helair a airidiu. Arnit corpsiu manibe cuid deid inda gabail nó inda fostud isna hordaib. Arced coirpti sium olsessim ni corpat torud ind erlamai. Ar is disliu he dúini olsessem inddas doibsim. Is se arán dobeirti dosum fadesin cid ina insi fadessin amáin arán ruis cree. Aran Mochue olsesim (.i. Elair) ba hé dobertar dúin’; cf. the equivalent passage in the Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 20–1): ‘Do fhiafraig Maol dithreib do Elair an bhudh choir ní do thoradh na heagailsi do ghlacadh o cleirchibh na sein-cheall ara bfionnfuidhe nach beith beatha mhaith aca. Do freagair Elair do gur chóir, do brigh, ar se, nach luigheann enní dia n-olc ort-sa muna raibhe cuid agad da ngabhail no da ccongmhail isna céimionnaibh a bhfuilid no isna hordaibh, 7 ge go mbeiddis-sion coirpthe ar son a ndroch-bheathadh féin, ní coirpthi toradh na cille no an naoimh do bheannaigh innte. As fearr an ceart atá againne ar a ghabhail, má gheibmid é, ina ata acasan ar a bheith aca, 7 iad go holc’, ‘Mael Díthruib asked Elair whether it would be right to accept any of the fruits of the church from the clergy of the old churches on their knowing that they do not lead a good life? Elair replied that it was right, “For”, said he, “you have no responsibility for their evil ways if you had no hand in receiving or maintaining them in the degrees or orders which they occupy; and even though they be corrupt, by reason of their own bad life, the fruits of the church, or of the saint who left his blessing there, are not corrupt. We have a better right to receive them, if we do receive them, than they have to own them, being evil as they are.” ’ AU 807.5; AFM 840.2. The Monastery of Tallaght, II (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 127–8, following corrections in Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 104): ‘Manip lór dano réim ind aíso cuibse bess isind eclais imbé 7 ma tairmesca cách deit cena cosc, focheird deit chubus ammain la slemni 7 roithini; ma dognet ní airiut is fó. Is dech allecud ammain mani aithriget’; cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, LIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 147).


Céli Dé in Ireland Christian life concerned the confessor as well as it did the anchorite; indeed, the two offices, if the latter can be called such, might even be combined in the same person, as was the case with Elair of Loch Cré.12 We are compelled, then, to consider passages from the Tallaght memoir that discuss the receipt of material support from the unworthy in a penitential or confessorial context as well.13 We must also look further afield than late eighth- or early ninth-century Ireland, for céli Dé were not the first to speak out regarding these matters. Some three centuries earlier, an indignant St Patrick railed against the British chieftain Coroticus who, despite being a Christian himself, had taken prisoner some recently baptised Irish converts and refused to release them. In an open letter directed to Coroticus and his soldiers but also to the British clergy, Patrick declared it is not right to curry favour with such as these nor to take food or drink with them, nor ought one to accept their alms until they make amends to God by gruelling penance, with shedding of tears, and free God’s servants and the baptised handmaids of Christ for whom He died and was crucified. ‘The Most High rejects the gifts of the wicked’ [Ecclesiasticus 34:23].14 Doubtless Patrick was less concerned about the propriety of churchmen accepting the provisions and alms of Coroticus and his men than he was for the safe return of the captives. Yet he still saw the situation in moral terms. Coroticus had sinned and needed to repent, and until he did so he was effectively excommunicated.15 Such a course of action was justified by scripture: if God would not receive his offerings, then neither should the servants of God except on condition of repentance. The same Ecclesiasticus passage Patrick cited turns up in the seventh-century Lives of two Irish peregrini. In his Vita S. Columbani, Jonas of Bobbio relates how Columbanus piously refused the food and drink sent to him by Theuderich, the Burgundian king. When the king’s attendants told the saint who had provided the repast, he pushed it away and said, It is written, ‘the Most High rejects the gifts of the wicked.’ For it is not meet that the mouths of the servants of God should be defiled by the food of him who shuts out the servants of God not only from their own dwelling but also from the dwellings of others. At these words the dishes broke into pieces and the drink and food ran on the 12 13



Ibid., XXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 135). See also Haggart, ‘The Céli Dé’, 123–41, esp. 139, who argues that these passages refer to ‘a problem with the fulfilment of the pastoral duties the church was obliged to undertake’. Patrick, Epistola, VII–VIII (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 94, tr. Hood, St. Patrick, 56): ‘non licet nec cibum nec potum sumere cum ipsis nec elemosinas ipsorum recipi debeat donec crudeliter [per] paenitentiam effusis lacrimis satis Deo faciant et liberent seruos Dei et ancillas Christi baptizatas, pro quibus mortuus est et crucifixus. Dona iniquorum reprobat Altissimus.’ Ecclesiasticus (Iesus Sirach) 34:23: ‘dona iniquorum non probat Altissimus in oblationibus iniquorum nec in multitudine sacrificiorum eorum propitiabitur peccatis’. Ibid., V (ed. Bieler, Libri Epistolarum, 93).


Céli Dé as reformers ground.16 The anonymous author of Vita Prima S. Fursei puts the Ecclesiasticus passage into the mouth of a devil arguing with an angel about Fursa: Then one of them said, ‘The servant who knows the will of the Lord and does not fulfil it will be smitten with many blows.’ The holy angel asked, ‘How has this man not fulfilled the will of his Lord?’ The devil responded, ‘It is written: “the Most High rejects the gifts of the wicked,” and he has accepted the gifts of wicked persons.’ The holy angel replied, ‘Because he believed that everyone of them had performed penance.’ The devil said, ‘He ought to have determined the thoroughness of their penance beforehand, and accepted their produce accordingly. For the offerings [of the wicked] blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the words of the just.’ The holy angel responded, ‘Let the Lord decide.’17 While Jonas and the author of the Life of Fursa had a different purpose in writing from Patrick, they were nonetheless in agreement with him about the meaning of the scripture: it is morally reprehensible for men of God to accept anything from the unrighteous or impenitent. Closer in time and it seems opinion to the Tallaght memoir is the guidance offered in Vita S. Ailbei, the Life of St Ailbe of Emly. According to the Codex Salmenticensis version of the Life, which has been dated to between 750 and 850,18 Ailbe was once visited by the deacon Nessán (founder of Mungret, Co. Limerick, ob. 551), who ‘came to question St Ailbe whether he ought to accept or to reject the offerings of the people’.19 Upon hearing of Nessán’s arrival, Ailbe, who was then occupied at prayer, instructed a servant, Go to Nessán and recite this verse in Irish to him: The gifts of God, do not reject them, possession of them, do not refuse; what is offered to you, you may receive, but you are not therefore greater than your fellow.20 16


18 19 20

Jonas, Vitae Sanctorum, XIX (ed. Krusch, 189): ‘Abominatus ea, ait: “Scriptum est: Munera impiorum reprobat altissimus [Ecclesiasticus 34:23]; non enim dignum est, ut famolorum Dei ora cibis eius polluantur, qui non solum suis, verum etiam aliorum habitaculis famulis Dei aditum deneget.” His dictis, vascula omnia in frustra disrupta sunt, vinaque ac sicera solo diffusa ceteraque separatim dispensa.’ Vita Prima S. Fursei, X (ed. Heist, 41): ‘Et dixit unus ex illis: “Servus qui scit voluntatem Domini et non facit digna, plagis vapulabit multis.” Sanctus angelus respondit: “Quid enim iste de voluntate Domini sui non adimplevit?” Sathanas respondit: “Scriptum est: Dona iniquorum reprobat Altissimus [Ecclesiasticus 34:23]; et hic dona iniquorum recepit.” Sanctus angelus respondit: “Credidit enim quod unusquisque eorum egisset penitentiam.” Diabolus dixit: “Ante debuit probare penitentie perseverantiam, et sic fructum suscipere. Munera enim excecant oculos sapientum et pervertunt verba iustorum.” Sanctus angelus respondit: “Iudicemur ante Dominum.” ’ Sharpe, Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives, 297–339. Vita S. Albei, L (ed. Heist, 129): ‘Quodam tempore, venit diaconus Nessan ut sanctum Albeum interrogaret, utrum oblations hominum acciperet an repelleret.’ Ibid. (ed. Heist, 130): ‘Vade ad Nessanum et hunc versum scotice linga canta illi: Danae Dee nis frithchoirthi, / Selba forru nischorthi; / Attoberthar na gabae, / Sech nit muide nud chele’; cf. Plummer (ed.), Vitae, I.62.


Céli Dé in Ireland The hagiographer does not expressly state that the ‘people’ (homines), surely laymen, offering gifts to Nessán were necessarily unworthy, but the deacon’s concern about the propriety of the situation is of a kind with that expressed by Colcu and Mael Díthruib in the Tallaght memoir. Ailbe’s response is comparable to the liberal position taken by Mael Ruain and Elair. The issue of material reliance upon the iniquitous was also a matter of concern to the compilers of Collectio Canonum Hibernensis who quoted the views of earlier church synods and respected ecclesiastical writers. A chapter headed De sacerdotibus, ut non accipiant munera iniquorum (‘On priests, that they should not accept the offerings of the wicked’) offers the rulings of two synods, the first of which, possibly an Irish synod, placed the matter in a confessorial context: The Sinodus determined that a priest should not accept the offerings of one whose conscience he has not examined. For as much as the host is not beneficial to the latter, so much the gifts of the wicked harm the former. Sinodus Fervensis: The gifts of the wicked, which are rejected by God, should be rejected by the holy. Item sinodus: The gifts of those who oppress the poor are to be refused by priests.21 The next chapter of the Hibernensis cites a canon credited to a Sinodus Romana, likely a late sixth- or seventh-century Irish synod supportive of conformity with ‘Roman’ observances, such as in the determination of the date of Easter. Here a slightly less strict line is taken: Sinodus Romana has said regarding the offerings [of the wicked]: Be content with your clothing and food, and reject all other gifts of the wicked, which the Most High rejects, since the lamp takes nothing but that by which it is fed.22 It seems that the basic necessities, food and clothing, might be accepted in good conscience. All else received from the wicked, however, should be turned away, just as the oil lamp consumes no more fuel than exactly what it needs to keep burning. The next chapter in the Hibernensis further allows that the offerings of the wicked might be used to help the poor and free the captive. Quoting one of Sulpicius Severus’s Dialogi on the virtues of St Martin of Tours, it relates how a layman named Liguntius ‘having experienced the divine blessing’ – his ailing family had been healed as a result of the saint’s prolonged fasting and prayers – offered Martin a hundred pounds of silver, ‘which the holy man neither rejected nor accepted; but before the mass of money touched the threshold of the 21


Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, II.22 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 18): ‘a. Sinodus [Codex Valicellanus: Sinodus hibernens] definivit, ut sacerdos non accipiat munera ejus, cujus conscientam non noverit. Quantum enim illi hostia non prodest, tantum huic dona iniqui nocent. b. Sinodus Fervensis: Dona iniquorum, quae reprobantur a Deo [Ecclesiasticus 34:23], reprobentur a sanctis. c. Item sinodus: Eorum, qui pauperes premunt, dona a sacerdotibus refutanda sint.’ Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, II.23 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 18–19): ‘Sinodus Romana dixit de oblationibus eorum: Contentus tegmine tantum et alimento, caetera dona iniquorum reproba, quae reprobat altissimus [Ecclesiasticus 34:23], quoniam non sumit lucerna nisi quo alatur’; cf. ‘Second Synod of Patrick’, II (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 184–5).


Céli Dé as reformers monastery, he destined it for the redemption of captives’. When some of Martin’s brethren suggested that part of the money could be set aside for the use of the monastery, as food was difficult to obtain and many of the monks were in need of clothing, Martin replied, ‘Let the church feed and clothe us’.23 As Sulpicius Severus told the story, Liguntius seems to have deserved his affliction, for when Martin first learned of his appeal for assistance, ‘the blessed man declared that the thing asked was difficult to be obtained, for he knew in his spirit that that house was then being scourged by Divine appointment’.24 The Hibernensis version does not include this observation, but it is plain enough that Liguntius’s gift of silver was not wholly untainted in the fact that although Martin did not reject the money outright, neither did he permit it to enter the sacred precincts of the monastery or to be used in support of the monks. The compilers of the Hibernensis were not in any doubt about the worthiness of Liguntius, for they headed the chapter, ‘That the gifts of the iniquitous ought to be received by the priest so that they might benefit the poor and the captive’.25 Martin, of course, was more than a cleric, he was the proto-anchorite of the Latin West. Religious too had to be wary of the offerings they received from others. Such offerings were a matter of concern on an institutional level as well. A later book in the Hibernensis, titled De ecclesia et mundo (‘Of the church and the world’), warns: Of the three things which the church ought not practice. Origen: Three things are obligatory for the church: not to receive the gifts of the unjust, which the Most High condemns, and not to seize the property of others, and not to receive the price of innocent blood, just as you will not accept the price of innocent blood.26 The receipt of tainted offerings could stain an entire church or community. Presumably this is why Martin took care to ensure that Liguntius’s offering of silver did not pass the threshold of the sacred precincts of the monastery. The eighth-century legal text Bretha Nemed Toísech makes it clear that there were


24 25


Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, II.24 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 19): ‘Martinus dicit: Mox ad eum Liguntius, divina expertus beneficia pervolavit, C etiam argenti libras obtulit, quas vir beatus nec respuit nec recepit, sed priusquam pondus illud monasterii limen attingeret, redimendis id captives deputavit; et cum ei suggereretur, ut aliquid ab eo in sumtum monasterii servaret, omnibus angustum esse victum, multis deesse vestimentum, nos, inquit ecclesia pascat et vestitat’; cf. Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi, II (III).14 (ed. Halm, 212). Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi, II (III).14 (ed. Halm, 212): ‘uir beatus rem esse promisit difficilem inpetrari: nam spiritu sentiebat, domum illam diuino numine uerberari’. Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, II:24 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 19): ‘De eo quod dona iniquorum a sacerdote recipienda sint, ut tamen pauperibus erogentur et captivis.’ Ibid., XLII.2 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 162; tr. Breatnach, ‘Canon law’, 445): ‘De tribus, quibus ecclesia non debet uti. Origenes: Tria debet ecclesia dona iniquorum non recipere, quae reprobat altissimus [Ecclesiasticus 34:23] et aliena non rapere, et pretium sanguinis innocentis non recipere, ut pretium sanguinis innocentis non accipietis.’ I am not aware of any such passage in the extant works of Origen.


Céli Dé in Ireland more than just spiritual consequences for the church that accepted the gifts of the wicked. The first third of the text, which shows dependence upon the Hibernensis, details the positive and negative attributes and activities that can either assure or degrade a church’s legal standing, including its right to the contributions of the faithful laity.27 In partial answer to the question, ‘What are the good qualifications ennobling a church?’ (Cis n-é dagfolad sóertho ecalso?), it responds, penitents attending the sacrifice under the direction of a confessor with pious sayings . . . Let it not accept the gifts of the unjust, let it not take away anything which is the property of another, let it not accept the price of innocent blood.28 Among the ‘disqualifications debasing a church’ (mífolad dóertho ecalso), as we have seen, are ‘being without baptism, without communion, without mass, without praying for the dead, without preaching, without penitents’.29 The church which provided sufficient pastoral care to the laity was entitled to their tithes, first-fruits, alms, and other dues. The church which did not meet its pastoral obligations or which accepted the renders of the unworthy forfeited its right to all offerings.30 It is clear then that the question of accepting the offerings of the wicked had troubled synods and ecclesiastical writers in Ireland and elsewhere well before the appearance of céli Dé. Even if it is spurious, the attribution in the above-cited book, De ecclesia et mundo, to Origen, the famous exegete of Alexandria, indicates that the compilers of the Hibernensis thought the issue to have been a matter of widespread concern as early as the third century. We cannot presume céli Dé were unaware of the larger context of their own complaints about the ‘folk’ in other churches. This is not to suggest that the unease of Colcu and Mael Díthruib was groundless; there is no reason to doubt that there were indeed persons in the ‘old churches’ whose course of life was unacceptable to céli Dé. But such statements of disapproval as we find in the Tallaght memoir cannot be taken as prima facie evidence of a general religious decline in Ireland in the eighth century. It is not unreasonable to assert that there have always been those within the fold of the



29 30

Bretha Nemed Toísech, II–VII (ed. & tr. Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 8–13); see Etchingham, Church Organisation, 247. On the dependence of Bretha Nemed Toísech upon Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, see Breatnach, ‘Canon Law’, 339–459. Bretha Nemed Toísech, III (ed. & tr. Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 8–9): ‘áes aithrige ascnamo sacarbaic a réir anmcharat co n-erroscaib crábaid . . . Ní airfóema dánu na clóen, ní airchella ní bes echtrann, ní airfóema lóg folo ennce’; cf. ibid., XII (ed. & tr. Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 14–15): ‘Gním ecalso ennge; / ní hindi airfóemthar márthréodae: / fris-toing dánu cach duini / nád bí i n-enngus óg, / ná for airchella echtrann n-airchenn, / mani frie roib inna brígbunud; brígach coicertad nád airfoím eclais / lóg folo ennge; / frisa mbí enngus óg ógaither’, ‘The function of a church is innocence [to be sinless], in it are not accepted three great things: it rejects the gifts of all who are not in pure innocence, nor, in addition does it take away the definite property of another, if it be not made over to it on an authoritative basis; strong is the adjudication that the church does not accept the price of innocent blood; by it [viz. the church] which is charged with pure innocence let it be fulfilled.’ Ibid., VI (ed. & tr. Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 10–11): ‘buith cen bathais, cen chomnai, cen oifrend, cen immon n-anmae, cen phrecept, cen áes n-aithrige’. See Etchingham, Church Organisation, 239–89, especially 247.


Céli Dé as reformers Church whose comportment has been deemed less than exemplary by others who prided themselves, as Elair obviously did, on the worthiness of their own observance. Nor can we conclude with Kathleen Hughes that Mael Ruain and his associates saw themselves as the instigators of a reform promoting greater asceticism and denouncing certain established conventions.31 Certainly they looked askance at the goings-on at other churches and were conscious of their own behaviour and the example it might set for others. The Tallaght memoir relates how Mael Díthruib once asked Mael Ruain whether he held it allowable to perform Sunday night’s penance on the Saturday, ‘because’, said Mael Díthruib, ‘the laity and the people of the great old churches have little dealings with you; and if those folk hear that we perform it on the [Sunday night], there is no sort of transgression they will not commit on the Sunday’. Then Mael Ruain gave him leave to perform it on the Saturday.32 But a disapproving view of others and sensitivity to one’s own image do not, in themselves, a reformer make. At most, the above passage permits us to suppose that the Tallaght community maintained a stricter Sunday observance than the older churches. Such statements of disapproval as we hear from Mael Ruain and his associates regarding other churches should also be considered in light of other passages in the Tallaght memoir which convey a more positive attitude towards the personnel belonging to foundations that might reasonably be counted among the ‘old churches’. Hughes acknowledged as much, although without wavering in her support of the reform theory. After citing some of the above-quoted céli Dé statements of disapproval for the ‘folk of the old churches’, she observed, Ardent reformers are bad witnesses to the piety of their predecessors, and, in any case, though the views expressed in the tract are likely to be an accurate representation of the reformers’ opinions, the selfrighteous tone in which they are couched may not be typical of the 31 32

Hughes, The Church, 175. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137, departing from their translation, ‘the laity and people of the great old churches are of little worth’; I take ucut as the preposition oc with a second-person singular suffixed pronoun.): ‘dús imbat imarcidi laissim fíach naidci lúoin do tabairt isind sathurn fobíthin ol Máoldíthruib is becc rand áos túate 7 lucht na sencheld mór ucut, accus dia cloadar som indí sin do denam dúini isind [aidchi] lúain ní fil ní de nach tairmtechd na dénat som isin domnuch. Cotarleic iarum Máolrúaoin dosom a thabairt hisin tsathurn’); cf. the equivalent passage in the Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXXII (ed. & tr. Gywnn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 48–9): ‘Maol dithraib do fhiafraigh do Maol Ruaín an bhudh cead leis an fiach aibhni na haidhchi luaín do bhualadh de sathairn, oir, ar se, ma chluinid áos na sean-cheall mor-sa do gach leith dinn go mbuailmid-ne fiach aibhne dia domhnaigh, ni fhuil obair ar bith nach diongna siad dia domhnaig, 7 do cheaduigh Maol Ruain an fiach aibhne do bhualadh día sathairn ar an adhbar sin’, ‘Mael Díthruib asked Mael Ruain whether he would allow the Sunday evening’s castigation to be inflicted on Saturday, for, said he, if the folk of these large old churches all round us hear that we administer castigation on Sunday, there is no kind of work that they will not do on Sunday. So Mael Ruain allowed castigation to be administered on Saturday for this reason.’


Céli Dé in Ireland whole movement. The evidence shows that the folk of the ‘old churches’ felt no bitterness towards the reformers . . . Even the reformers’ own statements sometimes show that the less-severe attitude of monastic officials in the old churches might be dictated, not by laziness, but by a sensible appreciation of what their communities could understand.33 She pointed out the example of Muirchertach mac Olchobair (ob. 802), erenagh (airchinnech) of Clonfert, who, according to the Teaching of Mael Ruain, kept a vigil of saying the Beati (Psalm 118) twelve times in lieu of reciting the entire Psalter, which was evidently the preferred form of vigil among céli Dé, ‘because he knew that there were more of the monks or penitents who knew the Beati by heart than knew the Psalms’.34 This passage is also significant for the apparent respect it shows Muirchertach and his community. The preceding section of the Teaching of Mael Ruain discusses the differences between the vigils Mael Ruain and Dublitter of Finglas used to perform; Muirchertach’s vigil seems to have been offered as another viable alternative.35 Clonfert, founded by St Brendan in the sixth century, was certainly venerable enough to have been regarded as a senchell, ‘old church’. Yet there is no suggestion of disrespect here for either Clonfert or Muirchertach, who is said to have picked up the practice of saying the Magnificat after the Beati from a ‘son of life’ (mac beathadh).36 Doubtless this observation was intended to have reflected well on Muirchertach who was evidently not a ‘son of life’ himself. The Tallaght memoir treats many other churches, or their personnel, with similar respect. In a passage discussing the relaxation of the more rigorous aspects of the rule at Tallaght where the young or infirm were concerned, reference is made to Lismore where comparable allowances were permitted.37 Two eighthcentury churchmen of Lismore, Mocholmóc ua Liatháin and Mac Óige (ob. 753), are cited as authorities on the spiritual life.38 Apart from St Columba, whose judgements and rule are mentioned several times,39 as many as four abbots of Iona appear in the Tallaght memoir, all in a positive light: Adomnán (ob. 704), Diarmait (fl. 814), Blathmac mac Flainn (ob. 825), and one who is unnamed.40 Samthann, 33 34

35 36 37 38

39 40

Hughes, The Church, 175. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 22–3): ‘ar an adbar go raibhe a fhios aige gurb lia dona manchaibh, no don aos peannaide, aga mbiodh an bhiaid do mhebhair ina na psailm’; Hughes, The Church, 175, notes that ‘dona manchaibh could mean “of the monks” or “of the monastic clients” ’. On the Beati, see Follett, ‘The Divine Office and extra-Office vigils’; on the daily recitation of the Psalter among céli Dé, see below, 204–6. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 22–3). Ibid., XXXVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 22–3); cf. ibid., XXXII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 18–19). The Monastery of Tallaght, XLVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 145). Ibid., XXI, LXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 134, 158–9); on Mocholmóc’s association with Lismore see Félire Óengusso, note to 25 July (ed. & tr. Stokes, 170–1), and O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 56. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXVI, LXVIII, LXIX, LXXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 154–6, 161). Ibid., XLVII, LII, LXV, LXXX, LXXXV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144, 146–7, 153, 161–2).


Céli Dé as reformers abbess of Clonbroney (ob. 739), is said to have been an admirer of the ‘sons of life’ and to have cautioned Mael Ruain (or possibly Fer-dá-chrích) on the danger of counselling women.41 Eochu ua Tuathail, anchorite, bishop, and abbot of Louth (ob. 822), is seen taking counsel from Dublitter of Finglas.42 Laisrén, anchorite of Clonmacnoise, is similarly spoken of in a complimentary manner.43 If the above-named churches, all significantly older than Tallaght, can be included among the senchella, then it appears that despite the negative press they sometimes receive in the Tallaght memoir the communities of the earlier foundations were not seen as uniformly reprobate in the eyes of céli Dé. Mael Ruain and his associates recognised much about their contemporaries that was commendable in notices that temper the impact of the more critical statements and suggest a degree of tolerance and even mutual admiration between céli Dé and the religious establishment they supposedly sought to revitalise. Furthermore, when the critical statements are considered in the context of similar remarks found in other texts, it is clear that céli Dé were echoing longstanding and widespread ecclesiastical concerns about the propriety of receiving offerings from the impenitent. The Tallaght memoir points more to varying degrees of religious observance from church to church than it does to endemic laxity or corruption that necessitated a reform. The Tallaght memoir supports the contention that céli Dé had an elitist self-perception and looked condescendingly towards some religious communities elsewhere, but this fact alone does not make them reformers. As argued in the previous chapter, there is no evidence of a general decline in ascetical expectations in Ireland prior to the appearance of céli Dé. All this being so, we find ourselves at something of a loss to explain céli Dé; it is hardly accurate to identify them as ascetic reformers who advocated a return to older standards of monastic observance when those standards were never discarded in the first place and when there is no convincing evidence that they viewed themselves as reformers. As David Dumville recently recognised, céli Dé history has accumulated much ‘scholarly baggage’ that may need to be jettisoned.44 The first encumbrance to go should be the reform theory. A revised understanding of céli Dé identity is needed, one which arises from the fullest possible consideration of the céli Dé corpus of texts.

41 42 43 44

Ibid., LXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 149–50). Ibid., LXXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 163). Ibid., LXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 155). Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 47.



The extent of the corpus of céli Dé texts has never been properly defined. There are ten or so works that most scholars who have commented upon them agree were authored by céli Dé, but as many as two dozen more texts that have occasionally been associated with them in some, usually imprecise, way. Remarkably, previous discussions of céli Dé texts – specifically those of Kenney, Flower, Hughes, and O’Dwyer – have largely neglected manuscript history as a means of elucidating textual authorship, origin, and relationships, and identifying céli Dé writings. One need only look to Richard Sharpe’s Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives for an example of the importance of the manuscript tradition in the evaluation of a primary source.1 The present chapter offers a manuscript-centred re-evaluation of the works that scholars have at various times associated with céli Dé, with the aim of identifying those texts that we may reasonably rely upon in our effort to determine who and what céli Dé were. It aims to be as complete as possible, but does not claim to be exhaustive or final. A catalogue of the texts examined here is provided in the Appendix. Before continuing further, we must ask on what grounds we can identify something as a céli Dé text. A seemingly straightforward answer springs to mind – a céli Dé text is something written by a céle Dé. This in turn leads us to ask: what exactly is a céle Dé and what is the basis for identifying someone as such? However, since the purpose of this study is to provide the basis for a revised understanding of céli Dé, we are in danger here of circular thinking. The safest course is to start with the assumption that Mael Ruain and his associates at Tallaght were céli Dé, whatever we ultimately decide the latter to have been. Texts most likely to have been produced by members of the Tallaght community, such as the Tallaght memoir, would then qualify as céli Dé texts. To these we can then compare other works for which we might have reason to believe or suspect céli Dé authorship, whether they were produced at Tallaght or elsewhere. Initially these will be limited to works written in the eighth and ninth centuries, when Mael Ruain and his associates were active. Potential céli Dé texts might include those that mention céli Dé, Mael Ruain, or Tallaght, such as the Martyrology of Tallaght or Óentu Mail Ruain, those works whose authors are deemed to have had ties to Tallaght céli Dé, such as Félire Óengusso, and those that demonstrate striking internal similarities with accepted céli Dé works, such as the Old Irish Penitential and Apgitir Chrábaid. It follows that the more of these different criteria a text exhibits, the more probable its identification as a céli Dé text. Most of the works now generally identified with céli Dé combine two or more of these criteria. 1

See Orlandi, Review of Sharpe, 99–102.


Texts attributed to céli Dé It would be unrealistic to expect that all the texts we will consider will fall neatly into one of two categories, that is, céli Dé and non-céli Dé. There will be some for which the evidence is inconclusive, some which in their current form were probably not produced by céli Dé but were derived from their writings or teachings, and still others which though not original to céli Dé were nonetheless valued by them and influenced their religious observance. As the purpose of this investigation is to delineate a corpus of texts from which we may obtain a more comprehensive understanding of céli Dé in Ireland, it would be unreasonable to disregard those works that may not be céli Dé in the strictest sense but nonetheless offer some insight into their practices and teachings. Accordingly, the discussion that follows will distinguish between probable céli Dé texts, possible céli Dé texts, later derivations of céli Dé texts, céli Dé-influenced texts, texts closely associated with though probably not written by céli Dé, and unlikely céli Dé texts, that is, works that do not fall into any of the other categories. We will consider first the works which most other scholars have regarded as likely authored by céli Dé, and then move on to those writings that have been less widely associated with céli Dé. The bold numbers in parentheses refer to the corresponding catalogue entries in the Appendix.

Generally accepted works The Tallaght memoir: The Monastery of Tallaght and related texts (1) The text Edward Gwynn and William Purton published under the title The Monastery of Tallaght is an incomplete copy of a work written in Old Irish relating the teachings and customs of Mael Ruain, the founder of Tallaght, and his disciple, Mael Díthruib. While it is unclear if the anonymous author knew Mael Ruain, there is little question that he was personally acquainted with Mael Díthruib for he relates such things as he heard directly from the latter.2 Gwynn and Purton concluded that it was likely composed after the death of Mael Ruain in 792 – all the references to the founding abbot are in the past tense – but for the most part within the lifetime of Mael Díthruib, who with a single exception is referred to in the present tense.3 The latter is most certainly the same Mael Díthruib described in Óentu Mail Ruain as an ‘anchorite of Terryglass’ (anchorita Tíri Da Glass)4 and commemorated in the Annals of the Four Masters as ‘anchorite and sage of Terryglass’ (angcoire 7 egnaidh Tire Dá Ghlas) upon his death in 840. According to The Monastery of Tallaght, the ‘rule’ (riaguil) was observed for a time at Terryglass; one may speculate that the ‘rule’, perhaps meaning céli Dé observance, came to Terryglass with Mael Díthruib after he departed Tallaght.5 The author was evidently a religious in the same monastery as Mael Díthruib, as he demonstrates first-hand familiarity with the community’s practices and even mentions a penance 2 3 4 5

The Monastery of Tallaght, XL (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 142–3). Ibid., 121. Óentu Mail Ruain, 713.6 (ed. Ó Ríain, Corpus Genealogiarum, 162). The Monastery of Tallaght, XII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132): ‘Issed rochualai laisim. Ised fogníd i tír da glas indtan rombúi ind riaguil and’, ‘This I have heard from him [Mael Díthruib?]; this was the practice at Terryglass when the rule was there.’


Céli Dé in Ireland he himself once incurred for an infraction.6 Most likely this was at Tallaght.7 References to Diarmait, abbot of Iona (815–ca 831) permit us to narrow the range of composition to 815–40.8 Gwynn and Purton edited The Monastery of Tallaght from a single manuscript: Dublin, RIA, MS 3 B 23, hereafter T, written by Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin in the latter half of the fifteenth century. Sometimes called the Tallaght Codex, T also contains the Old Irish Penitential and the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, both of which have been attributed to céli Dé, as well as Apgitir Chrábaid, which has been more tentatively associated with céli Dé.9 Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin signed his name to T (p. 51a) but gave no date. Other manuscripts of his have survived, however, including Dublin, RIA, MS 24 P 1, TCD, MS 1309 (H 2.12), and TCD, MS 1304 (H 2.12), which respectively yield the dates 1473, 1474, and 1475. Tadhg also wrote Dublin, RIA, MS 3 B 22, hereafter B, which was at one time bound with T; B and T are respectively paginated in pencil 1–114 and 115–96. While the pagination is obviously of a later date – it passes over a number of lacunae in both manuscripts – it appears very likely that B and T are the two halves of a single codex that was separated at some point. This must have occurred prior to 1813, as pasted to the first folio, recto, of B we find a printed slip from the sale catalogue for the collection of Charles Vallencey, who owned both B and T prior to their acquisition by the Royal Irish Academy: ’1270 Two Vols beautifully written on Vellum at least 600 years past. These are in excellent preservation and most elegant penmanship. small folio’.10 The two volumes share the same codicological features. The folios have an average size of twenty-three by fifteen centimetres, but unfortunately are detached from their conjugates and mounted on vellum inner margins so that nothing remains of the original quires. Both manuscripts are written in double columns of twenty-eight to thirty-six lines ruled partly in dry point and partly in brown, with some marginal prickings. While there is no scribal colophon in B, comparison with his other manuscripts leaves no doubt that the hand is that of Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin. Initial capitals are rubricated and green and yellow pigments are applied elsewhere in both manuscripts. Both are crudely mended in places with coloured thread. The contents of both are entirely religious in character. The recognition that B and T once formed a single codex written by Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin allows us to consider the non-scribal marginalia of each as evidence for the history of BT. Written several places in the margins of B are the names of various past owners, most of them either Egans or Kennedys, both prominent families in the barony of Lower Ormond, in northern Co. Tipperary.11 The Mac Aodhagáin (MacEgan) family were brehons to several important families in 6 7 8 9 10 11

Ibid., XLV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144). Terryglass is a possibility, although the wording of The Monastery of Tallaght, XII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132) would seem to argue against it. Ibid., XLVII, LXV, LXXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144, 153, 161; see also 122). Binchy (ed. & tr.), The Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, 46–7; Hull (ed. & tr.), ‘Apgitir Chrábaid’, 50. Gwynn & Purton (edd. & tr.), The Monastery of Tallaght, 116. Ibid., 115–16: on pp. 6–7 of the manuscript, ‘Allive Egane is ye posseser of this Booke & I pray God’; p. 24, ‘Stephen Egan’; p. 40, ‘Cor. Egan’; p. 68, ‘These are to certyfie yt this booke longed to margery Egan’; p. 13, ‘Daniell Kenedy his hand & seale the 24th daye of Junii 1682’; p. 44, ‘To Mrs Magrett Kenedy att Ballafinvoythe [Ballyfinboy, near


Texts attributed to céli Dé Ireland, among them the Uí Cheinnéidig (O’Kennedy), the hereditary chiefs of ancient Ormond, from whom the Mac Aodhagáin family held the townland of Ballymacegan a few miles north of Lorrha.12 The Mac Aodhagáin family is well known to modern scholars from references in the Irish chronicles and from numerous legal manuscripts that have a Mac Aodhagáin connection. In Lower Ormond the family kept a celebrated school, sometimes referred to as Cluain Leathan, which family tradition places at Kiltyroe or Redwood castle in Ballymacegan.13 One of the most famous manuscripts associated with the Mac Aodhagáin family is the great religious codex known as Leabhar Breac (Dublin, RIA, MS 23 P 16), hereafter Lb, written prior to 1411 at several locations in and around Lower Ormond, including Cluain Leathan.14 Until at least 1595 Lb was kept at nearby Duniry (Co. Galway) where another branch of the Mac Aodhagáin family maintained a law school and from whence the codex takes its proper name, Leabhar Mór Dúna Doighre (‘The Great Book of Duniry’). According to Dermot Gleeson who co-authored a history of the diocese of Killaloe, Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin was a student at the Mac Aodhagáin school in Lower Ormond.15 I am unaware of any primary source proving the connection, but it is certainly plausible. The Uí Rigbardáin (O’Riordan) were traditional bards and historians for the Uí Chearbhaill (O’Carroll), rulers of Éli Uí Chearbhaill which in the fifteenth century encompassed the barony of Ikerrin in northeastern Co. Tipperary and the baronies of Clonlisk and Ballybrit in Co. Offaly. The Uí Chearbhaill also claimed portions of Lower Ormond as theirs by ancestral right and at least as early as 1654 had possessions in the parish of Modreeney, some twelve miles distant from the Mac Aodhagáin seat at Ballymacegan.16 Since the Uí Chearbhaill also retained the Mac Aodhagáin family as brehons,17 it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Mac Aodhagáin school might have taken in an Uí Rigbardáin scribe who was in service to the same chief as they were. As we know from the evidence of Lb, the Mac Aodhagáin family had access to texts that have been associated with céli Dé, namely, the Rule of the céli Dé, Félire Óengusso, and the Rule of Mochutu (titled Rule of Fothud na Canóine in a different manuscript). Among these, I propose, was the exemplar Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin used to transcribe The Monastery of Tallaght in T. After its completion, most likely at Ballymacegan, BT remained with the Mac Aodhagáin family until it passed into the hands of the

12 13 14

15 16 17

Borrisokane]’; p. 47, ‘Philip Kenedy his booke and seale as witness my hand ye 9th april 1684’; p. 68, ‘Mr. Philip Kenedy 1699’; p. 84, ‘Jo. Kenedy his book’. Gwynn & Gleeson, A History of the Diocese, 151, 507. Gleeson, History of the Ely O’Carroll Territory, I.288–90, provides a description of Redwood Castle. Ó Concheanainn, ‘The scribe’, 65, 71–5. An undated scribal colophon in Lb (p. 206 sup.) laments the plundering of Cluain Leathan, ‘ardchathair fenechais Erenn’, ‘the high-seat of learning in Ireland’; see also another colophon (p. 184 inf.) where the scribe reports that but for God’s protection he would have fallen into a cave while coming through Coill in Ruaid (Kiltyroe). Gwynn & Gleeson, A History of the Diocese, 537. Gleeson, History of the Ely O’Carroll Territory, I.4–5; Gwynn & Gleeson, A History of the Diocese, 151. Gwynn & Gleeson, A History of the Diocese, 151–2.


Céli Dé in Ireland

Map 2. Northern County Tipperary and environs

Uí Cheinnéidig of Ormond some time in the seventeenth century, as the marginalia demonstrate. Six other manuscripts have direct bearing upon our understanding of Tadhg’s exemplar. Three of these contain Old Irish fragments of the text of The Monastery of Tallaght. The first, Dublin, RIA, MS 23 P 3, hereafter P, remarks upon the use of gruel among penitents and corresponds to chapters LXXIII–LXXIV of The Monastery of Tallaght.18 The scribe identifies himself (fo. 11v) as Uilliam Mac an Leagha and gives the date of writing, 1467, which makes him a contemporary of Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin. Uilliam’s place of writing is generally understood to have been Melaigh Móir, just south of Windgap on the Tipperary–Kilkenny border, as mentioned in another colophon: ‘An ending to this tale at the house of Aodh Óg mac Domhnaill meic Aodh Óg Magrath [ob. 1491] in Mélaigh Móir in Sliabh Díle’.19 We should not, however, assume that Mac an Leagha wrote the entire manuscript here, for all that this note permits us to assert is that he wrote the tract that ends on that page, Cáin Eimheine Bháin (‘Regulation of Éimíne Báin’), at Mélaigh Móir. The Magrath or Mac Craith family is associated with a bardic school in west Tipperary-Limerick. Perhaps Uilliam was working from an exemplar belonging to them.20 18 19


Edited from this manuscript, fo. 14v, by Scarre, ‘Bithbin Menadaige’, 75. fo. 16r: ‘Is fuin don ris sin a tigh Oeda Oicc meic Domnaill meic Oedha Óic Megraith annsa Mélaigh Móir ar slíabh Díle.’ The castle of Mélaigh Móir was a Butler possession, which Aodh mac Domnaill seems to have held as steward for the earl of Ormond; William Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ormond (Dublin 1905), IV.322, cited in Henry & Marsh-Micheli, ‘Manuscripts and illuminations’, 804 n. Kenney, The Sources, 20; I owe this suggestion to Ann Dooley.


Texts attributed to céli Dé The second fragment, London, BL, MS Additional 30512, hereafter A, relates the three things that are not pleasing to God and corresponds to the last chapter of The Monastery of Tallaght.21 Where the text in T ends, however, A continues for several more lines that discuss liturgical matters and the question of diet at Easter time. Both the language and content of these additional lines in A are harmonious with the rest of The Monastery of Tallaght and it is reasonable to conclude that they were part of the same original work. More than one hand is attested in A, but the primary hand and the one responsible for the second fragment is also that of Uilliam Mac an Leagha.22 No date or place of writing is mentioned. The third fragment, found in Dublin, RIA, MS C I. 2, hereafter C, relates a story about St Finnian, another about an anchorite named Laisrén, and a brief passage on fasting, and corresponds to chapters LXVI–LXVIII of The Monastery of Tallaght.23 The first tale is acephalous and preceded by an incomplete genealogical tract and some non-scribal notes, which suggests the loss of a folio from the manuscript. The fragment ends with a colophon requesting the reader’s indulgence: ‘A prayer here for the students; and it is a hard little story, and do not reproach me concerning the letters, and the ink is bad, and the parchment scanty, and the day is dark.’24 On the basis of this note, the composite nature of the manuscript, and the different hands that wrote it, most likely C was the collaborative work of students at a school. Numerous genealogy tracts concerned with the Éoganacht kings of Cashel support a Munster or possibly even a Tipperary origin.25 It has been dated to either the fifteenth or sixteenth century. All three fragments follow the text of T almost verbatim, yet, as we have already seen in the case of A, they also contain passages not found in T.26 From this 21 22

23 24



Edited from this manuscript, fo. 33v, by Grosjean, ‘Extraits de la Règle de Tallaght’, 301–3. Uilliam Mac an Leagha is further credited with London, BL, MS Additional 11809 (found in the wall of Hoar Abbey at Cashel); part of Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Celt 1 (written in 1473); TCD, MS 1298; Dublin, NLI, MS G. 9; and London, BL, MS Egerton 91; see Henry and Marsh-Micheli, ‘Manuscripts and illuminations’, 803–5. Edited and translated from this manuscript, fos 38r–38v, by Bergin, ‘A fragment of Old Irish’, 221–5. See Grosjean, ‘Un fragment’, 251–9. fo. 38v: ‘Oráit annso dona macaib fogluma, 7 is catad in scel bec he, 7 na tarbra aithbhir na litir orum, 7 is olc in dub, 7 in memram gann, 7 is dorcha an la.’ See Plummer, ‘On the colophons’, 23. The place-names Gleand Guail ar Tir Conaill are written at the bottom of fo. 10v; according to Hogan’s Onomasticon, 443, there is a Glengoole (Glen goill or guill) near Killenaule in southeastern Co. Tipperary. Tír Conaill here perhaps refers not to the Donegal territory of that name, but to the region belonging to the Munster Uí Chonáill Gabra, a branch of the Uí “idgente; see Ó Riain, ‘Two legends’, 5–6. See also ‘The Monastery of Talllaght’, LXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 154): ’7 dixit comgeld. Is fochen am do tichtu ní bía brig desium 7 comgellus dixit eadem uerba quae dixit findio’, ‘Comgell said, “Welcome indeed is thy coming: this thing will not matter”. And Comgall said the same things as Findio had said’; cf. C (ed. & tr. Bergin, ‘A fragment of Old Irish’, 222–3): ’7 dixit Comgell, is focen ám do thíchtu, nícon bia bríg hisinnísin. In Satan aridralastar insin dot astad etir tuaid 7 dod breth i tech péne. Nípa cobuir immurgu dosum 7 rl., 7 Comgellus dixit eadem uerba omnia quae dixit Finnia’, ‘Comgall said, “Thy coming is welcome indeed; that will be of no consequence. It was Satan who sent thee thither to detain thee among the laity and to bring thee into the house


Céli Dé in Ireland two possibilities follow. If Uilliam Mac an Leagha and the student-scribes who wrote C used T as their respective exemplars, then they must have employed another source to fill the lacunae in T. Alternatively, if the ACP fragments were copied from the same source as T, then we may consider ACPT a manuscript family dependent upon the same exemplar. The latter seems more likely to me. Either way, the ACP fragments suggest a Tipperary provenance for T and its exemplar. The fourth manuscript to concern us here is UCD, MS Franciscan A 31.10, hereafter F. This ten-folio paper manuscript was written in the first half of the seventeenth century by Irish Franciscans belonging to the College of St Anthony in Louvain in the Spanish Netherlands. It contains only one text, an Early Modern Irish tract closely related to The Monastery of Tallaght in T. Some 40 of the 106 chapters in F simply paraphrase material found in the older manuscript. The remaining chapters in F are independent of T and about half of those in T are independent of F, but the independent chapters in each are quite similar in content, dealing mostly with matters of monastic custom, diet, and liturgy at Tallaght. Both texts represent the words and teachings of Mael Ruain and his disciple Mael Díthruib. Based on these and other observations, Edward Gwynn reasonably concluded that the texts in T and F are, respectively, a copy and a paraphrase of the same ultimate source written in the ninth century, namely, the Tallaght memoir, a tract larger than that now found in either extant manuscript, containing some 150 chapters of a miscellaneous character.27 University College Dublin acquired F in 2000 as part of a larger collection of manuscripts formerly kept at the Franciscan library of Dún Mhuire, Killiney, and, prior to 1946, at the Franciscan friary on Merchants’ Quay, Dublin. Many of the items in this collection, F among them, came to Ireland in 1872 from the Irish Franciscan convent of St Isidore in Rome. The collection’s place of origin, however, was St Anthony’s in Louvain. Following the suppression of St Anthony’s in the aftermath of the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, the collection was dispersed, some of the manuscripts going to the Burgundian Library in Brussels (now the Biliothèque Royale de Belgique) and others, including F, to St Isidore’s.28 To determine if F was actually written in Louvain, we might turn to an examination of the scribal hand. I should say scribal hands, as there are in fact two. The secondary hand29 has been identified as that of Hugh Ward, who held the Chair of Theology of St Anthony’s and whose death at Louvain on 8 November 1635 provides a terminus ante quem for F.30 Gwynn

27 28 29 30

of pain. However, it will be of no help to him,” etc. And Comgall said all the same words which Finnia said.’ Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, viii–xiii, xxi. See Dillon, Mooney, & de Brún, Catalogue, xv–xix. Responsible for lines 1–13, 23–9 on fo. 1r, and marginal notes on fos 2r, 4r, 6r, 7r, 7v, 8v; see Gywnn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, v–vi. Breatnach, ‘An Irish Bollandus’, 29, contra Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, v–vi, who thought the secondary hand was Louis Dillon’s; Mooney (ed.), ‘Paenitentiarum S. Maoil-Ruain’, 297–8, believed it to be that of John Colgan. My own observations, based upon a comparison of microfilm copies of F fo. 1r and UCD, MS Franciscan A 16, marginal note on fo. 1r, identified by Breatnach as Ward’s, lead me to agree with Breatnach.


Texts attributed to céli Dé thought the primary hand31 to be that of Ward’s successor, John Colgan, but he admitted that he had never seen an example of Colgan’s Irish script.32 From what I have seen of Colgan’s Irish hand, I am inclined to disagree with Gwynn.33 I concede, however, that I cannot yet suggest an alternative identity for the primary hand. Having said that, however, I am confident that we may ultimately credit the existence of F to Colgan’s associate, Míchéal Ó Cléirigh, even though his was probably not the primary hand either.34 As is well known, as early as 1623 Hugh Ward had proposed the publication of a complete history of Ireland’s saints. To that end, in the summer of 1626 Ó Cléirigh was dispatched from Louvain to Ireland for the express purpose of copying whatever Irish manuscripts relevant to the project he could discover. During his travels in Ireland between 1626 and 1637, when he finally returned to Louvain, Ó Cléirigh transcribed an impressive number of manuscripts and duly sent the copies to his superiors at St Anthony’s.35 Surely it was his work during this period that uncovered the exemplar that subsequently resulted in F. Since we know that Ward had to have made his contribution to F before his death in 1635, while Ó Cléirigh was still in Ireland, it seems probable that F was produced at Louvain in or before that year. Gwynn noted scribal references in F to an ‘old book’ (sean leabhar), hereafter S, which he supposed, I think rightly, to have been the now-lost exemplar to F containing the complete text of the Tallaght memoir.36 To judge from a number of parenthetical remarks and observations in F, the primary scribe did not always understand his exemplar and did not hesitate to express his confusion.37 Other comments, however, were evidently non-scribal, such as this marginal note to a

31 32 33 34 35



Responsible for fo. 1r, lines 14–22, recommencing at line 30 and continuing on without interruption to the very end of the manuscript at fo. 10v. Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, v. Based upon a comparison of F with a microfilm copy of UCD, MS Franciscan A 30, item 6, a signed letter of Colgan’s, in Irish, to Hugh Ward. Based upon a comparison of F with a microfilm copy of UCD, MS Franciscan A 16, written by Ó Cléirigh. The best work on Ó Cléirigh remains Jennings, Michael Ó Cléirigh. For general remarks on the Louvain undertaking see Dillon, Mooney, & de Brún, Catalogue, ix–xv; Breatnach, ‘An Irish Bollandus’, 7–22; Sharpe, Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 22–3): ‘Ní mar sin orduighim-si é, ar Maol Ruain, acht gach re ccaoca no gach re psalm (“gach re ngabhaill” ata agan tshein-leabhar) do ghabhail a suidhe 7 a seasamh’, ‘I do not arrange it thus, said Mael Ruain, but chant every other fifty or every other psalm (“every other division”, the old book says), sitting and standing alternately’; cf. the marginal note to LII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 32–3): ‘Adeir an leabhar dul gus an bpeannadoir’, ‘The book refers us to the Penitential.’ Cf. XL (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 24–5): ‘Ibhid mo mhuinnter-sa, ar Dubhlithain no Dublitter (mar so sgribthar e, Dublit- )’, ‘My monks drink ale, said Dublithain or Dublitter (it is written thus: Dublit- ).’ Many comments begin with, ‘Measuim gurb . . . ‘, ‘I suppose this was . . .’, as in XXVI, XLVI, XLVII, etc. (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 16–17, 28–9, 30–1), and ‘Ni thuigim . . .’, ‘I do not understand . . .’, as in XXXI, LXXXV, LXXXVI, etc. (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 18–19, 48–9, 50–1); no small part of the scribe’s confusion was due to the author’s indiscriminate use of personal pronouns, as in LXI, LXXXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 36–7, 50–1).


Céli Dé in Ireland passage regarding diet: ‘I do not know (says the author) whether it was their usual custom to make this porridge on these evenings.’38 This aside seems to be that of the original ninth-century author, which the Franciscan scribe dutifully copied from his exemplar into F, adding the words, ‘says the author’ (adeir an t-ugdar), to make it clear that the remark was not his own.39 Such authorial ignorance of céli Dé practice might seem incongruous, given that the author knew Mael Díthruib personally and seems to have lived among céli Dé for a time.40 On the other hand, a marginal note regarding the appropriate duration of penance indicates that Mael Díthruib’s memory was not always reliable.41 This leads us to wonder if the Tallaght memoir was written near the end of Mael Díthruib’s life in 840. If so, it should not be surprising that he had difficulty recalling for the author some of the details of his experience with Mael Ruain who died forty-eight years earlier, especially if Mael Ruain’s rule was no longer observed at Terryglass where Mael Díthruib had become an anchorite.42 The relationship between S, T, and F needs further investigation. Was F’s exemplar S the very same manuscript Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin used to write T, as indicated below in Figure 1a, or should we trace T back to the autograph manuscript a of the Tallaght memoir through a line excluding S, as shown in Figure 1b? Relying only upon the texts of T and F, we cannot answer this question conclusively. Both share a considerable amount of subject matter but they do not present it in the same order or in similar language.43 Furthermore, neither Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin nor the primary scribe of F provided sufficient information about their respective exemplars to allow any meaningful comparison. Additional insight, however, is available from a fifth manuscript: Rome, St Isidore’s College, MS W 21.4, hereafter Is,

38 39



42 43

Ibid., XLIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 26 n.1): ‘Ni fetar (adeir an t-ugdar) an do ghnathughadh do bhí aca an brothcan sin do dheunamh isna hoidhcibh sin.’ Cf. ibid., XVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 12–13): ‘Nir fhiafraighios do Mhaol Ruaín fein an go hard no go hisiol adeireadh se na psailm (ar an t-ugdar)’, ‘I did not ask Mael Ruain himself whether he said the psalms aloud or in secret (says the author)’; LXI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 36–7): ‘Do chuala me aige (ar ugdar an leabhair, acht ní thuigim cía aga ccualaidh se sin)’, ‘I have heard from him (says the author of the book, but I do not understand from whom he heard this)’; XCIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 54–5): ‘Adeirdís ann sin Confiteantur tibi Domine, etc., as ionann e 7 an ní adeirmid fein (adeir fear an leabair)’, ‘Then they said Confiteantur tibi Domine, etc.; this is the same as we say (says the writer [lit. ‘the man of the book’]).’ See ibid., XVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 12–13); The Monastery of Tallaght, XL (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 142–3); ibid., XLV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 32–3): ‘Adeir an leabhar dul gus an bpeannadoir dá fechain ga fad an aimsior pheannaide ar son gach peacaidh fa leith, oir ni maith an chuimni ata ag Maol dithreibh air sin’, ‘the book refers us to the Penitential to see what length of penance is assigned to each particular sin, as Mael Díthruib does not remember this clearly’; cf. LV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5, departing slightly from his translation): ‘Ní fuil a dhearbh aige an ar aran 7 ar uisge do nidh siad an trossgadh sin’, ‘It is not clear to him whether this was a fast on bread and water.’ The Monastery of Tallaght, XII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132). See Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, viii–xiii.


Texts attributed to céli Dé a





Figure 1a

F Figure 1b

Possible relationships between manuscripts S, T, and F

a four-page paper manuscript containing a single text written in Latin and dated to around the same time as F. As with F, two hands are evident in Is, one responsible for the text and another for several marginal and interlineal comments. The primary hand, according to Canice Mooney who edited the manuscript, may be that of Thomas O’Sheerin (ob. 1673), a lecturer of theology at Louvain. The secondary hand is, once again, Hugh Ward’s.44 The text of Is is headed Paenitentiarium S. Maoil-Ruain Abbatis Tamhlachta. It is not, however, a penitential in the usual sense of the word but a Latin rendering of chapters V–XXI of the Teaching of Mael Ruain preserved in F. A comparison of the two shows that Is follows F closely enough to be considered a direct translation of the Early Modern Irish text, omitting a few lines in places but never adding material not found in F. I think that there can be little doubt that Is was written at Louvain after F, which must have served as the exemplar. The most significant feature of Is, for our purposes, is its heading. Gwynn, who seems to have been unaware of the existence of Is, called attention to three other references to a ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’ in the writings of Irish Franciscans.45 In F, in the margin next to a passage which states that the author was uncertain about a point of fasting at Tallaght,46 Hugh Ward wrote, ‘From this, and from the passage in chapter 52 above, it is probable that the Penitential was written by Mael Díthruib and that it was called the Penitential of Mael Ruain because he was Mael Ruain’s disciple.’47 While we may doubt Mael Díthruib’s authorship, we can infer from the note, as did Gwynn, that the ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’ mentioned here must have been the title accorded the copy of the Tallaght memoir in S. John Colgan provides confirmation. In his Acta Sanctorum, published in 1645 at Louvain, Colgan remarked in a note listing several Irish saints named Sedulius (Ir. Siadal), In the Penitential of St Mael Ruain there is mention of a S. Sedulius filius Thesdae of Lismore in Muster, but since he flourished before 44

45 46 47

Breatnach, ‘An Irish Bollandus’, 29, contra Mooney, ‘Paenitentiarum S. Maoil-Ruain’, 297–8, who identified it as Colgan’s. Is was among that part of the Louvain collection sent to Rome after the suppression of St Anthony’s; see Dillon, Mooney, & de Brún, Catalogue, xv–xvii. Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, xviii–xix. Teaching of Mael Ruain, LV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5). Ibid., n. 1: ‘as so 7 asan ait .l. a dhó tuas as cosmhuil gurab o Maoldíthrib do sgriobhadh an bpennadoir 7 tre a beith-siomh na desciopul Maoil Ruain gurap dhe taprad Pennadóir Maoil Ruain d’ainm air’. Gwynn mistakenly thought this note was in the hand of Louis Dillon.


Céli Dé in Ireland 787 [recte 792], the year St Mael Ruain died, it appears he should be distinguished from these others [of the same name].48 Colgan, who annotated the longer recension of Ó Cléirigh’s Martyrology of Donegal, completed in 1630, had this to say about a Siadal of Cenn Lacha: ‘I think that this is Siadhul mac Tinne, mentioned in the Penitential of Mael Ruain.’49 No Siadal appears in the Teaching of Mael Ruain in F or the Latin translation preserved in Is, but we do find a Siadal mac Testa of Ard Mór cited as an authority in The Monastery of Tallaght.50 Paul Grosjean deserves credit for sorting out the relationship between Sedulius filius Thesdae, Siadhul mac Tinne, and Siadal mac Testa. Thesdae, as given by Colgan in Acta Sanctorum, is a rendering of the Old Irish genitive testa (nom. teist), a loanword from the Latin testis, ‘witness’; filius Thesdae is thus equivalent to mac testa. Following Grosjean’s emendation of mac Tinne to mac Timne, Timne being an Old Irish verbal noun meaning ‘testament’, we find ourselves most likely dealing with the same figure in The Monastery of Tallaght, Acta Sanctorum, and the Martyrology of Donegal: one Siadal or Sedulius who took the ecclesiastical name ‘son of the Testament’.51 Colgan recognised him from a text he knew as the ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’; the same title accorded the incomplete Latin translation of the Teaching of Mael Ruain in Is. Since there is no reference to Siadal ‘son of the Testament’ in either Is or F yet there is in T, it follows that both F and T probably derive from the same exemplar, the so-called ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’ once preserved in S.52 48





Colgan (ed.), Acta Sanctorum, 315 n. 8: ‘In poenitentiario S. Maelruani fit mentio S. Sedulii filii Thesdae de Lismoria in Momonia sed hic cum floruerit ante annum 787, quo obiit S. Malruanus, uideatur ab his aliis deuersus.’ Ó Cléirigh, Martyrology of Donegal (edd. Todd & Reeves, tr. O’Donovan, 468): ‘Dar lem ase so Siadhul mac Tinne de quo in Pennadoir M[ae]l R[uain]’; Grosjean, ‘Saint Siadal’, 259–60, identified Colgan as the annotater. The Monastery of Tallaght, XL (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purtron, 142–3): ‘Is sed rochuala la maol dithruib ised fogníd la siadal mac testa o aird móir ba diching aralúsad fer a muindtiri banne iar mbrith a fuail immach’, ‘This is what I heard from Maol Dithruib: this was the practice of Siadal mac Testa of Ard Mor – it was forbidden that anyone of his monastery should drink a drop after passing his water.’ Grosjean, ‘Saint Siadal’, 260: ‘Cést peut-être l’épithète ajoutée au nom d’un exégète de cette école de l’Irlande du sud, au VIIe siècle, qui avait acquis grand renom.’ My thanks to Ann Dooley for bringing this to my attention. To his credit, Gwynn came to essentially the same conclusion despite being unaware of Is. He speculated that the textual exemplar to The Monastery of Tallaght and the Teaching of Mael Ruain was known to the Irish Franciscans as the ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’ because at one time copies of the exemplar and the Old Irish Penitential were contained in the same manuscript, and the Old Irish Penitential, being the older tract, gave its name to the whole volume; see ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, xix. As for the differences between T and F which might suggest that they did not have the same exemplar, most of these may be accounted to scribal discretion. We know that the primary Franciscan scribe paraphrased freely and altered the language to fit contemporary usage and that Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin took some liberties with the arrangement of the text in his manuscript: chapters LXV–LXVIII of The Monastery of Tallaght (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 153–6) are out of place, according to chapter LXXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 163); see also the colophon at the end of LVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 154) and the insertion of Apgitir Chrábaid between LXXX and LXXXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn &


Texts attributed to céli Dé Whatever ultimately befell S, we know that the manuscript survived at least as late as 1630, since Ó Cléirigh referred to the ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’ in the longer recension of the Martyrology of Donegal published that year. We can presume that he must have come across S some time between then and his arrival in Ireland four years earlier. A look at his travels during this period may offer some clues as to where he found it. While the picture of his activities between 1626 and 1630 is not as clear as we might wish it to be, we can discern a number of details thanks to the numerous colophons that Ó Cléirigh generously provided in his manuscripts indicating the dates and places of his writing. After an extended stay at the Franciscan convent on the River Drowes in Leitrim which served as his base,53 his first research trip that we know of was in the summer of 1627 to the Franciscan houses in Dublin, Drogheda, and Kildare, in that order. In Dublin he obtained access to the manuscript collection of Archbishop James Ussher, and in Kildare he copied material from the Book of Leinster fragment now kept at University College Dublin.54 In February of the following year, Ó Cléirigh was among the friars of Athlone and thereafter in Multyfarnham (both in Co. Westmeath). By May, however, he had returned to Drowes, where he made a fair copy of Fís Adomnáin, taken from Lebor na hUidre, which was in the possession of the Ó Domhnaill (O’Donnell) family of Donegal. In a note to his copy of Fís Adomnáin sent on to Louvain he expressed his desire to visit Flann mac Cairpre Maic Aodhagáin of Ballymacegan, at that time the head of the Mac Aodhagáin school in Lower Ormond, to obtain his help in dealing with some of the language difficulties Ó Cléirigh had encountered working with another text, Cáin Adomnáin.55 In the summer of 1628, Ó Cléirigh went back to Dublin and by September had ventured further south to Clough Uatéir, near Leighlin (Co. Carlow), where he had likely come via Glendalough after obtaining some poems on St Cóemgen.56 From Clough Uatéir he went to Cashel where he arrived some time before 4 October. We know this from a letter dated 9 February 1629 written

53 54 55


Purton, 161). As for the passages in T and F that are independent of one another, it is possible that either scribe deliberately omitted sections from his respective copy or simply left his work unfinished. F, it should be noted, breaks off mid-sentence at the bottom of the last page. Furthermore it seems likely that one or more folios are missing from T at the beginning of the text. The text preceding The Monastery of Tallaght in T, an Irish version of Pseudo-Augustine’s Speculum Peccatoris, is incomplete, breaking off mid-sentence at the bottom of p. 32. The Monastery of Tallaght commences at the top of the next folio, recto, but without a heading or anything to indicate that it is the beginning of a new text. Nor would it be surprising if the exemplar S had lost some folios after Tadhg copied it in the fifteenth century and before the Franciscan scribe paraphrased it in the seventeenth century. See also Haggart, ‘The Céli Dé’, 87–8. The exact location of the Drowes convent is uncertain. Gwynn & Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: Ireland, 247, 280, suggest it may have been at Rosfriar. UCD, MS Franciscan A 3, formerly kept in the Franciscan Library at Killiney. Jennings, Michael Ó Cléirigh, 52–8. Ibid., 59–60. Kenney, The Sources, 39 n. 139, suggested that Ó Cléirigh had been trained at the Mac Aodhagáin school. In 1636 Flann mac Cairpre provided Ó Cléirigh with a testimonial for the Martyrology of Donegal: see Martyrology of Donegal (edd. Todd & Reeves, l). Jennings, Michael Ó Cléirigh, 62–3. See also Walsh, ‘Travels of an Irish scholar’, 123–32.


Céli Dé in Ireland by Malachy O’Queely, Vicar General of the diocese of Killaloe, addressed to Hugh Ward at Louvain. In the letter O’Queely says he saw Ó Cléirigh at Cashel on the Feast of St Francis (4 October), and from there sent him north to Ormond.57 In Lower Ormond Ó Cléirigh fulfilled his desire to visit Flann mac Cairpre at Ballymacegan. We know this from a colophon Ó Cléirigh wrote in one of his manuscripts containing two short passages concerned with Adomnán, the seventh-century abbot of Iona: [This was] copied the first time from an old manuscript in the old history book belonging to Flann mac Cairpre Mac Aodhagáin . . . and copied the second time in the house of the brothers at Drowes, 20 February 1629.58 We learn from this that some time between 4 October 1628 when he was seen at Cashel, and 20 February 1629, by which time he was back at Drowes, Ó Cléirigh must have travelled to Ballymacegan where he made use of Flann’s ‘old book’. We know that in June 1629 he was again in Munster, at the Franciscan convent at Timoleague (Co. Cork), where he transcribed material from the Book of Lismore. From Timoleague he went on to Cork, collecting Lives of SS Finnbarr, Ailbe, Fursa, and others, before likely attending the Franciscan Chapter at Limerick on 15 August 1629 where his elder brother Bernardine Ó Cléirigh was elected Guardian of the Donegal convent. Míchéal’s work would doubtless have been of considerable interest to the Chapter.59 At Limerick he made copies of some poems and other items on SS Senán, Énda, and Columba, among other things, and then possibly moved on to the Killaloe area where he may have transcribed a metrical Life of St Caimín of Inis Celtra. In early October he was at the Franciscan convent of Kinalehin (Cinél Féichín), near Galway, where another colophon tells us he made a copy of the Life of St Cellach of Killala from Lb.60 At some point that same 57


59 60

Jennings, Michael Ó Cléirigh, 65: ‘As I was teaching at Cassell uppon your patroun his festival daie [4 October, the feast of St Francis of Assisi], there I met your brother Clery, who made a collection of more than three or four hundreth Lives. I gave him some Lives I collected, and sent him on to Ormond parte of my diocese to write there for a time, from whence he promised to come to Thowmond, wheare I undertook to get many things for him.’ The date of the letter is 30 January 1628, but a postscript states that this was according to the Old Style – calculated in the New Style, the date is 9 February 1629. Jennings speculates that the number of Lives Ó Cléirigh purportedly transcribed on this trip is exaggerated; ibid., 66. Ibid., 66–7, from Brussels, BR, MS 4190–200, fos 32–33v: ‘As sein-screabtra do sheinlebair iris re Flann mac Cairpre mac Aodhagáin do scríobhus an dá fleduchcadh sin bhenus le hAdhamnán, an cédna cur, agus do sccríobhus dond ala cur so i ttigh na mbráthar ag Drobhaois, 20 Feb. 1629.’ Might the sean leabhar of Flann be the same as S, the sean leabhar which contained the Tallaght memoir? Ibid., 82–3, 86. Ibid., 89, 199 n. 22, from Brussels, BR, MS 2324–40, fo. 167r: ‘I mainistir na mbrathar i Cinél Feichin ro sccríobh an bráthair bocht Michel Ó Cléirigh an teacclamadh so labras ar Ceallach ar na teacclamadh as staire labhras ar coccadh Connachta as an leabhar da ngoirtear leabhar Dhuna Doighre 3 Octobris 1629’, ‘In the monastery of the friars in Cinél Féichín the poor friar Míchéal Ó Cléirigh wrote this compilation about Cellach, from a compilation taken from the history of the wars of Connaught, out of the book which is called the Book of Dun Daighre [i.e. Leabhar Breac], 3 October, 1629’; cf. Lb


Texts attributed to céli Dé

Map 3. Places visited by Michéal Ó Cléirigh, 1627–9

summer Ó Cléirigh also visited the Franciscan convents at Clonmel and Wexford, but by November he was back at Drowes, rewriting much of the material he had collected over the previous months.61 He appears to have remained at Drowes until after the completion of the Martyrology of Donegal in April 1630.


(vol. 2) pp. 272–7. I am unaware of any independent work known as the ‘History of the wars of Connaught’ or of any reference to such a work in Lb, but it should be noted that Ó Cléirigh ended his copy of the Lb text with the burial of Cellach and left out the narrative of the end of the war between Connaught and Ulster and the entire end of the piece which describes the vengeance of Cú-Choingelt upon the murderers of his brother Cellach (= Lb pp. 275a–277a, ed. Mulchrone, Caithréim Cellaig). See Meyer, ‘M. O’Clery’s Beatha Ceallaigh’, 91–4; Herbert, ‘Caithréim Cellaig’, 320–32. Jennings, Michael Ó Cleirigh, 90–2.


Céli Dé in Ireland From this itinerary two places stand out: Ballymacegan and Kinalehin. While visiting Flann Mac Aodhagáin at Ballymacegan, I propose that Ó Cléirigh came across S, very probably the same manuscript Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin used as his exemplar when transcribing T at the Mac Aodhagáin school some 150 years earlier. At this point what most likely occurred is that working from S Ó Cléirigh made a fair copy of the Tallaght memoir, let us call it ß, which he sent on to Louvain. From ß Hugh Ward and an unidentified colleague at Louvain produced the paraphrased version of the Tallaght memoir we know as the Teaching of Mael Ruain found in F, and thereafter Thomas O’Sheerin and Hugh Ward translated portions of the paraphrased version into Latin, resulting in Is.62 As for the other location, Kinalehin, there Ó Cléirigh made use of Lb, a codex which contains at least three other texts associated with céli Dé and the sixth and final manuscript we shall consider in relation to The Monastery of Tallaght. The scribe of Lb, whose hand is continuous throughout the manuscript, does not reveal his name. Tomás Ó Concheanainn, however, has identified him as Murchadh Ó Cuindlis, who also wrote a portion of the Yellow Book of Lecan, TCD, MS 1318 (H. 2. 16), hereafter Ybl, in 1398–9 and part of the Great Book of Lecan under the direction of Gilla Íosa Mór Mac Fir Bhisigh, the primary scribe of the latter codex.63 The Mac Aodhagáin connection to Lb is well established, and it can be demonstrated that Ó Cuindlis wrote much of Lb in Lower Ormond and at least some of it while at the Mac Aodhagáin school at Cluain Leathan.64 There are three texts in Lb of particular interest to us: the Rule of the Céli Dé, Félire Óengusso, and the Rule of Mochutu. The latter two we will consider shortly. Rule of the Céli Dé (11) The Rule of the Céli Dé (Riagail na Céle nDé) has been edited twice, by John O’Donovan and Edward Gwynn.65 On the basis of the text’s grammar and orthography, Reeves thought that the Rule as it stands in Lb was probably a twelfth- or thirteenth-century Middle Irish representation of a much older work, although he provided nothing to substantiate this.66 Most scholars who have commented on the


63 64 65 66

Alternatively, it might be supposed that Ó Cléirigh obtained possession of S outright and sent it on to Louvain, where it served as the basis for the paraphrase in F which in turn was the basis for Is. A third possibility is that Ó Cléirigh himself paraphrased the Tallaght memoir in S into Early Modern Irish. The paraphrase he then sent on to Louvain where his colleagues made the copy which survives in F and then produced the Latin translation in Is. Neither of these other possibilities, however, strikes me as very likely since Ó Cléirigh’s mandate was not so much to procure original manuscripts as it was to transcribe them as accurately as possible; see Plummer (ed. & tr.), Bethada Náem nÉrenn, I.xiii–iv. As I am unaware of any instance where Ó Cléirigh opted to paraphrase an Old Irish text into Early Modern Irish rather than to copy it just as he found it, I suppose the existence of the intermediate source ß between S and F. Ó Concheanainn, ‘The scribe’, 67–70. Ibid., 65, 71–5. O’Donovan, in Reeves, Culdees, 84–97; Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 64–87. Reeves, Culdees, 7. He appears to have been unaware of the Teaching of Mael Ruain and its relation to the Rule. See more recently Kelly, ‘The Rule of Patrick’, 176–7, whose analysis of the language of the Lb version of the Rule of Patrick appended to the Rule of


Texts attributed to céli Dé Rule of the Céli Dé since Reeves have regarded it as a ninth-century composition, the date which, according to Kenney, John Strachan once gave to the text.67 In point of fact, Strachan was not so specific. In the article which Kenney cites, Strachan, who was discussing the deponent verb in Irish, observed that the Rule of Mochutu ‘in some parts reminds one of the Regula ascribed to Maelruain, Lbr. 9b sq., also an old text, though it chances to contain little deponent material’.68 For his part, Gwynn felt it was ‘originally written perhaps in the ninth century’, but unfortunately he offered no evidence to confirm this.69 Before continuing further, it should be noted that the Rule of the Céli Dé as it stands in Lb is composite. The first fifty-four of its sixty-five chapters form a unified text; the remaining eleven, however, are taken from two other sources. Chapters fifty-five and fifty-six are from the Rule of Colum Cille, an Old Irish tract that survives elsewhere in two manuscripts. Chapters fifty-seven to sixty-five are from another Old Irish text extant in two other manuscripts, including the Book of Lismore where it is titled the Rule of Patrick (Riagail Phátraic).70 There is no break in the text or markers in Lb between the end of the Rule of the Céli Dé (p. 11b) and the Rule of Colum Cille or between the Rule of Colum Cille and the Rule of Patrick to suggest that Ó Cuindlis was aware that one text had concluded and another had begun. Where I refer to the Rule of the Céli Dé, I mean only the first fifty-four chapters of the text so titled in Lb. Gwynn set out the close relationship between the Rule of the céli Dé, The Monastery of Tallaght, and the Teaching of Mael Ruain, and observed that nearly all of the Rule’s contents are more substantively represented in the other two works, both of which, we should remember, survive only in manuscripts written after Lb.71 He argued that the author of the Rule relied upon the same original source used by the scribes of T and F, that is, the Tallaght memoir, selected those passages of particular interest to him, omitted the references to persons and places he found in his exemplar, and set down as a monastic rule what his source put forth as the custom or practice of a certain individual or place.72 Like The Monastery of Tallaght and the Teaching of Mael Ruain, the Rule of the Céli Dé is thought to represent the teachings of Mael Ruain.73 Two chapters of the Rule, it should be noted, reproduce the Old Irish text of The Monastery of Tallaght almost verbatim.74 I think that there can be little question that, as Gwynn concluded, the

67 68 69 70 71

72 73


the Céli Dé has led her to assign the Lb copy of the Rule of Patrick to the Middle Irish period. Kenney, The Sources, 472. Strachan, ‘Contributions’, 517 n. Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, vii. For more on the Rule of Colum Cille and the Rule of Patrick, see below. Of the 54 chapters, 49 have corresponding passages in either or both T and F; only chapters XXXVIII, XLII, XLVII, IL, and Ld are independent of the two other texts; see Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, xiii–xv. Ibid. In the margin above the commencement of the text (Lb p. 9b) the scribal hand wrote Incipit Riagail na Celed nDe. O Moelruain cecinit. The term céli Dé is used on several places in the text and Mael Ruain is mentioned twice; see Rule of the Céli Dé, XXXVI, XLIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 72–7). Ibid., XLIX–XLV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 28–9); cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, XVII–XVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133).


Céli Dé in Ireland Rule of the Céli Dé derived in great measure, if not wholly, from the Tallaght memoir. The four texts preceding the Rule of the Céli Dé in Lb appear to have all been written while Ó Cuindlis was at Lough Rea, some twenty miles northwest of Ballymacegan.75 There are no further clues as to his place of writing until sixteen pages after the Rule, at the end of a copy of the Tripartite Life of Patrick, where he states that he completed the Life on the eve of the feast of St Patrick, at a time when Múscraige Tíre was ‘contentious’, presumably due to armed conflict.76 The territory of Múscraige Tíre encompassed the baronies of Upper and Lower Ormond where Ballymacegan is located. Most of the scribal marginalia give us reason to believe that Ó Cuindlis in fact wrote the greater part of Lb in Múscraige Tíre.77 I propose that it was there at the Mac Aodhagáin school where he found the manuscript exemplar of the Rule of the Céli Dé which he copied into Lb. Was the exemplar the same manuscript later used by Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin to write T and by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh to write ß? This would seem a reasonable conclusion, since I already contend that S was in the possession of the Mac Aodhagáin family in the 1470s when Ó Rigbardáin likely wrote T. Yet on the other hand, if the Rule of the Céli Dé was preserved in S along with a copy of the Tallaght memoir from which the Rule itself derived, why did Ó Rigbardáin and Ó Cléirigh not make use of the Rule in their own transcriptions of the Tallaght memoir or, for that matter, simply copy it outright? One might expect that Ó Cléirigh at least would have wanted to preserve a copy of the Rule to send to Louvain. It may be that the two scribes did indeed rely upon the Rule to produce their own copies of the Tallaght memoir, but to prove or disprove such reliance would require an examination of T, F, and Lb in greater detail than is possible here.78 A modern comparative edition of The Monastery of Tallaght, the Teaching of Mael Ruain, the Rule of the Céli Dé, and the fragmentary sources is needed. For now, I will propose that the exemplar to the Lb Rule of the Céli Dé was not S, but another manuscript, g, also in the possession of the Mac Aodhagáin family of Lower Ormond. But even if I am wrong on this matter, it does not alter the recognition of the Mac Aodhagáin school as a repository of céli Dé texts at least as early as the fifteenth century and the identification of several scribes who made use of céli Dé material found there. It will be useful to summarise the main points thus far. Some time between 815 and 840 an anonymous monastic contemporary of Mael Díthruib wrote a memoir in Old Irish recording the customs and precepts of Mael Ruain of Tallaght. The autograph manuscript of the Tallaght memoir, a, has been lost, as have S, which contained a copy of the original text, and g, which contained a 75 76

77 78

See Ó Concheanainn, ‘The scribe’, 73. Lb p. 28: ‘Féil Patraicc anocht for Luan 7 for Máirt ambárach. Messi oc scríbend na bethad sa thís agus Muscraige Tíre co hamreidh.’ The eve of the Feast of St Patrick fell on a Monday in 1411. Ó Concheanainn, ‘The scribe’, 71–5. One possible line of investigation is the presence in The Monastery of Tallaght of doublets, to borrow a term from biblical textual criticism, that is, pairs of passages with essentially the same content but expressed in different words: for example, V & XXXIII, XIV & L, XXIV & XLII, and XII & LI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128–9 & 140–1, 132 & 145–6, 135–6 & 143, and 132 & 146). These suggest a conflation of two versions of the Tallaght memoir.


Texts attributed to céli Dé Middle Irish redaction of the memoir in the form of a rule. The text of the latter is preserved in Lb, copied from g by Murchadh Ó Cuindlis ca 1411. An incomplete copy of S survives in T, written by Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin ca 1475, and an incomplete Early Modern Irish paraphrase of S is found in F, produced by Irish Franciscans at Louvain ca 1630. Both Ó Cuindlis and Ó Rigbardáin can be linked to Cluain Leathan, the Mac Aodhagáin school in Lower Ormond. The Franciscan scribes of F can be linked to the school through Míchéal Ó Cléirigh. During a visit to Ballymacegan in 1628 or 1629 Ó Cléirigh used S to make a copy of the Tallaght memoir, ß, from which his colleagues in Louvain produced F and from the latter produced the incomplete Latin translation found in Is. Fragments of the Old Irish text of the memoir are also preserved in three other manuscripts, P, A, and C, all from the fifteenth or sixteenth century and all with probable Tipperary origins. Uilliam Mac an Leagha, who wrote P and A, cannot be tied directly to the Mac Aodhagáin school, but he was active in Lower Ormond at the same time as Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin. I postulate that Mac an Leagha copied the fragments in P and A from S, perhaps during a visit to Ballymacegan. The following stemma demonstrates the proposed relationship of all these manuscripts:

Félire Óengusso (2) The second Lb text widely associated with céli Dé is Félire Óengusso (‘Martyrology of Óengus’). Scribal marginalia in Lb indicate that Ó Cuindlis was in Múscraige Tíre at the time he transcribed the Martyrology.79 The work is extant in nine further manuscripts, all more recent than Lb.80 While it will not be necessary 79


Lb p. 89: ‘Adaig Fheil Finden innocht. A Múscraige Thire dam ind’; p. 101: ‘Sechtmain ondiú co Nodlaig Steill. A Muig Ua Fhargai dam.’ The plain of Ua Forga is in the barony of Ballybrit, Co. Offaly. For discussion of the manuscripts, see Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, viii–xxiv.


Céli Dé in Ireland to discuss each of them here, four besides Lb are of particular relevance to the present study. The first of these is P, which has already caught our attention above. Written by Uilliam Mac an Leagha in 1467, P begins with Félire Óengusso, although it is missing the prologue and the folios containing the months of May, September, and December. A fragment of the prose preface appears elsewhere in P. Mac an Leagha’s exemplar may have been identical with that of the second manuscript: Oxford, Bodleian Laud Misc. 610, hereafter Ld.81 The portion of Ld that contains the Martyrology was written for James Butler, the fourth earl of Ormond (1405–52). The White Earl, as he was known, was a gaelicised Anglo-Norman; he spoke Irish, retained an Irish brehon, and was a prominent patron of Irish scribes.82 The name of the scribe who wrote the part of Ld generally known as the White Earl’s Book remains a mystery.83 The third manuscript is Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 512, hereafter R. The section of R containing the Martyrology was written for Conchobar Ruadh Mac Maoil Tuile almost entirely by Conchobar Ó Maoil Chonaire in 1500 at Athboy (Co. Meath). A kinsman, Maol ”echlainn Ó Maoil Chonaire, contributed to another section of R which contains other texts that will interest us below.84 The fourth manuscript is Brussels, BR, MS 5100–4, hereafter Br1, written about 1633 by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh from fair copies of manuscripts he had made at various places in Ireland, or directly from old manuscripts he had collected at the Drowes convent before 1633. Ó Cléirigh identifies himself in several colophons, one of which states that he copied Félire Óengusso from a book written by Siodrach Ó Maoil Chonaire in 1533.85 81

82 83



Ó Riain, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, 234–5. P, like Ld (the White Earl’s Book), is associated with the Butlers, the earls of Ormond. Perhaps the exemplar to Ld and P was in the possession of the Butlers. After 1395 the primary seat of the Butlers was at Kilkenny. See Gwynn & Gleeson, A History of the Diocese of Killaloe, 347–8. Henry & Marsh-Micheli, ‘Manuscripts and illuminations’, 801–2. In 1454 the White Earl’s Book was bound with another volume, just finished at Pottlerath (Co. Kilkenney) for the White Earl’s nephew, Edmund, son of Richard Butler (ob. 1464), to form the codex that is now Ld. The two principal scribes of the Book of Pottlerath were Seaán Buidhe Ó Cléirigh and Gilla na Naomh Mac Aodhagáin. While little else is known of these two, the Mac Aodhagáin connection is worth noting. In one colophon Gilla na Naomh says he is writing ‘a Cill Fraich ar bru na Heoire’, ‘at Cill Fraich on the banks of the Nore’. The location of Cill Fraich is uncertain, but it was presumably on or near Butler lands. The River Nore runs from just southeast of Roscrea through southwest Co. Laois and down into Co. Kilkenny where it joins the Barrow. See Dillon, ‘Laud Misc. 610’, 68–71; idem, ‘Laud Misc. 610 (cont.)’, 142–6, colophons xlii (fo. 43r), lxii (fo. 86r), cf. li (fo. 58v). See colophons, fos 64v, 73r, and 2r (Bodleian foliation), published by Best, ‘Notes on Rawlinson B 512’, 397–400. Conchobar Ó Maoil Chonaire is likely Conchobar mac Domhnaill Ruaidh Ó Maoil Chonaire who died in 1532. The Four Masters report the death of a Maol ”echlainn Ó Maoil Chonaire in 1489. The Ó Maoil Chonaire (O’Mulconry) family were prominent in Connaught where they were historians for the Ó Conchobuir (O’Connor) family, the ancient chiefs of Síl Muireadaigh. The deaths of several Ó Maoil Chonaire ollama of Síl Muireadaigh are recorded in Irish chronicles from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. Their primary seat in Connaught was at Cluain Plocáin (Kiltrustan parish, Co. Roscommon). Branches of the Ó Maoil Chonaire family were also present in Munster and Leinster. See Walsh, Irish Men of Learning, 34–48. Br1, fo. 93r. Siodrach Ó Mail-Chonaire was probably the same person as Sighraidh son


Texts attributed to céli Dé The author of the Félire, who composed it entirely in verse, does not offer his name. The later prose prefaces, which accompany the text in Lb, Ld, R, and Br1 and date from the second half of the twelfth century,86 identify the poet as Óengus mac Óengobann who is said to have been a contemporary of the Uí Néill king Aed Oirdnide (793–817), Fothud na Canóine (ob. 819), and Connmach, bishop-abbot of Armagh (ob. 807). Óengus is also commemorated in the Martyrology of Tallaght with a feast day on 11 March and listed in the Book of Leinster as part of Óentu Mail Ruain.87 The appellation céle Dé, by which he is often called today, is not accorded to him in any of these sources and seems to have originated with John Colgan in the seventeenth century.88 In his 1880 edition of the Martyrology, based mainly upon Lb, Stokes doubted the veracity of the authorial tradition and thought the language of the text too late to have been composed by Óengus. He reversed his opinion twenty-five years later in another edition produced from manuscripts other than Lb, yet still questioned whether Óengus was indeed a céle Dé.89 The late evidence of the prose prefaces and a poem (Aibind suide sund amne) immediately following the Martyrology in Lb would have us believe that Óengus began work on the Martyrology while he was a monk at Clonenagh (Co. Laois). Eager to have Mael Ruain as his confessor (anmchara, ‘soul friend’), however, Óengus left to join the community at Tallaght and there completed his work.90 Certainly the composer of the Martyrology proper shows particular regard for Mael Ruain, commemorating him in the calendar and extolling him in both the prologue and epilogue. The stanza for 7 July, the saint’s feast day, reads: With a great and beautiful host of Parmenius, steadfast troop, Mael Ruain has attained heaven, the splendid sun of the Gael’s island.91 The prologue proclaims the virtue of the saint’s burial site, which was evidently at Tallaght:92



88 89 90 91 92

of Seaán Rua mac Torna Móir Ó Mail-Chonaire. Torna Mór Ó Mail-Chonaire, Sighraidh’s grandfather, died as ollam of Síol Muireadhaigh in 1468. Sighraidh and his uncle, Torna Óg mac Torna Móir (ob. 1532), together retouched portions of Ld for Maurice son of Thomas, the tenth earl of Desmond. See Walsh, Irish Men of Learning, 37–8. Ó Riain, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, 235–6, dates the commentary of Félire Óengusso after the compilation of the ‘Martyrology of Gorman’ about 1170 and before the completion of the ‘Martyrology of Drummond’ about 1174. For the prefaces see Stokes’s editions: On the Calendar of Oengus, i–xii, and Félire Óengusso, 2–14; for Óentu Mail Ruain, see Ó Riain (ed.), Corpus Genealogiarum, 162–3, and below. Colgan (ed.), Acta Sanctorum, 580a; Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, xxvii. Stokes (ed. & tr.), On the Calendar of Oengus, 4–6; Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, xxvii. On the prefaces, see Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 6–13; for the poem in Lb, see ibid., xxiv–xxvi. Félire Óengusso, 7 July (ed. & tr. Stokes, Félire Óengusso, 161): ‘La mórsluagad lígmar / Parméni, tromm tóiden, / Mael-rúain adreth riched, / grían án inse Góidel.’ A marginal note to the stanza for 1 October in the Lb and Rawlinson B. 505 versions of the Martyrology mentions Mael Ruain’s reliquary at Tallaght: ‘is and fen ro forbanad relic maelruain hi tamlachtai’, ‘it is then that Mael Ruain’s reliquary was completed in Tallaght’; see Stokes (ed. & tr.), On the Calendar of Oengus, cliv; cf. Laud 610 note in Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 220–1.


Céli Dé in Ireland Mael Ruain after his pious service, the great sun on Meath’s south plain, at his grave with purity is healed the sigh of every heart.93 The epilogue requests the Heavenly King’s blessing upon Mael Ruain before all others and seeks the saint’s assistance to bring him to Christ: May the full blessing of this King with his beautiful hosts be over your assemblies on Mael Ruain before all (other) men. May my tutor bring me unto Christ, dear beyond affection, by his pure blessing, with his heart’s desire.94 To call Mael Ruain his ‘tutor’ (aite, possibly also meaning ‘foster-father’) suggests that the composer had a personal relationship with the saint. Although he does not ever mention Tallaght by name, it seems safe to conclude that the author of the Martyrology was in some manner associated with the community there. In the epilogue he more than once refers to himself as a céle, and describes himself as a ‘pauper’ (bochtán) and ‘this wretched mendicant’ (in pauperán truagsa), terms which Stokes suggested may indicate an obligation of poverty within a religious community.95 On the whole, there seems to be no good reason to reject the tradition that the Martyrology was written by Óengus, at least partly at Tallaght. Stokes proposed a date of composition around 800 and was supported by Thurneysen who placed the work between 797 and 808 on the basis of internal evidence.96 This range remained largely unchallenged until 1990 when Pádraig Ó Riain argued that a date of ca 800 cannot be justified in light of persons he identified in the Félire believed to have lived after that time. He posited composition for both the Félire and its principal source the Martyrology of Tallaght between 828 and 833.97 His revised dates have since come under criticism,98 but his analysis of



95 96

97 98

Félire Óengusso, prologue lines 225–8 (ed. & tr. Stokes, Félire Óenguesso, 26): ‘Mael Rúain iarna goiri, / grían már desmaig Midi, / occa lecht co nglaini / ícthair cnet cech cridi.’ Ibid., epilogue lines 61–8 (ed. & tr. Stokes, Félire Óengusso, 266–7): ‘Lánbendacht ind rígsa / cona slógaib cáinib, / robbé úas bar ndálaib / for Mael-rúain ria ndáinib. // Dom-rairber a m’aite, / co Críst cóem tar dili, / dia bendacht co ngláini, / la dúthracht a chridi.’ Ibid., epilogue lines 305–8 (ed. & tr. Stokes, Félire Óengusso, 278), 425–8 (p. 283), 553–6 (p. 288), 389–92 (p. 281), 405–8 (p. 282); xxvii. Ibid., vii; Thurneysen, ‘Die Abfassung des Félire von Oengus’, 6–8. ‘Donnchad the wrathful, ruddy, chosen’ (Donnchad dric ruad rogdae), mentioned in the prologue of Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 26), seems likely to have been Donnchad mac Domnaill, king of Tara, who died in 797. Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies’, 21–38; see below for the Martyrology of Tallaght. Breatnach, ‘Poets and poetry’, 74–5; Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 19–48. The identification of the Modímmóc of 10 December in Félire Óengusso with Dímmán of Araid (ob. 811) – Ó Riain’s best case for a later date for Félire Óengusso (see Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies’, 28–30, and idem, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, 222, especially n. 5) – cannot be taken as proven. While it may be that the note in Félire Óengusso and the Martyrology of Gorman upon which the identification rests indeed derived from the Martyrology of Tallaght, since the relevant part of the latter text is missing and no confirmation is possible, the identification must remain speculative.


Texts attributed to céli Dé the textual transmission of the former work has done much to elucidate its relation to the other Irish martyrologies.99 In his own assessment of the problems of dating the Félire, David Dumville returned to Thurneysen’s terminus post quem of 797 and placed the terminus ante quem around 870.100 Further investigation of this ‘monument of Old Irish’ is needed, as Dumville recognised. But whether one agrees with Ó Riain’s narrower range or follows Dumville’s more conservative estimation, neither argument gives us cause to dismiss the Félire as being other than the work of someone not likely more than a generation removed from Mael Ruain. As for the commentary and preface preserved with the Félire in several manuscripts, while they are manifestly later they show signs of having passed through Tallaght, if they were not in fact produced there.101 A poem on Fer-dá-chrích appearing in the lower margin of the Lb folio for 6 October, the feast day of Fer-dá-chrích, contains the line ‘to Mael Ruain to our teacher’.102 The stanza for 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption, reads ‘On a great feast is her commemoration, the true Mother of our Father, with a host of kings, right splendid assembly’. In Lb ‘great feast’ (mórféil) is glossed ‘the assumption of holy Mary, the genetrix or mother of God or the sister of Mael Ruain (thus according to Mael Ruain it is said here, because Mael Ruain was her teacher)’.103 Other notes set out Mael Ruain’s pedigree and mention some of the relics that were kept at Tallaght.104 The Ld version of the preface offers the foundation legend of Tallaght and tells the story of Óengus’s arrival there and introduction to Mael Ruain.105 Rule of Mochutu/Rule of Fothud na Canóine (3) The third Lb text concerned with céli Dé is a rule found in seven manuscripts, the oldest of which is Lb. The second and third manuscripts are A and P (containing a fragment only),106 both written by Uilliam Mac an Leagha who also included fragments of the Tallaght memoir in the same two manuscripts, as we have seen. The fullest text of the Rule is contained in the fourth manuscript, Dublin, RIA, MS 23 N 10, hereafter N, written by three scribes who signed themselves Aodh, 99 100 101



104 105 106

Ó Riain, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, 221–42. Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 27–8, thought it probable that Óengus had died before 870. Ó Riain, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, 236–9, advanced an Armagh provenance for the commentary and preface, both of which he dated between about 1170 and 1174. The commentary and preface in the line of transmission which includes Lb, R, and Br he felt were later reworked at a church in the west Midlands, possibly Seirkieran. Stokes (ed. & tr.), On the Calendar of Oengus, clv: ‘do moelruain diar forcetlaid’; cf. the R note on 15 August, Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 186, which contains a few lines of the same poem. Stokes (ed. & tr.), On the Calendar of Oengus, cxxxi: ‘I mórféil a haithmit / fírmáthir ar nathar / co slóg ríg, rán clochar’; gl.: ‘asumptio sancta[e] maria[e] dei genetricis uel mater (maelruain dicitur hic quia maelruain doc[t]or eius fuit) no siur maelruain’. I owe this reference to Ann Dooley. Ld and Rawlinson B. 505 notes on 7 July, Rawlinson B. 505 note on 15 August, Ld and Rawlinson B. 505 note on 1 October; Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 166, 186, 220. Ibid., 12. The fragment in P, fo. 14r, comprising ten quatrains from the section on the duties of the anmchara, lacks an attribution and begins with the line Taibret duit a coibhsina.


Céli Dé in Ireland Dubthach, and Torna. Aodh was the principal scribe and evidently the owner of the book, which he wrote in part at the house of Seán Ó Maoil Chonaire in Baile in Chuimine. Dubthach states that he completed his portion of N at Baile Tibhaird ar Bla Maige in the company of Seán Ó Maoil Chonaire in 1575.107 Baile in Chuimine (Ballycummin) is just west of Lough Boderg in the barony of Ballintober North, Co. Roscommon, while Baile Tibhaird could be Ballintubber, just north of Lough Mask, Co. Mayo. Torna may be the same Torna Ó Maoil Chonaire (not to be confused with Torna Mór or Torna Óg, above) who in 1572 wrote a portion of Ybl which is the fifth manuscript containing the Rule.108 We have already observed that the Ó Maoil Chonaire family had access to other céli Dé tracts preserved in R and Br1.109 The sixth and seventh manuscripts are TCD, MS 1285 (H. 1. 11), hereafter H, written in 1752 by Hugh O’Daly, and Maynooth, St Patrick’s College, MS M 48, which was copied from N in the nineteenth century and will not figure significantly in the discussion here. In Lb, A, Ybl, and H, the Rule is attributed to St Mochutu (the hypocoristic form of Carthach), abbot of Rathan (Rahan, Co. Offaly) and founder of Lismore (Co. Waterford), who died in 637. The language of the text, however, precludes its composition in the seventh century and, in the view of John Strachan, points rather to the beginning of the ninth century.110 Such a date would lend credence to the superscription to the Rule in N: Fothaid na Canóine c[e]c[init] hanc regulam.111 Fothud na Canóine appears in the later prose prefaces to Félire Óengusso which state that Óengus first showed his martyrology to Fothud on the occasion of the hosting of Aed Oirdnide at Dún Cuair in 804.112 According to the chronicles Fothud was associated with the church at Fothan (Fahan, Co. Donegal) and died in 819.113 Kenney speculated that the similarity of the place-name Fothan or Fahan to that of Rathan resulted in the mistaken attribution of Fothud’s rule to Rathan’s famous saint, Mochutu.114 The sobriquet na Canóine suggests that he was a prominent biblical scholar. Yet aside from the above superscription found in N, there is no evidence to support Fothud’s authorship of the Rule. Nevertheless, since it is highly unlikely that St Mochutu could have written it, most scholars accept the attribution to Fothud. Unlike most of the other vernacular rules written in Ireland before the arrival of the Normans, the Rule of Fothud, as I will refer to the text, is remarkably compre-

107 108

109 110 111 112

113 114

N pp. 48, 101. Kenney, The Sources, 24. It should be noted, however, that Ybl is a composite manuscript and that the folios containing the Rule attributed to Mochutu (cols 221–7) may be much earlier than Torna Ó Maoil Chonaire. According to Kenney, another section of Ybl was written by Seanchán son of Maol Muire Ó Maoil Chonaire in 1473. See above, 118. Strachan, ‘Contributions’, 516–17. N p. 82. Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 4, 10. See Ó Riain, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, 237–8, for comments on the significance of this story to Armagh. The prefaces credit Fothud with obtaining an exemption for Ireland’s churchmen from military hostings. AU 819.9: ‘Fothud Fothn” moritur’; AI 818.1: ‘Fothad Othna, id est Fothad canone, quieuit.’ Kenney, The Sources, 474 n.


Texts attributed to céli Dé hensive.115 Composed in verse, it comprises several sections of differing length that offer guidance to the various members of Christian society. In all the manuscripts save N and its copy, each section has its own subtitle. The Rule begins with some comments on the Ten Commandments applicable, of course, to all christians. Following these are sections headed ‘Of the duties of a bishop’, ‘Of the abbot (abb) of a church’,116 ‘Of the duties of a priest’, ‘Of the duties of a monk’ (manach),117 ‘Of a céle Dé’,118 and ‘Of a king’. A and N include sections on the duties of a confessor or ‘soul friend’ (anmchara). Lb and N also discuss ‘the order of meals and the refectory’ (Do ord proind 7 proinntige), and N concludes with a short passage on the ‘husbandman’ (trebthach) who, to judge from the text, was a monastic tenant, that is, a layman who farmed church lands, paid tithes and first-fruits, and lived in a quasi-monastic state.119 Among these, the section for the céle Dé stands out in one significant regard: in every manuscript it is written in the first-person plural while the rest of the Rule is composed in the second-person singular. This led O’Dwyer to speculate, not unreasonably, that Fothud himself must have been part of the céli De movement.120 In support of that conclusion we may consider the later evidence of the prefaces to Félire Óengusso which describe the óentu or union between Fothud and Óengus who, as we have seen, was likely a céle Dé himself.121 Furthermore, there are a number of parallels between the Rule of Fothud and the Tallaght memoir, particularly in matters of devotional practice and spiritual direction (anmchairdes). Both texts designate Sunday and Thursday for the celebration of Mass.122 Both commend the daily recitation of the whole Psalter.123 Both prohibit vigils between Christmas and Epiphany.124 Both liken the relationship between a penitent and his anmchara to a fire that burns the body.125 Yet before labelling the Rule of Fothud a céli Dé text, we should note a few differences of practice between it and the Tallaght memoir. The Rule of Fothud recommends that the anmchara perform two hundred genuflexions with every Beati (Psalm 118) or Biait as it was known in Irish, while The Monastery of 115 116 117

118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125

The references below are to the edition by Tomás de Róiste who wrote under the pen-name ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’; see Ryan, Irish Monasticism, 194. The section begins, ‘Dia mba toisech eclaisi’, ‘If you be headman of a church’. The same section in N begins: ‘Dia mba maccleirech fa mám’, ‘If you be a maccléirech under a yoke’. The text makes it clear that the poet had in mind here a monk in the traditional sense rather than a monastic tenant, who is frequently understood by the term manach. Lb p. 261b: ‘Do chéli dé nó di clérech reclesa’, ‘of a céle Dé or a cleric of the enclosure’. Edited separately by Meyer, ‘The duties of a husbandman’, 172; on monastic tenants or manaig, see Etchingham, Church Organisation, 363–454. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 128. Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 4, 10. Rule of Fothud, E 12 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 504–5); Rule of the Céli Dé, XV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 68–9). Rule of Fothud, E 19 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–7); The Monastery of Tallaght, XVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133). Rule of Fothud, H 6 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 512–13); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XCV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 54–5). Rule of Fothud, E 3 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 504–5); The Monastery of Tallaght, XXIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 135–6); cf. Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 44–5).


Céli Dé in Ireland Tallaght declares that Mael Ruain (or possibly Mael Díthruib) performed only one hundred with that psalm.126 Both the Rule of Fothud and the Teaching of Mael Ruain set out the proper form for mealtime prayers in the refectory and, while similar, differ on several points.127 Moreover, as for the section heading ‘Of a céle Dé’ in the Rule, we may question whether it is in fact original to the text, as the section headings are not present in every manuscript. The relevant section, which begins with the line, ‘If we be under the yoke of clergyhood’ (Dia mbem fo mám chléirchechta), details the proper manner to observe the canonical hours and the manner in which the day should be divided between prayer, study, and work. It was clearly intended for the use of the religious community to which the composer of the rule belonged, but there is nothing other than the heading to suggest that it was necessarily a community of céli Dé. Still, even if the headings are subsequent additions to the work, that does not mean that the superscription Do chéli dé is necessarily inaccurate. The oldest manuscript witness of the Rule is Lb which contains other texts we believe were authored by céli Dé and was compiled at least in part at Cluain Leathan where, as we have seen, other manuscript copies of céli Dé texts were also produced. If we can trust the tradition preserved in the prefaces to Félire Óengusso, then we have some grounds for thinking that Fothud was associated with the céli Dé movement. Similarities between the Rule and what we know of céli Dé practices at Tallaght, as determined from The Monastery of Tallaght and its related texts, appear to confirm this tradition. For these reasons, I consider the Rule of Fothud a céli Dé text, though perhaps not from Tallaght. Old Irish Penitential (4) Both The Monastery of Tallaght and the Teaching of Mael Ruain mention a penitential in use at Tallaght.128 There is little doubt that this is the same tract known as the Old Irish Penitential, edited by Gwynn, since a comparison with the Tallaght documents demonstrates that the author of the Tallaght memoir made use of it.129 We can thus date the Old Irish Penitential at least as early as the Tallaght memoir. On the basis of its language Binchy thought it no later than the end of the eighth century.130 The extant witness to the Penitential is none other than T, the same



128 129


Rule of Fothud, E 19 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–7); The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137–8). On the identification of the Beati as Psalm 118, see Follett, ‘The Divine Office and extra-Office vigils’. Rule of Fothud, H 20–6 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 514–15); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XCII–XCIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 52–4). Plummer, apud Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 94, observed that the céli Dé text closely follows the Benedictio mensae ante prandium in the ordinary Roman Breviary. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 158–9); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XLVIII, LII n. 2 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 30–3). See Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, xvii–xx; Old Irish Penitential, I.19 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–1), = Teaching of Mael Ruain, XLVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 30–1), Rule of the Céli Dé, XLI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 74–5); Old Irish Penitential, I.14 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 148–51) = The Monastery of Tallaght, XII, LXI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 132, 146), Teaching of Mael Ruain, LX, LXI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 36–7), Rule of the Céli Dé, XXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 70–1). Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 258.


Texts attributed to céli Dé manuscript containing The Monastery of Tallaght. At a later date a Homily on the Deadly Sins (12) comprised of excerpts from the Penitential was written, and this survives in three other manuscripts, P, R (in the section partly written by Maol ”echlainn Ó Maoil Chonaire), and Dublin, NLI, MS G 10, from the sixteenth century. Now we have already taken notice of the so-called ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’, the name by which John Colgan and his Franciscan associates referred to the Tallaght memoir in S. Gwynn pointed out that this is a misnomer, since the Tallaght memoir was clearly not a penitential. He thought that the misapplication of the name arose from the likelihood that S contained what might be thought of as the actual ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’, namely, our Old Irish Penitential, as well as the Tallaght memoir and the former, being the older text, gave its name to the whole volume.131 It would follow that Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin probably copied both tracts from S into T.132 The text of the Old Irish Penitential as it stands in T is acephalous, missing the general introduction and the preface to the first chapter, as well as incomplete, breaking off in the middle of the preface to the seventh chapter, on vana gloria. Since the author organised his work around Cassian’s catalogue of eight principal vices, the original text likely concluded with a chapter on superbia. It seems probable that the copy in S was also acephalous, for Tadhg completed the previous tract in T, a tract on penitential commutations (discussed below), on fo. 8v in the middle of column A, and began his copy of the Penitential on the same page, same column, the very next line. There is no title and nothing other than an enlarged initial – a feature the scribe used somewhat indiscriminately, sometimes even in the middle of a text – to indicate that he was in fact commencing a new work. Most likely he copied the two tracts from the same exemplar. The Penitential ends abruptly in mid-sentence, fo. 14va, and the remainder of the page is blank save for a late, non-scribal note. Both Gywnn and Binchy thought that this likely reflected the incomplete state of the text in S as well, which they calculated must have lacked the final folio of the Penitential when Tadhg wrote T.133 The text which follows in T, a homily on the Passion, is acephalous. The text of the Pentential makes no mention of Mael Ruain or Tallaght. The homiletic introduction preserved in R has this to say about the Penitential’s authorship: ‘The venerable of Ireland have drawn up from the rules of the Scriptures a penitential for the annulling and remedying of every sin, both small and great.’134 Just who the ‘venerable of Ireland’ were, the homily does not specify. But with this passage in mind, Robin Flower called attention to an entry in the Annals of Ulster for the year 780: ‘A congress of the synods of Uí Néill and Leinster, in the town of Tara, at which were present many anchorites and scribes, led by Dublitter’.135 131 132

133 134


Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, xviii–xix. The Penitential and The Monastery of Tallaght are separated in T by only two folios containing a fragment of a homily on the Passion and an incomplete copy of the Irish version of Psuedo-Augustine’s Speculum Peccatoris. Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 258. Meyer (ed.), ‘Aus Rawlinson B. 512’, 24–8 (tr. Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 259): ‘Conaemdetar sruithe Erenn a ríaglaib na screptrae pennatóir dílgind frepthae cech pechtae ó biuc commór.’ AU 780.12: ‘Congressio senodorum nepotum Neill Laginentiumque in oppido Temro ubi fuerunt ancorite 7 scribe multi, quibus dux erat Dublitter.’


Céli Dé in Ireland Flower proposed that the object of this combined synod was the drawing up of the Old Irish Penitential. The anchorites, whom Flower associated with céli Dé, would have provided the necessary religious expertise and the scribes would have seen to the formulation and promulgation of the document.136 Dublitter we know from The Monastery of Tallaght where he is described as a devout religious leader in his own right and an occasional visitor to Mael Ruain’s Tallaght.137 He was the abbot of Finglas, less than ten miles north of Tallaght, and died in 796. Flower’s thesis is intriguing but remains unproven, as he himself acknowledged. It should be pointed out that the annal cited above does not actually state the purpose of the Tara synod, nor does it make Dublitter the presiding figure, contrary to Flower’s assertion.138 We can be sure that céli Dé knew and used the Old Irish Penitential, seeing that it is cited in the Tallaght documents. Yet is it a céli Dé text? While we cannot draw any certain conclusions regarding its authorship, there is a further reason apart from the manuscript evidence and the textual dependence of the Tallaght memoir to regard the Penitential as a product of the Tallaght movement, as most scholars since Flower have done. I will discuss this in connection with the next text, which is closely related to the Penitential. Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations (5) This tract survives in two manuscripts, T and R. In T, which provides the fuller text, it immediately precedes the Old Irish Penitential, ending on the same page on which the Penitential begins. As we have noted above, the Penitential and the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations were very likely preserved in S along with the Tallaght memoir and copied all together by Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin into T. In R the Table is found in the same section of the manuscript containing the homily derived from the Penitential. Like the latter text, the Table nowhere mentions Mael Ruain, Tallaght, or céli Dé by name. Binchy, however, contended that its manuscript tradition, the resemblance of its content and writing style to the Tallaght documents, its linguistic evidence, and finally its use of an Old Irish word with a specialised meaning attested earliest in céli Dé texts all indicate a near-certain Tallaght origin around 800.139 The last point of evidence, in Binchy’s view, was the most conclusive. The Old Irish word arr(a)e, a verbal noun from ar-ren, meaning ‘pays/hands over on behalf of another’, occurs in Old Irish legal tracts where it normally denotes the object or class of objects under consideration in a contract or settlement of debt.140 However, in all the early religious tracts where the word appears, namely, The Monastery of Tallaght, the Rule of the Céli Dé, Félire Óengusso, the Old Irish 136 137 138

139 140

Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 67–9. Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, xvii–xx, was the first to associate the Penitential with céli Dé. The Monastery of Tallaght, V–VII, XXXIII, LXXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128–30, 140–1, 163–4). Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 69. Dublitter is the dux anchoritarum et scribarum, not the dux congressionis. The historical background to the synod was the invasion of Leinster that year by Donnchad, king of Tara. The Uí Néill and Leinster churchmen were likely trying to negotiate a truce. See Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 48–9, and Ó Corráin, ‘Congressio senadorum’, 252. Binchy (ed. & tr.), The Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, 47. See the references in DIL, 52.410–11 (s.v. arrae).


Texts attributed to céli Dé Penitential, and the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, it signifies the substitution of a shorter but more intensive penitential or devotional activity for a longer one.141 Céli Dé were not the first in Ireland to advocate penitential commutation, but they were the first that we know of to call it by the Old Irish word arr(a)e.142 While I do not think that this outweighs the evidence of the manuscript tradition, such usage in the Old Irish Penitential and the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations does support the contention that they are both céli Dé texts. There is a further item linking the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations to céli Dé. According to the text, the four ‘chief sages of Ireland’ (primsuid herenn), Ua Minadáin, Cummíne Fota, Muirdebar, and Mocholmóc mac Cumáin of Aran, recommended the constant performance of a certain vigil to ‘every son of life who desires to obtain heaven’ (cach mac bethad adcobra nem).143 As Binchy observed, three of these four ‘chief sages’ can be identified: Cummíne Fota (ob. 661) we have met once before as the probable author of Paenitentiale Cummeani.144 He was evidently a respected figure among céli Dé, for he is cited as an authority in The Monastery of Tallaght and the Old Irish Penitential, and receives an entire quatrain to himself in Félire Óengusso.145 Muirdebar is probably the Muirdebar mind senaid (‘a synod’s diadem’) commemorated on 3 November in Félire Óengusso. According to the later notes accompanying the Martyrology, he was a sapiens from Dísert Muirdebair in Uí Chonaill Gabra.146 His obit is unknown. Mocholmóc mac Cumáin of Aran is the same person as Colmán mac Commáin, who died in 751 and is commemorated in Félire Óengusso on 21 November. From his obit we obtain a terminus post quem for the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations. Ua Minadáin is otherwise unknown.147 The term mac bethad, ‘son of life’, appears in several other texts besides the Table and in its broadest sense designates a righteous person, as opposed to someone who was a mac báis, ‘son of death’.148 Significantly, the earliest references to maic bethad are 141


143 144 145

146 147 148

The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 161); Rule of the Céli Dé, XIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 70–1); Félire Óengusso, epilogue, lines 177, 179, 181, 186 (ed. & tr. Stokes, 272–3); Old Irish Penitential, II.27, III.15, IV.3 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 144–5, 156–7, 162–3); The Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, I, etc. (ed. & tr. Binchy, 58–9). Commutations are also found in Paenitentiale Cummeani, VIII.25–7 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 124–5), and the Bigotian Penitential, prologue, 5 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 198–9). A unique Latin rendering, arreum, is found in De Arreis, the second tract of the Canones Hibernenses (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Pentitentials, 162–7). This short Latin treatise is clearly related to the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, but its date remains uncertain. The Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, XXIII (ed. & tr. Binchy, 64). See also comments by Howlett, ‘Seven studies’, 49. The Monastery of Tallaght, XL (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 142–3); Old Irish Penitential, III.2 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 154–5); Félire Óengusso, 12 Nov. (ed. & tr. Stokes, 234). Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 232–3, 240–1. Binchy (ed. & tr.), The Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, 70–1. See Apgitir Chrábaid, XXII, XXX (ed. Hull, 72, 74), and Bethu Phátraic, lines 3071–2 (ed. Mulchrone, 152); for additional references see DIL, 447.7 (s.v. mac [macc]); for Mac bethad as a personal name, see AI 1014.2. The term maic báis and its Latin


Céli Dé in Ireland all from texts associated with the céli Dé and which seem to attach a more precise meaning to the term. According to The Monastery of Tallaght, upon hearing Mael Díthruib’s four fondest wishes, Mael Ruain, quoting Fer-dá-chrích of Lismore, replied, ‘Let the good pleadings of their hearts be granted to the sons of life’, implying that the abbot considered his disciple Mael Díthruib to be a ‘son of life’ himself.149 Elsewhere the same text instructs that ‘a son of life should always recite his psalms by the psalter’.150 In another passage an ‘ex-layman’ (athlaech) questions a mac bethad regarding his continual singing of the Beati (Psalm 118) and the Magnificat.151 According to the Teaching of Mael Ruain, Muirchertach mac Olcobhair, airchinnech of Clonfert, learned the practice of saying the Magnificat after the Beati from a mac bethad.152 There can be little doubt that the term mac bethad in these texts signifies not merely a good Christian, but a religious who was mindful of his liturgical duties. Binchy and Hull read it as a synonym for céle Dé.153 While such an interpretation cannot be extended to all uses of the term, particularly later, Middle Irish ones, it seems entirely valid for the Tallaght documents as well as for the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, which commends to the mac bethad who desires heaven the constant practice of a vigil of reciting Pater Noster 365 times while standing in cruciform, followed by the Beati recited in a stooped position with arms flat by the sides, or while stretched out on the ground face downward.154 In view of this similarity of usage and the other reasons advanced by Binchy,155 I would also regard the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations a céli Dé text. The Martyrology of Tallaght (6) The second martyrology associated with the céli Dé is a breviate version of the Hieronymian Martyrology augmented with the names of Irish saints.156 It is preserved in two manuscripts, both incomplete.157 The later one is Br1, written almost entirely by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh in the seventeenth century from two

149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157

equivalent filii mortis appear in other texts, including the eighth-century legal tract Córus Béscnai (ed. Binchy, Corpus Iuris Hibernici, 524.18–526.19), Vita Prima S. Brigitae, LXIV (ed. Colgan, Trias, 534), and AU 847.3, where they designate persons belonging to marauding warrior-bands. See Etchingham, Church Organisation, 299–304. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 136): ‘Ernitir dona macaib bethad na cridi scelae maithi [sic].’ Ibid., XXXIX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 142): ‘Fri saltair do géss [corr. grés?] nogebad mac bethad a salmu’. Ibid., I (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 127); cf. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 18–21). Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 22–3). Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 283 n. 35; Hull (ed.), ‘Apgitir Chrábaid’, 88 §22, 120; cf. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 92–3. The Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, XXIII (ed. & tr.Binchy, 64). Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 49–50. On the Hieronymian Martyrology, compiled in northern Italy in the sixth century, see Dubois, Les Martyrologes, 29–37. A third manuscript, TCD 1140, contains extracts from the Martyrology of Tallaght and the Martyrology of Gorman translated into Latin by Colgan and his associates for the use of John Bolland. Might the Latin translation of the Teaching of Mael Ruain


Texts attributed to céli Dé now-lost exemplars.158 The earlier is the Book of Leinster, hereafter L, dated to the twelfth century.159 Upon comparing the two manuscripts Richard Best and Hugh Lawlor determined that the Br1 exemplars must have been direct transcripts from L and concluded that Br1 had no value as an independent witness to the Martyrology of Tallaght.160 Like so many other medieval Irish manuscripts, L is a composite work produced by multiple hands. We are fortunate to know the name of the principal scribe who signed himself Aed ua Crimthainn.161 On a bottom margin one of the other hands copied a short letter from Finn mac Gormáin, bishop of Kildare and abbot of Newry (ob. 1160), addressed, ‘to Aed mac Crimthainn, man of learning of the high king of Leth Moga (that is, Nuadat), and coarb of Colum mac Crimthainn and chief scholar [fer léiginn] of Leinster’.162 Colum mac Crimthainn was the sixth-century founder of Terryglass in Lower Ormond, just a few miles south of






preserved in Is have been produced for the same reason? See Best & Lawlor (edd. & tr.), The Martyrology of Tallaght, xix–xx. Ibid., xvi; Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 33–5. Ó Cléirigh states in a colophon that his exemplar for the Martyrology, a certain sean leabhar in Kildare, was lacking after 30 October. A second hand, evidently that of John Colgan, adds 31 October and 17–24 December from a source he calls the leabhar mór. Br1 omits the saints of the Roman calendar included in L. Preserved in the ten folios known as UCD, MS Franciscan A 3, which in or before 1583 had become detached from the main volume of L, TCD, 1339 (H. 2.18); see O’Sullivan, ‘Notes on the scripts’, 4. There are several lacunae in the text, some of which can be supplied from Br1. Franciscan A 3 was obtained by Ó Cléirigh in 1627 during a visit to Leinster and brought to the Franciscan friary of Donegal. In 1631 it was sent on to St Anthony’s in Louvain, where Colgan wrote some notes in the margins. At the end of the eighteenth century it was taken to St Isidore’s in Rome along with many other items from St Anthony’s, and in 1872 it was returned to Ireland where it was kept at the Franciscan convent on Merchant’s Quay, Dublin, and then at Dún Mhuire, Killiney. University College Dublin took possession of it in 2000. See Breatnach, ‘An Irish Bollandus’, 21, and Dillon, Mooney, & de Brún, Catalogue, xii–xix. Best & Lawlor (edd. & tr.), The Martyrology of Tallaght, xvii–xix. The Kildare sean leabar was written before the folios containing 30 January–11 March and 20 May–31 July went missing from L, probably no later than the fifteenth century. It was either never completed or thereafter lost the folios containing 31 October and 17 December to the end. The leabhar mór Best and Lawlor identified as the Liber Magnus or Liber Major found in Colgan’s cell after his death containing a transcript of the L text apparently made by Ó Cléirigh before he found the Kildare sean leabhar; ibid., xvi n.1; see also Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 34–5. L p. 313. For a detailed consideration of the physical characteristics of L and its scripts, see O’Sullivan, ‘Notes on the scripts’, 1–31. For a discussion of two of Aed’s collaborators on the compilation of the Book of Leinster, Bishop Finn of Kildare and Gilla na Naem Ua Duinn, see Bhreathnach, ‘Two contributors’, 105–11. L p. 288: ‘do Aed mac Crimthainn do fir leigin ardrig Leithi Moga (.i Nuadat) 7 do chomarbu Choluim meic Crimthaind 7 do prímsenchaid Laigen’; see Gwynn, ‘Some notes’, 9–11. One might plausibly suggest from his greeting that Finn is addressing more than one individual, but the context of the letter indicates that he is writing only to Aed, to whom he accords all these titles. See O’Sullivan, ‘Notes on the scripts’, 7 n. Bhreathnach, ‘Two contributors’, 105–11, has suggested that the letter to Aed may be from Bishop Finn ua Cianáin of Kildare rather than Bishop Finn mac Gormáin of Kildare.


Céli Dé in Ireland Lorrha. As Colum’s coarb or heir, Aed would have been the temporal if not spiritual head of Terryglass, and as fer léiginn he would also have been the most important learned figure there, where it is generally supposed he wrote most of L. His predecessor as coarb at Terryglass, Finn mac maic Célechair Uí Cheinnéidig, died in 1152. It appears that Aed himself had no successor, for Terryglass was burned in 1164 and dissolved in the course of the twelfth-century reforms. Aed’s last datable entry in L was written in 1166.163 When near completion it appears that L was taken to Oughavall (Co. Laois), from whence the manuscript takes its old name, Lebar na Nuachongbála, and where it remained for the next four hundred years. Oughavall in the twelfth century appears to have been a dependent church of Clonenagh, which was also founded by Colum mac Crimthainn according to his hagiographers.164 Perhaps it was Aed who carried L from Terryglass after its destruction in 1164 to Oughavall where he made his final additions to the manuscript. The significance of a Terryglass origin for L becomes apparent when we recall that Mael Ruain’s disciple Mael Díthruib came to Terryglass, presumably some time after the death of Mael Ruain in 792, where he died in 840 as ‘anchorite and sage’ (angcoire 7 egnaidh, AFM). I would not be the first to suggest that Mael Díthruib brought with him some manuscripts from Tallaght.165 If he did, it could account for the exemplar that Aed used to write the L copy of the Martyrology of Tallaght as well as the presence of other céli Dé texts in Lower Ormond such as the Tallaght memoir. L provides neither a title for the Martyrology nor the author’s name.166 The earliest mention of the Martyrology of Tallaght, so called, is in Félire Huí Gormáin, written between 1166 and 1174 by Mael Muire Ua Gormáin, abbot of Knock (Co. Louth).167 Ua Gormáin, who made use of both Félire Óengusso and the Martyrology of Tallaght, stated that Óengus had based his own work upon the latter: ‘because it was thus in the Martyrology of Tallaght of Mael Ruain, out of which he [Óengus] composed his félire’.168 Míchéal Ó Cléirigh headed his copy of the Martyrology of Tallaght in Br1, ‘Here begins the Martyrology of Óengus mac Oibleain and Mael Ruain’ (Incipit martira Oengus mic Oibleain 7 Maeolruain híc), but offered no source for this ascription. For his part, Colgan pointed out that Óengus and Mael Ruain could not have composed the entire Martyrology as it stands since there are several entries which post-date them both. But as these two saints were together at Tallaght where Colgan felt the later entries were also made, he thought it fitting to call the work the Martyrology of Tallaght as Ua Gormáin

163 164 165 166

167 168

O’Sullivan, ‘Notes on the scripts’, 26–8. Nearly all the other scribal hands appear to have been contemporaries of Aed; the latest can be dated to 1201. Ibid., 1–2. O’Rahilly, ‘The history’, 99. The L leaves containing the Martyrology, now kept at University College Dublin where they are identified as MS Franciscan A. 3, are enclosed in a vellum wrapper inscribed by a seventeenth-century hand, ‘Martyrol. Tamlactense et opuscula S. Aengusii Keledei’; Best & Lawlor (edd.), The Martyrology of Tallaght, xiii. Félire Huí Gormáin, edited by Stokes from Br, the sole extant manuscript. A new edition is forthcoming from Pádraig Ó Riain. Ibid., 4–5: ‘ara fagbail amhlaidhsin im-martiroloig Thamhlacta Mhael-rúain asin-derna a félire’.


Texts attributed to céli Dé did.169 While the putative authorship of Óengus and Mael Ruain is suspect, modern scholarship has confirmed Ua Gormáin’s claim that the Martyrology of Tallaght served as the predominant source for Félire Óengusso.170 Ua Gormáin’s name for the former work also appears justified by internal evidence that suggests a Tallaght provenance. An entry for 10 August marks Mael Ruain’s arrival at Tallaght with the relics of saints, martyrs, and virgins.171 This might have been the occasion of the monastery’s dedication. A similar entry for 6 September reads, Adventus reliquiarum Scethi filiae Méchi ad Tamlachtain.172 The Martyrology observes the feast days of Mael Ruain (7 July) as well as those of Joseph epscop Tamlachta (5 January), Eochaid epscop 7 abb Tamlachta (28 January), Airennán epscop Tamlachta (10 February), Cróne Tamhlachta (25 February), Airerán sapiens et abbatis Tamlachta post Mael Ruain (11 August), and Moluanén Tamlachta (18 October).173 A marginal poem accompanying the text in L describes birds singing ‘the music of feast days . . . for Mael Ruain of Tallaght’ (ceól lith lathi . . . do Mail Ruain o Thamlacti) before 7 July, the saint’s feast day.174 Pádraig Ó Riain’s examination of the Anglo-Saxon entries and commemorands of Lindisfarne and Iona churchmen in the Martyrology of Tallaght has led him to conclude that the copy of the Hieronymian Martyrology which served as its source had passed through Iona before it came to Ireland in the period 729–67. At Tallaght the already augmented Ionan copy of the Hieronymian Martyrology received the addition of a substantial corpus of entries relating to churches in Ireland, including the material quoted above, to form what Ó Riain has called the urtext of the Martyrology of Tallaght.175 This, he argued, occurred not earlier than 828 or later than 833.176 Still later, after it had served as the source for Félire Óengusso but 169 170

171 172 173

174 175 176

Colgan (ed.), Acta Sanctorum, 4 §25. Best & Lawlor (edd. & tr.), The Martyrology of Tallaght, xx–xxi; Hennig, ‘The function’, 325–6; Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies’, 21–2; idem, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, 222–3; Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 21, 46–7, pointed out that the Martyrology of Tallaght has been altered since the time that it served as Óengus’s exemplar. Best & Lawlor (edd. & tr.), The Martyrology of Tallaght, 62: ‘Mael Ruain cum suis reliquiis sanctorum martirum et uirginum ad Tamlachtain uenit.’ Ibid., 68. Ibid., 54, 5, 13, 16, 62, 81. Airerán is also commemorated in Félire Óengusso, 11 August (ed. & tr. Stokes, 175): ‘Guid Airerán necnai / assa clú nád chelar’, ‘Beseech Airerán of the wisdom, whose fame is not hidden’; he is perhaps the same person as Airfinnán, abbas Tamhlachtai Mael Ruain (AU) who died in 803. Eochaid, episcopus 7 anchorita, princeps Tamlachta (AU) died in 812; he does not appear in Félire Óengusso, but he is listed in the óentu of Mael Ruain in L; see Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies’, 26, 30–1. Airennán (if he is not the same person as Airerán/Airfinnán), Joseph, Cróne, and Moluanén are otherwise unknown. Énlaith betha bríg cen tair, edd. & tr. Best & Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght, 94–7; see below, 166–8. Ó Riain, Anglo-Saxon Ireland, 4–13, 21; idem, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies’, 25. Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies’, 36–8. Best and Lawlor were not as forthcoming as they might have been in their own assessment of the date, but they agreed with Ua Gormáin’s testimony that Óengus used the Martyrology of Tallaght as a source for his own work. Since they accepted a date of 797–808 for Félire Óengusso, they


Céli Dé in Ireland before the end of the twelfth century, the text received further ‘Irish’ additions resulting in the work now preserved in L.177 David Dumville has recently countered, rightly in my view, that Ó Riain’s reliance upon the order in which names appear in the Irish sections of the Martyrology of Tallaght is not a trustworthy means of determining which names are original and which are interpolated. While Dumville agreed that the Martyrology of Tallaght had been composed from an augmented version of the Hieronymian Martyrology kept at Iona no later than 767, its presence at Tallaght must be allowed to have been as early as 774, the year the monastery was founded. Noting the absence of commemorands for Tallaght churchmen known to have died in the period 825–968, he reckoned the Martyrology had probably left Tallaght by 825. Indeed, he believed the textual evidence insufficient to demonstrate conclusively a Tallaght origin for the Irish material. He hypothesised an ‘original’ – Ó Riain’s urtext – written at some unknown location prior to 774 after which it came to Tallaght, underwent augmentation, and served as a source for Félire Óengusso not earlier than 797.178 Here I will not follow Dumville. To argue against a Tallaght origin on the grounds that the text does not give a greater prominence to that house and its saints is to assume that had the martyrologist been working at Tallaght he would have accorded many more of its bishops, abbots, and coarbs their own feast days simply as a matter of course. Perhaps the community of Tallaght did not deem any among them after Bishop Eochaid (ob. 812) sufficiently sanctified for inclusion with the company of martyrs and saints.179 At any rate, if the Martyrology had indeed left Tallaght by 825, we have no reason to expect it to contain Tallaght commemorands later than that date. Dumville has demonstrated that problems of dating complicate our understanding of both the Martyrology of Tallaght and Félire Óengusso. Work necessarily continues on both texts. Ó Riain has shown us the prehistory of the former, and Dumville has expressed his intent to return to it in a future study.180 For now, the manuscript tradition which allows us to place the exemplar of the L copy of the Martyrology of Tallaght in Lower Ormond, considered with the textual evidence relating to Tallaght, is enough to identify the latter place as the most likely origin of the Martyrology of Tallaght. For that reason we can regard it as a probable céli Dé composition. The Stowe Missal (7) Dublin, RIA, MS Stowe D. II. 3, otherwise known as the Stowe Missal, contains extracts from the Gospel of St John, the Ordinary of the Mass, special Masses for saints, penitents, and the dead, the Orders of Baptism and Visitation of the Sick, as well as a brief treatise on the Mass in Old Irish followed by three short spells, also

177 178 179


presumably thought the Martyrology of Tallaght to be a little earlier. See The Martyrology of Tallaght (edd. Best & Lawlor, xxi–xxii). Ó Riain, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus’, 223–2. Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 37–46. Commemorated on 28 January, Eochaid is the latest Tallaght churchman named in the Martyrology of Tallaght, with, as Dumville noted, the exception of Comgán céle Dé (2 August, 13 October), if he can be identified with Comgán Fota (ob. 870), anchorite of Tallaght and daltae of Mael Ruain. Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 22.


Texts attributed to céli Dé in Old Irish. Discovered in a silver and bronze-covered wooden cumtacht or case shortly before 1735 within the walls of the O’Kennedy castle at Lackeen near Lorrha, it is the oldest surviving Irish missal and was preserved as a relic for much of its history.181 Inscriptions on one face of the cumtacht provide the names of two Munster kings and allow us to date the construction of the case to the first half of the eleventh century.182 The other face of the cumtacht states that further decoration was done at the behest of Pilib Ó Ceinnéidig (Philip O’Kennedy), king of Ormond (ob. 1381), and his wife Áine. To the left of this inscription is another requesting a prayer ‘for Gilla Ruadán Ua Macáin, coarb, by whom this was covered’ (DO GILLARUADAN U MACAN DON COMARBA LASAR CUMDAIGED). This name is also known to us from Oxford, Bodleian, MS Rawlinson B. 486, which, according to the scribal colophon at the end of that manuscript, was written in the latter half of the fourteenth century by Mac Raith Mac an Gabhand na Scél for Gilla Ruadán Ua Macáin, ‘coarb of Lorrha and Ruadán’ (comarbha Lothra 7 Ruadhain).183 Originally founded by St Ruadán in the sixth century, Lorrha seems to have fallen into decline much as Terryglass did, but unlike the latter house Lorrha received new life when it was re-founded by Augustinian Canons some time after 1140. Gilla Ruadán was very likely the prior of the Augustinian house at the time the cumtacht was recovered and, doubtless, the custodian of the Missal. From these inscriptions Thomas O’Rahilly took it as certain that the Missal was in Munster at least as early as the mid-eleventh century, and was kept at Lorrha in the late fourteenth century.184 Following the suppression of the Lorrha Canons in the mid-sixteenth century, it appears the manuscript was hidden away with the O’Kennedys at Lackeen for safekeeping. As for the age and origin of the Missal, palaeographers have dated the script, an angular Irish minuscule manifest in five hands similar enough to be assigned to the same scriptorium, to before 850.185 Very soon after the original scribes completed their work, another who signed his name Mael Cáich erased and rewrote some sections and inserted new quires.186 Much of the interpolated Mael Cáich material is from the Gelasian Sacramentary which was compiled in France in the eighth century and contains a mixture of Gallican and Roman elements as old as the sixth century.187 The latest saint named in the votive diptychs of the Stowe Missal,

181 182 183 184 185

186 187

For more on the discovery of the Stowe Missal, see O’Rahilly, ‘The history’, 102–6. Ó Riain, ‘The shrine’, 285–95; contra O’Rahilly, ‘The history’, 95–7, who dates it 1045–52. Oxford, Bodleian, MS Rawlinson B. 486, fo. 53vb. O’Rahilly, ‘The history’, 97–8. The Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.xii–xxxvi); Kenney, The Sources, 695. The first eleven leaves containing the Gospel extracts, written by a single hand not found in the rest of the manuscript, form the first gathering and appear to have been an originally separate work. A scribal colophon ends the Gospel text on fo. 11r, followed by a miniature of St John on fo. 11v; see the Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.xxxix–xliii). The Old Irish treatise on the Mass is also written in a separate hand and may be a later addition to the manuscript along with the three spells. Another, fuller version of the treatise is found in Lb, edited by Mac Carthy, ‘On the Stowe Missal’, 245–65. The Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.xxi–xxiii, xxxvi–xxxvii). For example, the Gelasian canon beginning on fo. 24r; see the Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.10); Jungmann, The Early Liturgy, 236.


Céli Dé in Ireland written in one of the original hands, is none other than Mael Ruain which has led many scholars to suppose that the Missal was composed at Tallaght after Mael Ruain’s death in 792.188 Warner suggested a terminus ante quem of 812 from the litany’s exclusion of Eochaid, bishop, anchorite, and princeps of Tallaght who died in that year.189 O’Rahilly theorised that shortly after it was written the Missal was taken from Tallaght to Terryglass, where it subsequently received its cumtacht. After the demise of Terryglass in the twelfth century, he surmised, the Missal was brought to Lorrha when that church assumed control over the temporalities of Terryglass.190 Other scholars, however, have pointed out some difficulties with this theory. First of all, there is no evidence that the community of Lorrha took over the jurisdiction of Terryglass in the twelfth century.191 The history of L suggests otherwise, as we know that that codex was taken from Terryglass to Oughavall, not Lorrha. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Stowe Missal to indicate it was ever kept at Terryglass. And while the words et abbate nostro .n. episcopo in the Canon of the Missal, written in the hand of Mael Cáich, do suggest that he intended the Missal for use within a monastic community,192 as Kenney and Byrne have pointed out we cannot be certain that community was Tallaght solely on the strength of the appearance of Mael Ruain’s name in the votive diptychs. The saint may well have been famous enough to have earned mention in the liturgy of churches other than Tallaght.193 Yet before we put O’Rahilly’s theory aside, there is another argument to consider in favour of a Tallaght connection. John Hennig found a number of correspondences between the Stowe Missal and the Martyrology of Tallaght that led him to conclude that the two texts were related. Specifically, he contended that the Latin sections of the Martyrology – essentially lists of non-Irish saints in the genitive case, taken from the Hieronymian Martyrology – were originally intended for use in the Missal’s special Votive Mass of all the Saints which has places for the insertion of names.194 He noted that both texts provide for the commemoration of all the saints in general combined with all the saints of a given day.195 He further observed that in the Missal the first variant for the Communicantes is for Christmas, which suggests the liturgical year began on that day; this agrees with 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195

The Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.16); see Lapidge & Sharpe, A Bibliography, 140 no. 537; O’Neill, The Irish Hand, 6. The Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.xxxii–xxxiv); cf. Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies’, 38 n. O’Rahilly, ‘The history’, 100. Gwynn & Gleeson, A History of the Diocese of Killaloe, 52. The Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.10). Kenney, The Sources, 699; Byrne, ‘The Stowe Missal’, 49. See also Ó Riain, ‘The shrine’, 294–5. Hennig, ‘The function’, 324; see the Stowe Missal (ed. Warner), II.19–21. This is evident in the final words of the Martyrology of Tallaght, 24 December (edd. Best & Lawlor, 89): ‘Cumméni sancti et sanctorum ceterorum quorum Deus nomina nominauit et quos presciuit et predistinauit conformes fieri imaginis Filii sui in uitam eternam in Christo Iesu. Amen’, which Hennig compared to the final words of the Stowe Missal litany, fo. 33r (ed. Warner, II.16): ‘Item et sacerdotem [twelve further Irish names] et omnium pausantium qui nos in dominica pace precesserunt ab adam usque in hodiernum diem quorum deus nomina nominauit et nouit. Ipsis et omnibus in christo quiescentibus locum refrigerii’; Hennig, ‘The function’, 320.


Texts attributed to céli Dé the Martyrology of Tallaght which commences with 25 December. (Félire Óengusso begins 1 January).196 Hennig’s argument has received attention elsewhere and I will not attempt an evaluation of its liturgical merits here, were I even qualified to do so.197 But if he is correct and the Martyrology of Tallaght, which we can place at Tallaght with some confidence, was indeed intended as a supplement to the Stowe Missal, then the latter is likely from Tallaght as well. Two observations lend support to this conclusion. First, Mael Cáich provided eight variants for the Communicantes in the Stowe Missal: Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision, Epiphany, Maundy Thursday, Easter, Low Sunday, the Feast of the Ascension, and Pentecost.198 To this list of festivals we can compare a passage from the Teaching of Mael Ruain which states that the community ‘had no exemption from vigils except for one evening on each of the eight festivals’.199 The passage does not tell us what these eight festivals were, but elsewhere in the same text we find mention of seven of the eight festivals discussed in the Stowe Missal.200 It appears that Mael Cáich observed a Temporale very similar, if not identical, to that of the Tallaght memoir. Second, attached to the memento of the dead is a litany of saints, written in Mael Cáich’s hand. The third-to-last name in the litany is Sancta Scetha. Scetha or Sciath, a virgin saint who gave her name to Fert Scéithe (‘Grave of Sciath’, Ardskeagh, Co. Cork), is not well known to us. No Life of hers has survived, and she appears only as a minor figure in Vita S. Albei, perhaps from the ninth century.201 Yet she seems to have been a person of some significance to the Tallaght community, for the Martyrology of Tallaght commemorates both her feast day on 1 January and the arrival of her relics at Tallaght on 6 September.202 Her inclusion in Mael Cáich’s litany together with the evidence of the variants he provided for the Communicantes leads me to suspect that Mael Cáich had some association with Tallaght. It is clear from the votive diptychs that the Missal’s original scribes belonged to a community that venerated the memory 196 197 198


200 201


Hennig, ‘The function’, 323. See Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 45–6. The Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.11–12): ‘In natale domini’, ‘Kalendis . . . circumcisionis domini’, ‘stellae’, ‘pasca’, ‘In clausula pasca’, ‘Ascensio’, ‘pentacostén’; Maundy Thursday or ‘cena domini’ is not mentioned by name here, but Warner pointed out (n. 13) that as the words ‘natalis calicis domini nostri iesu christi’ found under the heading ‘stellae’ have no connection to Epiphany there is probably some text missing which would have provided the concluding words of the variation for the Epiphany along with the heading and the beginning of the variation for Maundy Thursday. Teaching of Mael Ruain, LIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 32–3): ‘Ní bhiodh saoirsi an fhighill aca acht aon noin amhain gach féil dona hoicht-fheilibh’; cf. Old Irish Penitential, I.15 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–1). Teaching of Mael Ruain, IV, XXV, XXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 4–7, 14–17); the exception is the Feast of the Circumcision. Vita S. Albei, XXXVII, XXXVIII (ed. Heist). Fert Scéithe was in the ancient territory of the Múscraige Tri Maighe, north of the Blackwater; see Martyrology of Tallaght, 6 Sept. (edd. Best & Lawlor, 68). Martyrology of Tallaght, 1 Jan. (edd. Best & Lawlor, 3); ibid., 6 Sept. (edd. Best & Lawlor, 68): ‘Aduentus reliquiarum Scethi filiae Méchi ad Tamlachtain’; cf. Félire Óengusso, 6 Sept. (ed. Stokes, 193). Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 42–3, speculates this may have taken place before 825.


Céli Dé in Ireland of Mael Ruain. Considering all this in view of Hennig’s argument, I conclude that that community was Tallaght and that the Stowe Missal should be identified as a céli Dé text. How the Stowe Missal travelled from Tallaght to Lorrha remains uncertain, but just such a journey has already been proposed for the exemplar to the Martyrology of Tallaght and possibly the Tallaght memoir. It is tempting to think that these works were transported to Lower Ormond together. Óentu Mail Ruain (21) This brief but much-discussed tract, a list of persons said to have formed a ‘union’ (óentu) with Mael Ruain, exists in two slightly different versions found only in L, one shortly after the other.203 The first, headed Lucht óentad Mael Ruain inso .i. Mael Ruain Tamlachta, generally known as Óentu Mail Ruain, names twelve persons known from other texts. The earliest is Mael Anfaid of Dairinis (Co. Waterford), who is commemorated at 31 January in Félire Óengusso and the Martyrology of Tallaght. The Lb and R notes to Félire Óengusso identify him as the abbot of Dairinis and make him the contemporary of Molua (Lugaid) mac Ocha who died in 609.204 O’Dwyer speculated that Mael Anfaid was included in Óentu Mail Ruain because he was the patron of Fer-dá-chrích, abbot of Dairinis (ob. 747), who, according to a note in the Oxford, Bodleian, MS Rawlinson B. 505 text of Félire Óengusso, was the maternal uncle of Mael Ruain and whose bell Mael Ruain brought to Tallaght.205 Fer-dá-chrich, O’Dwyer concluded, must have been Mael Ruain’s tutor at Dairinis.206 Yet if Mael Anfaid’s appearance in Óentu Mail Ruain was to honour Mael Ruain’s former teacher, one wonders why Fer-dá-chrích himself was not included. The remaining persons in the tract appear to have been mostly younger contemporaries of Mael Ruain. The latest is Feidlimid mac Crimthainn, king of Cashel (ob. 847), whose death provides a terminus post quem for the text. If we are willing to credit the obit of the last-named, it would seem that they were all churchmen from the southern half of Ireland.207 Besides Dairinis, the more important foundations represented in the text are Terryglass, Derrynaflan (Co. Tipperary), Killaloe (Co. Clare), and somewhat curiously, Tallaght, which is represented by Eochaid epscop Tamlacta (ob.

203 204 205

206 207

Both edited by Ó Riain, Corpus Genealogiarum, 162–3. For a discussion of the óentu as an economic agreement between churches, see Doherty, ‘Some aspects’, 326–7. Stokes (ed. & tr.), On the Calendar of Oengus, xl; Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 56–7. Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 186; cf. Lb and R notes which call Fer-dá-chrích a ‘true brother’ (fírbráthair) to Mael Ruain: Stokes (ed. & tr.), On the Calendar of Oengus, clv; Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, 186–7. In The Monastery of Tallaght, XXV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 136), Mael Ruain refers to Fer-dá-chrich as ‘our venerated friend’ (ar sruithi). O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 30, 37. According to AU 847.1 Feidlimid was also a scriba 7 ancorita. Royal churchmen were certainly not unheard of in Ireland, but given the extreme violence this one directed at churches across Ireland, we may question the sincerity of his religious vocation. Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 70, and O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 36, associate Mael Tuile mac Noechuire, the first name on the list, with Dísert Maeltuile in Westmeath, but they both appear to have overlooked Mael Tuile’s obit in AU 752.10 which identifies him as abbas of Terryglass. See the discussion in Byrne, Irish Kings, 211–29.


Texts attributed to céli Dé 812) and perhaps also by Óengus ua Óibléin, author of the martyrology bearing his name. One might not think it necessary to name members of Mael Ruain’s own community as belonging to his óentu. The first version of Óentu Mail Ruain in L ends somewhat enigmatically: ‘and the ballán provided for them when Cormac mac Cuilennáin recited, “Ballán barrglass” etc’.208 Cormac mac Cuilennáin, the bishop-king of Cashel, died in battle in 908. The poem Ballán barrglass is unknown to me. The second version of the text is also associated with Cormac. Headed Cormac m. Cuilennáin cecinit, it offers the same list of twelve names in verse. For this reason Flower suggested that the tradition of Óentu Mail Ruain preserved in L came to Terryglass from Cashel.209 Certainly the text supports a Munster or even a Tipperary origin, from where came no less than half of the individuals named.210 Cormac’s authorship, however, is uncertain; if he indeed had anything to do with it, it is possible that he simply reworked an older tradition. Alternatively, the text might be a later composition attributed to him. Either way, its date remains undetermined although it is unlikely to be earlier than the second half of the ninth century. For Flower and just about everyone after him who has commented on Óentu Mail Ruain, the tract has particular significance for the history of the céli Dé movement. Flower thought that it demonstrated the spread of the movement beyond Tallaght as the persons named in it, after studying with Mael Ruain, returned to their own monasteries to put their master’s teachings into practice.211 O’Dwyer, conversely, regarded the text as evidence of the movement’s origin in Munster, in the Dairinis–Derrynaflan–Lismore region. From there it spread with the coming of Mael Ruain to Tallaght where he attracted disciples from Tipperary and elsewhere.212 In my view, however, Óentu Mail Ruain is not a list of persons identifiable with céli Dé. If it were, it is surprising that we do not find Dublitter of Finglas among them, given his prominence in the Tallaght memoir and the proximity of his monastery to Tallaght – we should remember that these houses were the ‘two eyes of Ireland’, according to the Triads.213 Likewise, why should such a list name Eochaid and Óengus ua Óibléin but not other Tallaght figures such as Airerán, Mael Ruain’s immediate successor, or Bishop Joseph, or Moluanén, who are all commemorated in the Martyrology of Tallaght as Eochaid and Óengus are? The inclusion of Feidlimid mac Crimthainn, on the other hand, can only be regarded as suspicious. Mael Anfaid is much too early to be connected to Tallaght céli Dé. While a few in the Óentu probably did have some personal association with Mael Ruain, as was certainly the case with Mael Díthruib, we cannot presume that they all did or that they were all céli Dé. Only two of them, Mael Díthruib and Flann 208

209 210

211 212 213

Ó Riain (ed.), Corpus Genealogiarum, 162: ‘7 nosfiurad in ballán dia ro-[ca]chan Cormac m. Culennain: Ballán barrglass 7c’. A ballán is a drinking vessel, but the word can also be applied to a spring. Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 70. Mael Tuile (Terryglass), Flann Find mac Fairchellaig (Derrynaflan), Flann mac Duib Thuinne (Derrynaflan), Mael Díthruib (Terryglass), Dímmán (Arad), Feidlimid mac Crimthainn (Cashel). Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 71. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 46. The Monastery of Tallaght, V–VII, XXXIII, LXXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128–30, 140, 163).


Céli Dé in Ireland mac Duib Thuinne (= Flann mac Duib Chonna), are mentioned in the Tallaght memoir. The true nature of Óentu Mail Ruain will become clearer when it is considered along with the next text. Óentu Feidelmid (22) This is a Middle Irish poem in twelve quatrains preserved in L a little after Óentu Mail Ruain. Although the text gives no title other than the first line, Cethrur ar fichet nosfail, it is generally known as Óentu Feidelmid. Similar to Óentu Mail Ruain, it lists twenty-four persons associated with Feidlimid mac Crimthainn, king of Cashel.214 O’Dwyer thought the tract was likely modelled on a similar text found in L and other manuscripts which lists the twenty-four members of ‘Patrick’s Household’ and is datable to the abbacy of Joseph of Armagh (ob. 936).215 A reference to conflict between Gaels and ‘foreigners’ supports a date of composition in the Viking era.216 As thirteen of the twenty-four persons named in Óentu Feidelmid are Mael Ruain and the twelve who belonged to his own óentu (including, incidentally, Feidlimid himself), we can be sure that the composer relied upon Óentu Mail Ruain. Only a few of the remaining eleven names are identifiable, but even so, like the former text it is almost certainly a Munster composition.217 The latter part of the poem shows particular interest in Daire Eidnech (Derrynaflan): They used to be together in Daire Eidnech, no false order, practising devotion without extravagance, at cross vigil in Lent. They come precisely to Daire Eidnech to work miracles, until their journeying arrives in the east, on the flagstone in Tallaght. On that flagstone came from heaven an angel of the celestial court to give to them from Christ the consent of their prayer to unify themselves. 218 As O’Dwyer observed, these lines were written with a view to advancing the status of Derrynaflan by association with Tallaght.219 The original composition seems to have concluded with the eleventh quatrain, which ends with a final C recalling the opening word of the poem, Cethrur. The twelfth quatrain was evidently added by

214 215


217 218


Ó Riain (ed.), Corpus Genealogiarum, 182–3. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 47. A note at the end of the London, BL, MS Egerton 93 text reads, ‘And that [twenty-four] is the number that should be in Joseph’s company, and it is the number that should be at the king of Cashel’s table down from the time of Feidlimid son of Crimthann, king of the two provinces of Munster, etc.’; see Kenney, The Sources, 346. Ó Riain (ed.), Corpus Genealogiarum, 183 §6: ‘Mairg duni dothaet riu sain, / do Gallaib do Gáedelaib’, ‘Woe to him who would resist them [i.e. the twenty-four saints], to foreigners, to Gaels.’ See O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 47–9. Ó Riain (ed.), Corpus Genealogiarum, 183 §§8–10; tr. Hughes, ‘The distribution’, 263: ‘Nobítís, ni sáeb int …reth, / maroen i nDaire Eidnech, / ic denam chrabuid cen gus, / ic crossigill i corgus. // Do Daire Eidnech co becht / tecait do denam a fert, / co toraig a techta thair / arin licc i Tamlachtain. // Forin licc sin tic do nim / angel de muntir richid, / co tabair dóib ó Christ cet / na hitge ’ma n-oentaiget.’ Fert can also mean ‘burial mound’ or ‘grave’. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 48.


Texts attributed to céli Dé someone with an interest in Druim Abrat (Ardfinnan, Co. Tipperary, near Cahir): ‘They used to come hither to Druim Abrat, these saints to whom we look; in this place they used to practise with renown the eight hours.’220 It is quite clear that Óentu Feidelmid is not an authentic record of a compact between ninth-century saints or their respective churches; rather it is the work of a probably tenth-century poet who wished to promote the interests of a Munster church. We may credit a similar impulse to the author of Óentu Mail Ruain, which shows ties to Cashel. Largely on the strength of these two texts, Flower and O’Dwyer identified Derrynaflan, Dairinis, and the other churches represented in these works as part of the céli Dé movement. While the manuscript tradition might encourage us to regard these works as céli Dé records, the internal evidence is lacking. Other than affirming the reputation of Mael Ruain and Tallaght in Munster, neither text contributes significantly to our understanding of céli Dé identity. Concluding with Óentu Feidelmid we have now considered the major texts generally associated with céli Dé and found reason to dispute the inclusion of only the last two in the céli Dé corpus. Before moving on to the various other works that have sometimes been linked to céli Dé, it will be helpful to summarise a few observations. Each of the texts discussed thus far either expressly mentions Mael Ruain, Tallaght, or céli Dé, or contains probable references to them (such as maic bethad in the Old Irish Penitential). For the most part, such internal evidence has formed the basis of previous scholarly identification of a work as a céli Dé text. As we have seen, the manuscript traditions of these texts have much in common. With the exception of the Stowe Missal, the oldest and in some cases only extant manuscripts of these texts were copied in Lower Ormond. The exemplars for at least three texts, namely, the Tallaght memoir, the Old Irish Penitential, and the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, were preserved in a single volume, S, in the possession of the Mac Aodhagáin family of Lower Ormond. The scribes known to have used S as an exemplar include Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin, Uilliam Mac an Leagha, and, much later, Míchéal Ó Cléirigh. Murchadh Ó Cuindlis transcribed other céli Dé tracts, including Félire Óengusso, most likely at or near the Mac Aodhagáin school. At Terryglass, some ten miles southwest of Ballymacegan, Aed mac Crimthainn copied the Martyrology of Tallaght from an exemplar that probably had come from Tallaght in the early ninth century. The Stowe Missal, also from Tallaght, was kept at Lorrha at least from the late fourteenth century to the early sixteenth century. The diffusion of almost half the texts we have discussed to locations outside Lower Ormond was in large measure due to Ó Maoil Chonaire scribes or others working for them. From all this, when considering scholarly claims for a text’s association with the céli Dé of Tallaght, we may regard that association as more probable where there is compelling internal textual evidence backed by a manuscript tradition comparable to those described above.


Ó Riain (ed.), Corpus Genealogiarum 183 §12, tr. Hughes (departing slightly from her rendering), ‘The distribution’, 263: ‘Tictis Druim nAbrat ille, / na noeb sin nosailemni, / noathigtis sund co mblaid / na da thrath co bo chethair. C.’ O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 49, noted that Cormac mac Cuilennáin purportedly left some of his possessions to Druim Abrat.


Céli Dé in Ireland

Instructional and prescriptive texts Apgitir Chrábaid (16) Apgitir Chrábaid (‘Alphabet of Piety’), written mostly in Old Irish prose, is an instructional tract on the fundamentals of spiritual life, comparable in some respects to a catechism. It survives in nineteen copies found in thirteen manuscripts that offer more or less the same recension.221 Six of the manuscripts we have already encountered: T, R, N, Ybl, P, and Br1. In nine manuscripts, T among them, the tract is ascribed to Colmán moccu Béognae, usually identified with Colmán Elo, the founder of Lann Elo (Lynally, Co. Offaly), who died in 611.222 Notes in the Lb and Ld copies of Félire Óengusso associate Colmán moccu Béognae with Lismore, but more contemporary evidence indicates that he belonged to the Dál nAraide among the Southern Uí Néill.223 The authenticity of his authorship has been a matter of some debate. In his 1968 critical edition Hull thought Apgitir Chrábaid as it stands was ‘too sophisticated’ for an Irish monk of Colmán’s day. He detected both earlier and later linguistic strata in the text that led him to believe that the archetype may have consisted of a homily by Colmán expanded by the addition of some gnomic material and by at least a partial translation of a Latin homily. In its present state, therefore, the Alphabet of Piety presents a composite text which was probably compiled sometime in the first half of the eighth century during the early period of the Culdee movement.224 Pádraig Ó Néill, on the other hand, has argued that it was written in the early seventh century by a single author, plausibly Colmán moccu Béognae.225 He made a strong case for the central unity of the text, but the evidence he put forth in support of an early date has since been challenged.226 A conclusive date for Apgitir Chrábaid remains to be established.

221 222 223

224 225 226

Only four manuscripts, however, contain the complete known text: T, R, N, and London, BL, MS Harleian 5280, from the sixteenth century. In R Apgitir Chrábaid is ascribed to Coeman filii Beognae, undoubtedly a scribal slip for Colmán. In Ybl the text is credited to St Fursa (ob. 649). Stokes (ed. & tr.), On the Calendar of Oengus, xxxix (but cf. cxlvii), and idem, Félire Óengusso, 50. Adomnán gives Colmán’s patronym ‘mac Beognai’ and lineage, ‘moccu Sailni’, but does not associate Colmán with any particular church – although it is worth noting that Lynally was just a few miles from the Columban foundation at Durrow. The Annals of Tigernach (611) call him Colmán Elo moccu Seilli. According to the Book of Lecan genealogies, the Dál Saillni, located in Co. Antrim, were a branch of the Dál nAraide. Later hagiographical tradition esteems him as the second patron of Connor, the principal church of the Dál nAraide. See Sharpe (tr.), Adomnán, 263. Hull (ed. & tr.), ‘Apgitir Chrábaid’, 50–2; this reverses his earlier opinion in ‘The date’, 89–90. Ó Néill, ‘The date’, 203–15. McCone, ‘Prehistoric, Old and Middle Irish’, 34–5, noted that the use of rosc or retoiric is not a valid indication of an arachaic text, as these forms are now known to have been employed as late as the eighth and ninth centuries; cf. Dumville, Review of McCone,


Texts attributed to céli Dé Like Hull, Kenney, Flower, and O’Dwyer each associated Apgitir Chrábaid with céli Dé.227 The evidence of the oldest manuscripts appears to support this view. In R Apgitir Chrábaid begins a section of eight folios, written by the same hand, which contains the Homily on the Deadly Sins (12) abstracted from the Old Irish Penitential as well as the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations. In P, the text follows the homily that in turn comes after a fragment of The Monastery of Tallaght. One of the Ybl copies is preceded by the Rule of Fothud. In T, the scribe broke off his transcription of The Monastery of Tallaght mid-column at chapter LXXX to copy Apgitir Chrábaid in its entirety. He explained why before resuming The Monastery of Tallaght at chapter LXXXI: Good is everything that this book sets forth, if we understand it, and good its fulfilment. It is Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin who wrote it, and he placed the Alphabet among the rules not in ignorance, but for fear of omitting it.228 O’Dwyer reasoned that Tadhg must have had copies of both tracts at hand.229 This is perhaps an obvious point, but it underscores the probability that his exemplar for Apgitir Chrábaid was kept at Ballymacegan along with S. Similarly, we may suspect that the scribes of R, P, and Ybl found their respective exemplars of Apgitir Chrábaid in the company of texts identified with céli Dé. Internal evidence also suggests links with céli Dé. Like the Tallaght memoir, Apgitir Chrábaid refers to ‘sons of life’ (maic bethad) in a context that clearly indicates they are religious in a monastery. It discusses the four ‘safeguards’ (trevairi) of the ‘son of life’, namely, ‘erosion of the desires, fear of the torments, love of the tribulations, [and] belief in the rewards’.230 It proclaims the three renunciations made at baptism which transform the ‘son of death’ (mac báis) into a ‘son of life’: ‘he renounces the world with its pomps, he renounces the devil with his snares, [and] he renounces the lusts of the flesh’.231 In the section headed De his quae debet homo discere, the question is asked, ‘What should be learned by mankind?’



229 230 231

392. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 66, placed Apgitir Chrábaid ‘in the broad seventh-to-earlier-eighth-century period’. Herren has suggested that a reference in the text to the ‘unity of the catholic church’ (i n-óentaid inda ecailse cathlaice) may indicate that the extant version of the poem ‘had passed through the hands of the Romani’; Herren & Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, 99 n. 156. Kenney, The Sources, 472, listed the text in his section on céli Dé, just after ‘Notes on the customs of Tallaght’ (i.e. The Monastery of Tallaght) and before the Rule of the Céli Dé; Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 72; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 178, proposed that the author might instead have been Mocholmóc (= Colmán) Ua Liatháin (ob. 731), religionis doctor of Lismore, but this is not supported by the manuscript evidence. The Monastery of Tallaght (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 118): ‘Is fó cech ní sluindess ind lebarsa día tuicmis hé. 7 a comaldad. tadcc ua rigbardn qui scribsit 7 ni hanmfis tuc ind a.b.c.d. eidir na riaglaib acht dhegla a faccbalae.’ O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 182. Apgitir Chrábaid, XXII (ed. & tr. Hull, 72–3): ‘credbud inda tol, omun inda pían, serc inna fochaide, cretem inda fochraice’. Ibid., XXX (ed. & tr. Hull, 74–5): ‘fris-toing don domun cona adbchlossaib, fris-toing do demun cona inntledaib, fris-toing do tholaib colla’. On the similarity of this formula to the Gallican rite of Baptism – and the implication it has for the date of Apgitir Chrábaid – see Ó Néill, ‘The date’, 210.


Céli Dé in Ireland The answer, which begins, ‘Not difficult; Perseverance in holiness . . .’,232 may be compared to a passage in The Monastery of Tallaght regarding St Fursa: The daughter of the king in the eastern country bestowed land on Fursa. She said to Fursa, ‘What manner of man are you? said she. ‘Like an old smith’, said he, ‘with his anvil on his shoulder’. ‘The anvil of devotion?’ said she. ‘Perseverance in holiness’, said he.233 It may not be a coincidence that the oldest manuscript witness of Apgitir Chrábaid, Ybl, attributes the tract to Fursa (ob. 649).234 The saint’s answer to the king’s daughter might make better sense if we understand ‘Perseverance in holiness’ (Fos oc etli) to be the first line of a catechism known as ‘The Anvil of Devotion’ (Indeóin Chrábaid), corresponding to that part of Apgitir Chrábaid which begins with the same line.235 Siding with Ó Néill on the early date of the text, John Carey has commented on the influence of Apgitir Chrábaid upon céli Dé.236 For my own part, I feel the ascription to Colmán moccu Beognae is doubtful but I agree with Carey regarding the text’s influence. While I am unwilling to call Apgitir Chrábaid a céli Dé text outright, at least until its date of composition can be more firmly established, in consideration of the above I think there is little question that the tract was known to céli Dé, valued by them, and transmitted with their own writings. Rule of Patrick (17) The so-called Rule of Patrick is found in three manuscripts. The fullest version occurs in Lb where it comprises the final nine chapters of the text headed the Rule of the Céli Dé. The second is TCD 1336 (H. 3.17), a legal codex from the sixteenth century written primarily by Mac Aodhagáin scribes in Ormond.237 The third is the Book of Lismore, which contains only a fragment of the text but provides the title Riagail Phátriac, by which the tract is generally known.238 The ascription to St Patrick is manifestly false, but taken with the Rule’s appeal to the ‘Testament of 232 233

234 235

236 237


Apgitir Chrábaid, IX (ed. & tr. Hull, 62–3): ‘Ced as fogailsi do duiniu? Ni anse. Foss oc etlai . . .’ The Monastery of Tallaght, XIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 134): ‘Ingen ind rig isna tirib thair adodpart ferand do fursu. Is hed asbertsi fri fursa. Céta indas ol sisi. Cumme ol sesim 7 sengobi cona indeuin fora muin. Indeuin crábid ol sisi. Fos oc etli ol sesim.’ Cf. Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 40–1). Ybl col. 228: ‘Apgitir Crabuidh in so sis. Fursa cecinit.’ The text is incomplete. Another copy which lacks a heading occurs further on at cols 570–2. Support for a catechismal interpretation of Apgitir Chrábaid may arise from P, where the tract is headed, ‘Incipit uerbum filii Beognae uiri Dei’, and from R, where it is headed (following Hull’s emendations),’Rosc [Cosc R] Mo-Colmog maccu Beognae dond óclaig’, ‘The sayings [or admonitions] of Mocholmóc moccu Beognae to the youth’; see Hull (ed. & tr.), ‘Apgitir Chrábaid’, 47–8. Carey, King of Mysteries, 232. Kenney, The Sources, 35; see scribal colophons in TCD 1336, col. 161: John Mac Egan of Ormond; cols 427–8: Carby son of Shane [Mac Egan]; cols 493–4: Aodhagan, who gives the year as 1575; cols 501–2: the date 1575; cols 511–12: Egan mac Conor [Mac Egan]; an inserted leaf between cols 515–16 and 517–18: Egan mac Conor who reports news from the territory of Ely (Northern Tipperary). Chatsworth, Book of Lismore, fo. 81v.


Texts attributed to céli Dé Patrick’ (timna Pátraic) and assertion of an authority extending to all Ireland, it points to Armagh as its place of composition.239 It is somewhat misleading to call the tract a rule, for it does not address the religious life but rather lays out the contractual nature of the relationship between a church and its laity (manaig), in much the same manner as Córus Béscnai, another law-tract from around the same time.240 The Rule is generally dated to the eighth century.241 Given its possible Armagh origin and relatively early date, the Rule of Patrick would seem an unlikely céli Dé work. Yet if it is not, we must then try to account for its place in Lb as part of the Rule of the Céli Dé. As we have seen, the Rule of the Céli Dé as it stands in Lb is a composite text comprised of an abbreviated version of the Tallaght memoir concluded with excerpts from the Rule of Colum Cille and the Rule of Patrick. We cannot be certain that the excerpts were not originally part of the Rule of the Céli Dé as it was first written to form a single, contiguous text; certainly the Lb scribe gave no indication that he was aware when the Rule of the Céli Dé, strictly speaking, had ended and the excerpts began. Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin, however, may have provided us with a clue. As we know, The Monastery of Tallaght in T derived from the same ultimate Old Irish source used by the author of the Rule of the Céli Dé, namely, the Tallaght memoir. As previously noted, Tadhg interrupted his transcription of the latter tract to copy Apgitir Chrábaid into the same volume. The colophon with which he ended Apgitir Chrábaid bears repeating: ‘It is Tadhg Ó Rigbardáin who wrote it, and he placed the Alphabet among the rules not in ignorance, but for fear of omitting it.’242 Now in T, The Monastery of Tallaght is preceded by an Irish version of Speculum Peccatoris by Pseudo-Augustine and it is followed by a homily on poverty, neither of which can be construed as a rule. One might presume then that by ‘rules’ (riagla) Tadhg meant only the injunctions of the Tallaght memoir. I submit, however, that he was referring to the texts found in his exemplar S, which he was in the process of copying and which included, along with the Tallaght memoir, the Rule of Colum Cille, and the Rule of Patrick.243 Such was the case when the author of the Rule of the Céli Dé made his own summation of the Tallaght memoir: finding all three ‘rules’ together in his exemplar, he condensed them into a single Middle Irish text which served as the exemplar to Lb. If I am correct, even though there is no evidence showing the Rule of Patrick to be a céli Dé text, like Apgitir Chrábaid it seems to have been associated with céli Dé from very early on and transmitted with their own writings. Rule of Colum Cille (18) Aside from the Lb excerpts appended to the Rule of the Céli Dé, there are two manuscript witnesses to the Rule of Colum Cille, R and Br1. In R it is preceded by Apgitir Chrábaid and the Homily on the Deadly Sins and followed by the Old Irish 239 240 241 242 243

Charles-Edwards, ‘The pastoral role’, 69. Ó Corráin, ‘The early Irish churches’, 334. Sharpe, ‘Some problems’, 252; Charles-Edwards, ‘The pastoral role’, 80; however, see more recently Kelly, ‘The Rule of Patrick’, 287, who favours a ninth-century date. The Monastery of Tallaght (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 118): ‘tadcc ua rigbardn qui scribsit 7 ni hanmfis tuc ind a.b.c.d. eidir na riaglaib acht dhegla a faccbalae’. The latter two texts are not found in BT but, as we have seen, Tadhg’s transcription of the Tallaght memoir is itself incomplete.


Céli Dé in Ireland Table of Penitential Commutations. In Br1, it is the first of a group of four vernacular rules that includes the Rule of Ailbe of Emly, the Rule of Cormac mac Cuilennáin, and the Rule of Comgall of Bangor, each discussed below. It is dated to the eighth or ninth century and its ascription in both R and Br1 to St Colum Cille or Columba of Iona may be taken as a possible clue to its place of origin rather than an indication of its authorship.244 Eoin de Bhaldraithe thought the Rule of Colum Cille must have been written under the authority of the head of the Columban familia, who after 806 had relocated from Iona to Kells.245 As is typical of the Irish monastic rules from this period, it is more exhortative than regulatory and offers few specifics about religious life. Most scholars who have discussed the Rule of Colum Cille have followed Kenney and considered it to have been produced under the impetus of the céli Dé ‘movement’.246 Firm evidence linking the Rule to the latter, however, is lacking. The Monastery of Tallaght refers to a Riagail Choluim Chille in one instance, but the passage it cites does not correspond to anything in our extant Rule.247 Teachings and anecdotes of St Columba and later Iona abbots Adomnán (ob. 704), Diarmait (fl. 814), and Blathmac mac Flainn (ob. 825) are related elsewhere in The Monastery of Tallaght.248 Clearly, the Columban familia was respected at Tallaght – even if the Rule of Colum Cille did indeed originate at a Columban monastery, it should not surprise us that the text appears in the company of céli Dé writings in R and in Lb.249 But the Rule itself shows no definite signs of céli Dé influence. It is commonly viewed as intended for the use of anchorites. It begins, ‘Be with a small number [or ‘alone’? – uathad is ambiguous] in an abode [or ‘cell’?] apart at a principal ecclesiastical centre, if it be not prudent according to your conscience to be in the company of the multitude.’250 ‘A solid abode [or ‘cell’?] about you with its single entrance’, it recommends.251 It allows visits on feast days from ‘a devout few who think of God and his commandments’.252 It advocates dutiful attention to devotions and liturgy, and a practical asceticism: ‘Do not eat till you are hungry; do not sleep till you feel need; do not speak till there is cause.’253 Yet as Colmán Etchingham has observed, the Rule does not seem to have been directed at the hermit living in complete isolation, for a number of passages indicate that the

244 245 246 247 248 249 250

251 252 253

Kenney, The Sources, 469. De Bhaldraithe, ‘Obedience’, 72. Kenney, The Sources, 469; Hughes, The Church, 186–7. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 347, is an exception. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXIX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 156). Ibid., XLVII, LXV, LXVI, LXVIII, LXXX, LXXXV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144, 153–6, 161–2). See Clancy, ‘Iona’, 111–30. Rule of Colum Cille, I (ed. Meyer, 28, tr. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 346): ‘Bith i nn-úathad i llucc foleith hi fail prímcathrach, minap inill lat cubus beth i coitchenndus na sochaide.’ Ibid., IV (ed. Meyer, 29, tr. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 346): ‘Locc umdaingen [sic] umat cona óendorus.’ Ibid., V (ed. Meyer, 29, tr. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 346): ‘úathad cráibdech uma-ráidet Día 7 a timna.’ Ibid., XIX–XXI (ed. Meyer, 29): ‘Ní airbertha biudh co mba guirt. Ní cotalta co mba éim lat. Ní acallta nech co mba fri toisc.’


Texts attributed to céli Dé monk who abides by its dictates belongs to a sort of community.254 Etchingham’s summation of the Rule is instructive: What is depicted is evidently an amalgam of cenobitic regulation and anchoritic exclusivity. Scholars have treated this text as a manifestation of an ascetic revival attributed to a Céli Dé ‘reform movement’ of the eighth and ninth centuries. This does not take into account the fact that a blend of eremitic ideals and cenobitic discipline was seemingly a possible permutation of rigorous monasticism already by the early eighth century or, indeed, the seventh . . . A text such as the ‘Rule of Colum Cille’ may betoken no more than continuity of practice from the seventh century on the part of those following a more rigorous monastic code in the eighth and ninth.255 Such an ‘amalgam’ of the cenobitic and anchoritic vocations is not discordant with the religious life depicted in the Tallaght memoir, which, though mostly communal in tone, clearly shows respect for the anchoritical mode.256 But to take up Etchingham’s point, their similar perspectives may arise from a common religious milieu that pre-dates the appearance of céli Dé. As there is no internal evidence linking the Rule of Colum Cille to the latter, save for the excerpts found in Lb appended to the Rule of the Céli Dé, I place this text in the same category as Apgitir Chrábaid and the Rule of Patrick. Rule of the Lord/Rule of Comgall of Bangor (13) This metrical rule survives in six manuscripts: P, N, Br1, H, M, and TCD, MS 1136 (s. xix). According to Strachan, there are two recensions, each containing some unique verses that he thought were not part of the original composition.257 In P, the oldest manuscript, the text comes almost immediately after Félire Óengusso and is the second of a group of five metrical vernacular rules that includes the Rule of Ailbe of Emly, the Rule of the Grey Monks, the Rule of Cormac mac Cuilennáin, and the Rule of Ciarán. These in turn are followed by a fragment of the Tallaght memoir, the Homily on the Deadly Sins (derived from the Old Irish Penitential), and Apgitir Chrábaid.258 In N, the text is preceded by the Rule of Cormac, the Rule of Ailbe, and the Rule of Fothud. In Br1, it follows the Rule of Colum Cille, the Rule of Ailbe, and the Rule of Cormac. The Rule of Echtgus Ua Cuanáin and a story on the birth of Aed Sláine precede these, separated by a blank folio. In P, N, and H, the text simply begins, ‘Preserve the Rule of the Lord’ (Comae riaguil in Choimded). In Br1 alone, the tract is headed Riagail Chomgaill Benchair, by which it is most commonly known. It is unclear on what authority Br1 scribe Míchéal Ó Cléirigh provided this ascription, but it is doubtful he added it solely on his own initiative. Regardless, the attribution to Comgall of Bangor (ob. 602) is not credible, as the

254 255 256

257 258

Etchingham, Church Organisation, 346–7. Ibid., 347–8. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 154–5); however, cf. XXXIV and LXXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 141, 159–60), where the excesses of certain anchorites are held up as cautionary tales. Strachan (ed. & tr.), ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, 191–2. Scarre (ed.), ‘Bithbin Menadaighi’, 75.


Céli Dé in Ireland language of the Rule dates to the end of the eighth century.259 A reference to a Riagail Chomgaill in The Monastery of Tallaght does not correspond to anything in this text.260 Kenney, Hughes, and O’Dwyer each felt that the Rule of Comgall – indeed, the bulk of the vernacular religious rules – was composed under the influence of the céli Dé movement.261 Certainly the manuscript evidence would seem to support such an association, for these rules appear to have been transmitted as a group and every manuscript in which they are found also contains known céli Dé material, either immediately before or after in the case of P and N, the two oldest manuscripts. Furthermore, internal evidence demonstrates some similarities with accepted céli Dé writings. Like the Tallaght memoir and the Rule of Fothud, the Rule of Comgall suggests the daily recital of the entire Psalter: ‘to sing the Three Fifties from tierce to tierce, if it be possible’.262 It advises the daily performance of 200 genuflexions or prostrations (sléchtain), 100 at each chanting of the Beati, morning and evening, although elsewhere it recommends a total of 300 every day and three at every canonical hour or 200 every day ‘with a diligent booklet’ (la lebrán léir).263 The phrase ‘with a diligent booklet’ most likely refers to the Psalter, and may be taken to mean 200 genuflexions are acceptable in lieu of 300 when performed with the diligent recitation of the psalms. Similarly, the Franciscan paraphrase of the Tallaght memoir indicates that céli Dé would not perform more than 200 genuflexions a day, unless discharging a task, and they would recite the Three Fifties (the Psalter), at the same time. If they were performing a task on their own account, they performed 300. The Rule of Fothud requires three genuflexions before and after every canonical hour.264 The Rule of Comgall commends the use of three words, arco fuin, ‘I beg pardon’, and imandairi, ‘may it be for good’, each day.265 These same words form part of the pre-prandium refectory service according to both the Franciscan paraphrase of the Tallaght memoir and the Rule of Fothud.266 Finally, although the Rule of Comgall does not mention 259 260

261 262

263 264 265 266

Strachan (ed. & tr.), ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, 192. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 155): ‘Aon troscut hi riagail comgeild .i. ind cetain ria caisc’, ‘There is one fast in Comgall’s Rule, namely, the Wednesday before Easter.’ Kenney, The Sources, 469; Hughes, The Church, 186–7; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 132–3. Rule of Comgall, XIII (ed. & tr. Strachan, ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, 196): ‘Na trí cóicait do gabáil / ó theirt co terit, mad folaid’; cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, XVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 38–9); Rule of Fothud, E 19 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–7). Rule of Comgall, IIIa, XIIIa, XIIIb (ed. & tr. Strachan, ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, 193, 196–7). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 32–3); Rule of Fothud, G 11 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 510–11). Rule of Comgall, XXVIIIc (ed. & tr. Strachan, ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, 202; see also 207–8 n.). Teaching of Mael Ruain, XCIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 54–5), the exchange between the presiding monk and the one next in authority upon coming to the table: ‘Immanaire’, ‘May it be for good’; ‘As cead duibh suidhe do chom bidh’, ‘You have leave to sit down to meat’, ‘Améun’, etc.; ‘Ord prainni 7 prainntighi’ (Rule of Fothud), XXII (ed. Meyer, 29): ‘In tan sin dotóet i tech / tairbir gnúis co llí / canid patir,


Texts attributed to céli Dé Mael Ruain or Tallaght, it employs what might be a synonymous term for a céle Dé: ‘do not beg of a king in Ireland, if you be a céle of Mary’s son’.267 In light of all this, I would agree with previous estimations of the Rule. Yet without knowing something about the author or the place of composition – perhaps the ascription in Br1 indicates a Bangor connection – the evidence is not compelling enough to regard the Rule as an actual céli Dé text, particularly since, as Strachan pointed out, there appears to have been some interpolation in both surviving recensions. At the very least, however, it would seem that the Rule’s later redactors, if not its original composer, were influenced by céli Dé thought and practice. Rule of Ailbe of Emly (14) The Rule of Ailbe of Emly is extant in two recensions found in the same six manuscripts as the Rule of Comgall and in the company of the same vernacular rules as noted above. In each of these manuscripts save P, where it is acephalous, the text is headed Riagol ailbi Imlecha oc tinchosc Eogain mic Sarain (‘The Rule of Ailbe of Emly for the instruction of Éogan mac Saráin’). The language of the Rule, however, makes it certain that it could not have been composed before the eighth century, thus ruling out its composition by St Ailbe (ob. 534). Éogan mac Saráin is commemorated in the Martyrology of Donegal on 15 March, although the year of his death is unknown. It is evident from the Rule that he was the head of the monastery of Cluain Cóiláin (near Borrisoleigh in Co. Tipperary).268 Noting variations in the metre which may indicate later interpolations into the poem, Kenney speculated that the original work was written by or at the direction of the heir of Ailbe at Emly for Éogan mac Saráin on the occasion of the latter’s elevation to the headship of Cluain Cóiláin and was subsequently expanded into a monastic rule.269 On this point, one is reminded of early legalistic texts that offer instruction to secular figures, such as Audacht Morainn and the Advice to Doidin mac Nine.270 Kenney did not believe that the Rule had any connection with céli Dé, while Hughes offered no real opinion one way or the other.271 O’Dwyer, on the other hand, though he agreed that the Rule of Ailbe could not be considered a direct outcome of the movement, still thought that ‘a certain influence’ was likely, due to the proximity of Emly to Derrynaflan which he regarded a céli Dé foundation.272 While the latter point is debatable, in defence of his position it may be said that the

267 268


270 271 272

arco fuin, / sléchtaid sís fo thrí’, ‘When they enter the refectory, let them pay the dues of the face, let them chant a Pater, Arco fuin, let them prostrate three times.’ Rule of Comgall, XXII (ed. & tr. Strachan, ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, 200): ‘ní foigis ríg i nÉre, / diamba chéle Maic Maire’. Todd & Reeves (edd.), The Martyrology of Donegal, 76; Rule of Ailbe of Emly, LVI (ed. & tr. O’Neill, 108–9): ‘Araléga, nascríba, / i Cluáin Cóiláin ní chela, / a maicc, fobithin goire / fri hEogan atabera’, ‘Thou shalt recite it, thou shalt write it, in Cluain Cóilain; thou shalt not conceal it, O son; for the sake of piety thou shalt say them to Eogan’. Kenney, The Sources, 315; Rule of Ailbe of Emly, I (ed. & tr. O’Neill, 96–7): ‘Apair dam fri mac Saráin / is tromm int aire gebes’, ‘Say for me to the son of Sarán, heavy is the burden which he takes.’ Cf. Smith, ‘The Speculum Principum’, 411–45. Kenney, The Sources, 315; Hughes, The Church, 148, 187–8. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 135; see above, 136–7.


Céli Dé in Ireland manuscript evidence for a céli Dé affiliation is just as strong for the Rule of Ailbe as it is for the Rule of Comgall and the internal evidence is at least as good. Like the Rule of Comgall, the Rule of Fothud, and the Tallaght memoir, the Rule of Ailbe advises the daily recital of the Three Fifties and the performance of 200 genuflexions, 100 at the Beati in the morning and 100 in the evening at vespers (fescair).273 A triple genuflexion was expected at the altar-rail, not unlike the Rule of Fothud which required three genuflexions upon reaching the church, or at the beginning and end of every canonical hour.274 It likewise commends saying Arco fuin and imondaire at the beginning of a meal.275 Its advice to the anmcharae, ‘soul-friend’ or confessor, ‘A person who does not endure reproof and who confesses not his blame, the anmcharae should warn him off towards some other place’, is comparable to that offered in the Tallaght memoir.276 Textual interpolations aside – all the above references are from stanzas composed in the poem’s original metre – these similarities do suggest that the author of the Rule was acquainted with céli Dé observance. However, one should not rule out the possibility that these practices may have become general among Irish religious in the eighth and ninth centuries. Rule of Cormac (23) The Rule of Cormac survives in six manuscripts, including P, N, Br1, and M, as well as TCD, MS 1136, and Dublin, RIA, MS 23 N 11, both late copies with little or no independent value. In all of these the Rule is attributed to Cormac mac Cuilennáin, the learned bishop-king of Cashel (ob. 908), who is also associated with Óentu Mail Ruain. The ascription in this case could be correct, given that the language of the Rule conforms to usage at the end of the ninth century.277 Largely on the strength of the ascription, O’Dwyer was inclined to regard the Rule as ‘a product of the Culdean movement in Kildare’. Cormac, O’Dwyer noted, was educated at Dísert Diarmata (Castledermot, Co. Kildare), associated with Diarmait ua Aeda Róin (ob. 825). Since Diarmait is mentioned in Óentu Mail Ruain, reasoned O’Dwyer, his monastery was probably founded under the auspices of the céli Dé movement. If Cormac was indeed the author of the rule bearing his name, it follows that it likely reflects the tenets of the céli Dé house


274 275



Rule of Ailbe of Emly, XVII (ed. O’Neill, 98); since this verse is composed in the 72 72 72 72 metre (rannaigecht bec) most frequent in the poem, it is probably original. Verse XVIII, however, which requires one hundred genuflexions every matin (cech iarméirge), is written in the comparatively infrequent 72 62 72 62 metre and may be an interpolation. Ibid., XXV (ed. O’Neill, 100); cf . Rule of Fothud, G 4, G 11 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 510–11). Rule of Ailbe of Emly, XXI (ed. & tr. O’Neill, 100–1): ‘Arco fuin imondaire, / ar thossuch cern, med mesair’, ‘I pray that it may be for good, in the beginning of a dish, a moderate measure.’ Ibid., XXXVII (ed. & tr. O’Neill, 104–5): ‘Nech nád daim a chúrsachad / ocus nád ataim cairi / dlomaid dó in t-anmcharae / dochum nach loccáin aili’; cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 135) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXIV–LXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 42–4) = Rule of the Céli Dé, XXVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 70–1). Rule of Cormac (ed. & tr. Strachan), 62.


Texts attributed to céli Dé where he was trained.278 The key to O’Dwyer’s argument is the evidence of Óentu Mail Ruain. Yet as I have indicated, there are insufficient grounds to presume on the strength of that text alone that Dísert Diarmata or any of the other churches represented in it was a céli Dé foundation. While the manuscript evidence would lend support to a céli Dé association with the Rule of Cormac, the internal evidence is lacking. Like most of the medieval Irish rules, the text offers a number of general guidelines and moral precepts pertinent to the religious life. It recognises the importance of liturgical observance and continuity: ‘Let us sing the song which the elders have sung, the course which they have sounded forth.’279 It strikes an ascetical note with the lines, ‘An emaciated, miserable body. Study with a well-spoken old man. Intentness on conversing with the Canon. Forgetfulness of the wretched paltry world.’280 However, unlike the above rules, it provides no specific details concerning these or other aspects of monastic life that can be compared to known céli Dé works. With nothing more to go on, the safest course is to conclude that its author was not greatly influenced by the movement. Rule of Ciarán (24) This rule is found in only two manuscripts, P, and TCD, MS 1136, copied from P in the nineteenth century. The ascription Riagul Chiarain annso offers the only clue to the text’s origin, although it is unknown whether Ciarán of Clonmacnoise or Ciarán of Saigir is intended. The language, which is quite difficult and imperfectly preserved in the manuscripts, is much too late for it to have been written by either of these saints, but perhaps the author had some connection with either of their respective churches. Kenney included it with the other vernacular rules he discusses in his chapter on the céli Dé, but without any comment.281 Uncharacteristically, O’Dwyer passed over the Rule in near-silence, although to be fair, there is no evident reason to associate the Rule with céli Dé, directly or indirectly.282 The Rule assumes the reader already possesses a familiarity with monastic rules. It begins, ‘If you say, O tearful one, that you are conversant with the rules, then what you would share with others had better be given in their presence.’283 It seems at least in part intended for one who held some responsibility for the spiritual direction of others. ‘Great monasteries are your responsibility, monks with faults of all kinds’, it observes.284 ‘Preach to each one his sins, so that you may save his soul’, it advises.285 It commends bodily virtue, penance, Sunday 278 279 280 281 282 283

284 285

O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 133. Rule of Cormac, II (ed. & tr. Strachan, 63): ‘Canam a ceól rocansat / na sruithi, seól rosonsat’. Ibid., XI (ed. & tr. Strachan, 65): ‘Sethnach tanaide todeóir / légend la sobeóil senóir / cor ar comrád fri Canóin, / dermat in domnáin deróil.’ Kenney, The Sources, 474. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 136 n. Rule of Ciarán, I (ed. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, 227, tr. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk, 45–7): ‘Ma asbera a dheoraidh / armpá heólach a riaghlaibh / a ndobértha do dhaeinibh / ba ferr nach értha fiadhaib.’ Ibid., V (ed. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, 227): ‘Cathraich móra fort cubus / manuich co pecthaibh ilibh.’ Ibid., VIII (ed. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, 228): ‘Pritchae do chach a pecuth / dus in íctha gach anmain.’


Céli Dé in Ireland observance, and poverty, although it recognises that some religious do not accede to this last point.286 None of these or other concerns, however, does it discuss in more than general terms. In sum, while there is nothing about the Rule of Ciarán that is not compatible with what we find in accepted céli Dé writings, neither is there anything in it which might indicate dependence upon them or show their influence. Rule of the Grey Monks (25) The shortest of the Irish metrical rules, only ten stanzas long, survives in a single manuscript, P, where it is headed Riagail na Manach Liath (‘Rule of the Grey Monks’). The significance of this title is uncertain. The term Manach Liath appears in nearly identical entries in the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Loch Cé marking the death of Cormac mac Tomaltaigh of the Clann Maelruanaid, who died in 1244 ‘in the habit of the Grey Monks’ (i aibit manaig léith) at Boyle (Co. Roscommon), which had been a Cistercian house since 1148. It is worth noting that Cistercians, commonly known as the White Monks, had originally worn a grey habit.287 The language of the Rule of the Grey Monks, however, precludes the possibility that it had been written for Irish Cistercians, for like most of the other vernacular rules, it seems to have been composed in the ninth century, some three hundred years before Cistercians came to Ireland. The first line of the rule may be relevant: ‘A grey crown [i.e. tonsure], a palm’s width’.288 In this context, liath, commonly used in reference to the hairs of the head or beard, may be taken as ‘aged’ or ‘venerable’. Near the end of the text, liatha is used in the same sense as seniores, monastic elders.289 Perhaps the title was added by a copyist who mistook this line as a reference to Cistercians. In terms of its general exhortative nature and lack of specifics, the Rule of the Grey Monks is comparable to the last two rules. It refers to the bell used to call the monks to prayers, gathering the brothers together under one discipline (cuing, ‘yoke’ or ‘bond’).290 It cautions against women, alcohol, denying one’s faults, lack of respect for the seniors (liatha), and a life of luxury.291 It offers no particulars in any of these, however, and provides very little with which we may draw comparisons to known céli Dé material. For this reason, it is probably best to place it in the same category as the Rule of Cormac and the Rule of Ciarán. Rule of Echtgus Ua Cuanáin (26) There is likewise but a sole manuscript witness to this lengthy metrical composition, Br1. A scribal colophon at the end of the text states that it was copied in 1634 at the Franciscan convent of Quin (Co. Clare). The author identifies himself as Echtgus Ua Cuanáin toward the end of the poem, and the ascription at the head of

286 287 288 289 290 291

Ibid., III, X, XV (ed. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, 227–8). Gwynn & Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: Ireland, 114. Rule of the Grey Monks, I (ed. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, 229): ‘Corann liath lethet baisi.’ Ibid., IX (ed. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, 229): ‘mairc nach orraim a liatha’, ‘Woe to one who does not respect the elders.’ Ibid., IV, VII (ed. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, 229). Ibid., V, VI, IX, X (ed. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, 229).


Texts attributed to céli Dé the text informs us that he was of the community (muinter) of Roscrea (Co. Tipperary).292 Míchéal Ó Cléirigh mistakenly dated the work to around 825, evidently on the strength of an obit that year for Echtgus, comarba of Tallaght, in the Annals of the Four Masters.293 Echtgus Ua Cuanáin is not known to us from elsewhere, although an Isaac Ua Cuanáin died as bishop of Roscrea in 1161.294 Kenney included the Rule of Echtgus with the other vernacular monastic rules which he dated all together to either the eighth or ninth century.295 However, as Dermot Gleeson observed, the language of the poem cannot be earlier than the mid-eleventh century and may well date from the twelfth century.296 He pointed out that the Rule in fact has nothing to do with monastic discipline but is rather an exposition on the Real Presence in the Eucharist, probably derived from a Latin treatise written about 830 by Paschasius Radbertus for Abbot Warin of Corbey, titled De Corpore et Sanguine Domini.297 This being so, the Rule of Echtgus has no relevance to the present study. Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith (15) The poem Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith (‘The Spiritual Direction of Manchán of Lemanaghan’) is extant in two manuscripts: N, where it follows the Rule of Fothud and the Rule of Comgall, and Dublin, RIA, Stowe, B. IV. 2, written by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh. The attribution to St Manchán of Lemanaghan (ob. 665) is spurious, as the language of the poem belongs to the ninth century.298 O’Dwyer, however, was inclined to think the location, Lemanaghan (Co. Offaly), was correct, and speculated that the text may have been influenced by Clonenagh, Roscrea, and Terryglass.299 It was clearly intended for the use of a community of religious. O’Dwyer saw some resemblence between the text and the section on céli Dé in the Rule of Fothud and the Tallaght memoir.300 Like them, the poem commends the triple genuflexion with the sign of the cross in the morning and the celebration of the Hours.301 It cautions against the concealment of sin and stresses the need for moderation.302 The attention to ‘labour, study, and prayer’ (lubair, légad,

292 293 294 295 296

297 298 299

300 301 302

Rule of Echtgus Ua Cuanáin, LXXXIV (ed. van Hamel, ‘Poem from Brussels MS. 5100–4’, 349). O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 160. The Uí Chuanáin were the coarbs of Monahincha (Co. Tipperary). Kenney, The Sources, 475. Gwynn & Gleeson, History of the Diocese, 74. See also Murphy, ‘Eleventh or twelfth century Irish doctrine’, 19–21, who tentatively identified Echtgus with Isaac Ua Cuanáin. Ibid., 75. De Corpore et Sanguine Domini (ed. Migne, PL, CXX, cols 1255–350). Kenney, The Sources, 475 n. 325. Another poem, found in Murphy, Early Irish Lyrics, 28–31, is also attributed to him, but again the language makes his authorship unlikely. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 136. Clonmacnois, Durrow, and Clonfert are actually closer, but Lemanaghan is virtually surrounded by a bog which would have made communication difficult with any of these. Ibid. Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith, II, III (ed. Meyer, 310). Ibid., VII, XV (ed. Meyer, 310–11); cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 135).


Céli Dé in Ireland ernaigthi) recalls the céli Dé regimen in the Rule of Fothud, ‘We watch, we study, we pray’ (figlem, légem, airnaigthem).303 And here, as in the Rule of Fothud, the Tallaght memoir, the Rule of Comgall, and the Rule of Ailbe, the constant use of imannaire and arco fuin are encouraged: ‘There are three words that are profitable for heaven: imannaire (“may it be for good”); permission every time, saying always, arco fuin (“I beg pardon”).’304 On the whole, while I agree with O’Dwyer and conclude that the composer of Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith was probably influenced to some degree by céli Dé practice, I would not over-stress this influence. As previously stated regarding the Rule of Ailbe, this sort of general spiritual guidance may have been quite common among Irish religious in the eighth and ninth centuries. Epistil Ísu (19) and Cáin Domnaig (20) Both Epistil Ísu (‘Epistle of Jesus’) and Cáin Domnaig (‘Law of Sunday’) are concerned with the enforcement of proper Sunday observance. They are found, usually together, in seven manuscripts, which include Ybl, Lb, and N. In Ybl Epistil Ísu precedes the Rule of Fothud and Apgitir Chrábaid. On linguistic grounds, they have been dated to the eighth or ninth centuries.305 Apparent references in both texts to Viking raiders might indicate a ninth-century date.306 Epistil Ísu purports to be the text of a letter written by Christ that fell from heaven onto the altar of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The tale of a letter from heaven commanding the observance of the Lord’s Day, the Carta Dominica, is a widespread Christian myth at least as old as 581, and extant in Greek, Latin, and multiple vernacular recensions.307 A Hiberno-Latin recension of the tale, called Dies dominica by its modern editor, Robert McNally, survives in three versions found in six manuscripts, all Continental. The earliest of these, Orleans, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 221 (193), was written by a Breton scribe ca 800. According to McNally, Dies dominica served as the basic source material for Epistil Ísu.308 The text of Epistil Ísu credits Conall Mac Coelmaine, abbot of Inniskeel (Co. Donegal) who lived towards the end of the sixth century, with bringing the enactment of the law of Sunday to Ireland from Rome where he had been on pilgrimage, and with writing ‘epistil in domnaig’, ‘the epistle of Sunday’, from the letter which fell from heaven.309 Except for the date, this account would

303 304 305

306 307 308


Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith, VI (ed. Meyer, 310); cf. Rule of Fothud, G 23 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 510–11). Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith, XXV (ed. Meyer, 311): ‘Ar atáit teora bríathra / ata lógmaire for nim: / umanaire, cet gach tan, / epert dogrés arcu fuin’; see above, 146. Hull (ed. & tr.), ‘Cáin Domnaig’, 156–8, favoured an early eighth-century date of composition for Cáin Domnaig, while most others who have commented on the text preferred a ninth-century date. See Etchingham, Church Organisation, 197. Epistil Ísu, X, XX (ed. & tr. O’Keefe, ‘Cáin Domnaig’, 196–7, 202–3); Cáin Domnaig, XI (ed. & tr. Hull, 170–1, but see also 157). Kenney, The Sources, 476–7. See McNally (ed.), Scriptores Hiberniae Minores I, 175–9. McNally (ed.), Scriptores Hiberniae Minores I, 175. McNally seems to have been unaware of two further copies of Recension II: Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, MS Augiensis 255, fo. 8, and Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 682, pp. 330–4. Epistil Ísu, XX, XXI (ed. & tr. O’Keefe, ‘Cáin Domnaig’, 202–3). Cáin Domnaig, IX


Texts attributed to céli Dé seem to correspond to the one found in the Annals of Ulster for 887: ‘An epistle, with the Law of Sunday and other good instructions came to Ireland with the Pilgrim.’310 Kenney speculated that the annal for the year 811 in Chronicum Scotorum also referred to the introduction of this myth to Ireland: A year of prodigies this. It was in it the Céle Dé came from the sea from the south, dry-footed, without a boat, and a written scroll was given to him from heaven through which he used to preach to the Irish and it used to be taken up again when the preaching was finished and the Céle Dé used to go over the sea southwards every day after he had finished the preaching.311 Evidently with this annal in mind, and noting the rise of a stricter Sunday observance that coincided with the emergence of céli Dé, Kenney included Cáin Domnaig in his chapter on céli Dé.312 Hughes did not go so far as to suggest that Cáin Domnaig was a céli Dé text, but she similarly thought it significant that according to the last-mentioned annal, the letter from heaven was received and interpreted by a céle Dé. As she points out, céli Dé did indeed advocate strict Sunday observance, and their teachings are in general accordance with the instructions of Cáin Domnaig.313 Both Epistil Ísu and Cáin Domnaig, in agreement with the Tallaght memoir, recognise a Sunday observance that begins at vespers on Saturday.314 Save for certain lawful exceptions, work on Sunday is expressly prohibited in each of these texts.315 In a long list of reasons why Sunday is sanctified, Epistil Ísu points out that Sunday, 15 February, was ‘the Son of God’s victory over his enemy’ (buad mic Dé dia namaid), using, it might be noted, precisely the same words as Félire Óengusso for that date.316 Aside from the last point, there is no evidence to suggest a link between céli Dé

310 311

312 313 314



(ed. & tr. Hull, 168–71), invokes a blessing on whosoever prosecutes the Law of Sunday without favour or partiality, as set out ‘in the epistle that descended from Heaven on to the altar of Rome’ (‘issind epistil do-rala de nim for altóir Rómae’). AU 887.3: ‘Eipistil do thiachtain lasin ailithir docum nErenn co Cain Domnaigh 7 co foecetlaibh maithibh ailibh’. CS 811: ‘Annus prodigiorum annso. As inte tainig in Cele Dé don fairgi anes coraibh tirmaib cen culud, et do bertha stuagh sgribta do nimh do triasa ndenad procect do Gaoidelaibh, et do bertea suas doridisi í in tan toirged an procect; et tigedh an Cheli Dé gach laoi darsan fairrge fodes, iar toirgsin an procecta.’ Kenney, The Sources, 476–7. Hughes, The Church, 179. Epistil Ísu, VI (ed. & tr. O’Keefe, ‘Cáin Domnaig, 194–5); Cáin Domnaig, I (ed. & tr. Hull, 160–1); however in the former Sunday observance lasts until tierce on Monday, while in the latter it lasts until the end of matins. Cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, XLV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144). Epistil Ísu, XVII, XXXII (ed. & tr. O’Keefe, ‘Cáin Domnaig’, 200–3, 208–11); Cáin Domnaig, I (ed. & tr. Hull, 160–3); cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, LV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 148). Epistil Ísu, XV (ed. & tr. O’Keefe, ‘Cáin Domnaig’, 200–1); Félire Óengusso, 15 February (ed. & tr. Stokes, 60): ‘Cain celebrad domnaig / i féil Beraig bágaig, / la céssad sluaig brígaig, / búaid Maicc Dé dia námait’, ‘Sing a Sunday’s celebration on the feast of warlike Berach, with the passion of a vigorous host: the Son of God’s victory over His enemy.’


Céli Dé in Ireland writings and Epistil Ísu or Cáin Domnaig. Certainly céli Dé were not the first among the Irish to promote diligent Sunday observance. As Michael Herren and Shirley Ann Brown have pointed out, the seventh-century hymn Precamur Patrem in the Antiphonary of Bangor extols the sanctity of Sunday and shows a number of correspondences to Dies dominica.317 And while it is not impossible that a céle Dé produced either or both Epistil Ísu and Cáin Domnaig, in my view it is unlikely. The céli Dé texts that we have seen thus far all appear to have been intended either for personal use or for the edification of a single, albeit diverse, religious community. Epistil Ísu and Cáin Domnaig, on the other hand, are both directed at the general Christian population in Ireland rather than at any one church or monastery, and they assume a more legalistic tone than any of the recognised céli Dé works. In regard to Epistil Ísu, the attribution to Conall Mac Coelmaine, while clearly impossible on linguistic grounds, is perhaps indicative of the author’s connection to either Conall’s church, Inniskeel in Co. Donegal, or his kin, the Cenél Conaill, the northern claimants to the over-kingship of the Uí Néill. The Epistle itself, we can be sure, is the Irish version of a sixth-century myth first known in Latin. Cáin Domnaig, written subsequent to the Epistle, refers to Cáin Phátraic: ‘it is on the basis of a surety of the Law of Patrick that the fines of this Law of Sunday are levied’.318 Although the text is no longer extant, we know from other sources that Cáin Phátraic, the ‘Law of Patrick’, dealt mainly with offences against clergy.319 The Annals of Ulster first mention it by name in 737, ‘the Law of Patrick was in force in Ireland’ (Lex Patricii tenuit Hiberniam), although there appears to be a slightly earlier reference to it in the annal for 734: ‘the bringing on tour of the relics of Peter and Paul and Patrick to fulfil the law’ (Commotatio martirum Petir 7 Phoil 7 Phatraicc ad legem perficiendam). Now the enforcement of the ‘Law of Patrick’, as was the case for pretty much all ecclesiastical cána, depended upon the support of secular rulers. Colmán Etchingham has pointed out that the 734 proclamation of the law coincided with the accession of Aed Allán of the Cenél nÉogain – rivals to the Cenél Conaill – to the over-kingship of the Uí Néill, as recorded in the Annals of Ulster that same year. Furthermore, the 737 annal that declares the Lex for evidently all Ireland directly follows a notice of a conference (dál) between Aed Allán and Cathal mac Finguine, king of Munster, at Terryglass.320 The preeminent church in Uí Néill territory was Armagh, the self-declared See of Patrick, and it is to Armagh that we may look as the most likely place of origin for Lex Patricii.321 Given its reliance upon Cáin Phátraic for a basis of surety, I propose that the Cáin Domnaig was composed at Armagh as well. Might it have been intended to eclipse Epistil Ísu, written by churchmen who were favourable to the Cenél Conaill?

317 318 319 320 321

Precamur Patrem (ed. Warren, The Antiphonary of Bangor, II.5–7); Herren & Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, 284–8. Cáin Domnaig, III (ed. & tr. Hull, 164–5): ‘is di aitriri chána Pátric do-bongatar féich inna cána-so in Domnuig’. Kelly, A Guide, 281–2. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 203–4. Cáin Domnaig, VII, VIII (ed. & tr. Hull, 166–9).


Texts attributed to céli Dé As is clear from the Tallaght memoir, céli Dé advocated a strict Sunday observance in harmony with the expectations of Epistil Ísu and Cáin Domnaig.322 In view of the above considerations, however, it seems likely that these two tracts were not produced among céli Dé, but elsewhere, at churches of the northern Uí Néill. Yet so influenced by these texts, or at least by the zeitgeist they fostered, were céli Dé that they acquired a reputation for stringent Sunday observance in their own right and became associated with the origin myth of the Letter from Heaven, as demonstrated by the Chronicum Scotorum annal for 811. Teist Chóemáin Cluaina maic Tréoin (27) This brief tract purports to describe the precepts of religious life observed at Cell Achaid (Killeigh, Co. Offaly) at the time of Sinchell the younger, disciple to Sinchell the elder, the patron of Cell Achaid who died in 549. It is found in two manuscripts, L and R. In L, the older of the two, it is headed, ‘Practices of piety and customs of the school of Sinchell’ (Cinti crábuid 7 gnathaigthe scoile Sinchil so sis). The text in R begins with nearly the same words, preceded with ‘The testimony of Cóemán of Cluain mac Tréin on the school of Sinchell the younger at Cell Ached’ (Teist Chóemáin Cluaina maic Tréoin for scoil Óc-Sinchill Chille Ached). This Cóemán is otherwise unknown (O’Dwyer suggests emending to Colmán), but one might presume he was a student at Sinchell’s school. Cluain mac Tréin is a church in Leinster, in the territory of the Moccu Edagar.323 Kenney dated the text to the eighth or ninth century and included it with the various monastic rules he associated with céli Dé, although without explanation.324 O’Dwyer, however, provided two reasons for such an association, noting that in L the text occurs amongst other works ‘which certainly came from Tallaght’ and that it bore a resemblance to Apgitir Chrábaid and Scuap Chrábaid which he believed to be céli Dé texts.325 In point of fact, the text is found in the University College Dublin fragment of L amongst various lists of saints which cannot be proven to have come from Tallaght but seem rather to have originated at various churches in Munster.326 O’Dwyer might better have considered R, where the text directly follows Apgitir Chrábaid and is in turn followed by the Homily on the Deadly Sins derived from the Old Irish Penitential, and the Rule of Colum Cille. The language of Teist Chóemáin precludes the possibility of it having been written in the sixth or seventh century, but there is nothing in the text to detract from the claim that it was produced at Killeigh (or perhaps Cluain mac Tréin). Certainly it was intended for the instruction of a community of religious. In form, it is a string of maxims, beginning ‘Devotion without weariness. Humility without murmuring. Dressing 322 323

324 325 326

See below, 207–9. Hogan, Onomasticon, 266, s.v. ‘c. mac tréin’. According to the Salmanticensis version of Vita S. Fintani (ed. Heist, 146), possibly from the ninth or tenth century, Fintan, who belonged to the Moccu Edagar, was baptised at Cluain mac Tréin. Fintan was a disciple of Colum of Terryglass and founder of Clonenagh, where later tradition holds that Óengus mac Óengobann was a monk and wrote part of his martyrology; see Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, xxiv–xxvi. This might suggest that Cluain mac Tréin was in Co. Laois, but I have been unable to locate it more precisely than this. Kenney, The Sources, 475–6. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 182–3. See below, 156–7.


Céli Dé in Ireland without extravagance. Fasting without violation’ (Crábud cen scís. Umla cen fordord. Étgud cen forcraid. Aíni cen elniud). Among other things, it enjoins perseverance in study, observance of the canonical hours, reverence for chastity, frequent confession, contempt of the body, respect for the seniors, brevity in chanting, and the avoidance of women.327 Such precepts one might find esteemed at nearly any early medieval Irish monastery, but there is nothing distinctively céli Dé about them. Indeed, the advocacy of ‘Pilgrimage without return’ (Ailithri cen impúd) runs counter to Mael Ruain’s injunction against abandoning one’s country.328 For this, and lacking any real reason to think that Teist Chóemáin was written elsewhere than at Killeigh, we can dismiss it as a possible céli Dé text. The manuscript evidence, particularly from R, might encourage speculation indirectly associating Teist Chóemáin with céli Dé, but without knowing a more precise date for the text and who its author was, it is for now best dismissed.

Hagiology Miscellaneous hagiographical tracts from the Book of Leinster (28) In the detached ten-folio fragment of L now identified as UCD, MS Franciscan A 3, there are several lists of Irish saints which Colgan, Flower, and O’Dwyer have each associated with céli Dé. Though he gave no reason for doing so, Colgan attributed most of these texts to Óengus mac Óengobann the Céle Dé, author of Félire Óengusso.329 Following Colgan’s division of them into five libelli, they include (1) a list of saintly bishops, priests, and deacons, beginning Nomina episcoporum Hibernensium, (2) Comainmnigud naem nÉrenn, a list of the homonymous male saints, and Comanmand naebuag nÉrenn, a list of homonymous virgin saints, (3) Maccrad noeb nÉrenn, a list of saints with the same parents, Oenmaic nÉrenn, a list of saints who were only sons, and Ingenrada noeb nÉrenn, a list of young virgin saints, (4) a list of the mothers of saints, beginning Ordbauin no Gombauin, and (5) a three-part metrical litany of saints, beginning Secht noeb epscoip déc. To these may be added two others tracts in L that were omitted by Colgan, (6) a comparison of Irish and foreign saints, headed Hic incipiunt sancti qui erant bini unius moris, and (7) a list of the alternative names of saints, beginning Crimthand ainm Coluim Cille. The last-mentioned item is not contained in the L fragment, but rather in the main volume of L kept at Trinity College Dublin. Several of these texts are also found in other manuscripts, but all save one are later than L from which most of them seem to have been copied. The exception is Oxford, Bodleian, MS Rawlinson B. 502 which contains a copy of tract two. Like L, this manuscript dates to the twelfth century and may have been written at Glendalough.330

327 328 329 330

Teist Chóemáin (ed. Meyer, Hibernica Minora, 41–2). The Monastery of Tallaght, XVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133). Ibid., 5b, 581b. Ó Riain has steadfastly maintained that the latter part of Rawlinson B. 502 is the lost Book of Glendalough, most recently in ‘Rawlinson B. 502 alias Lebar Glinne Dá Locha’, 130–47. Contra Ó Riain, see Breatnach, ‘Manuscript sources and methodology’, 40–54.


Texts attributed to céli Dé As they stand in the L fragment, all the above tracts save for number seven come after the Martyrology of Tallaght. This arrangement may be the reason why Colgan, after seeing the L fragment, thought that the five so-called libelli were the work of Óengus mac Óengobann, just as he believed the Martyrology of Tallaght to be.331 Flower and O’Dwyer similarly believed that this material stemmed from the ‘Tallaght tradition’ and was probably a continuation of the hagiographical activity that produced Félire Óengusso and the Martyrology of Tallaght.332 Colgan, however, and perhaps Flower and O’Dwyer as well, may not have known that the L fragment does not preserve the original order of these texts. When arranged with the rest of L according to the medieval foliation, tract seven is re-united with the hagiographical tracts in the L fragment, and the Martyrology of Tallaght stands well apart from them all, five folios previous.333 Consequently, there is no basis in the manuscript evidence to associate the seven hagiographical libelli in L with the Martyrology of Tallaght nor any reason to link them to Óengus mac Óengobann. Most of these texts are little more than lists of names and can offer few internal clues as to when, where, or by whom they were written. An exception is tract five, a litany of Irish saints in three parts which seem to have been originally separate and unrelated compositions. The first section, beginning Secht noeb epscoip déc, demonstrates particular interest in Killeigh (Cell Achid, Co. Offaly), as it concludes with the two patron saints of Killeigh, both named Sinchell, and a list of Killeigh bishops. A list of Glendalough saints has been inserted into the middle of this section.334 The second portion of tract five, beginning Trí Choicait curach, is a litany of Irish pilgrim saints. Kathleen Hughes detected a southern bias to the tract and felt that Lismore was its most likely place of composition, ca 800.335 Recalling Mael Ruain’s disapproval of anyone who ‘deserts his country’ (déreich a tír) it seems doubtful that a litany of pilgrim saints who either arrived from abroad or who left Ireland for foreign lands has anything to do with céli Dé.336 The third and final part of tract five, beginning Secht noeb epscoip Dromma Urchailli, Hughes thought was probably from Lethglenn (Leighlin, Co. Carlow). It ends with a note that indicates that this part of the litany was used as a charm against disease. While it appears that they were written in different places, the three litanies that comprise tract five are similarly more learned in tone than devotional. As much, in fact, may be said for the other six tracts from L. There is no compelling reason to link any of them to céli Dé. Naemhshenchas naem nInse Fáil (29) This lengthy tract comprising the metrical pedigrees of the major Irish saints survives in multiple manuscripts. The oldest of these is the Book of Ballymote, Dublin, RIA, MS 23 P 12, written in the second half of the fourteenth century by 331 332 333

334 335 336

Colgan (ed.), Acta Sanctorum, 581b. Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 70, 72; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 168. The medieval binding of L had disintegrated by 1583. The intervening texts include Tecosca Cormaic, Audacht Morainn, and genealogies of Irish kings and saints. See O’Sullivan, ‘Notes on the scripts’, 1–31. Plummer (ed. & tr.), Irish Litanies, xix. Hughes, ‘On an Irish litany’, 308–11. The Monastery of Tallaght, XVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133).


Céli Dé in Ireland three scribes, Robeartus Mac Síthigh, Solamh Ó Droma, and Maghnus Ó Duibhgeannáin who was a pupil of Gilla na Naomh Mac Aodhagáin, ollam of east Munster (ob. 1399), and who wrote at the house of Domnhnall Mac Aodhagáin (ob. 1413) in Ormond.337 The other manuscripts include the Book of Lecan, Dublin, RIA, MS 23 P 2, written in the first half of the fifteenth century for the Mac Fir Bhisigh family at Lecan (Co. Sligo) primarily by Gilla Íosa Mór Mac Fir Bhisigh during the reign of Ruaidrí Ua Dubda, king of Uí “iachrach (ob. 1417), A, Br1, Brussels, BR, MS 2542–3, copied from Br1 by Peregrine or Cú-Choigríche Ó Cléirigh, one of the Four Masters and kinsman to Míchéal Ó Cléirigh, H, and many paper manuscripts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Like the miscellaneous lists of saints in L, this tract has been attributed to Óengus mac Óengobann, and for that reason I include it here.338 That a student of a Mac Aodhagáin ollam in Ormond wrote a part of the oldest extant manuscript of the text might support a plausible céli Dé link, though it should not be overlooked that the folios in the Book of Ballymote containing the Naemhshenchas are not in the hand of Maghnus Ó Duibhgeannáin but rather that of Robeartus Mac Síthigh, who previously had been writing at the house of Tomaltach Mac Donnchaidh in Ballymote (Co. Sligo).339 The notion that Óengus mac Óengobann authored the text seems to have first arisen with Míchéal Ó Cléirigh but it is not clear on what grounds he thought this.340 Regardless, Colgan observed that in addition to the five libelli attributed to Óengus, some people (aliqui), presumably alluding to Ó Cléirigh, thought that a sixth work containing unspecified material (quaedam miscellanea) was also the work of the martyrologist. Colgan himself, however, doubted this, for this sixth work evidently contained matter which post-dated Óengus. After mentioning Cormac mac Cuilennáin, the bishop-king of Munster (ob. 908) credited with writing the now-lost Psalter of Cashel,341 Colgan then cited a verse from an unknown source regarding Cormac’s secretary, one Seluacius or Selbach: ‘Selbach – is it not a worthy judgment? – a vigorous servant, a skilled craftsman. He developed a fair hand for writing, he declared the Naemhshenchas na naemh.’342 Colgan believed the Naemhshenchas na naemh attributed to Selbach to be the same as Naemhshenchas naem nInse Fáil, which is no doubt the unnamed sixth work said to contain quaedam miscellanea that some attributed to Óengus. Three of the eighteenth-century copies of the Naemhshenchas credit it to Eochaid Éigeas Ó Cléireacháin. One of these three, Dublin, RIA, MS 23 M 12, written by Maghnus Ó Domhnaill, glosses Eochaid’s name, .i. Eochaidh catha Craoibhe Tulcha.343 Eochaid Éigeas Ó Cléireacháin is otherwise unknown to me, but ‘Eochaid of the battle of Craobh Tulcha’ can only be Eochaid mac Ardgair, the 337 338 339 340 341 342


Ó Concheanainn, ‘The Book of Ballymote’, 15–25. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 167. Ibid., 18–20. O’Curry, Lectures, 163, 167–8. Ó Riain, ‘The Psalter of Cashel’, 126–8, raised the possibility that the Psalter of Cashel might have been an eleventh-century text. Colgan (ed.), Acta Sanctorum, 5b: ‘Sealbhach nachar dhuthuin dál, / giolla seabhrach suthuimh saor; / Asi ashaoir ghealbhas do sgriobh, / sdo riomh naoimhsheanchus na naomh.’ Dublin, RIA, MS 23 M 12, p. 11; cf. TCD, MS 1284 (H. 1. 10), fo. 120r, and TCD, MS 1348 (H. 4. 7, vol. 2).


Texts attributed to céli Dé king of the Ulaid who was defeated and killed by the Cenél nÉogain at the Battle of Creeve Hill (near Glenavy, Co. Antrim) in 1004. Yet Selbach and Eochaid are no more tenable than Óengus mac Óengobann as the author of the Naemhshenchas since the composer seems to have used the genealogical corpus in the Book of Leinster, or a faithful copy of it, as his main source.344 The likely author, in the view of Pádraig Ó Riain who edited the text, is Mac Raith Mac an Ghabhann na Scéal who wrote in the second half of the fourteenth century and to whom the Naemhshenchas is attributed in several manuscripts.345 Such a late date of composition allows us to rule out Naemhshenchas naem nInsi Fáil as a work produced by someone associated with Mael Ruain and his community at Tallaght.

Biblical tracts The Rushworth Gospels (30) The Rushworth Gospels, Oxford, Bodleian, MS Auctarium D. 2. 19, also known as Mac Regol’s Gospels, is a ninth-century copy of the four gospels in the Old Latin pre-Vulgate form. Written in an Insular majuscule script and richly ornamented in a style comparable to the St Gall Gospels, it is one of the few Irish gospel books we can date and place with confidence.346 The scribe helpfully identifies himself in a colophon: ‘Mac Regol illuminated this gospel book: whoever reads and understands the story let him pray for Mac Regol the scribe.’347 It is generally accepted that this is the Mac Riaguil ua Magleni, scribe, bishop, and abbot of Birr (Co. Offaly) who died in 822. By the end of the tenth century the book had found its way to England where it received an Anglo-Saxon gloss at the monastery of Harewood. Because of the closeness of Birr to Terryglass, Loch Cré, Clonenagh, and Killeigh, all of which he believed to have come under the sway of céli Dé, O’Dwyer suggested that Birr may have likewise and that its gospel book could be a product of the movement.348 Argument by proximity, however, is not especially convincing, particularly when it cannot be demonstrated that, save for Terryglass, there were in fact céli Dé present at any of these neighbouring monasteries in the ninth century, let alone at Birr.349 Moreover, given the later history of the Rushworth Gospels, it is surprising that if such a valuable book was in fact a céli Dé work it was not preserved with other céli Dé texts in Lower Ormond. Mac Regol was doubtless a contemporary of the céli Dé and there may well have been céli Dé present at Terryglass. It is even conceivable that he knew some personally. But


345 346 347 348 349

Ó Riain, Corpus Genealogiarum, xlii–xliii. Other sources identified by Ó Riain include the ‘Book of Glendalough Recension’ of the genealogical corpus, which he dates to the twelfth century, and the ‘Recensio Minor’ of the corpus, which he dates to the second half of the fourteenth century; ibid., xxvii, xxxix. Ibid., xxxiii, xli. O’Neill, The Irish Hand, 12. Ibid. (fo. 169v): ‘Macregol dipincxit hoc euangelium: Quicumque legerit et intelligerit istam narrationem orat pro macreguil scripto.’ O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 163. The Monastery of Tallaght, XII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132). See below for further comments on Loch Cré or Monahincha.


Céli Dé in Ireland lacking any real evidence that connects him or his gospel book to the movement, we have no cause to regard the Rushworth Gospels as a céli Dé work. The Book of Dimma (31) O’Dwyer made essentially the same argument for associating another gospel book, TCD, MS 59 (A. 4. 23), the Book of Dimma, with céli Dé. Less impressive than the Rushworth Gospels, the Book of Dimma is small enough to be easily carried around and was evidently intended for use in either liturgy or private study.350 Containing the Old Latin version of the gospels with extensive revision from the Vulgate, it is written in an Irish minuscule script by at least two hands. A colophon in the primary hand at the end of Luke requests, ‘a prayer for Dianchride, for whom this book has been written, and for Dimma the writer’.351 It has been shown, however, that here and in the two other colophons where the name Dimma occurs, the name was inserted over an erasure. So it is evident that this Dimma was not the scribe responsible for the main portion of the manuscript which now bears his name.352 The identity of Dianchride is unknown. On the basis of script and abbreviations the manuscript has been dated to the second half of the eighth century.353 Up to the end of the eighteenth century it was in the possession of the Ua Cuanáin family, the hereditary coarbs of Roscrea. According to Vita S. Cronani, probably from the twelfth century, Crónán the patron saint of Roscrea asked Dimma to write the four gospels for him, which the scribe then dutifully produced under miraculous circumstances.354 The cumtacht or shrine preserved with the book dates from about the same time as the Vita and both are perhaps to be associated with the brief period in the twelfth century when Roscrea was an independent bishopric. Whoever wrote it, the veneration of the so-called Book of Dimma as a relic of the patron saint of Roscrea increases the likelihood that it was indeed written there. Close by Roscrea is the monastery of Monahincha, located three miles east on what used to be an island in the now drained Loch Cré. The patron saint of Monahincha was the anchorite and scribe Elair (ob. 807), known to us from the Tallaght documents and the Martyrologies of Óengus and Tallaght in which he is commemorated on 7 September. It appears from The Monastery of Tallaght that Elair was dependent upon Roscrea for his sustenance.355 Noting the proximity of Loch Cré to Roscrea, and believing Elair to have been ‘one of the prominent members of the reform at this time’, O’Dwyer suggested that the Book of Dimma may have been written under the influence of céli Dé.356 His case is actually somewhat stronger here than it is for the Rushworth Gospels. According to the testimony of Gerald of Wales, as late as 1185–6 there were to be found at Monahincha ‘a few celibates, who are called coelicolae or colidei, devoutly serving’.357 There 350 351 352 353 354 355 356 357

O’Neill, The Irish Hand, 14. See McGurk, ‘The Irish pocket gospel book’, 249–70. Fo. 50r: ‘oroit do Dianchridu diaroscribad hic liber agus do dimmu scribenti’. Best, ‘On the subscriptions’, 98. Ibid.; cf. Kenney, The Sources, 633, 703–4. McGurk, ‘The Irish pocket gospel book’, 250, places it in the eighth or ninth century. Vita S. Cronani, IX (ed. Plummer, II.24). The Monastery of Tallaght, IV, V, XXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128–9, 135). O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 160. Gerald of Wales, Topographia Hiberniae, II.4 (ed. Dimock, 80): ‘pauci coelibes, quas


Texts attributed to céli Dé is little reason to doubt that Gerald’s coelicolae or colidei is a Latin rendering of céli Dé. The question arises, if there were religious at Loch Cré in the twelfth century calling themselves céli Dé, can we safely assume that their eighth-century patron Elair, who we know was respected by the céli Dé of Tallaght, was himself a céle Dé? I do not believe we can. Yet even if he was, that would still not be sufficient reason to label the Book of Dimma a céli Dé text. Lacking anything more than circumstantial evidence, we can do no more than observe that the scribe of the Book of Dimma could have been acquainted with and in some measure influenced by céli Dé observance. This has not been demonstrated from the Book of Dimma itself. The Milan Glosses on the Psalms (32) The copy of Julian of Aeclanum’s Latin translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s (ob. 428) commentary on the Psalms, found in Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, MS C. 301, is heavily glossed in Old Irish and of the first order of importance for the study of the language.358 The manuscript is one of three that contain the Latin translation of Theodore and which came from the monastery of Bobbio, founded by Columbanus in the early seventh century.359 The Latin text and the vernacular glosses are almost entirely the work of a single scribe who ends his work, Finit. Amen. Diarmait scripsit. Orate pro illo peccatore. This same Diarmait also wrote the glosses in two fragments of Pseudo-Jerome, Commentarius in evangelium secundum Marcum.360 Thurneysen thought it possible that the scribe was Diarmait ua Aeda Róin, anchorita 7 religionis doctor totius Hiberniae, who died in 825 according to the Annals of Ulster.361 Recalling that Óentu Mail Ruain lists a Diarmait in disert who may be the same as Diarmait ua Aeda Róin, O’Dwyer took Thurneysen’s proposal as all but proven and declared that the scribe of the Milan Glosses was ‘almost certainly one of the unity of Mael Ruain’.362 Needless to say, all this makes for a rather tenuous connection to the céli Dé of Tallaght. Even supposing that the author of the Milan Glosses was indeed Diarmait ua Aeda Róin and not a Bobbio monk, his inclusion in Óentu Mail Ruain is not conclusive proof that he was a céle Dé. Closer examination of the content of the Milan Glosses may yet add some insight into their origin and author. But until better evidence is forthcoming, there is no reason to associate them with céli Dé.

358 359


361 362

coelicolas uel colideos uocant, deuote deseruiunt’. Gerald thought there were two islands in Loch Cré. Irish sources make it clear that there was only one, shared for a time by Canons Regular and céli Dé; see Gwynn & Gleeson, A History of the Diocese of Killaloe, 59. Edd. Stokes & Strachan, Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, I.7–483. See the critical edition of the commentary by de Coninck & d’Hont, Theodori Mopsuesteni: Expositionis in Psalmes, esp. xv–xxxvii; cf. Kenney, The Sources, 665, and Thurneysen, A Grammar, 5. Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, MS F. IV. 1 (no. 7), edd. Stokes & Strachan, Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus, I: 484–94; Thurneysen, A Grammar, 5. The Commentarius itself (ed. Migne, PL, XXX, cols 589–644) has been thought by some to be an Irish work, but this is now doubted; see Cahill, ‘Is the first commentary on Mark an Irish work?’, 34–45. Thurneysen, A Grammar, 5. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 160–1.


Céli Dé in Ireland Saltair na Rann (33) This lengthy metrical account of sacred history originally comprised of 150 short poems – hence the name Saltair na Rann (‘Psalter of the Staves/Quatrains’) – survives in its entirety only in Oxford, Bodleian, MS Rawlinson B. 502.363 Lb contains excerpts of one poem from the Saltair and paraphrases parts of others. Dublin, RIA, MS 23 G 25 (s. xix) has modernised copies of a few more. The text in Rawlinson B. 502 includes twelve additional poems appended to the original work probably not long after its completion. Scholars differ on the exact date of the text, but all are agreed that it is a Middle Irish composition not earlier than 900.364 With a tenth-century date it is quite improbable that Saltair na Rann could qualify as a céli Dé text. The reason I consider the text here is because some scholars have posited such an association for Saltair na Rann, either despite of or in ignorance of its late date. As he did so many other texts, Colgan believed it to have been written by Óengus mac Óengobann, although not entirely without reason: in line 8009 the author of the Saltair purports to give his name: Is me Óengus céle Dé. 365 However, as this line occurs in poem 152, it is probably not original to the work. Certainly the language of the Saltair precludes its authorship by Óengus mac Óengobann. The person who added the twelve final poems to the Saltair was either himself called Óengus céle Dé or he wished to attribute the work to the famous martyrologist. For his part, O’Dwyer acknowledged the improbability of Óengus mac Óengobann being the author, but on the strength of line 8009 he was still inclined to associate the Saltair with the céli Dé movement: ‘Whether the name is fictitious or historical, the writer of the poem was either a céle dé or had great admiration for Oengus and may be considered as under his influence.’366 That the person responsible for the additional material in the Saltair na Rann probably admired Óengus mac Óengobann I will not dispute. But there is no cause to regard the whole of the work as a product, even an indirect one, of céli Dé in the eighth and ninth centuries.

Homiletics Catechesis Celtica (34) Catechesis Celtica is the name André Wilmart gave to a collection of Latin homiletic material he partially edited from Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Codex Regiensis Latinum 49.367 The manuscript is written in an Insular script, but according to Wilmart it bears certain Carolingian characteristics which led him to propose a Cornish, Breton, or Gallic provenance. A few Brythonic glosses seem to bear this out. Wilmart was inclined to assign it to Brittany, where monasteries such as Landévennec and Redon were flourishing around the time he dated the manuscript, the first half of the tenth century. The manuscript’s archetype, however, he 363 364 365 366 367

Stokes (ed.), The Saltair na Rann. Mac Eoin, ‘The date and authorship’, 51–67; cf. McCone, ‘Prehistoric, Old and Middle Irish’, 23, 35, and Dumville, Review of McCone & Simms, 453. Colgan (ed.), Acta Sanctorum, 582a. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 165. Wilmart (ed.), ‘Reg. Lat. 49: Catéchèses celtiques’, 29–112.


Texts attributed to céli Dé placed in Wales or Cornwall at the end of the eighth century.368 Paul Grosjean disagreed with Wilmart on a number of points, not the least of which was the origin of the Catechesis Celtica. Comparing the vocabulary, writing style, and content to examples from medieval Irish religious literature, he countered that the archetype was most likely Irish.369 What is more, Grosjean pointed out that the apparent date of the Catechesis Celtica, a ‘recueil destiné à aider le prédicateur dans sa tâche’, accorded with the rise of céli Dé and suggested that there may be a connection: ‘Comme toutes les réformes, le mouvement des Culdées s’accompagna, on peut supposer, d’une renaissance de la prédication.’ But since this period is not well known, he added, firm conclusions are not possible.370 O’Dwyer likewise cautioned that final judgement on the Catechesis Celtica must wait until the whole manuscript is published. Even so, he too ventured that it ‘may be a product of the [céli Dé] reform movement’.371 More recent research by Diarmuid Ó Laoghaire and Martin McNamara has significantly bolstered the argument for an Irish origin for the Catechsis.372 Still, it seems premature to speculate a connection with céli Dé when there remains some two-thirds of the text to be edited and published. Thus far nothing has come to light in the internal evidence or the manuscript tradition that might support Grosjean’s supposition. Both he and O’Dwyer presumed that as reformers céli Dé were interested as a matter of course in homiletics and preaching, but this has yet to be demonstrated.

Devotional texts Scuap Chrábaid (35) Comprising two litanies addressed to A Isu nóib (‘O Holy Jesus’), the text known as Scuap Chrábaid (‘Broom of Devotion’) is found in seven manuscripts: Ybl, Lb, R, A, Br1, Brussels, BR, MS 2324–40, hereafter Br2, and Brussels, BR, MS 4190–200, hereafter Br3. The last three manuscripts were all written by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh who said that he copied Br1 and Br2 from the now-lost Leabhar Ruadh Muimhneach, ‘Red Book of Munster’.373 The latter manuscript was written by Murchadh Ó Cuindlis who also wrote the Ybl copy of Scuap Chrábaid in 1398–9 and most of Lb prior to 1411. Neither the Ybl nor Lb copy provides a title or an authorial ascription. In both Br1 and Br2, however, Ó Cléirigh included a colophon that he presumably found in his exemplar, Murchadh’s Red Book of Munster, which identifies the text as ‘the prayer of Colcu Ua Duinechda, fer léiginn of Clonmacnois [ob. 796], namely, the Broom of Devotion’.374 As the text of Scuap Chrábaid exhibits the views of a learned ecclesiastic and its language is not 368 369 370 371 372 373 374

Ibid., 29–31. Grosjean, ‘À propos du manuscrit 49 de la Reine Christine’, 118–36. Ibid., 136. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 166–7. Ó Laoghaire, ‘Irish elements’, 146–64; McNamara, ‘The Irish affiliations’, 281–334; idem, ‘The affiliations and origins’, 179–203. Br1 p. 18; Br2, fo. 73r. From Br2, where it precedes the first litany: ‘Aurnaighthi Colgan hÚa Duinechdhan fer leiginn Cluana meic Noise sísana .i. scúap crabaidh.’ In Br the colophon follows the second litany, and thereafter Ó Cléirigh adds a note of his own; see Plummer (ed. & tr.),


Céli Dé in Ireland inconsistent with an eighth-century date, the attribution to Colcu Ua Duinechda is at least potentially accurate.375 Both Kenney and O’Dwyer thought it likely that Colcu Ua Duinechda was also the Colcu mentioned in The Monastery of Tallaght as an authority on the provision of the sacrament to the dying, on rules of cleanliness, and on Sunday penance.376 As for Br3, Ó Cléirigh said he copied it from a book written by Gilla Glass Ua hUiginn in 1471.377 In Br3 the text is headed, ‘Airerán the sage composed it’ (Aireran ind ecna cecinit), but no title is given. Kenney and Plummer both took this Airerán to be Ailerán, sapiens, of Clonard (ob. 665).378 Given the linguistic evidence, however, it is highly unlikely that Ailerán of Clonard could have written Scuap Chrábaid, at least not in the form we have it. Ó Cléirigh suggested that the person intended here was actually the Airerán commemorated in the Martyology of Tallaght (11 August) as sapiens et abbas Tamlachta post Mael Ruain, who may also be the same person as Airfinnán, abbas Tamhlachtai Mael Ruain (ob. 803).379 The text of Scuap Chrábaid offers little indication of the author’s identity or place of composition, other than that he was presumably a learned religious who composed the two litanies at a church or monastery somewhere in Ireland, probably in the eighth century. Most scholars who have commented on the text have accepted the ascription to Colcu Ua Duinechda of Clonmacnois, which very likely was copied from the Red Book of Munster written by Murchadh Ó Cuindlis. Ó Cléirigh himself accepted it, as demonstrated by the obit for Colcu Ua Duinechda in the Annals of the Four Masters.380 On the basis of the Colcu references in The Monastery of Tallaght, Kenney was inclined to regard Colcu Ua Duinechda as one of the leaders of ‘the reform movement of the eighth century’, which is tantamount to labelling Scuap Chrábaid a céli Dé text.381 But as I have argued above, the respectful mention of some religious figure in the Tallaght documents is not in itself sufficient evidence to identify that person as a céle Dé. Indeed, one of the Colcu passages in The Monastery of Tallaght points out that his view on Sunday penance was contrary to Mael Díthruib’s practice.382 On the other hand, if Airerán of Tallaght was the author of Scuap Chrábaid, that would qualify it as a likely céli Dé tract. But unfortunately, as there is nothing further in Br3 to tell us who exactly Airerán ind ecna was, his identification with Airerán of Tallaght remains speculative. Furthermore, there is reason to favour the ascription to Colcu over the one to Airerán ind ecna, which Ó Cléirigh doubtless copied out of the book of Gilla Glass

375 376 377 378 379 380 381 382

Irish Litanies, xvii–xviii. It is possible that the title originally referred to only one of the two litanies. Ó Cléirigh, however, regarded them as together forming Scuap Chrábaid. Kenney, The Sources, 725–6; Hughes, The Church, 180. Kenney, The Sources, 726; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 50–1, 173; The Monastery of Tallaght, LVI, LXV, LXXXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 148, 153, 161). Br3, fo. 223r. Kenney, The Sources, 726; Plummer (ed. & tr.), Irish Litanies, xix. On the identification of Airerán with Airfinnán, see Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies’, 26–7; but cf. Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’, 26. AFM 789.6: ‘Colgu ua Duineachda, fer leighind Cluana Mic Nois, as é do-roine an Scuaip Chrabhaidh’; cf. AFM 791.6: ‘Colcca egnaidh d’écc’. Kenney, The Sources, 726. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 161).


Texts attributed to céli Dé Ua hUiginn. Commenting on Colcu Ua Duinechda, John Colgan wrote in Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae: There is with me a certain small work of this saintly man, from the Book of Cluain and other old manuscripts . . . Scuap Chrábaid, as it is called in Irish, that is, the Broom of Devotion. It is a small bunch of prayers in the form of litanies, a work filled with ardent devotion uplifting the mind to God.383 It is uncertain what manuscript the Book of Cluain [moccu Nóis] was – if it was not the same as the Red Book of Munster, perhaps it was Murchadh’s exemplar – but its title is surely significant. That it contained the Scuap Chrábaid may be taken as further support for the attribution of that text to Colcu Ua Duinechda, sapiens of Clonmacnois. In view of all this, I am inclined to accept the attribution to Colcu Ua Duinechda as well. But unlike Kenney I do not believe that there is sufficient cause to think that Colcu was affiliated with céli Dé. Archangelum mirum magnum (8) The Latin abecedarian hymn Archangelum mirum magnum, honouring St Michael, survives in a single manuscript: Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, MS Codex Augiensis CCXXI, dated to the end of the eighth century or the beginning of the ninth. Written in a Merovingian script,384 the manuscript contains other Latin hymns of Irish origin, including Cantemus in omni die, attributed to Cú-Chuimne of Iona (ob. 747), Unitas in trinitate spes, attributed to Colmán mac Mur-chon of Moville (ob. 736), and O rex, O rector regminis, a prayer against headache invoking the help of St Aed mac Bricc (ob. 589 or 595) of the Uí Néill. The hymn to St Michael ends with a collect, followed by Amen. Benedicat De[us] te et Michael, for Moilrum Amen. The Irish origin of the hymn is evident with the final words for, a Middle Irish variant of ol, ‘says, said’, and Moilrum, which the hymn’s modern editor assumed to be a contraction for Mael Ruain. Both Kenney and O’Dwyer doubted the veracity of the ascription with reason, as the Middle Irish form raises the question of interpolation. Still, there is evidence indicating that St Michael was especially revered at Tallaght.385 Kenney and O’Dwyer thought it likely that the hymn was used at Tallaght and may even have been composed there, although probably not by Mael Ruain.386 Given the early date of the only manuscript in which it is found, there is at least the possibility that they are correct. Perhaps the ascription to Mael Ruain preserves the memory of a Tallaght provenance. 383

384 385


Colgan (ed.), Acta Sanctorum, 379 n. 9: ‘Extat apud me ex Codice Cluanensi et aliis uetustis membranis quoddam huius sancti uiri opusculum . . . Hibernice Scuap Crabaidh, id est, Scopa Devotionis. Estque fasciculus ardentissimarum precum per modum quodammodo Litanarium; opus plenum ardentissima deuotione et eleuatione mentis in Deum.’ ‘In fränkischer Urkundenschrift’, wrote the hymn’s editor, Blume, Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi, LI.334. See Löwe, Codices Latini Antiquiores, VIII.22.1095. According to the Ld preface to Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 12–13), Mael Ruain and St Michael had a friendship (cairde), and relics consecrated to Michael were kept at Tallaght. Kenney, The Sources, 726; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 183.


Céli Dé in Ireland Énlaith betha bríg cen táir (9) The Old Irish poem of seven quatrains beginning Énlaith betha bríg cen táir, ‘The birds of the world, power without ill’, is preserved in two manuscripts: the L fragment, now UCD, MS Franciscan A 3, and Brussels, BR, MS 5057–59.387 In the L fragment, the poem appears in the upper margin of the page containing the portion of the Martyrology of Tallaght for 12–29 January. The Bibliothèque Royale manuscript includes a fragmentary catalogue of saints, some short hagiographical prose pieces, a number of poems besides Énlaith betha which seem to have been extracted from a commentary on Félire Óengusso, and it concludes with a fragment from the Life of St Mochutu or Carthach.388 Samuel Bindon, who described the manuscript in 1847, remarked that he could not determine the identity of the scribe or the date of the compilation, but believed it had been part of the Louvain collection and was ‘justly attributed in the catalogue to the seventeenth century’.389 Bindon was proved correct over a century later by Paul Grosjean who recognised the hand of Míchéal Ó Cléirigh on several of the pages.390 While I have not yet been able to ascertain how much more of the manuscript, including the page which contains Énlaith betha, we may ascribe to Ó Cléirigh, it seems likely that a great deal of its content resulted from his search for hagiographical materials in Ireland during the years 1626×37. In an article discussing Old Irish counterparts to the Anglo-Saxon Menologium poeticum, John Hennig discussed Énlaith betha in the context of vernacular metrical martyrologies, works which ‘are not martyrologies in the traditional sense, and [whose] metrical character is essential to their function’.391 The poem observes the activities of birds on certain dates of the year that are liturgically significant, although the significance is not always stated. In the first quatrain we read, ‘On January’s nones, whatever hour it be, the cry of the host [of birds] from the dark wood’, but nothing more is said to occur on this date.392 Nor are we told in the second quatrain why the eighth calends of April or the eighth calends of October are remarkable, aside from the fact that swallows are said to arrive and depart on those dates.393 Cross-reference to Félire Óengusso, however, reveals that all three of these dates, the nones of January (5 January), the eighth calends of April (25 March), and the eighth calends of October (24 September), mark tremendously important events in the liturgical year: respectively, the vigil of the Epiphany, the conception and crucifixion of Jesus (commemorated on the same

387 388

389 390 391 392 393

Edd. & tr. Best & Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght, 94–7. Bindon, ‘On the Mss.’, 487. See also Grosjean, ‘Un feuillet de Michel O’Clery’, 83–96; idem, ‘Un miracle posthume’, 96–102; idem, ‘Élégie de S. Cíarán’, 102–6. Regarding the poems, some of which are also found in Br1, see Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Huí Gormáin, xv. Bindon, ‘On the Mss.’, 487. Grosjean, ‘Un feuillet de Michel O’Clery’, 88; idem, ‘Un miracle posthume’, 97 n. 1; idem, ‘Élégie de S. Cíarán’, 103. Hennig, ‘The Irish counterparts’, 106; cf. Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, xxxix. Edd. & tr. Best & Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght, 94–5: ‘Hi noin enair cipsi uair / congair a sluaig din chaill chéir.’ Ibid..


Texts attributed to céli Dé day), and the conception of John the Baptist.394 Perhaps the poet assumed his audience would immediately recognise the significance of these dates without his having to remark upon it. Conversely, the liturgical import of the dates mentioned in the third and fourth quatrains is made clear: ‘On the festival of Ruadán, no petty saying, their fetters are then unloosed; on the seventeenth of the calends of May [15 April], the cuckoo calls from the pleasant wood. On the nones of July [7 July] the birds cease to sing the music of holy days . . . for Mael Ruain from Tallaght.395 Turning again to Félire Óengusso, we find confirmation that the festivals of Ruadán of Lorrha and Mael Ruain of Tallaght were indeed celebrated on those two dates.396 The two final liturgical events mentioned in Énlaith betha are the festivals of Ciarán and Cyprian: ‘On the festival of Ciarán, son of the wright, wild geese come over the cold sea. On the festival of Cyprian, a great counsel, the brown stag bells from the ruddy field.’397 The poem does not provide the dates on which these last two festivals were observed, although in the case of Ciarán this is not a problem, as the epithet ‘son of the wright’ readily identifies him as St Ciarán of Clonmacnois whose festival was on 9 September.398 The only individual named Cyprian in Félire Óengusso is Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (ob. 258), whose martyrdom is commemorated on 14 September, but without a feast-date in Énlaith betha to go with the name, the identity of ‘Cyprian, a great counsel’, is uncertain.399 Why the bishop of Carthage (as opposed to another Irish saint, joining the company of Ruadán, Mael Ruain, and Ciarán) should be so honoured in the poem is unclear.400 The appearance of ‘Mael Ruain from Tallaght’ in Énlaith betha of course particularly interests us. It was doubtless the reason why O’Dwyer regarded the poem as ‘specifically connected with the Tallaght movement’.401 Hennig, conversely, saw no reason to conclude that the poet had any special reason to mention Mael Ruain other than the fact that ‘the [feast] date of this well-known

394 395

396 397


399 400


Félire Óengusso, 6 January, 25 March, 24 September (ed. & tr. Stokes, 34, 84, 196); see Hennig, ‘The Irish counterparts’, 103–5. Edd. & tr. Best & Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght, 94–5: ‘I feil Ruadain rád cen dis / is and oslaicther a nglais / hi sechtmad déc calaind mái / dogair in chúi din chaill chaiss. // Hi noin iúil anait eoin / do chantain chiuil lith lathi / . . . / do Mail Ruain o Thamlacti.’ The third line of the fourth quatrain is unintelligible in both manuscripts. Félire Óengusso, 15 April, 7 July (ed. & tr. Stokes, 106, 161). Edd. & tr. Best & Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght, 94–5: ‘Hi feil Ciarain meic in t…aer / tecait giugraind dar fairge uair. / I feil Ciprian condelgg n-oll / geisid dam dond din rái réid.’ Félire Óengusso, 9 September (ed. & tr. Stokes, 193): ‘Maicc in t…áir tar ríga, / féil cháin Chíaráin Chlúana’, ‘(the festival) of the Wright’s son beyond kings, the fair feast of Ciarán of Cluain’. Ibid. (ed. & tr. Stokes, 194, 209). Hennig, ‘The Irish counterparts’, 105, suggests that Cyprian’s presence in the poem may be due to nothing more than the alliteration of his name with Ciarán who appears in the same quatrain. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 140.


Céli Dé in Ireland saint corresponded remarkably well with the natural fact associated with it’, that is, the cessation of birdsong.402 Hennig, however, understated the evidence, for there are other indications of a possible céli Dé association with the poem. The mention of the festival of St Ruadán, whose importance to Mael Ruain is implicit in the very meaning of the ecclesiastical moniker the abbot of Tallaght chose for himself, is surely relevant, especially if, as Kenney surmised, Mael Ruain came from the vicinity of Lorrha, the church of St Ruadán, where we may expect he was accustomed to celebrating the feast of its patron saint.403 Cross-referencing the dates in the first and second quatrains of Énlaith betha to the Martyrology of Tallaght yields interesting results not obtainable from Félire Óengusso: the nones of January is the eve of the Epiphany in both martyrologies, but according to the older of the two that date is also the feast day of Joseph, episcopus Tamlachta.404 The conception of John the Baptist is commemorated on the eighth of the calends of October, but in the Martyrology of Tallaght so also is the feast of Faelchú of Finglas (ob. 763), Tallaght’s close ecclesiastical neighbour.405 Dublitter (ob. 796), abbot of Finglas not long after Faelchú, figures prominently in the Tallaght memoir, as we have already seen. So the poem may record the feast days of as many as four Irish saints who were of special importance to the Tallaght community. The manuscript evidence also points to a possible céli Dé connection. The appearance of Énlaith betha on the second page of the L copy of the Martyrology of Tallaght leads to speculation that the L scribe copied the poem from the same manuscript source that contained his exemplar of the Martyrology of Tallaght. If it can be confirmed that Ó Cléirigh was responsible for the section of Brussels, BR, MS 5057–59 containing the other known copy of Énlaith betha, the likelihood increases that the poem was preserved with céli Dé material. Until further work on the poem and its manuscript sources can be done, however, it is probably best to remain cautious and regard Énlaith betha as a possible rather than probable céli Dé text. Two poems attributed to Blathmac mac Con-Brettan (10) In Dublin, NLI, MS G 50 (s. xvii) are unique copies of two lengthy Old Irish poems to the Virgin Mary, beginning Tair cucom, a Maire boíd and A Maire, a grian ar clainde. The manuscript, which resembles those produced by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh and his Franciscan associates, contains other material which may have come from the Book of Glendalough, possibly written in the twelfth century.406 According to their respective headings, both poems were composed by Blathmac mac ConBrettan maic Conguso of the Fir Rois, whose territory was near the monastery of Drumsnat (Co. Monaghan). Since Blathmac’s father Cú-Brettan died in 740 and his brother, Donn Bó, was slain at Emain Macha in 759, we can place Blathmac’s maturity at the latest in the second half of the eighth century.407 Comparing the two 402 403 404 405 406 407

Hennig, ‘The Irish counterparts’, 104. Kenney, The Sources, 469. Martyrology of Tallaght, 5 January (edd. Best & Lawlor, 5). His obit is unknown. Ibid., 24 September (edd. Best & Lawlor, 74). Carney (ed. & tr.), The Poems of Blathmac, x–xiii. On the Book of Glendalough, see above, 156 n. 330. Carney (ed. & tr.), The Poems of Blathmac, xiv. The Fir Rois were located in Co. Monaghan and Co. Louth.


Texts attributed to céli Dé poems to Félire Óengusso and noting ‘frequent similarities in diction’, Carney concluded that Blathmac, like Óengus mac Óengobann, was probably a céle Dé.408 Carney attracted both support and criticism for this, but he received significant support for his argument in an article by Brian Lambkin.409 I have already adverted to Lambkin’s views in my introduction, but it will be appropriate to return briefly to them here. Lambkin highlighted a number of similarities between the Blathmac poems and Félire Óengusso that he felt weakened the objections to Carney’s argument.410 Central to the works of both Blathmac and Óengus, Lambkin observed, is the concept of célsine, ‘clientship’, appropriated from native, secular society. As explained by F.J. Byrne, in practice every freeman was either a flaith, ‘lord’ or the céle, ‘client’, of a flaith, who owed his flaith rents and other obligations in return for land and stock.411 Kenneth Jackson seems to have been the first to recognise the relevance of this to céli Dé. As he observed to Kathleen Hughes, the term céle Dé signified a man who took God for his flaith and entered into a contract of service (célsine) with him.412 Both Blathmac and Óengus, Lambkin noted, regarded their respective works, which were to be sung tearfully in the course of a vigil, as a supplication or petition addressed to an intermediary, either Mary or the rígrad (‘kingfolk’), the inhabitants of heaven; in each case ‘the poet is a céle who asks a more powerful céle or céli (clients) to intercede on his behalf with the ‘lord’ which they have in common (God)’.413 In return for the service of the poem, the poet hoped to be granted his request for long life, salvation, and a welcome among the Host of Heaven. Blathmac and Óengus share ‘the same view of the world and of the process of salvation. Both interpret salvation in terms of a quasi-legal procedure based on the relationship between “lord” and “follower” (céle).’414 The evidence of the poems of Blathmac and the Martyrology, Lambkin continued, further shows that céli Dé were motivated by a ‘fundamentally aristocratic’ impulse. A man became a céle Dé to improve his status, for there was no loftier position to which a man might aspire than to become the céle of the most powerful flaith of all, God. To prepare for and attain this higher status, the céle Dé set himself apart from others through strict asceticism.415 This view was perhaps somewhat coloured by the longstanding scholarly notion that céli Dé were, above all, an ascetic movement. Still, in the final analysis Blathmac’s poems seem to be the product of a slow, more or less continuous development in Irish spirituality in which the sacred and the secular spheres were becoming increasingly inter-connected, rather than the product of a ‘reform’ or ‘religious revival’ when the fire of asceticism ‘once more

408 409 410 411 412 413 414 415

Ibid., xv. Mac Eoin, ‘The poems of Blathmac’, 223; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 173; Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 132–54. Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 133–8. Byrne, Irish Kings, 28. See Hughes, The Church, 173 n. 3. Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 133–5. Ibid., 135–6. Ibid., 150–1.


Céli Dé in Ireland burst into flame’ and when ‘no compromise with the world was possible’.416

Summary Lambkin’s argument brings us back to the central question of this chapter: how do we define a work as a céli Dé text? The standard adopted at the beginning was that texts which could be linked to the community of Mael Ruain at Tallaght through internal evidence and which had a manuscript tradition comparable to that of the Tallaght codex and other works associated with Lower Ormond scribes, especially from the Mac Aodhagáin family, were likely céli Dé texts. By this measure, the poems of Blathmac would not be obvious candidates for inclusion in the céli Dé corpus of texts.417 In the course of our survey we have found that many of the works that scholars – particularly O’Dwyer – have at times associated with céli Dé do not belong either. Some of these texts do appear to have been known to and valued by céli Dé, but thus far only seven can be regarded as probable products of the Tallaght community: the Tallaght memoir, Félire Óengusso, the Rule of Fothud na Canóine, the Old Irish Penitential, the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, the Martyrology of Tallaght, and the Stowe Missal. The poems of Blathmac, however, give us pause to consider if we have been asking the right questions about céli Dé and their writings. Lambkin’s analysis of the poems has shifted the milieu of céli Dé identity from the institutional to the individual; his argument suggests that the mark of céli Dé distinctiveness was not so much an affiliation with a particular monastery or adherence to a certain rule as it was a similar manner of manifesting a personal relationship (célsine) with deity. Understood in this fashion, it might be possible to identify both Blathmac and Óengus as céli Dé, even though the two may not have had any association with each other and no discernible link has been found between Blathmac and Mael Ruain. Each seems to have regarded himself as a client (céle) who, in return for rendering certain services to his lord (flaith), hoped to receive specific spiritual rewards. So perhaps we should consider the poems of Blathmac possible céli Dé works after all. We have already found reason to doubt that céli Dé comprised or were part of an ascetic reform movement. If Lambkin is correct, we may question whether it is even appropriate to consider céli Dé a movement of any kind, for to do so implies a degree of organisational cohesion and purposeful impetus one might not expect to find in ‘a slow, more or less continuous development in Irish spirituality’.418 The final chapter of this book will look at the texts we can most confidently associate with céli Dé – acknowledging the still tenuous quality of these associations (and disassociations) – and try to determine from them what distinguished céli Dé from other religious in Ireland.

416 417 418

Ibid., 151, quoting Hughes, The Church, 174, 173, and 176. See O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 173. Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 151.



This chapter begins with the question posed at the end of the previous chapter: what made céli Dé different from other Irish religious? Did they indeed see themselves as the monastic ‘elite’ as some scholars have suggested? If they were not out to reform ascetic observance in other churches, were they at least intent upon keeping a higher standard for themselves? Alternatively, was there something other than their asceticism that set them apart from the rest of Christian society? Turning to the texts identified in Chapter 4 as most likely representative of céli Dé in the eighth and ninth centuries, I aim to provide a more comprehensive analysis of their interests and practices than has heretofore been available. In so doing, I am well aware that my comments are but the latest contribution to a scholarly discussion of céli Dé identity that in truth began centuries ago and assuredly will continue long after the present work. I do not suppose this to be a definitive answer to the ‘Culdee controversy’1 and expect that I will revisit some of what follows in future publications. A useful place to begin is with the Rule of Fothud na Canóine wherein we find a model for céli Dé identity. The Rule, which seems to have been intended for a diverse ecclesiastical community, distinguishes between the duties of a ‘monk under obligation’ (manach fo mám) and those of a céle Dé who is ‘under clerical/ ecclesiastical obligation’ (fo mám clérchechta).2 In many Old Irish texts the word manach (pl. manaig) frequently refers to a dependent layman of a church and is usually translated as ‘monastic tenant’. In the Rule of Fothud, however, manach fo mám appears to designate a regular religious, as might be inferred from the words fo mám, ‘under obligation’ (‘under a yoke’).3 The ‘monk under obligation’ is instructed to be ‘without private possessions’ (cen sianchron), ‘with prayers to Christ in every canonical hour’ (con érnaighe / fri Crist in cech tráth), ‘with frequent diligent confessions under guidance of a holy abbot’ (co coibsenaib lér

1 2


Reeves, The Culdees, 67. Rule of Fothud, F 1 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–7), from Lb: ‘Dia mba manach fo mám’; cf. Rule of Fothud, LXXXVII (ed. Meyer, ‘Regula Mucuta Raithni’, 319), from N: ‘Dia maccleirech fa mám’; Rule of Fothud, G 1 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, 508–9): ‘Dia mbem fó mám clérchechta’. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 344, 345 n. 1, preferred to translate clérech as ‘ecclesiastic’ and clérchechta as ‘ecclesiastical’. The copy of the Rule preserved in N concludes with a short section on the duties of the dependent layman who is expected to pay tithes and first-fruits, perform vigils, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving; see Meyer (ed.), ‘The duties of a husbandman’, 172: ‘Dia mba trebthach’.


Céli Dé in Ireland mincib / do rér abbad noem).4 He must shun the vices, seek permission for every deed, show due humility and submission to all, and offer ‘reverence to the seniors and obedience to them, instruction to the juniors with profit and diligence’ (oirmitiu na senóra / ocus beth dia rér, / forcetul na nócdaine / co lessach co lér).5 The section on céle Dé, written in the first-person plural, is concerned with similar issues. ‘If we be under clerical/ecclesiastical obligation’ (dia mbem fo mám clérchechta), it reads, ‘noble is the custom, we frequent the holy church for each canonical hour continually’ (is uasal in bés / athaigem in noem-eclais / in cech tráth do grés). Likewise, ‘we celebrate and we teach, without difficulty or trouble’ (celebrem 7 cuindrigem / cen lobra cen lén).6 Up until the hour of terce, ‘we watch, we read, we pray, each according to his strength’ (figlem legem airnaigthem / cach i méit a neirt),7 and then from terce to none each order of the community attends to its particular business: Each order goes to its duty as is proper, as is commanded for all, from that hour to None. Those in orders to prayer, to the Mass as is right, the learned ones to preach, as is their strength. The youths to obedience as is their due, for the body which does nothing is loyal to the devil. Work for the unlearned, in obedience to a pious cleric, work of wisdom in his mouth, rough work in their hands.8 To judge from these passages, céli Dé were a part of a larger community that included regular monks, ordained clergy, ecclesiastical scholars, the young, and unlearned labourers. Like the manach fo mám, the céle Dé fo mám clerchectha was occupied with the obligations of the Daily Office. He had additional responsibilities relevant to his station and learning, although it is hard to imagine that this was not true of the manach fo mám as well. It is not entirely clear from these passages what exactly distinguished the céle Dé from the manach fo mám. As Etchingham observed, the Rule offers two overlapping and complementary depictions of cenobitic monasticism.9 Yet there may be a clue in the heading to the section on céli Dé provided in the Lb manuscript: Do chéliu Dé nó di clérech reclésa, ‘Of a céle Dé or cleric/ecclesiastic of the enclosure’.10 According to Etchingham, ‘while reiclés may on occasion denote a “monastic cell”, the best indication that its basic meaning is “ecclesiastical enclosure” and “subsidiary enclosure within a larger settlement” is provided by the Tripartite Life of Patrick’.11 4 5 6 7 8

9 10 11

Rule of Fothud, F 3, 11, 12 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–9). Ibid., F 2–6, 7, 8, 16 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–9). Ibid., G 1, 5 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 508–11). Ibid., G 6 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 510–11). Ibid., G 7–10 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 510–11): ‘Téit cech grádh ria chomadur / féb do beba coir, / amal ainmnigter do cách / othá trát co nóin. // An t-oes graid don ernaigthi / don oifrind co cert, / oes legind do forcetul / féb atá a nert. // In t-ócbad don erlataid / féb rotá a tlí, / ar is díles do diabal / corp ná déní ní. // Lubair don oes anecnaid / do rér clérig cháid, / soethar ecnadu na ghin / saethar buirb na láim.’ Etchingham, Church Organisation, 345. Lb p. 261b. The same section in manuscripts A and H is headed, Do cheiliu dé; in M it is headed, An fear céadna cecinit; the heading in Ybl is illegible; N lacks a heading. Etchingham, Church Organisation, 344 n. 3. For the relevant passages from the Tripartite Life, see Mulchrone (ed.), Bethu Phátraic, 54 line 970, 136 lines 2700–10.


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé Such an understanding concurs with later evidence that mentions céli Dé at locations other than Tallaght. The Annals of Ulster report that in 921 Vikings from Dublin plundered Armagh but spared ‘the prayer-houses . . . with their household of céli Dé and sick’ (na taigi aernaighi . . . cona lucht de cheilibh De 7 di lobraibh). The Annals of the Four Masters refer to the ‘head’ (cenn) of the céli Dé at Clonmacnoise.12 According to the twelfth-century testimony of Gerald of Wales, there were coelicolae or colidei at Loch Cré or Monahincha, which appears to have been an anchoritical retreat dependent upon the community of Roscrea as early as the eighth century.13 The evidence then suggests that céli Dé in these locations comprised an enclave within or very near a larger heterogeneous religious community, one such as might conceivably be guided by the Rule of Fothud. Céli Dé thus seem to have been monks and clergy who separated or distinguished themselves in some manner from those around them. This is in essence the view taken by Brian Lambkin. He proposed that we regard the céle Dé as one who aspired to become spiritually elite and so deliberately set himself apart from others through ‘a severe ascetic regime, which was designed, like the training of a soldier, to prepare him for a spiritual battle with the forces of evil on behalf of his flaith in Heaven and his fellow men on earth’.14 As his primary interest was in the poems of Blathmac, Lambkin did not take into much consideration any céli Dé texts other than Félire Óengusso to support his view of céli Dé distinctiveness. We will do so here. Turning to the texts we have identified as probable céli Dé works, with further reference to other writings which though not likely produced by them are still deemed to have been influential to or influenced by their thought and practice, we will consider the topics which most occupied the attention of the authors. A look at Edward Gwynn’s summary table of contents for the Franciscan paraphrase of the Tallaght memoir shows a number of recurring themes in that work, most of which can be broadly grouped into the following topics: pastoral care (including confession), penance, liturgy, Sunday observance, and asceticism.15 Taking these as points for discussion, we will determine if there was anything about the céli Dé performance of them that set céli Dé apart from other religious or somehow marked them as ‘spiritually elite’. Much of the evidence we shall consider here relates specifically to Tallaght, so before proceeding further it will be appropriate to examine more closely the nature of the community that resided there.

The Tallaght Community According to the Annals of the Four Masters, Tallaght was founded in 774.16 The Martyrology of Tallaght appears to commemorate the occasion on 10 August with the notice ‘Mael Ruain came to Tallaght with his relics of the saints, martyrs, and 12 13 14 15 16

AU 921.8; AFM 1132.4, 1170.3, 1200.2. See above, 160–1; Elair, ancorita 7 scriba Locha Cré (ob. 807), received his bread from Roscrea; see The Monastery of Tallaght, IV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128). Lambkin, ‘Blathmac and the Céili Dé’, 142, 150–1. Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, viii–xi. AFM s.a. 769.13: ‘Céd chongbhail Tamhlachta Maile Ruain’, ‘the first founding of Tallaght-Maelruain’.


Céli Dé in Ireland virgins’.17 According to evidence from a generally overlooked manuscript, Tallaght’s foundation was made possible through a royal grant. Boxed with the Book of Leinster at Trinity College Dublin are some eighteen folios with the same dimensions as L but not part of the original twelfth-century codex. Robert Atkinson included them in his 1880 facsimile edition of L, although he acknowledged that they are totally unrelated to L. He thought that they were ‘probably the work of the sixteenth century’.18 Amidst genealogical material on the Uí Dúnchada kings of Leinster, some of which is also found in L and Oxford, Bodleian, MS Rawlinson B. 502, in these folios is a notice listing the donations of King Cellach mac Dúnchada (ob. 776). Of particular interest to us in this notice is the line: ‘this same Cellach bestowed Tallaght to God, Michael, and Mael Ruain, protected by immunity for all time’.19 The last phrase likely means that Tallaght was a free church, meaning it was exempted from royal census (Ir. cís, ‘tribute’, ‘rent’).20 We have already seen some evidence that Tallaght was associated with St Michael. Despite its royal guarantees, Tallaght was not immune to the conflicts that embroiled so many Irish churches of the day. The Monastery of Tallaght mentions a contention that arose between King Artrí mac Faelmuire (otherwise unknown) and the muinter or community of Tallaght. We are not told what the matter was – might it have been over Tallaght’s exemption from royal cís? – but it was evidently serious enough that Mael Ruain is said to have fasted three times against the king to obtain remedy; after the first fast the king’s leg broke, after the second he was burned head to foot, and after the third he died.21 The Annals of Ulster report that in 811 the Uí Néill violated the church lands (termonn) of Tallaght. In response, the Tallaght community prevented the Uí Néill king, Aed mac Néill, from holding the fair of Tailtiu that year. The gifts that were afterwards sent to Tallaght were presumably to assuage the offended church. According to the Annals of Inisfallen Tallaght was plundered in 824, but this time the culprit was the muinter of Kildare. We do not know the reason why Kildare would do such a thing, but such interchurch violence was hardly unusual in the pre-Norman era.22 Kenney supposed that the Viking incursions of the ninth century must have had a severely debilitating effect upon the céli Dé at Tallaght and ultimately led to the demise of their movement. He concluded that after the permanent Viking settlement of Dublin



19 20

21 22

Martyrology of Tallaght, 10 August (edd. Best & Lawlor, 62): ‘Maelruain cum suis reliquiis sanctorum martirum et uirginum ad Tamlachtain uenit.’ Cf. the Ld preface to Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 12–13) which states that there were relics consecrated to St Michael at Tallaght. Atkinson (ed.), The Book of Leinster, 15. The sixteenth-century folios begin on p. 377 of the facsimile. The diplomatic edition of L by Best, Bergin, & O’Brien does not include them. See O’Sullivan, ‘Notes on the scripts’, 5. Atkinson (ed.), The Book of Leinster, 388b lines 44–6: ‘Ise in Cellach-sin ro-idhbair Tamlachta do Dia 7 do Míchel 7 do Máolruain imbith shaire tri bithu.’ See Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, XXIX.6 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonemsammlung, 101), which distinguishes between a church catholica et ab omni censu libera and one sub censu regali; cf. XXV.10. See also Sharpe, ‘Some problems’, 257; Etchingham, Church Organisation, 218–22. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 157). Hughes, The Church, 190–1.


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé around 840 the continued existence of Tallaght ‘must have been on sufferance of the pagan stronghold only five miles distant’.23 Kenney may have been correct, but as O’Dwyer pointed out there is no mention in any of the surviving chronicles of a Viking assault upon Tallaght or, for that matter, Finglas which was even closer to Viking Dublin. According to O’Dwyer, Eoin Mac Neill surmised from this that there must have been some sort of agreement between the Vikings and these churches.24 At the very least, it is clear from the obituaries of her churchmen that Tallaght survived the Viking era and remained an episcopal seat where religious life and learning persevered up until the reforms of the twelfth century.25 From all this it is difficult to escape the conclusion that contrary to the supposed céli Dé aversion to worldly concerns, like most churches in Ireland Tallaght was directly engaged in the secular affairs of the day, whether by asserting her rights before kings or keeping a wary eye on both her Christian and heathen neighbours. Annalistic evidence also indicates that Tallaght was engaged in another of the ‘abuses’ that according to Kathleen Hughes contributed to the ascetic decline that precipitated the appearance of céli Dé, namely, pluralism in ecclesiastical office.26 In 868 the chronicles record the death of Daniél, abbas of Glendalough and Tallaght; in 937 Laighnen, comarba of Ferns and Tallaght, died; in 957 Martin, anchorite and comarba of Cóemgen (Glendalough) and Mael Ruain (Tallaght), died; and in 964 Crundmael, abb of Beg-Ére, bishop, and fer léiginn of Tallaght, died.27 In this regard as well, Tallaght does not seem to have differed significantly from many other churches in Ireland. To judge from The Monastery of Tallaght and its related texts, the muinter over which Mael Ruain presided was heterogeneous. Not surprisingly, the focus of these documents is upon the religious who lived together within the enclosure of the church, under the authority of Mael Ruain and his rule. There are references to the Daily Office and other liturgical duties,28 communal refection,29 specialised manual labour, 30 dress and tonsure, 31 confession, 32 instruction and study, 33 23 24


26 27 28

29 30 31 32 33

Kenney, The Sources, 470. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 29. There is a reference in The Monastery of Tallaght, LI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 146) to genti (‘heathens’, presumably Vikings) who constrained the brothers to eat meat, probably by depriving them of their regular food. E.g. AU 874.2: ‘Torpaidh princeps Tamhlachtae, episcopus & scriba optimus’; AFM 913.2: ‘Scannlán, epscop & abb Tamhlachta’; AFM 964.4: ‘Crunnmhael, abb Bec h-Ereann, epscop, & fer leighind Tamhlachta’, AFM 1125.3: ‘Mac Maoile Suthain, áird-fhear leighinn Iarthair Ereann d’écc i t-Tamhlachta’. In 1179 Pope Alexander III confirmed Tallaght to the see of Dublin; Archdall, Monasticon Hibernicum, 142. That is, the administrative control of more than one church or monastery; see Hughes, The Church, 72, 164–6. AU 868.3; AFM 937.5; AFM 957.4; AFM 964.4. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXX, XLVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 138, 144–5); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 13–14); ibid., xxii–xxv. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XCII–XCIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 52–5). The Monastery of Tallaght, XVI, LXXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133, 159–60). Teaching of Mael Ruain, VII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 6–7); The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137). Teaching of Mael Ruain, XX–XXI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 12–13). The Monastery of Tallaght, XXIX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 138); Teaching of Mael


Céli Dé in Ireland obedience,34 in short, virtually all the aspects of religious life one would expect to observe within a cenobitic monastery. At least some of these regular monks were also in clerical orders. Mael Ruain himself was both abbot and bishop as were a number of his successors.35 There is also mention of maccléirig (‘clerical students’?) who were sometimes exempted from fasting on account of their youth.36 It is evident from these same texts that there was a les, ‘enclosure’, or dísert, ‘retreat’, for caillecha, ‘veiled women’, at or near Tallaght.37 The Martyrology of Tallaght commemorates the feast day of Cróne Tamhlachta who seems to have been honoured for her virginity, and observes the translation of the relics of the virgin saint Sciath from Fert Scéithe (Ardskeagh, Co. Cork) to Tallaght.38 Other passages from the Tallaght memoir refer to aes aithrige or aes pende, ‘penitent folk’, who performed fixed penance for specific sins under the direction of an anmcharae (‘soul friend’). These appear to have included laity from the church’s own community39 as well as persons from elsewhere who came seeking the guidance of a particular anmcharae.40 They may have dwelt in a special residence set aside for their use.41 They subsisted on a limited diet, performed vigils, and participated in the liturgy.42 The progress of their repentance could be

34 35








Ruain, XVII, LXV, LXXX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 12–13, 38–9, 46–7). The Monastery of Tallaght, VI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 129–30). E.g. Eochaid, AU 812.2/AFM 807.3, Torpaid, AU 874.2/AFM 872.3; see also The Monastery of Tallaght, XX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 134); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XIX, LVI, LXX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 12–13, 34–5, 40–1); Old Irish Penitential, II.3, 8 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 140–3). The Monastery of Tallaght, XLVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144–5); cf. Old Irish Penitential, II.11 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 142–3). Etchingham, Church Organisation, 294 n. 1, suggested translating maccléirig ‘ecclesiastical adherents’. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 151); cf. Rule of the Céli Dé, L (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’’, 78–9); Old Irish Penitential, III.10 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 156–7). A note on 26 October in Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 228–9) mentions a cell na n-ingen beside Tallaght. Nearby Finglas similarly had a les caillech; see The Monastery of Tallaght, VII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 130). Martyrology of Tallaght, 25 February (edd. Best & Lawlor, 19); cf. Félire Huí Gormáin, 25 February (ed. & tr. Stokes, 228): ‘Crone’ gl. ‘ógh o Tamhlachta’; Martyrology of Tallaght, 6 September (edd. Best & Lawlor, 68). The Monastery of Tallaght, XI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 131–2) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, LI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 30–3); Teaching of Mael Ruain, LVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXV–LXXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 42–5). Clergy and religious undergoing penance could be among these; see The Monastery of Tallaght, XX, LXXIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 134, 158). The Monastery of Tallaght, LXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 153–4), mentions a teg pende, ‘house of penance’ (though not at Tallaght), and refers to the careful regulation of the penitents’ diet under the direction of the abbot; LII, LXIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 146–7, 152–3). Ibid., LXXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 157); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 14–17); Rule of the Céli Dé, XXIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 70–1).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé measured in their gradual re-admission to the communion table.43 But in addition to male and female religious and penitents, the Tallaght muinter also included married folk, aes tuaithe, ‘laity’, who were entitled to receive anmchairdes or spiritual direction (‘soul friendship’).44 In a passage outlining the appropriate reasons for clerical travel on Sunday, the tuatha are referred to as déisi, ‘tenants’: He [it is unclear if Mael Ruain or Mael Díthruib is intended here] makes much of going the thousand paces, or more, to visit the tenantry on Sunday; and the thousand paces have been left as an ordinance for watching a sick man, and for administering the communion to him, and to the young, and to the laity who are under spiritual direction who come to attend Mass, and to hear preaching and for urgent matters besides, etc.45 We may presume that other sections in the Tallaght memoir relating the manner in which tithes were collected must pertain to the produce of these déisi.46 It is clear from the above that they were entitled to pastoral care, specifically, anmchairdes, the administration of the eucharist, and preaching. The legal and socio-economic status of such ecclesiastical tenants, more commonly referred to in secular and canon law texts as manaig (Lat. monachi), has been considered at length by Colmán Etchingham.47 Their relationship to their church was at heart an economical one: in return for the use of church lands and stock, they offered their tithes and labour. These ecclesiastical dependents are not infrequently represented in the primary sources as having taken up what Etchingham termed a ‘paramonastic’ 43



46 47

Teaching of Mael Ruain, IV, LIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 4–7, 32–3); Old Irish Penitential, II.4 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 140–1). Etchingham, Church Organisation, 292–5, supported Stancliffe’s contention that ‘penitent folk’ included both those serving a fixed-time penance for the expiation of confessed sins, and those who renounced the world and took up a regime of perpetual penance, in the manner of conversi. The Monastery of Tallaght, XLVI and LII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144, 146–7), may refer to the latter. Etchingham further postulated that this distinction was reflected in the use of the terms aes pende and aes aithrige in some texts: the aes aithrige, which he preferred to translate as ‘repentant folk’, were those living in perpetual penance, and unlike fixed-time penitents, the aes pende, they were given privileged access to the eucharist. Such a distinction in terms is not evident in the Tallaght memoir; see The Monastery of Tallaght, XI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 131–2); Teaching of Mael Ruain, LVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5). The Monastery of Tallaght, XIV, L (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132, 145–6); Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 36–7); cf. Old Irish Penitential, II.36 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–3). The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 156–7): ‘Is mor leisim in mile cemenn nó eo amplius do aithidhigh in deissi i domnuch issed foracbadh in mile cemind fri torrome fir galair fri tabhairt comne do 7 do ocaib 7 tuathibh biti fo anmchairtes dotiagat do airsemh offrind 7 do etsecht procepti 7 do raetaibh tricibh cene 7 cetera.’ Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXI, LXXXIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 18–19, 48–9); Rule of the Céli Dé, LIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 78–9). Etchingham, Church Organisation, 363–93 and 394–454. O’Loughlin, Celtic Theology, 132, has called attention to a location not more than a mile west of Tallaght called Kilnamanagh (‘church of the manaig’). No remains of this church now exist.


Céli Dé in Ireland observance, wherein they assumed a regime of periodic abstinence and sexual continence.48 In a passage appended to the eighth-century tract Míad…lechtae and in other legal texts such a person is sometimes referred to as an athlaech, usually translated ‘ex-layman’, distinguishing him from the unredeemed laech (Lat. laicus) who maintained a more worldly way of life.49 ‘Paramonastics’ are amply represented in the Tallaght memoir. The Monastery of Tallaght begins with a conversation between an athlaech and a mac bethad in which the athlaech questions the reason for the other’s continual singing of the Beati and the Magnificat.50 Here, as in other texts already noted, mac bethad designates a religious. Other passages indicate that áes tuaithe who received anmchairdes were to abstain from meals and to keep apart from their spouses on certain nights of the week.51 An anecdote concerning Mocholmóc ua Liatháin of Lismore (ob. 725) indicates that such persons could formalise their commitment to God with a vow. A certain layman (alaili tuati) came to Mocholmóc seeking anmchairdes. Upon learning that this man and his wife had remained sexually continent for the last three years but had not taken a vow to that effect, Mocholmóc told him, ‘That is too long a time to part from the Devil without coming to God. For it is when he makes such a vow that a man comes into membership of God’s community.’52 It is evident then that the Tallaght muinter was comprised of people observing different levels of religious commitment. The heart of the community would have been the regular clergy, monks, and virgins who lived apart from all others. Then there were the aes aithrige/aes pende, laity who maintained a strict penitential regimen for a fixed time or perhaps in perpetuity, possibly living within or very

48 49


51 52

Etchingham, Church Organisation, 290–318. The term athlaech (= Lat. relaicus) has generated some discussion, particularly between Sharpe and McCone; see Etchingham, Church Organisation, 296–317, for comment and references. While in its earliest uses laicus/laech does not seem to have had a pejorative meaning, at least as early as the sixth century it could be associated with malefactors. See Penitentialis Vinniani, XXXV (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 86–7): ‘Si quis autem laicus ex malis actibus suis conuersus fuerit ad Dominum et omne malum antea egerit, id est fornicando et sanguinem effundendo, tribus annis peniteat’; cf. Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, VIII (ed. Binchy, 60, tr. Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 279): ‘Arrae inna n-aithlaoch 7 inna n-aithlaíches . . . huare nad mbi coimdich laiech nó laiches duna be cuit oc marbad duini’, ‘Commutations proper for former laymen and women . . . for there is hardly a single layman or laywoman who has not some part in manslaughter’. In Bretha Nemed Toísech, III (ed. Breatnach, ‘The first third’, 21), aes aithrige, ‘repentant folk’ is glossed .i. aithlaich 7 ailithrig, ‘ex-laymen and pilgrims/retired persons’; see Etchingham, Church Organisation, 297. In Hiberno-Latin hagiography laicus is sometimes qualified laicus fidelis or laicus monachus to denote largely the same thing as athlaech, a paramonastic ecclesiastical dependent; ibid., 306–7. The Monastery of Tallaght, I (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 127). The equivalent passage in the Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 18–21), reads Brathair tuata in place of athlaech. The Monastery of Tallaght, XIV, L (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132, 145–6); cf. Old Irish Penitential, II.36 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–3). The Monastery of Tallaght, XXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 134): ‘Ba rofattai ind re sin do scarad fri diabul 7 do nephtuidechd co dia. Ar is and dotháod som im muindterus ndé intain asindgellai.’


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé near the monastic enclosure. And finally (but not necessarily lower in status than the penitents) there were the aes tuaithe, the déisi, ‘tenants’, living on church lands who received anmchairdes and undertook certain religious or ‘paramonastic’ obligations, including periodic sexual abstinence and limited diet. Such a mixed community is precisely the sort envisioned by the Rule of Fothud. As previously observed, the Rule of Fothud sets out the duties of the bishop, the abbot, the priest, the anmcharae, the manach fo mám, ‘monk under obligation’, meaning a religious, the céle Dé or clérech réclesa, ‘cleric of the enclosure’, and the trebthach, ‘husbandman’, who is enjoined to pay his tithes and first-fruits and to perform his vigils, fasting, prayers, and alms for the glory of God, and who looks very much like one of our paramonastic manaig or déisi.53 To these accounts we may compare that of the seventh-century Liber Angeli, which describes the mixed community of Armagh: In this city of Armagh Christians of both sexes almost inseparably are seen to live together in religion from the coming of the faith to the present day, and to this aforesaid (city) also adhere three orders: virgins and penitents, and those serving the church in legitimate matrimony. And these three orders are allowed to hear the word of preaching in the church of the northern district on Sunday always; in the southern basilica, however, bishops and priests and anchorites and the other religious offer pleasing praises.54 Thus, the order of things at Tallaght is attested elsewhere at least as early as the seventh century and may have been the norm among many Irish churches at that time.55 Turning to the céli Dé of Tallaght, it is perhaps surprising that the term occurs infrequently in our extant versions of the Tallaght memoir: only twice in The Monastery of Tallaght, three times in the Teaching of Mael Ruain, and five times in the Rule of the Céli Dé.56 According to the passages in the former two texts that mention them by name, céli Dé maintained a limited diet,57 received flagellation



55 56


Rule of Fothud, B–G (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 496–511); Rule of Fothud, XVIII–XXIX, XXXVIII–CV (ed. Meyer, ‘Regula Mucuta Raithni’, 319); ‘The duties of a husbandman’ (ed. Meyer, 172). Liber Angeli, XV–XVI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Patrician Texts, 186–7): ‘In ista uero urbe Alti Machae homines Christiani utriusque sexus religiossi ab initio fidei hucusque pene inseparabiliter commorari uidentur, cui uero praedictae tres ordines adherent uirgines et poenitentes in matrimonio ligitimo aeclessiae seruientes. Et his tribus ordinibus audire uerbum praedicationis in aeclessia aquilonalis plagae conceditur semper diebus dominicis, in australi uero bassilica aepiscopi et praesbiteri et anchoritae aeclessiae et caeteri religiossi laudes sapidas offerunt.’ See Doherty, ‘The monastic town’, 55–68. The Monastery of Tallaght’, XL, XLV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 142–3, 144); Teaching of Mael Ruain, I, III, VII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 2–7); Rule of the Céli Dé, III, XII, XXX, XXXI, XXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 64–7, 72–3). Teaching of Mael Ruain, III (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 4–5); Rule of the Céli Dé, III (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 64–5).


Céli Dé in Ireland (fiach aibne, ‘punishment of [the] strap’) from one another,58 strictly observed Sunday,59 followed rules of ritual uncleanliness and purification,60 and did not approve of wearing a shirt (léine) or normal day-clothes to bed.61 Such practices might conceivably apply to just about anyone in the Tallaght muinter, whether religious, penitent, or paramonastic. The author of the Middle Irish Rule of the Céli Dé, however, employed the term céli Dé with a more specific application. Consider first this passage from the Franciscan redaction of the Tallaght memoir: It was not customary for the monks to sleep in the church; their custom was that two of them should stay in the church until the hour of matins and spend the time in saying the 150 psalms.62 There can be little doubt that these are regular monks. The author of the Rule, however, rendered the equivalent passage thus: With the céli Dé it is not the practice to sleep in the oratory. Their practice is that two of them should remain in the oratory until matins, and recite the three fifties.63 Similarly, in the Teaching of Mael Ruain we read this observation regarding another part of the monastic day: It was their practice that one man should read aloud the Gospel and the Rules and miracles of the saints while the brethren were at their rations or eating their supper, so that their attention should not be occupied with their dinner.64 As he did with the manaig, above, the author of the Rule here understood the ‘brethren’ (bráithri), most certainly religious, to mean céli Dé: It is the practice of the celi Dé that while they are at dinner one of them reads aloud the Gospels and the Rule and miracles of the saints, to the end that their minds may be set on God, not on the meal.65

58 59 60 61 62




Teaching of Mael Ruain, I (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 2–3); Rule of the Céli Dé, XII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 66–7). The Monastery of Tallaght, XLV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144). Ibid., XL (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 142–3); Rule of the Céli Dé, XXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 72–3). Teaching of Mael Ruain, VII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 6–7). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 46–7): ‘Nír ghnath leis na manchaibh codladh san teampall, achd as é gnáth do bhí aca dias do beith isin teampall go ham iarmeirghe 7 na tri chaoga psalm do radh dhoibh an fad sin.’ Rule of the Céli Dé, XXX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 72–3): ‘Ni fosgní tra lasna Celiuda De cotlad i ndaurrthig. Issed dino fosgní leo-som .i. dias dib isin daurrthig co hiarmergi 7 na .lll. do chetul doib.’ Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 46–7): ‘Fa gnath aca fear ag leugad an tshoisgeil 7 riagla 7 fearta na náomh an feadh bhid na braithri ar a ccuid no ag caithiomh a bproinne, ionnus nach ar a bproinn bhias a n-aire.’ Rule of the Céli Dé, XXXI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 72–3): ‘Is ed fosgni lasna Celiuda De .i. fer oc airrlegend tsoscela 7 riagla 7 fertai noem cen bit oc praind, dáig na beth a menma isin praind sed hin Deo.’


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé More broadly, we may note that the author of the Rule deemed the contents of the Tallaght memoir generally applicable to céli Dé and so cast his redaction in the form of a Rule bearing their name, even though, like his Old Irish exemplar, he used the term sparingly. As for the term mac bethad, ‘son of life’, I have already commented on its usage in various texts associated with céli Dé. In nearly all of these, particularly in The Monastery of Tallaght and the Teaching of Mael Ruain (it does not appear in the Rule of the Céli Dé), it too seems to designate a religious and appears to be largely synonymous with céle Dé. It seems then, accepting the judgement of the author of the Rule of the Céli Dé, that we are justified in regarding the Tallaght céli Dé as regular monks and monastic clergy distinguishable from the penitents and paramonastic laity who also belonged to the muinter. Apart from the latter two groups, there is no indication that there were any other religious at Tallaght who were not céli Dé.

Asceticism Moving now to those subjects that occupied the attention of céli Dé in their extant writings, we begin with asceticism, which in modern scholarship is the most frequently touted characteristic of céli Dé. There are a number of practices addressed in céli Dé works which fall under this heading, including chastity, poverty, fasting, diet, and vigils, to name the most prevalent. Chastity Although chastity is arguably the most fundamental manifestation of Christian asceticism, it receives less attention in the Tallaght memoir than some of the other above-mentioned practices. Conversely, the section De luxuria in the Old Irish Penitential is almost entirely concerned with it.66 Taking account of all the evidence, there can be no question that the Tallaght community regarded chastity as incumbent in greater or lesser degrees upon all levels of Christian society. An anecdote in The Monastery of Tallaght regarding a certain unnamed monk (manach) who sinned with a woman while on his way to see St Finnian of Moville presumes the understanding that regular religious must be chaste.67 So also does another passage in the same text that requires an elder monk (senóir) and a senior nun (senóir caildidi) to be present whenever one goes to converse with young nuns (maccaillecha) to confirm them in their faith.68 Those in orders were under the same obligation. A priest who sinned against chastity was not permitted to say Mass and could never receive episcopal orders thereafter, even though he should do penance.69 The Old Irish Penitential rules that a bishop who so transgresses is degraded and must do a penance of either twelve years with only water to drink, or seven years on a bread and water diet.70 Those in minor orders were under the same

66 67 68 69 70

Old Irish Penitential, II (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 138–47, 150–3). The Monastery of Tallaght, LVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 153–4). Ibid., LXII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 151). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LVI, LXIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5, 40–1). Old Irish Penitential, II.2 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 140–1).


Céli Dé in Ireland obligation except their penance for sexual sin lasted only three years.71 A priest or deacon who is not a monk performs the same penance for sexual sin as a monk not in orders. If he takes monastic vows after his transgression, his penance is only a year and a half.72 Unlike the Tallaght memoir, the Penitential allows that persons of any order who have sinned against chastity may be reconsecrated to their former grade after they have done penance and vowed ‘perpetual monkhood under the yoke of a pious abbot’ (bith-manchai fu mam apad chraibdich). This, it is explained, was on account of the small number of persons in orders.73 As for the laity, the Tallaght documents and the Old Irish Penitential state that the aes tuathe who receive anmchairdes are to refrain from sexual relations on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and Sunday nights too if they are able. The Old Irish Penitential adds that their continence also extended to the three Lents of the year (discussed below).74 While it may be observed from these passages that céli Dé views on chastity did not differ significantly from those of previous centuries, two points are worth highlighting. Where in earlier centuries there was some tolerance of married clergy,75 céli Dé seem to have expected celibacy of all those in orders whether or not they were under monastic vows. Certainly this is a stricter view, but céli Dé were not the first in Ireland to take this position. Penitentialis Vinniani outlines the penance for the clericus who has ‘fallen to the ruin of fornication’ (ruina fornicationis ceciderit) and ‘lost his crown’ (coronam suam perdiderit). The clericus diaconis uel alicuius gradus who has fathered a child ‘should know that he has fallen to the depths of ruin and ought to rise’ (sciat se ruina maxima cecidisse et exsurgere debere).76 Nor were céli Dé the first to advocate partial continence for the laity receiving pastoral care. Again according to Penitentialis Vinniani, married people were to mutually abstain during the three Lents of the year as well as on Saturday and Sunday nights.77 The céli Dé position is again stricter, but not a marked departure from earlier expectations.78 Poverty Voluntary poverty, another hallmark of the ascetic life, is less frequently mentioned than chastity in céli Dé texts, but from what references there are to it there can be no question that it too was understood as a basic obligation of all religious. The Tallaght memoir indicates that the community’s extra food was to be given to the poor.79 Céli Dé were instructed not to accept gifts from the laity, 71 72 73 74

75 76 77 78 79

Ibid., II.6 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 140–1). Ibid., II.8 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 142–3). Ibid., II.10 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 142–3). The Monastery of Tallaght, XIV, L (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132, 145–6); Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 36–7); Old Irish Penitential, II.36 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–3). ‘First Synod of Patrick’, VI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 54–5), requires the wife of any cleric, from ostiary to priest, to keep her head veiled. Penitentialis Vinniani, X, XXVII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 76–7, 82–3). Ibid., XLVI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 92–3). See also various general statements on chastity in Apgitir Chrábaid, I, IX, XI, XVII (ed. & tr. Hull, 58–9, 62–5, 68–9). The Monastery of Tallaght, III (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 20–1).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé although the stated reason was not for the sake of preserving their own poverty but rather because some layfolk did not themselves offer anything to the poor and thought they only needed to give something to their anmcharae to win heaven.80 The Rule of Fothud requires the ‘monk under obligation’ (manach fo mám) to be ‘without private possessions, without evil habits, without goods of great value’ (cen sainchron cen anriad / cen maissi mor buaid), and ‘in willing nakedness’ (in imnochta toltanaig).81 The Old Irish Penitential provides the most straightforward expression of the céli Dé view of poverty: As for him who desires to reach the pitch of perfectness, he distributes all he has to the poor and needy and goes on a pilgrimage or he lives in destitution in a communal church till he goes to Heaven.82 To this we might compare a passage from the Rule of Colum Cille, which does not seem to have been produced by the Tallaght céli Dé but was evidently known and valued by them. It urges, Be always naked in imitation of Christ and the Evangelists. Whatsoever little or much you possess of anything, whether place or clothing or drink or food, let it be at the command of the senior and at his disposal, for it is not befitting a devotee to make any use of his own free judgement.83 Returning to the Old Irish Penitential, we find the penance for one who has violated the obligation of poverty: A cleric or nun who lives in a communal church and has somewhat more than suffices him, whatever it be, let him give it to the poor and needy of the church where he lives. If he does not, let him be excommunicated from the church where he lives. If he repents, he is to do penance apart for as long as the sin has been on his conscience without express command of the superior: for it is worse for a communal church in which there is the worth of dirna of private property or stolen goods than if a fire were burning it, by reason of the amount it


81 82


The Monastery of Tallaght, XXXV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 141); cf. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 18–19): ‘Dob eaglach leo enní do ghlacadh o dhaoinibh saoghalta mar tidhlacadh d’eagla go luighfeadh na choimhideacht sin peacadh na muinntire dobheuradh doibh e orra’, ‘They were loath to accept anything as a gift from worldly people, lest the sin of those who gave it to them should accompany it and fall upon them.’ Rule of Fothud, F 3, 9 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–9). Old Irish Penitential, III.6 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 154, tr. Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 267): ‘Mad intii adcobra rosá cléthe foirbthetad fodali huli do bochtaib 7 adilcnechaib 7 tet i n-ailithri no bith innmnochta ind eclais oentath co te dochum nime.’ Rule of Colum Cille, II–III (ed. Meyer, 28–9, departing from the translations by Haddan & Stubbs, Councils, II.119, and Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk, 39): ‘Imnochta do sechim dogréss ar Críst 7 ar na soiscéla. Cach bec nó cech mór nomuinichither di cech rét etir locc 7 édach 7 dig 7 bíad, rop de forcongrai tsenóra a comairlecad. Ar ní hinill do cráibdech airbera bith nach cruth la …óerbráth féin.’


Céli Dé in Ireland causes of murmuring and envy and ill-feeling towards the man that owns it, as John Cassian stated.84 The sense of the term cléirech as used here should probably not be restricted to those in orders, but rather understood more generally as a male religious or ecclesiastic. The reference to Cassian is curious, for according to Gwynn there is no such dictum in the extant works of Cassian.85 Even so, the reference indicates that like previous generations of Irish religious, céli Dé knew and respected Cassian as a monastic authority. The structure of the Old Irish Penitential, as we have already seen, follows Cassian’s eight principal vices. Fasting Fasting was undertaken for a number of different reasons among céli Dé. Penitential fasts are of course ubiquitous in the Old Irish Penitential and the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations and they are frequently mentioned in the Tallaght memoir.86 The latter explains the fasting diet to be a mouthful of bread and a measure of whey-water for persons in good health.87 A year of penance comprised three forty-day periods – the three Lents of the year – on such a diet.88 According to the Franciscan redaction of the Tallaght memoir, ‘it was not their practice to make a black fast, that is, to eat nothing’.89 This statement, however, should be considered in light of passages in the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations that seem to indicate that ‘black fasts’ were a normal part of penitential practice.90 Similar to the penitential fast is the purification fast required of newcomers to the Tallaght community. Upon leaving his previous anmcharae, Echtguide, and obtaining Mael Ruain as his new anmcharae, Mael Díthruib was required to observe ‘a year of repurification with us’ (bliadain aithglantae lindi), consisting of three forty-day fasts on bread and water.91 I am unaware of such a requirement in another Irish source. If it is a céli Dé innovation, it might be taken as a mark of their self-perceived elitist status. Intercessory fasts, that is, fasts performed on behalf of the deceased, are mentioned in two instances in the Tallaght memoir.92 Notice should also be taken of what might be termed coercive 84

85 86

87 88 89 90 91 92

Old Irish Penitential, III.10 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 156–7, tr. Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 267): ‘Cleirech nó caillech bís ind eclais oentath lasambí ní for a leortu sechib ret taibreth di bochtaib 7 adilcnib dond eclais imbíi. Mani denai escomnaigther den eclais imbíi. Ma dogne aithrigi pennid sechtair airet rombói for a chubus cen forngaire senora air is ansu do eclais oentath imbí lóg ndirnai di sainchrund nó dichmairc oldas bith tene dia loscud ar met imefolngai di fodurd 7 formut 7 aninni indi lasambi amail dondrim eoin casian.’ Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘An Irish penitential’, 185 n. 10. The Monastery of Tallaght, IX, XXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 131, 141); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXIV, XLVI, XLVIII, XLIX, LII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 14–15, 28–33). Ibid., XXVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 16–17). Ibid., LII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 32–3). Ibid., LV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5): ‘Nír ghnath leo dubhthrosgadh do dheunamh .i. gan enni d’ithe.’ Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, IX, XI, XXVII (ed. Binchy, 60–1, 66–7). The Monastery of Tallaght, XXIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 136). Ibid., XVIII, LXXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133, 163).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé fasts, undertaken to seek redress or obtain a favour, whether from another person or from God. Mael Ruain is said to have fasted only three times since arriving at Tallaght, each time against King Artrí mac Faelmuire, ‘about a business that arose between the community of Tallaght and him’ (im chaingin robui de muintir tamlachti friss).93 Similar coercive fasts are recorded in some of the Lives of Irish saints. The practice may have arisen out of Irish legal procedure.94 Other passages indicate that Mael Ruain felt some reticence about fasting, at least for reasons other than penance and purification. As Mael Díthruib is said elsewhere in the Tallaght memoir to have fasted every Lent,95 the following passage in The Monastery of Tallaght likely pertains to Mael Ruain: ‘He does not commend fasting, he prefers a regular measured pittance. There is no rule at all where it is imposed, except on account of sins done.’96 The last comment suggests that Mael Ruain’s view on fasting was not out of step with practice elsewhere. Another passage in The Monastery of Tallaght indicates as much: ‘Now continual fasting is not practised by the saints now nor is it practised by Comgall, save one fast, namely, the eve of Maundy Thursday after the Wednesday.’97 Yet in contrast to these statements, we are also told that the muinter Mail Ruain observed a regular fast on the eve of the first Sunday of every month.98 The reason for this fast is not specified, but like Comgall’s fast before Maundy Thursday it may have been devotional in nature, undertaken as an act of piety or liturgical observance.99 The Rule of Fothud declares, ‘Fasting on Sunday, he does not take from me, on account of the Holy Lord.’100 Laity or, more specifically, ‘married folk’ (aes lanamnasa) who receive anmchairdes, observe a fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.101 Fasting is also listed


94 95 96


98 99



Ibid., LXXII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 157); cf. LXXIII, which has the ‘saints of Ireland’ gathered together at Mag Lena fasting against God (rotheiscset iarum imbi fri dia) because they were grieved that bread and water alone were no longer sufficient to keep penitents alive. Gougaud, Devotional and Ascetic Practices, 151–4. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 163). Ibid., LXVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 155): ‘Ni molatharsom ind troscud, is ferr lais ind fit mesraigti dogres. ni-confil eiter ind riagail i fueregtar acht mad a cinta oirccne.’ Ibid., LXXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 161), following Gwynn & Purton’s emendation: ‘Bithbés troiscta dano ní forgéni lasna naobu, ni forgeni la comgald, acht áon troscut indorsa .i. aidchi cenlai a aithliu na cetaoine.’ Teaching of Mael Ruain, LV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5); Rule of the Céli Dé, XXXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 72–3). Cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, VI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 129). Colum Cille, frequently mentioned with respect in the Tallaght memoir, is said to have kept three fasts in the year, although the text does not specify for what occasions he kept them; ibid., LXXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 161). Rule of Fothud, H 9 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 512–13): ‘Aine domnaig uam ní beir / déag in choimded chain.’ In their advocacy of Sunday fasts both the Rule of Fothud and the Tallaght memoir depart from the Old Irish Penitential, I.16 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–1), which requires anyone fasting on Sunday to perform a week’s penance on bread and water. As with the matter of diet, the degree of Sunday observance likely differed from house to house. See the fuller discussion below. The Monastery of Tallaght, L (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 145–6).


Céli Dé in Ireland among the duties of the ‘husbandman’ (trebthach) in the Rule of Fothud.102 In the section dealing with the order of meals and refectory, the same rule requires ‘The two fasts of the week, their fasting properly, as the law commands to all who have strength’.103 From these various passages we may take it as certain that fasting was a normal feature of ascetic observance among céli Dé, although it appears that some at least undertook it with reservation. Diet As for dietary matters, numerous passages in the Tallaght documents affirm Mael Ruain’s preference for a ‘regular measured pittance’.104 During Mael Ruain’s lifetime, we are told, no beer or ale was drunk at Tallaght nor any flesh meat eaten, save for deer or wild swine which was offered to guests only.105 Fish was permissible but only on certain days of the week.106 The Franciscan redaction of the Tallaght memoir offers this corroborating testimony: Since he took Orders he had not eaten swine’s or sheep’s fat or game or flesh of any other animal: his practice was to eat only salmon. I have heard Cú-Echtge say that he was not allowed to eat any of the kinds of flesh mentioned above during the eight years that he abstained from flesh-meat, and that none of them was allowed to eat it, even on Easter Day, during those eight years.107 Cú-Echtge is otherwise unknown, but he was evidently a personal acquaintance of the author of the Tallaght memoir and seems to have resided among the Tallaght community for at least eight years. According to another passage, after twenty years without dietary relaxation at Easter, Mael Ruain finally relented on account of a famine and permitted his community to eat venison, liver, and lard on that day.108 Yet another passage indicates that the no-meat restriction was a Lenten practice, the implication being that during the rest of the year meat was permissible.109 Taken together, the above passages could be read as evidence of differing degrees of dietary restraint among céli Dé, the last statement perhaps being applicable to paramonastic laity, rather than to regular religious who abstained from meat all year round. The Old Irish Penitential specifies that those living ‘in lawful

102 103 104 105 106 107

108 109

‘The Duties of a Husbandman’, V (ed. Meyer, 172). Rule of Fothud, H 13 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 512–13): ‘Di aine na sechtmaine / a náine co cert / féb do corathar in recht / do neoch lasmbe nert.’ Teaching of Mael Ruain, I–III, XLIII–XLV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 2–4, 26–8). The Monastery of Tallaght, VI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 129) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXIX–XL (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 22–5). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXXIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 50–1). Ibid., LXXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 48–9): ‘Blonag muice no cháorach no feóil fhiadaigh no ainmhidheadh ar bith oile, nir ith se iad sin o thionnsgain se beith na chleireach, achd bradan amhain fa gnath leis do chaitheamh. Do chuala me Cú Eachdge aga radh nach tugthaoi a chead dó eín-fheoil dá ndubhramar d’ithe na hocht mbliadhna do bhí se gan fheoil, 7 nach tugthaoí a chead d’eunduine aca a hithi la casg fein ar feadh na n-ochd mbliadhan sin.’ Ibid., VIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 6–7). Ibid., XXIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, 14–15).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé wedlock’ (hi lanamnas dligith) were to refrain from eating meat during the three Lents of the year.110 Elsewhere in the Tallaght memoir it is stated that those undergoing a year or two of penance are expected to abstain from flesh-meat unless want of other food should leave them no choice but to eat meat.111 Presumably after the completion of their penance, such persons would once again include meat in their normal diet. The following passage from The Monastery of Tallaght may also have been directed at the paramonastic laity, and recognises that dietary observance must be tempered to the conditions of each: Everyone should regulate his pittance for himself, knowing the proper amount, that it cause not sickness, if it be too little, neither nourish vice, if it be too much: as much then as suffices him, and does not induce sickness. It should be limited according to men’s natures, for the course of nature differs in each man.112 Here we also see céli Dé understanding of the purpose of dietary restraint: it curtails the vices. Another passage puts it this way: Persons whose desires are excited, it may be through hearing confessions, or merely with meditating, or through youth, need strict abstinence to subdue them, because it is excess of blood in their body that is the cause. Afterwards, when the blood fails, then lust and desire fail.113 Yet céli Dé also recognised that excess in abstinence was improper. An anecdote regarding the anchorite Colcu, from Slane, illustrates this point. Colcu, who we are told ‘was much given to austerities and strict abstinence’ (rochachti iarum commór corroabstinit), desired to join Mael Ruain’s community and came to Tallaght. Colcu’s diet, however, was so severe that Mael Ruain observed an ill colour about him. When Colcu’s cook disclosed the pittance upon which the anchorite had been living, Mael Ruain chastised Colcu and would not permit him to join the community. ‘Those who are here, said Mael Ruain, while they do their proper share of work, they eat their rations. You have no place among them – you will neither labour nor will you eat your rations.’ When Colcu then knelt in submission to the will of Mael Ruain, the latter directed him to increase his diet so his life would not fail.114 Ascetic excess such as Colcu’s had no place among the 110 111 112



Old Irish Penitential, II.36 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–1). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 42–3). The Monastery of Tallaght, LXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 152): ‘A mesrugud do neuch tra buddesin la eolus ind fita arná rob fochund galir mat robecc. Narap altram dualchi mad romór. Ní iarum notlortnigetar 7 nat furea galir. A timmarcad fo reir na ndáonnacht ar is ecsamail reim daonachta caich’; cf. ibid., XLVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144–5). See also the Rule of Colum Cille, XIX–XX (ed. Meyer, 29): ‘Ní airbertha biudh co mba guirt. Ní cotalta co mba éim lat’, ‘Do not eat till you are hungry. Do not sleep till you feel the need to.’ The Monastery of Tallaght, LIX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 149): ‘Aos dianat foibthi a tolae bes la coibsenugud no imradad tantum no la oitid. Abstinit dedirn doa traothad fobithin is roimmad fola inda cuirp ised adrali. Andand fofeiscren iarum ind fuil is and fofeiscren int tol 7 an accobar’; see also LX. Ibid., LXXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 159–60, lín emended from ldín): ‘Ind lín


Céli Dé in Ireland Tallaght community. It is also interesting to note from this story that as stringent as the dietary regulation was at Tallaght, elsewhere there were others who lived under an even harsher rule. As a final point, the Tallaght documents not only indicate that there were differing levels of dietary observance within the Tallaght community but also demonstrate that dietary practice differed in some regards between Tallaght and other communities often associated with céli Dé. Unlike Tallaght, dietary relaxation at Easter was the norm at Terryglass: This I have heard from him – this was the practice at Terryglass when the Rule was there: the whole congregation when they left the oratory at noon on Easter Day, used to go straight to the kitchen that each of them might take a particle of flesh there, as a precaution against scarcity or poverty during the year.115 The author’s source here is very likely Mael Díthruib who we know died as an anchorite at Terryglass. An oft-quoted exchange between Mael Ruain and Dublitter of nearby Finglas reveals a difference of opinion concerning the prohibition of drink. Dublitter, who allowed his muinter to drink beer on the three chief feasts of the year, urged Mael Ruain to do the same and observed that his own community would be in heaven just the same as Mael Ruain’s. The latter replied, ‘Anyone of my community that shall listen to me’, said Mael Ruain, ‘and keep my Rule, shall not need to be cleansed by the fire of Doomsday, nor come to judgment, because they shall be clean already. Your community, however, shall perhaps have something for the fire of Doom to cleanse.’116 From the Rule of Fothud we have this observation: ‘Different is the condition of everyone, different the nature of every place, different the law by which food is diminished or increased.’117 Such a lack of uniformity calls into question the perception of céli Dé as a cohesive movement. If Terryglass and Finglas were home to céli Dé, it would appear that they were not subject to the authority of Tallaght.




file isund ol Maolruaoin sech dogniatt a mod cóir, rocaithet a fít. Ni tallasu iarum etturra sech ni dingne gniomrada, ní rocaithfe do fit.’ Ibid., XII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132–3): ‘Issed rochualai laisim. Issed fogníd i tír da glas indtan rombúi ind riaguil and. Asenad uli amail notreigtis addurtaig medón láoi dia caisc dochum na chuchdiri dóib fochetoir co ndenad cách díob and pars de feoil fri foimtin terci no bochde in ando’; cf. Teaching of Mael Ruain, LX–LXI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 36–7). Mael Díthruib also departed from his master’s views on the matter of satisfying one’s thirst: ibid., XLIX, XLVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 28–31). The Monastery of Tallaght, VI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 129–30): ‘Nach oen, ol Maol Rúoin contuasfe frimsai. Accus forcomedar mo riaguil de muindtir nípa hécen tene bratha dia nglanad nó hadall messai dóib dáig bed glana chenai. Bes biaid immurgo láad muindtirisiu ní nodglanai tene brathai.’ Rule of Fothud, H 4 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 510–11): ‘Is sain cóir cech oen duine / sain aicned cech luicc / is sain recht hindigabar / hi tórmagar cuit.’


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé Vigils Vigils also formed a prominent part of céli Dé asceticism. I will have more to say below on céli Dé devotional practices but for now observe that Tallaght religious made it a daily practice to recite the entire Psalter as well as numerous hymns, canticles, and prayers, in rigorous vigils that followed most of the day and night offices.118 Most of these vigils seem to have been performed at least partly in cross-vigil, that is, standing in cruciform so that, in the words of the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, ‘the arms are not to touch the sides until the chanting is over’.119 The cross-vigil was not performed between Christmas and Epiphany and between Easter and Low Sunday, presumably because as an exercise in mortification it was deemed inappropriate during holy seasons.120 Frequent genuflexions further characterised their devotional practice. Some vigils were accompanied by as many as a hundred genuflexions at a time,121 although a passage in the Franciscan redaction of the Tallaght memoir states, They would not perform more than two hundred prostrations daily, unless they were discharging a task, and they used to say the hundred and fifty psalms at the same time. If they performed these prostrations for the congregation, or as a matter of discipline, they made only two hundred. If they were discharging a task on their own account they made the full three hundred.122 The exact number of genuflexions and their place within the liturgy seems to have varied from place to place. The Monastery of Tallaght relates this conversation on the topic: ‘I have heard’, said Mael Díthruib to Mael Ruain, ‘that the vigil which Dublitter [of Finglas] practised was as follows: the three fifties standing and a genuflexion after each psalm’. ‘I do not tell you [to do so]’, says Mael Ruain. ‘Such is not our practice’.123

118 119 120 121 122


See The Monastery of Tallaght, XXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 138). Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, XVIII (ed. & tr. Binchy, 62–3): ‘ni chomraic lamu fri toebu co rraisc a chetul ceni bé’. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 138). Ibid., XXVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 32–3): ‘Ní dhiongnadaois ní budh mo ina dhá ceud sleuchtain san lo muna mbeidis ag deunamh oibre, 7 maille riu sin adeirdís na tri caogad salm. Da mad don choimhthionol dobeidis ag deunamh, no fa umhlacht, ni dingnadaois acht da ceud sleuchtain. Mas doibh fein dobhidís ag deunamh oibre do nídís na tri ceud sleuchtain.’ The word obair/opair (g.s. oibre), from the Latin opera, normally means ‘work’, especially physical labour. But in the present context it seems to have a liturgical sense, perhaps in the same way that the Latin opus Dei refers to the Divine Office. The above passage concludes with the line, ‘An tí ag nach biodh leighionn do bheirdís obair dho re a deunamh .i. opus manuum’, ‘One who could not read was given work to do, that is, manual labour’, which indicates that the obair of literate monks differed from that of their illiterate brethren. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 140): ‘Issed rochualae ol Máol Díthruib fri Máolrúaoin isí figeld fodgníod la Duibliter na tri cáoca inda sesam 7 slechtain iar cech salm. Ní apur frit ol Maelruaoin ní fodgní lind.’


Céli Dé in Ireland Another passage relates how Mael Ruain was told of the practice of a certain anchorite at Cluain ua Dubáin who used to perform seven hundred genuflexions a day. Proclaimed Mael Ruain, ‘a time will come to him before his death when he shall not perform a single genuflexion’. And just as he foretold, we are informed, the legs of this anchorite thereafter were seized so that he was unable to perform a vigil for a long time before his death on account of the excessive genuflecting he did.124 The point of this cautionary tale, like that of the anchorite Colcu, is plain: ascetic excess is inappropriate. Castigation Castigation or flagellation, performed upon the hand with a scourge, is another frequently mentioned ascetic practice in céli Dé texts.125 It was never self-inflicted, but offered by another person.126 It seems to have been a regular activity among céli Dé, occurring at Tallaght on at least a weekly basis: out of concern for the improper example of Sunday observance it might set for the people of the ‘large, old churches’, Mael Díthruib was given leave to perform Sunday night’s castigation on Saturday.127 As was the case with the cross-vigil, no castigation was performed between Easter and Low Sunday and between Christmas and Epiphany.128 In one passage the practice is particularly associated with penitents: ‘On the eve before Maundy Thursday he [either Mael Ruain or Mael Díthruib] used to excuse penitents from the cross-vigil, and on the same eve no castigation was inflicted on them.’129 The Tallaght memoir and the Old Irish Penitential both assign castigation as penance for wrongdoing, and the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations regularly allows castigation in lieu of other penances. For example, the commutations of a ‘black fast’ are given as ‘a hundred psalms and a hundred genuflexions and a hundred blows with the scourge or the Three Fifties together with their hymns and canticles’.130 We might fairly conclude that the céli Dé took up castigation with particular enthusiasm, although it should be noted that they were not innovators in this regard, for castigation is assigned as penance for wrongdoing in the Penitentials of Columbanus and Cummíne.131


125 126 127 128 129



Ibid., XXXIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 141): ‘Beith ré dosom ríanecaib 7 ní dognéa cid oenslechtain’; in the Teaching of Mael Ruain, CVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 60–1), the anchorite is from Clonard. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXX, XXXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 138, 142). Teaching of Mael Ruain, III (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 2–3). The Monastery of Tallaght, XXXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137). Ibid., XXX (p. 138); Teaching of Mael Ruain, III, XXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 4, 16); Rule of the Céli Dé, XII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 66). Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 14–17): ‘Oidhche dhardáoin na ccomaoineach do mhaithedh sé an chrosfighill don aos peannaide, 7 ní buailtí fiach aibhne orra an oidhche cheudna.’ Ibid., X (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 8–9); Old Irish Penitential, III.17, IV.5 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 158, 162); Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, IX (ed. & tr. Binchy, 60–1): ‘cét salm 7 cét slechtan 7 cét mbeimend co n-abuind nó na tri coicait cona n-imnaib 7 cona cantaicib’. Columbanus, Paenitentiale, IX, XXVI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 98, 106); Paenitentiale Cummeani, XV, XXIX (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 130–3).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé Ascetic immersion and curtailment of sleep Two other ascetic practices are worth brief mention. Immersion in cold water, an ascetic activity known in Ireland at least as early as the seventh century, is referred to once in the Tallaght documents, although it is not clear from that if it was a céli Dé practice.132 While it is manifestly later, the Ld preface to Félire Óengusso states that when Óengus was at Dísert Óengusso (Dysartenos, Co. Laois) he was accustomed to saying fifty psalms while standing in the river with a withe tied around his neck.133 In the Rule of the Céli Dé the curtailment of sleep is also spoken of as a form of abstinence, although this should be considered in light of a passage in The Monastery of Tallaght which states that ‘he’, either Mael Ruain or Mael Díthruib, permitted monks to sleep their fill so long as they properly observed the day and night offices.134 There are three points from the foregoing evidence I wish to emphasise. First, while we can be sure that céli Dé advocated a rigorous asceticism, there is no reason to believe that they were ‘a new order of ascetics’, as Kathleen Hughes held.135 With the possible exception of their onerous vigils, in none of their practices did they depart from established precedent or manifest a significantly different appreciation for asceticism. Certainly there is no suggestion in any of their texts that their asceticism was intended to counter a supposed ascetic decline. Continuity, rather, is the salient feature. Second, céli Dé texts recognise that moderation was essential and that the level of ascetic observance ought to vary according to the needs and abilities of the individuals within the community. A number of anecdotes in the Tallaght memoir deprecate ascetic excess. Third, there was no uniform standard of ascetic observance among céli Dé. The level of severity differed from house to house – indeed, just as it always had in Irish monasteries in the centuries before céli Dé – and even within the Tallaght community itself regimes of greater and lesser severity co-existed. In view of all this, it becomes increasingly difficult to point to rigorous ascetic observance as the primary mark of distinction between céli Dé and other religious.

Pastoral Care I have already touched briefly on one aspect of pastoral care discussed in céli Dé texts, the provision of anmchairdes, ‘soul-friendship’, to the manaig or déisi, the lay-tenants of the church. In a passage from The Monastery of Tallaght, Sunday is said to be an appropriate day for visiting the déisi, for watching a sick man, and for administering communion to him, and to the young, and to the laity under spiritual direction who have

132 133 134 135

The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 161); see Ireland, ‘Penance and prayer’, 51–66, and above, 61. Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 10–11). Rule of the Céli Dé, XLVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 76–7); The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXXII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 161). Hughes, The Church, 173.


Céli Dé in Ireland come to wait for the Mass and to hear preaching and for urgent matters besides.136 The Tallaght memoir has little else to say on the provision of the sacraments to the laity, and still less on the topic of preaching.137 However, a fair amount of attention is given to confession, doubtless the ‘urgent matters besides’ for which the laity ‘under spiritual direction’ (fo anmchairdes) came, and one of the primary responsibilities of the anmcharae or ‘soul friend’. Repeated concern is shown over those persons who make their confessions to their anmcharae but then fail to perform the assigned penance. In such cases, the anmcharae is advised to refuse to hear further confession and send them away.138 The Franciscan redaction of the Tallaght memoir acknowledges the difficulty in undertaking the charge (cúram) of the elderly, the ill, and the very poor who are unable to bear their penance due to feebleness or to an already scant diet which further reduced by fasting might only result in starvation.139 Further measure of the importance the céli Dé placed upon anmchairdes may be taken from the Rule of Fothud, which has more to say on the duties of the anmcharae than it does on the duties of any other ecclesiastic. Echoing concerns expressed in the Tallaght memoir, it directs, They shall give you their confessions, sincerely and completely; do not take their alms if they are not obedient to you. Though you receive their offerings, let not their desire [i.e. of the offerings] be great with you, [but rather] like a fire under your body, dispensing them according to your strength.140 136





The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 156–7): ‘in mile cemind fri torrome fir galair fri tabhairt comne do 7 do ocaib 7 tuathibh biti fo anmchairtes dotiagat do airsemh offrind 7 do etsecht procepti 7 do raetaibh tricibh cene’. A couple of passages discuss whether it is appropriate to offer communion in articulo mortis: The Monastery of Tallaght, LVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 148); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 10–11); another indicates that those of the muinter who missed communion on Sunday were expected to go on the following Thursday: Teaching of Mael Ruain, XIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 12–13) = Rule of the Céli Dé, XV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 68–9); one curious passage instructs how to baptise the unborn child of a dying woman, Rule of the Céli Dé, XLIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 76–9). Preaching is mentioned in Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 16–17) = Rule of the Céli Dé, XX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 68–9), but the context indicates that it was a sermon intended only for the regular brothers or possibly the aes pende. The Monastery of Tallaght, II, XXIII, LIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 127–8, 135, 147); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XX, LXXIV–LXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 14–15, 42–5); cf. ibid., XXVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 16–17), which contrariwise suggests that confession without full penance is still better than no confession at all. Ibid., LVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5). Other passages relate more specifically to clerics and religious who also received anmchairdes: The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXVIII–LXXIX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 160); Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXVI–LXXVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 44–5). Rule of Fothud, E 2–3 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 504–5):


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé The anmcharae must not be false with the alms, but give them to strangers, both strong and weak, to the poor, elderly, and widows, without pomp or boasting.141 His duties also include ‘chanting intercessions’ (gabal inna n-ecnairci) at the canonical hours, and offering Mass on Sunday and Thursday, as well as on feast days, ‘Mass for the Christians and for each order, Mass for those in distress from small to great’.142 One of the most important Old Irish texts on pastoral care is the Rule of Patrick, likely written in the eighth century at Armagh.143 The fullest version of the Rule is appended to the tenth-century text of the Rule of the Céli Dé found in Lb. As I have argued in the previous chapter, there is reason to believe from the manuscript evidence that a copy of the Rule of Patrick was preserved and transmitted with the Tallaght memoir and other texts associated with céli Dé. This association resulted in the eventual incorporation of the Rule of Patrick into the Rule of the Céli Dé. I think that there can be little question that the former was known to and valued by céli Dé. Stressing the contractual nature of the relationship between a church and its laity, the Rule of Patrick lays out the responsibilities of the clergy.144 According to the version appended to the Rule of the Céli Dé, A church has no right to tithes, nor to the cow of bequest, nor to the third due to the patron’s church, nor to compensation for valuables, unless it provides its counter-obligations in baptism and communion and intercessory prayer for its manaig both living and dead, and unless there be sacrifice upon the altar on Sundays and high-days, and every altar have its complete furniture.145 The duties of the priest (fer graid do mhin-eclaisib tuaithe, ‘ordained man from the minor churches of the tuath’) are specified in similar terms: On his part again, the baptism and communion, that is, the sacrament, and intercessory prayer for the living and the dead, and Mass every Sunday and every chief high-day and every chief festival, celebration of all the canonical hours, and chanting of the three fifties [i.e. the Psalter] daily, unless hindered by teaching or anmchairdes.146

141 142

143 144 145


‘Tabrat duit a coibsena / co díuit 7 co lér: / nírgaba a n-almsanna / muni bet dot rér // Cia gabe a n-édparta / níp már latt a serc / amal tene beth fót churp / fordaile fót nert.’ Ibid., E 6–9 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 504–5). Ibid., E 10, 12–14 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 504–5): ‘Aiffrind for na cristaidib / ocus for cech ngrád / aiffrind for na fochaidib / otha min co már.’ Charles-Edwards, ‘The pastoral role’, 80. See Sharpe, ‘Some problems’, 252–4, 258–9. Rule of the Céli Dé, LVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 78–81): ‘Ni dliget dechmadu na bo chennaithe na trian annoti na dire seoit do mhaínib mina bet a frithfholaid techta na heclaisi innte do bathis 7 comnai 7 gabal n-ecnairce a manach etir biu 7 marbu, 7 cor-roib oifrend for altoir i ndomnaigib 7 sollamnaib, 7 cor-rabut aidme oga cech altoir dib.’ Ibid., LVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 80–1): ‘Bathis dino uade-sim 7 comna .i. sacarbaic 7 gabail n-ecnairce beo 7 marb 7 oifrend cech dómnaig 7 cech primshollaman 7 cech primfheli, celebrad cech tratha, na .lll. do chedul cech dia, acht mona thoirmesci forcetul no anmchairdius.’


Céli Dé in Ireland Priests who were unable to fulfil their pastoral obligations were not entitled to the privileges of their office. However, it was just as incumbent upon the tenants of a church to accept the anmchairdes of their priest as it was for him to provide it: Anyone in orders who undertakes the charge of a church owes anmchairdes to the manaig of that church, men, boys, women and girls. If anyone will not accept the yoke of an anmcharae, so that he is not under the authority of God or of man, he has no claim to be given communion, nor to have intercession made for him, nor to be buried in God’s church, because he has refused to be under God’s authority in Ireland.147 Providing anmchairdes to those of higher station is one of the chief responsibilities of the prímespoc, ‘chief bishop’, of each prímthuath, ‘chief tribe’: Therefore it lies upon the souls of the men of Ireland by the testament of Patrick that there be a chief bishop to every chief tuath in Ireland, for ordaining men to holy Orders, for consecrating churches, for providing anmchairdes to lords and to ecclesiastical rulers and to those in Orders, for sanctifying and blessing their families after baptism.148 Here it is appropriate to mention a passage from Apgitir Chrábaid, which seems to have influenced céli Dé views. It asks, When is a person competent to answer for the souls of others? When he is competent to answer for his own soul first. When is he capable of correcting others? When in the first place he can correct himself.149 Spiritual direction was a duty fit only for the spiritually mature. Given the emphasis these writings place on pastoral care and in particular on the provision of anmchairdes to the laity, we may reasonably conclude that the issue was of considerable importance to the céli Dé. That they held themselves so responsible for the spiritual direction of others suggests that their distinctive seclusion or separation from the rest of their muinter, postulated above, was less than absolute.




Ibid., LXIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 84–5): ‘Nach fer graid gaibes eclais fora chubas is do dlegar anmchardine mhanach na heclaise sin, firu, maccu, mna sceo ingena. Nach oen dino nach airim maam n-anmcharut fair, cona bi do reir De no duine, ni dhlig comna do thabairt do no gabail n-ecnairce no a adnocul i n-eclais De, ar is uad rofemded bith do rer De isna heclaisib i tir nErenn.’ Ibid., LX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 80–3): ‘Is de ata anmunna fher nErenn i timna Patraic, co raibe primespoc cecha primtuathi i nErinn fria hoirdnead oessa graid 7 fri coisecrad eclais, fri hanmchairdine do flaithib 7 oirchinnib 7 d’oes graid, fri noemad 7 bennachad a cland iar mbathis.’ Apgitir Chrábaid, XVIII (ed. & tr. Hull, 68–9): ‘Cuin as túalaing duine rob teist for anmannuib ala n-aile? Ó robo teist fora anmuin fadésin in duus. Cuin as túalaing coisc ala n-aile? Ó chut-n-asca fadésin in duus.’


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé

Penance To a large extent, penance might aptly fall under the heading of pastoral care, but céli Dé were at least as intent upon its significance in their own lives as they were upon its role in the spiritual direction of the laity, and so it is considered here under its own heading. Gauging solely from the amount of ink they expended on it in their extant writings, céli Dé were almost obsessively concerned with penance; two separate works are almost entirely devoted to it. The first of these, the Old Irish Penitential, is primarily directed at religious belonging to a cenobitic community, the ‘community of the brethren’ (óentu na mbráithre) as it refers to them in one instance; the ‘communal church’ (eclais óentath) where there should not be any ‘private property or misappropriation’ (sainchrund nó díchmairc) doubtless pertains to these,150 as do other passages indicating their obligations of chastity and obedience.151 It also contains provisions for clergy, including those who have vowed ‘perpetual monkhood’ (bith-manchai) and those who have not, as well as for ‘lawfully wedded folk’ (aes lanamnais) who observed periodic sexual continence and dietary abstinence.152 The community envisioned by the Penitential was a diversified one, like those depicted in the Tallaght documents and in the Rule of Fothud. Like the Cummean and Bigotian Penitentials from which it is largely derived, the Old Irish Penitential is structured around Cassian’s eight principal vices. Such an arrangement speaks to the céli Dé view of penance. As expressed in the homiletic preface to the Penitential, The venerable of Ireland have drawn up from the rules of the Scriptures a penitential for the annulling and remedying of every sin, both small and great. For the eight chief virtues, with their subdivisions, have been appointed to cure and heal the eight chief vices, with whatsoever springs therefrom.153 The Penitential thus sets forth the means both for expiating sinful deeds and for overcoming the vices from which they arise.154 The former is accomplished


151 152 153


Old Irish Penitential, III.20, III.6, 10 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 158–9, 154–7); cf. ibid., I.15 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–1), which speaks of the fír-manach, ‘true monk’ (as opposed to the manach, the ‘paramonastic’ lay-tenant). Ibid., II passim, IV.7 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 138–47, 162–5). Ibid., II.3, 8; I.7, II.36 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 140–3, 146–53). Ibid., preface (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 135, tr. Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 259): ‘Conaemdetar sruithe Erenn a riaglaib na screptrae pennatoir dilgind frepthae cech pecthae o biuc commór. Air rosuidigthe na hocht n-airig sualach cona fodlaib fri hícc 7 slanugud na n-ocht n-airech ndualchae co neoch gainedar uaidib.’ Cf. ibid., II.5 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 140, tr. Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 263), which speaks of the forgiveness of sin ‘through penance and penitence’ (tria pennait 7 aithrigi); the distinction intended here may illustrate the difference Etchingham postulated between aes pende and aes aithrige; see above, 177 n. 43.


Céli Dé in Ireland through the completion of the penance prescribed for each misdeed, in most cases a fast on bread and water for a specified length of time. The latter, in accordance with Cassian’s concept of curing spiritual contraries by their contraries, is achieved by attention to the virtues appointed to combat each vice. For example, one who is guilty of envious fault finding or who loves to hear it should do penance of four days on bread and water and make amends to the one he maligned.155 To combat the vice from which this sin derives, invidia, he will pursue kindliness of heart without malice, brotherly love, helpfulness to his neighbour, speak well of everyone, and so forth.156 Binchy observed that the contents of the Old Irish Penitential are substantially and often verbally identical with one or the other of the Hiberno-Latin penitentials that preceded it.157 The significance of the Old Irish Penitential then is not that it represents a new way of thinking about penance or advocates a stricter penitential regime, but rather that it demonstrates continuity and esteem for previous authorities on penance, both Irish and non-Irish. The sole aspect in which the Penitential may be regarded as an important departure from the works that preceded it is that it is the only known Irish penitential written in the vernacular.158 The second céli Dé work primarily concerned with penance is the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations. As noted previously, the Cummean and Bigotian Penitentials, and the second tract of the Canones Hibernenses, titled De arreis, advocate the commutation of longer penances for shorter and usually more intensive ones.159 The practice did not originate among céli Dé. Indeed, the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations would have us believe that its authority goes back to the first generation of Irish saints.160 There are a number of significant aspects to the text. It contains commutations not only for penances, but also for the rescuing of a soul from hell. In the latter case presumably the vicarious commutations reduce the punishment that the soul in hell would otherwise receive. The first chapter reads, A commutation for rescuing a soul out of hell: three hundred and sixty-five Paters and three hundred and sixty-five genuflexions and three hundred and sixty-five blows of the scourge every day for a year, and a fast every month – this rescues a soul out of hell.161 155 156 157 158 159



Old Irish Penitential, IV.4 (ed. & tr. Binchy, ‘An Irish penitential’, 162–3). Ibid., IV.1d (ed. & tr. Binchy, ‘An Irish penitential’, 160–1). Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 49. Ibid.. See below, 209–12. Paenitentiale Cummeani, VIII.25–7 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 124–5); ‘Bigotian Penitential’, V (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 198–9); Canones Hibernenses, II (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 162–7). Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, XXIII–XXV (ed. & tr. Binchy, 62–5). As Binchy, ibid., 53, observed, Irish religious literature frequently attributed later material to the great figures of the early Christian period. Still, he thought it improbable that some of the saints named in the Table of Commutations, such as Colum Cille and Ciarán, should have been specially picked out unless there was an old tradition linking them to these practices. I am unaware of any evidence contemporary with these saints linking them to the commutation of penance. Ibid., I (ed. & tr. Binchy, 58–9); ‘Arra tessairgne anma a iffurn .i. coic pater ar tri .xxtib ar trib cétaib acus coic slechtain ar trib .xxtib ar trib cétaib accus .u. bemend ar trib


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé The second and third chapters offer shorter variations of the above that were likewise intended to redeem the dead. The fourth chapter, however, makes a qualification: ‘each of the foregoing commutations rescues souls out of hell, if intercession may be undertaken for them’.162 Not all of the damned, it seems, were eligible for such assistance. Intercession for the deceased is also mentioned in The Monastery of Tallaght: There is nothing that a man does on behalf of one that dies that does not help him, whether it be vigil or abstinence, or reciting intercessory prayers or almsgiving or frequent benediction. Móedoc and all his community were a full year on bread and water to obtain the release of the soul of Brandub mac Echach. Sons ought to do penance for the souls of their departed parents, etc.163 These passages underscore the point that penitential activities were undertaken both by the confessed penitent and by the virtuous, whether for the benefit of his own soul or on behalf of the deceased. Most of the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, however, is concerned with the penitent sinner. Regarding the assignment of penance, it offers some practical advice directed, it would seem, at the confessor: Every penance is determined, both as to its severity and the length of time one is engaged in it, by the magnitude of the sin, the length of time it is persevered in, the motive for which it is committed, and the fervour with which it is eventually abandoned.164 Furthermore, the penance should reflect the standing of the guilty party: As there is a difference between ecclesiastics and laymen and between veiled women and laywomen, so too there is a difference between the [kind of] mortification and penance due from them, as well as between the commutations which may properly be performed by them.165 These passages recall the instruction of Pope Gregory I to Bishop John of Ravenna in Liber Regulae Pastoralis, written ca 600. When teaching and giving admon-

162 163



.xxtib ar trib cétaib di abaind hi cach aen llau co cend mbliadnae acus troscud cach mis doessairc anmae a iffurn.’ Ibid., II–III (ed. & tr. Binchy, 58–9); IV (ed. & tr. Binchy, 58–9): ‘doessairc anmandae a iffurnd cach arrae donaib airraib-se mad ingabalae a ecdairc.’ The Monastery of Tallaght, XVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133–4): ‘Ní fil ní dogné dune dar cend indtí adbail nad cobair dó etir figill 7 abstanit 7 gabail necnairci 7 almsanae 7 bendachtae menci Bliadain lán dano do moedoc a muindtir uli for usciu 7 bargin ar tuaslucud anmae brandaib maic echach filii pro mortuis parentibus debent poénitere. 7 cetera.’ Brandub mac Echach, king of Leinster, was killed in 605. Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, V (ed. & tr. Binchy, 58–9): ‘Is fou tra dotét cach penaind etar dúri 7 fot inna ree bether ocae fo meit in pecdae 7 fo eret feidligter and 7 fon deitbirius ara ndentar 7 fo dichratus scartar frisi iaram.’ Ibid., VII (ed. & tr. Binchy, 60–1): ‘Amal file tra dechor eter cleirchiu 7 laichu etar maccaillacha 7 laichesa immatha samlaid ata dechor etar a saithar 7 a pendaind ata dí etar na arre ata corai do denam doib.’ On the translation of maccaillacha, ‘veiled women’, see ibid., 68 n. 7.


Céli Dé in Ireland ition, Gregory advised, the pastor should adapt it to the state of the recipient, taking into account gender, age, wealth, disposition, and other factors. Likewise, he must advise ‘in one way those who grieve for their sins yet do not abandon them [and] in another way those who abandon their sins yet do not grieve for them’,166 and similarly, ‘in one way those who commit only small sins but commit them frequently [and] in another way those who guard themselves against small sins yet sometimes sink into graver ones’.167 Gregory was concerned here with the ars praedicationis rather than with penance, but his counsel is reflected in the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations. Elsewhere in the latter text he is credited with establishing the commutation of a year’s penance for clerics.168 Binchy regarded the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations as a céli Dé text but doubted that the practice of arre or commutation originated with them. While he overlooked commutation in the Cummean and Bigotian Penitentials, he did note a commutation in the Penitential of Theodore, dated to the seventh century, which corresponds to a passage in De Arreis.169 Yet the more weighty reason, to his mind, for regarding penitential commutation as a practice that antedated céli Dé is that he found it extremely unlikely that a reform movement intent upon a revival of strict asceticism, such as he supposed céli Dé to have been, should have introduced a system of commutations designed to shorten and in some cases even to lighten the established forms of penance.170 The question more pertinent to our study is why such a movement would advocate penitential commutations at all. But once it is understood that céli Dé were not in fact ascetic reformers, the apparent incongruity disappears. The Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations offers the following reasons why commutations are practised: for a speedy separation from the sin with which one has been united, for fear of adding to the sins in the future, for fear that one’s life be cut short before the end of the penance decided by an anmcharae, in order to [be free to] approach the Body and Blood of Christ by restricting (?) [the period of] penance.171 The underlying reason for commuting a penance, according to this passage, was out of pastoral concern for the sinner. It assumes that it was in the best interest of the penitent to move as quickly as possible through the period of repentance and

166 167 168

169 170 171

Gregory, Liber Regulae Pastoralis (ed. Migne, PL, LXXVII, col. 51): ‘aliter qui commissa plangunt, nec tamen deserunt; aliter qui plangunt, nec tamen devitant’. Ibid.: ‘aliter qui licet minima, crebro tamen illicita faciunt aliter qui se a paruis custodiunt, sed aliquando in grauioribus demerguntur’. Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, XIV (ed. & tr. Binchy, 62–3): ‘ut gregorius constituit’. Pope Gregory I was highly respected and frequently cited among the Irish. An eleventh- or twelfth-century Life of Gregory contained in Lb went so far as to represent him as of Irish birth and buried in Aran; see Kenney, The Sources, 789. Binchy (ed. & tr.), Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, 53. Ibid., 53–4, and apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 50. Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, VI (ed. & tr. Binchy, 58–9): ‘ar emi scartha frisin pecad iarna chomlepaid ar oman imtormaich ina pecad ar chiund ar chumreg saeguil resiu risar forcend peindi conmoladar a n-anmcharat ar ascnam coirp críst 7 a folae tria chomeicniugad peindi’.


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé return to full communion with the church.172 Here we see the purpose of penance: the rehabilitation of the sinner. Penitential commutations served to facilitate that end and may have had the effect of encouraging more forthright confessions, as one who was deserving of a lengthy penance might be more inclined to submit to the will of his confessor if he could get it over with sooner. The same perspective is evident in other céli Dé writings. The Tallaght memoir demonstrates a sustained interest in penance for both laity and religious, and sets out the penances for a number of sins particular to both, sometimes drawing directly from the Old Irish Penitential.173 It evinces anxiety for those who do not faithfully perform their allotted penance or who conceal their sins when making confession,174 but also notes that there are some who will offer false confessions so as to increase the penance laid upon them – ‘this is not right’ (ni coir son), intones The Monastery of Tallaght.175 Unquestionably, penance was a paramount concern among céli Dé. Their attention to it, however, arose not out of a desire to bring about an ascetic renewal but out of pastoral concern for their community, both religious and lay, to promote the remittance of sin and the conquest of the vices that fostered it.

Liturgy and devotion Noting our dependency upon texts associated with céli Dé for most of our knowledge of liturgical practice in Ireland in the eighth and ninth centuries, Jane Stephenson remarked, ‘it is perhaps possible that the reforming activities of the Céli Dé included a particular interest in liturgy’.176 While I dispute the claim that céli Dé were involved in ‘reforming activities’, there is no denying that they were deeply concerned with matters of liturgy and private devotion.




175 176

The Tallaght memoir shows particular concern for persons deprived of the eucharist for any length of time. Persons undergoing a seven-year penance were allowed to communicate halfway through if they showed good progress; Teaching of Mael Ruain, LIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 32–3); cf. ibid., IV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 4–7), and the Rule of the Céli Dé, XIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 66–9). Old Irish Penitential, II.4 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 140, tr. Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 263), explains that it was done ‘arna herbalat na hanmanna cen corp críst tria aimseraib for a inna haithrigi’, ‘so that their souls may not perish for want of Christ’s body by reason of the long period of penitence’; cf. ‘Second Synod of St. Patrick’, XXII (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 192–3): ‘Ideo breuia sunt et stricta apud eos spatia, ne anima fidelis interiat tanto tempore ieiuna medicinae’, ‘Therefore short and strict are the seasons [of penance] in their ranks, lest the faithful soul perish by abstaining from the medicine for so long a time.’ The Monastery of Tallaght, XI, XXXVII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 131–2, 142); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XLVI, XLVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 2831; see also xvii–xviii). The Monastery of Tallaght, XXIII, LIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 135, 147); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXII, LXXIV–LXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 14–15, 42–5). The Monastery of Tallaght, LXIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 152–3). Stephenson, ‘Introduction’, lxxii n. 386.


Céli Dé in Ireland Temporale According to the Franciscan redaction of the Tallaght memoir and the Old Irish Penitential, céli Dé recognised at least eight major festivals in the liturgical year.177 Evidence from the Stowe Missal and elsewhere in the Tallaght memoir indicates that these included Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision, Epiphany, Maundy Thursday, Easter, Low Sunday, the Feast of the Ascension, and Pentecost.178 The Martyrology of Tallaght and Félire Óengusso commemorate all these as well as the Return from Egypt, the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, the Crucifixion (on the same day as the Conception), the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and the Transfiguration.179 As was generally the case in Ireland, the Tallaght community observed three Lenten seasons. The most important of these was the forty-day period before Easter, sometimes referred to as Great Lent (corgus már) or Spring Lent (corgus an erraigh) but more often simply as Lent (corgus/quadragesima).180 There was also Summer Lent (samchorgus), the forty days after Pentecost, and Winter Lent (gemchorgus), the forty days before Christmas, corresponding to Advent.181 The observance of multiple lenten periods in Ireland is at least as old as the Penitentialis Vinniani,182 and may have its roots 177



180 181


Teaching of Mael Ruain, LIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 32–3); cf. Old Irish Penitential, I.15 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–1). Teaching of Mael Ruain, XL (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 24–5), = The Monastery of Tallaght, VI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 129), speaks of three prímh-sollumna, ‘chief feasts’, but does not name them. The Stowe Missal (ed. Warner, II.11–12); Teaching of Mael Ruain, IV, XXV, XXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 4–7, 14–17); Rule of the Céli Dé, XIX, XXIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 68–71); The Monastery of Tallaght, LXVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 156). Martyrology of Tallaght, 25 Dec. (Christmas), 1 Jan. (Circumcision), 6 Jan. (Epiphany), 11 Jan. (Return from Egypt), 24 Mar. (Maundy Thursday), 25 Mar. (Crucifixion & Conception), 27 Mar. (Easter), 1 May (Beginning of Christ’s ministry), 5 May (Ascension), 15 May (Pentecost) (edd. Best & Lawlor, 1, 3, 5, 7, 26, 27, 38, 39, 43); Félire Óengusso, 1 Jan. (Circumcision), 6 Jan. (Epiphany), 11 Jan. (Return from Egypt), 2 Feb. (Presentation in the Temple), 25 Mar. (Crucifixion & Conception), 27 Mar. (Easter), 1 May (Beginning of Christ’s ministry), 5 May (Ascension), 15 May (Pentecost), 26 July (Transfiguration), 25 Dec. (Christmas) (ed. Stokes, 33–5, 58, 84, 122, 124, 165, 254); The Monastery of Tallaght, LV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 148), mentions the Return from Egypt, the Presentation in the Temple, and ‘the Defeat of the Devil’ (cloud diabul), which probably refers to the Temptation of Christ, observed 15 Feb. in Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 60): ‘búaid Maicc Dé dia námait’, ‘the Son of God’s victory over His enemy’, coinciding with the beginning of Lent. Rule of the Céli Dé, III (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 64–5); The Monastery of Tallaght, XV, LXVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132–3, 156). The Monastery of Tallaght, XXIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 136); Teaching of Mael Ruain, I (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 2–3); cf. Old Irish Penitential, II.36 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–1); Rule of Fothud, H 12, 14 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 512–13); Rawlinson B. 512 note to Félire Óengusso, 7 Jan. (ed. & tr. Stokes, 42–3): ‘Cargus eli isin gemrad / lam fri cach seri is cóir ann, / corgus Isu i n-errach adbal / corgus Moysi is t-samrad tall’, ‘Another Lent in the winter, hand to every food is proper then, Jesu’s Lent in vast springtime, Moses’s Lent in summer there’. Penitentialis Vinniani, XLVI (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 92–3): ‘tres


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé among the Eastern churches, though by what process or when the practice arrived in Ireland is a matter for further investigation.183 Aside from the three Lents, the liturgical year among céli Dé seems to have conformed in most respects to the Roman Temporale.184 Sanctorale In regard to the Sanctorale, the Tallaght memoir mentions the specific feasts of only three saints: Patrick (17 March), Brigit (1 February), and Cainnech of Aghaboe (11 October), who founded Finglas.185 The poem Énlaith betha brig cen tair, which, as we have seen, speaks of the music of birds marking the feasts of Ruadán (15 April), Mael Ruain (7 July), and Ciarán of Clonmacnoise (9 September), may offer further evidence, if it is indeed a céli Dé text.186 There were doubtless many more saints’ feasts than these observed among céli Dé, for we know from the Martyrology of Tallaght and Félire Óengusso that the Tallaght community followed the Roman Calendar, largely as it is given in the Hieronymian Martyrology, augmented by the addition of Irish saints. Céli Dé celebrated the feast days of saints with a special office in the evening after supper, but it seems unlikely that they commemorated all the saints listed in the Martyrologies of Tallaght and Óengus in this fashion. According to the Teaching of Mael Ruain, Their practice at Tallaght, when the feast of a saint came round, was to recite the psalms in the refectory immediately after supper, and to say the office appointed for that feast afterwards in the church, lest the feast should interfere with the office of the evening on which it fell.187


184 185 186


quadragisimas in anno singulo’; cf. Paenitentiale Cummeani, II.2 (ed. & tr. Bieler, The Irish Penitentials, 112–13): ‘per .iii. quadragesimas anni’; cf. Penitential of Theodore, II.14.1 (ed. Wasserschleben, Die Bussordnungen, 218), derived from a certain Scottorum libellus, ‘Ieiunia legitima tria sunt in anno per populum, xl ante Pascha, ubi decimas soluimus anni, et xl ante Natale Domini, et post Pentecosten xl dies et noctes.’ According to Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, III. 27 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 314–15), Egbert, an English monk educated in Ireland who later became the abbot of Iona (ob. 729), kept a strict fast in Lent and carefully observed a similar ‘modum continentiae etiam xl diebus ante natale Domini totidem quoque post peracta sollemnia Pentecostes’. The Greek Church has four lenten observances per year, the Maronites six, and the Armenians eight. See Mershman, ‘Quadragesima’, The Catholic Encyclopedia XII.589. For some exceptions, see Stokes (ed. & tr.), Félire Óengusso, xliii–xliv. The Easter controversy had been settled in Ireland since the close of the seventh century. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XLII, LXXII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 26–7, 72–3); Gwynn & Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: Ireland, 384. Énlaith betha brig cen tair (ed. & tr. Best & Lawlor, Martyrology of Tallaght, 94–7). The poem may also commemorate the feasts of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (14 September), Joseph, bishop of Tallaght (5 January), and Failchú of Finglas (24 September, also the conception of St John the Baptist); see above, 166–8. Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXVIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 44–5): ‘As é gnathugadh do bhí a tTamhlacht an tan tigeadh feusda naoim cuca, do ghabhdis na psailm san proinntigh d’eis proinne gan mhoill, 7 do nidís oific don fheusda san eaglais da eisi sin, d’eagla go ccuirfeadh an feusda toirmeasg ar oifig na hoidche na ttiocfadh se’; a scribal note adds, ‘tuigim as so go mbiodh oific cinnte aca fa chomhair gach


Céli Dé in Ireland From this it sounds as though saints’ feasts were not celebrated every day. Those saints for whom no special office was said may simply have been mentioned in the course of the ordinary devotions of the day. Mael Díthruib, we are told, ‘sings between every two psalms of the hundred and fifty, Sancte Michael, ora pro nobis, Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis, adding the saint whose feast falls on the day’.188 Mass and Office The Tallaght documents provide a few particulars regarding the celebration of Mass and Office among céli Dé. The first item of note is that Mass was sung on Sundays, Thursdays, and feast days. According to the Franciscan redaction of the Tallaght memoir, those in Mael Ruain’s muinter who were unable to communicate on Sunday for any reason were to go to communion on Thursday because he felt it was too long for them to wait until the Sunday following, for ‘those two days were appointed to them for celebrating Mass’.189 The Rule of Fothud specifies, Mass on appointed days, Sunday with Thursday, if it be not every day, after asking pardon for every evil. Proper I consider [it] on solemn feasts, little that it does not magnify (?), a feast of an apostle, great martyr, a feast of a pious confessor.190 This twice-weekly celebration seems to have been a departure from earlier practice in Ireland that limited Mass to Sundays and feast days.191 It may be, however, that the Thursday Mass was a private or subordinate celebration, available for those who desired it or missed the Sunday Mass, but not requisite for the entire community.192 The Monastery of Tallaght states that it made no difference whether there were several persons present at Mass or if the priest celebrated it alone, the efficacy was the same.193 Other passages in the Tallaght documents discuss the frequency of communication for newcomers to the community, the appropriateness of providing the eucharist in articulo mortis or of offering Mass for those who died without receiving communion, the circumstances barring a priest from celebrating, and the penances for missing Sunday Mass or vomiting the host, but there




191 192 193

eun-laoí maille re hoifig gach feusda da ttigeadh’, ‘I infer from this that they had a special office appointed for each day, as well as the office of each feast that occurred’; cf. Rule of Fothud, E 13 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 504–5). The Monastery of Tallaght, VIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 130): ‘Canith tra Maoldithruib etir cach salm deni trib cáocad Sancte Michaol ora pro nobis. Sancta Maria ora pro nobis. Acus ind náob asa feil bís for ind láo.’ Cf. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XLII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 26–7). Teaching of Mael Ruain, XIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 12–13): ‘Doba cinnti an da la sin aca re haifrionn do dheunamh innta’; cf. Rule of the Céli Dé, XV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 68–9): ‘is aurdhalta leosom dogrés in dí lá sin fri hoifrend’, ‘these two days are always specially observed by them for attending Mass’. Rule of Fothud, E 12 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise. ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 504–5): ‘Aifrind lathib techtaidib, / domnach la dardáin, / menib é cech en lathi / iar digdi cech cláin. // Deithber lium i sollamnaib / bec nach é moraid, / féli apstail, árd-martir / féli credail caidh.’ Ryan, Irish Monasticism, 345; Gougaud, Christianity in Celtic Lands, 323–4; Stevenson, ‘Introduction’, lxi. See comments by Vogel, Medieval Liturgy, 157. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 156).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé is little information on the structure and content of the Mass itself.194 For most of our knowledge on these aspects of the Mass in early medieval Ireland we must turn to the Stowe Missal, likely written at Tallaght in the early ninth century. Since there is little else that survived from this period to which we may compare the Stowe Missal, it is difficult to determine how similar or anomalous its service was to that observed elsewhere in Ireland. Compared to Continental forms, it is distinguished by an eclectic use of collects and prayers from both Gallic and Roman sources, coupled with a number of non-Roman elements such as a unique elaboration of the Fraction.195 As it was contemporary with the Carolingian reform of the liturgy along Romanising lines and it contains Roman features, including the Gelasian canon of the Mass, F.J. Byrne proposed that the Stowe Missal was innovative and radical rather than representative of Irish liturgical norms.196 If the Stowe Missal was indeed written at Tallaght, Byrne’s theory would suggest that céli Dé were likewise interested in liturgical reform. However, lacking the means of comparison, no certain conclusions are possible at present. Turning to evidence for the Divine Office among céli Dé, in the Tallaght memoir we find references to the following hours: anteirt (‘before terce’, i.e. prime), tert (terce), medón laí (‘mid-day’, i.e. sext), nóin (none), fescor or espartain (vespers), fadg or deired lái (‘end of the day’, i.e. compline), iarméirge (lit. ‘after rising’, a night-vigil), and maiten, a morning office.197 The observance of only one night-vigil at Tallaght, when earlier practice in Ireland was marked by a double vigil (medium noctis / midnocht and matutinum / iarmérge), may be due to Benedictine influence.198 As with the Mass, the Tallaght documents offer minimal insight into the form and content of these hours – other céli Dé texts are virtually silent. For the office of fadg we have this description: They said the Benedicite between supper and praying, retiring to rest immediately afterwards. If anyone happened to take a drink or eat any food later than that, it was necessary for him to say the office of fadg . . . from Cum inuocarem to Nunc dimittis. It is not right, as some do, if they happen to eat after the office of fadg, to say the Benedicite only.199 194

195 196 197

198 199

Teaching of Mael Ruain, IV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 4–7); cf. Rule of the Céli Dé, XIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 66–9); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XIII–XIV, XLVI, LVI, LXIX–LXX, LXXXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 10–11, 28–9, 34–5, 40–1, 48–9). Stevenson, ‘Introduction’, lxv. Byrne, ‘The Stowe Missal’, 44. Gwynn (ed. & tr.), ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, xxii–xxv; Follett, ‘The Divine Office and extra-Office vigils’. The night-vigil iarméirge is generally translated as ‘matins’. However, matins, from the Latin matutinum, was originally the name of the morning office now commonly known as lauds. The Irish name for the morning office, maiten, reflects the older Latin term for that hour. See Hughes, Medieval Manuscripts, 15. Hughes, Medieval Manuscripts, 164–5. Teaching of Mael Ruain, XCVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 56–7): ‘Adeirdis Benedicite idir proinn 7 urnaigthi dul do chodladh ar ball na dhiaidh sin. Da tteagmhadh do neoch ol dighe no chaitheamh bidh ar bith o shoin amach dob eigean do ceileabhradh faidg . . . do radh o Cum inuocarem go ruige Nunc dimittis. Ní maith, mar do níd daoine ann, dá teagmhadh doibh longadh d’eis cheileabratha faidhg Benedicite amhain do radh.’


Céli Dé in Ireland This corresponds to the office of compline, instituted by Benedict of Nursia in the early sixth century and comprised of three psalms beginning with Psalm 4, Cum inuocarem, and the canticle Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29–32).200 In the context of this passage, however, it appears that at Tallaght fadg was a private office said by monks in their cells before going to sleep.201 Compline is also mentioned in Navigatio Sancti Brendani, but there is no evidence of the office among the Irish any earlier than the ninth century.202 The office of nightfall, Initium noctis, was observed by the community of Columbanus in the sixth century and is also mentioned in the Bangor Antiphonary, but it differed substantially from compline which seems to have replaced it.203 Office of the Three Fifties Although the Tallaght documents have little else to say about the hours of the Divine Office, they have quite a bit to say about what Peter Jeffery has called the ‘Office of the Three Fifties’, namely, the recitation all 150 psalms in a single day.204 The practice was not unique to the Irish, as Jeffery pointed out, and may have originated with some of the Desert Fathers of Egypt as an occasional ascetic exercise.205 Among céli Dé, however, the recitation of the Psalter in its entirety was a daily requirement apart from the obligations of the Divine Office. Mael Ruain would not accept anything less. According to The Monastery of Tallaght, Mael Díthruib asked Mael Ruain whether it were enough to recite fifty psalms, if there chanced to be instruction along with them. Mael Ruain replied that he considered the whole contents of the Psalter not too much of a task. ‘This, indeed, is what we consider to be the additional labour of each man. There is, indeed, at this moment [among us] a man for the sickle, for the flail, for the measuring-rod, and for the ditch; but the additional labour of each of them is the Three Fifties. None of them,’ said he, ‘goes to table until his additional labour is finished’.206

200 201

202 203 204 205 206

Hughes, Medieval Manuscripts, 52, 74. This also seems to have been the case with anteirt or prime, mentioned in Teaching of Mael Ruain, XC (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 52–3); cf. Rule of Fothud, G 6 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 510–11), which observes that prior to teirt, céli Dei watch, read, and pray, each according to his strength. Navigatio Sancti Brendanis, XII (ed. Selmer, 34). Curran, The Antiphonary of Bangor, 165, 178–80; Gougaud, Christianity in Celtic Lands, 332. Jeffery, ‘Eastern and western elements’, 102–8. See also Follett, ‘The Divine Office and extra-Office vigils’. See Verba Seniorum (ed. Migne, PL LXXIII.871 §57); cf. Benedict of Nursia, Regula Monachorum XVIII (edd. de Vogüé & Neufville, La Règle, II.534.24–5). The Monastery of Tallaght, XVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 133): ‘Iarmoracht Maoldíthruib do Máolrúoin dus imbad lór cáocai do gabail ma thecmaised forcetal indarrad. Asrubart Máolrúoin nibu móo dan lais arrobúi isind tsaltir nuli. Is hí immurco foropir cáich lindi indsin. Fer immurgu indorsa na serre 7 na susti 7 na forchae 7 ind claid. Issi foropair caich díob na trí cáoca. Ni théid do méis ol sesem nech díob co roglead dó a foropoir indhí sin’; cf. Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 38–9); Rule of Fothud, E 19 (ed. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–7).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé Tallaght was not the only community in Ireland to observe the Office of the Three Fifties. The structure of the Office, however, seems to have varied from place to place. Two different versions are set out in the Tallaght memoir and there are references to still others.207 As I have discussed both versions elsewhere, I will only summarise them here.208 As described in the Tallaght memoir, what I term Version A of the Office of the Three Fifties was accomplished over the course of three daytime cross-vigils, which appear to have followed the hours of terce, sext, and none. Each began with the recitation of Psalm 118, often referred to as the Biait (from the first word of the psalm in Latin, Beati), and a hymn. In the first vigil, these were followed by the recitation of Psalms 1 to 100, the first half of which were said in cruciform. For the second cross-vigil, Psalms 101 to 137 were recited. The recitation of Psalms 138 to 150 during the third cross-vigil completed the Psalter, but there is a fourth cross-vigil said to have occurred at deired lái, ‘end of day’. Like the others, it began with the Biait and was followed by Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55) and a hymn. After these, at the point when one would recite the Psalter in the daytime vigils, one repeated Pater Noster thirty times.209 Apart from these four cross-vigils, another, distinguished by extensive hymnody, is said to have occurred at iarmérge.210 Version B of the Office of the Three Fifties split the Psalter into three sections of fifty psalms, and each fifty into four divisions of twelve or thirteen psalms. Each division began with the versicle Deus in adiutorium intende, Domine ad adiuuandum me festina (Psalm 69:2) and concluded with Pater noster, and each fifty concluded with the Biait and Magnificat. Every other division was to be recited alternately sitting and standing.211 This, we are told, was Mael Ruain’s preferred way of reciting the Psalter, because it prevented one from falling asleep by remaining seated for too long and from becoming fatigued by standing for too long.212 Such concern raises the possibility that Version B, which is not specifically associated with any of the hours of the Divine Office, may have been intended for use during a night-time vigil. Elsewhere in the Tallaght memoir we learn that it was the custom among céli Dé for pairs of monks to maintain a vigil in 207

208 209

210 211


The Monastery of Tallaght, XXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 138–9) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, XC (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 50–3); The Monastery of Tallaght, XXXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 139–40) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, XCIX–C (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 56–9). Cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, V, XXXII, XXXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128–9, 140); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXVI, XXXVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 22–3); Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, III.27 (edd. & tr. Colgrave & Mynors, 312–15). Follett, ‘The Divine Office and extra-Office vigils’. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 138–40) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, XC (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 50–3); ibid., XCV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 54–5). Cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 50–1). The Monastery of Tallaght, VIII, XXX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 130–1, 138–9); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XC–XCI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 50–3). The Monastery of Tallaght, XXXI–XXXII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 139–40) = Teaching of Mael Ruain, XCIX–CI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 56–9). Cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 140). Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 22–3).


Céli Dé in Ireland the oratory reciting the Three Fifties all through the night.213 Without precluding its use on other occasions, Version B of the so-called Office of the Three Fifties seems well suited to the night-time oratory service. Additional practices There are still other devotional practices mentioned in céli Dé texts. The Teaching of Mael Ruain states that following the cross-vigil of the Pater Noster they used to perform what they called the ‘Shrine of Piety’ (comhrair chrábhaidh). This was done by saying Pater Noster and the versicle Deus in adiutorium as far as festina (Psalm 69:2) three times with both hands raised to heaven and concluded with the sign of the cross made by the right hand, all while facing eastward. This was then repeated while facing each of the other three points of the compass, then with the face bowed to the ground, and then finally upturned towards the heavens.214 The recitation of the Biait, the performance of hundreds of genuflexions, the repetition of Pater Noster many times, the chanting of the Three Fifties, often while maintaining for the duration an uncomfortable position (for example, stooped, or with arms extended and never touching the sides), are all activities prescribed in the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations.215 The author of Félire Óengusso clearly intended his poem to be recited as an act of devotion.216 In the epilogue he states, ‘It is a reliquary, it is a communion, it is a canticle upon psalms, it is a solace to believers, it is a requiem for the dead.’217 Ideally, it was to be sung every day, with tears and in a state of purity, during a vigil.218 It may be recited as a commutation of seven Masses, or the Three Fifties, or a festival, or three three-day fasts; it is as the prayers of a hundred believers.219 It is a ‘corslet of piety’ (lúrech lére), a ‘corslet round devotion’ (lúrech im chrábud); it provides spiritual protection, it hallows the soul, abates desire, awakens penitence, and ultimately, bears the singer into the kingdom of heaven.220 As Brian Lambkin observed, the recitation of the Félire

213 214 215 216

217 218 219 220

Ibid., LXXIX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 46–7) = Rule of the Céli Dé, XXX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 72–3). Teaching of Mael Ruain, VI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 6–7) = Rule of the Céli Dé, XIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 68–9); O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 109. Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations XXIII (ed. Binchy, 62–3). For much of what follows, see Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 133–5. The performance of the Félire as an act of devotion does not preclude a more utilitarian function; aside from all the spiritual benefits to be gained by reciting it, Óengus affirms that ‘arpeti cech díne / do thoscélad féle’, ‘every group sings it to ascertain the feasts’; Félire Óengusso, epilogue, lines 79–80 (ed. & tr. Stokes, 267). Hennig, ‘The function’, 325, believed it to have been read mostly in the chapter-room. Félire Óengusso, epilogue, lines 189–92 (ed. & tr. Stokes, 273): ‘Is cretar, is communn, / is cantaic for salmaib, / is dídnad do chredlaib, / is écnairc do marbaib.’ Ibid., lines 165–6, 173–4, 199 (ed. & tr. Stokes, 272). Ibid., lines 177–88 (ed. & tr. Stokes, 272). Ibid., lines 78, 183–4, 193–6 (ed. & tr. Stokes, 267, 272). The term lúrech lére also occurs as the name of a cross-vigil in the Teaching of Mael Ruain, VI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 6–7): ‘Luireach leiri fá sean-ainm o chein don chrosadh ag na sruithibh’, ‘The corslet of devotion was the old name formerly given by the elders to the cross-vigil’; cf. Rule of the Céli Dé, XIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 68–9).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé was conceived as performing a service to God, as befitting the duty of a ‘client’ (céle) towards his ‘lord’ (flaith).221 Such extraliturgical practices were not unique to Tallaght. The Tallaght memoir mentions monks belonging to other communities who made a practice of reciting the entire Psalter each day. The Rules attributed to Fothad, Patrick, Ailbe, and Comgall likewise commend it.222 The only thing comparable to the Office of the Three Fifties prior to céli Dé is the rigorous cursus psalmorum that Columbanus imposed on his monks in the sixth century.223 The recitation of the Biait, which figures so prominently in the cross-vigils of the Tallaght memoir, is advised in the Rule of Ailbe and the Rule of Fothud as a daily practice with either one or two hundred genuflexions; the Rule of Comgall expects it twice daily, morning and evening, with a hundred genuflexions each time.224 I am unaware of any Irish sources earlier than the Tallaght memoir, however, that make similar extraliturgical use of Psalm 118. One might conclude that the vigils described in the Tallaght memoir represent a development in Irish religious observance that originated with Mael Ruain and spread from his church to others. Alternatively, it may be argued that the extraliturgical practices at Tallaght were a local manifestation of a general trend toward more demanding devotional obligations among Irish religious in the ninth century. Either way, there is no disputing that Tallaght céli Dé were greatly concerned with religious devotion. In the sixth century, Benedict of Nursia structured the Divine Office for his community so that his monks would recite the entire Psalter at least once over the course of a single week. There is no reason to think that Irish religious performed less than this in their own performance of the hours.225 For a céle Dé, however, the obligations of the Divine Office were not enough. His additional labour or foropair surely helped set him apart as a fír-manach or ‘true monk’ indeed.

Sunday observance Something on the céli Dé respect for Sunday has already been said in regard to Epistil Ísu and Cáin Domnaig.226 According to the Tallaght memoir, Sunday observance began Saturday evening after vespers, in keeping with general christian practice in the middle ages that reckoned Sunday from sundown on Saturday 221 222

223 224

225 226

Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 135. The Monastery of Tallaght, V, XXXII, XXXIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 128–9, 140); Teaching of Mael Ruain, XXXVI, XXXVII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 22–3); Rule of Fothud, E 19 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–7); Rule of Patrick, XII (ed. & tr. O’Keefe, 220, 223); Rule of Ailbe of Emly, XVII (ed. & tr. O’Neill, 98–9); Rule of Comgall, XIII (ed. & tr. Strachan, ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, 196). The Columbanian cursus varied from 63 to 114 psalms per day, depending upon the time of year; see Curran, The Antiphonary of Bangor, 166–7. Rule of Ailbe of Emly, XVII (ed. & tr. O’Neill, 98–9); Rule of Fothud, E 19 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 506–7); Rule of Comgall, IIIa (ed. & tr. Strachan, ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, 193). Hughes, Medieval Manuscripts, 50. See above, 152–5.


Céli Dé in Ireland to sundown on Sunday, a practice modelled on the Jewish reckoning of the Sabbath from sundown to sundown.227 Many of the Sunday proscriptions detailed in the Tallaght memoir seem to have been inspired by Old Testament Sabbath regulations.228 Labour was strictly curtailed. According to The Monastery of Tallaght, ‘he [either Mael Ruain or Mael Díthruib] does not consider it right to tonsure or wash or split wood or do any other form of work . . . such things are not done on a Sunday’.229 The gathering of apples or lifting even a single apple from the ground was not allowed on Sunday among céli Dé, nor were they permitted to eat food that had been prepared or carried any distance on that day.230 Married folk were instructed to abstain from sexual relations on Saturday nights and Sunday nights too if they were able.231 Castigation or flagellation, which seems to have been a normal part of céli Dé ascetic practice, was not performed on Sunday because they were concerned about the example it might set among other churches.232 On Sunday at mealtime the community enjoyed some relaxation of their normally stringent dietary restrictions.233 On the matter of fasting on Sunday, as noted earlier, there is some disagreement among our texts. The Old Irish Penitential punishes any fasting on that day, whether done ‘through carelessness or austerity’ (tri faill no chaillti), with a week’s penance on bread and water.234 Such a prohibition is in keeping with a gloss in Amra Choluim Chille, which likewise disapproves of fasting on Sunday.235 Yet in apparent contravention of this rule, the Franciscan redaction of the Tallaght memoir states that the community of Mael Ruain fasted on the eve of the first Sunday of every month.236 The Rule of Fothud states, ‘Fasting on Sunday, do not take from me, on account of the Holy Lord; in the reckoning of the tithe of the year it is not counted.’237 It would seem that the 227 228 229





234 235 236 237

The Monastery of Tallaght, XLV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 144). Hughes, The Church, 178. The Monastery of Tallaght, LV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 148): ‘ni coir lais berrad na fothrucud na scoltad connaid nó nach gníomrad . . . nach dentar dia domnaich’; cf. Exodus 35:2–3, Numbers 15:32. The Monastery of Tallaght, XIII, XLIX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132, 145); Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXXII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 46–7); cf. Exodus 16:23, 16:26; Jeremiah 17:21–2. The Monastery of Tallaght, XIV (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 132); Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXIII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 36–7); Old Irish Penitential, II.36 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–3). Teaching of Mael Ruain, LXXXII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 48–9); cf. The Monastery of Tallaght, XXVI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 137); Rule of the Céli Dé, LII (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 78). Teaching of Mael Ruain, I, XLV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 2–3, 28–9); Rule of the Céli Dé, III, XXIV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 64–5, 70–1); The Monastery of Tallaght, L (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 146). Old Irish Penitential, I.16 (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, 150–1). Amra Choluim Chille, XCVII (ed. Stokes, 272). Epistil Ísu and Cáin Domnaig, curiously, are entirely silent on the matter of Sunday fasts. Teaching of Mael Ruain, LV (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 34–5) = Rule of the Céli Dé, XXXVI (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 72–3). Rule of Fothud, H 9 (ed. & tr. ‘Mac Eclaise’, ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, 512–13): ‘Aine Domnaig uam ní beir / déag in choimded chain: / in airem na dechmaide / na bliadna nís fail’; the ‘tithe of the year’ is a reference to the Lenten fast, which as early as the time of


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé propriety of Sunday or Sunday-eve fasts was thus a matter of some disagreement in the late eighth or early ninth century. However, as we have already observed in the matter of diet and liturgical devotion, uniformity of practice was not characteristic of céli Dé, even within the same community. Journeys of over a thousand paces on Sunday were not permissible unless it was to fulfil pastoral obligations such as visiting the tenantry (déisi), tending the sick, and so forth.238 This recalls the rabbinical injunction against Sabbath journeys of more than two thousand cubits (slightly less than a Roman mile), a distance known in New Testament times as a Sabbath-day’s journey.239 Such was the regard for Old Testament sabbatarian observance that Saturday was respected as well. According to The Monastery of Tallaght, In Colum Cille’s Rule Saturday’s ration is the same as Sunday’s, on account of the honour paid to the Sabbath [i.e. Saturday] in the Old Testament. It is only in respect of work that it is distinguished from Sunday. In other Rules also there is a similarity of rations on the Sabbath and on Sunday.240 While the text we know as Regula Choluim Chille contains no such provision, it is evident from this passage that céli Dé were cognisant of Sunday observance among other religious. Comparable respect for Sunday is manifest in Cáin Domnaig and the related Epistil Ísu, both of which exhibit ties to churches among the Uí Néill.241 Certainly céli Dé were not alone in Ireland in their regard for Sunday observance. However, in light of the above passage on Sunday castigation and the desire to avoid setting an improper example to the ‘folk of the old churches’, it may be that céli Dé regarded themselves as champions of the sort of strict Sunday observance required in Cáin Domnaig. In this regard we might also recall the Chronicum Scotorum annal for 811 which relates that a céle Dé brought to Ireland the ‘Scroll from Heaven’, evidently a reference to the text that became the basis of Epistil Ísu. Céli Dé writings offer confirmation that at Tallaght, at least, the strict Sunday ideals of the day were put into practice.

Céli Dé use of the vernacular There remains one final matter to consider in this chapter, the apparent preference for the vernacular in céli Dé texts. According to Binchy, the vernacular was used in

238 239 240


Gregory the Great was reckoned as a spiritual tithe for the whole year; see Thurston, ‘Lent’, The Catholic Encyclopedia IX.152–4. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXXI (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 156–7). Acts 1:12. The Monastery of Tallaght, LXIX (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 156): ‘Is cutrumme tra hi riagail Coluim Cille fit sathairn 7 fit domnaich fobithin in chatudh robui forsint sabbait i fetarlaic in opair tantum is and deilicid fri domnach. Ata i riagailib ailibh dano cosmailius fitta i sabbota 7 in dominico.’ Cf. the probably ninth-century and probably Irish Redaction IV of Visio Pauli (ed. Silverstein, 214–18), which includes considerable material on the punishment of violators of Sunday observance; see Dumville, ‘Towards an interpretation of Fís Adamnán’, 62–70.


Céli Dé in Ireland Ireland in glosses to Latin texts and in religious verse as early as the seventh century or perhaps even the sixth – here one thinks of Amra Choluim Chille, composed by Dallán Forgaill upon the death of St Columba in 597. Complete prose texts in Old Irish on religious subjects, however, Binchy maintained were not composed before the second half of the eighth century.242 Indeed, the earliest works of this nature, he observed, are among those that Robin Flower associated with céli Dé.243 Building on Flower’s position, Binchy declared that the céli Dé ‘movement produced the earliest corpus of ecclesiastical literature in Irish prose. What lay behind the departure from Latin? Here we can only speculate.’ He then noted that the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations allows the substitution of traditional penances for those of the community who could not read Latin, the implication being that céli Dé texts may have been written in Old Irish to reach a larger, Latin-illiterate audience.244 John Carey offered a similar opinion. He concluded that Óengus mac Óengobann was motivated to write Félire Óengusso in Old Irish by a desire to make his work accessible to those who knew no Latin. This pastoral concern for the laity, which is also reflected in the several anecdotes about the activities of the Céili Dé as ‘soul-friends’ or spiritual counsellors, provided a potent stimulus for the use of Irish in devotional writing; and it is probably to the reformers [i.e. céli Dé] that the growth of this literature can largely be attributed.245 Given the considerable attention to pastoral care in the Tallaght documents, this seems a plausible explanation why céli Dé authors preferred to write in Old Irish rather than Latin. The Old Irish Penitential is a pertinent example. Many of the proscriptions it contains were already available, in Latin, in the Cummean and Bigotian Penitentials, the two primary exemplars for the Old Irish Penitential. The author of the Old Irish Penitential clearly thought it worthwhile to have these put into the vernacular, one would presume for a practical purpose. There may be another reason for the apparent shift to the vernacular in Ireland. Michael Herren and Shirley Ann Brown have recently commented on the use of the Latin language and the cult of the Roman martyrs in the context of the Romani movement in Ireland in the seventh and eighth centuries. While céli Dé texts ‘reflect continuity with the Romanisers of the seventh century in such crucial areas as pastoral care and the acceptance of miracles, relics and images’, Herren and Brown noted that these writings are largely composed in Old Irish and emphasise the cult of native Irish saints.246 One might reasonably suppose a link between the 242 243 244 245 246

Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 47. Flower, ‘The two eyes’, 71–2. Binchy apud Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Irish Penitentials, 49. Carey, King of Mysteries, 15. Herren & Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, 279–80. It should not be overlooked that non-Irish saints were venerated at Tallaght. The Martyrology of Tallaght (edd. Best & Lawlor, 62) commemorates 10 August with the comment, ‘Mael Ruain cum suis reliquiis sanctorum martirum et uirginum ad Tamlachtain uenit.’ Given the paucity of native martyrs in Ireland, we may presume these were the relics of non-Irish martyrs. The Ld and Oxford, Bodleian, MS Rawlinson B. 505 scholia for 1 October in Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 220–1) state that relics of Saints Peter and Paul, the Virgin


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé céli Dé preference for the vernacular over Latin and the promotion of Irish saints over the cult of Roman martyrs. There can be no question that céli Dé were deeply interested in hagiology. The Teaching of Mael Ruain reports that while the brethren were at supper it was their practice that one of them would read aloud ‘the Gospel and the Rules and the miracles of the saints’ (an tshoisgeil 7 riagla 7 fearta na náomh) so that the attention of the others would not be occupied with their meal.247 Céli Dé authors produced no formal saint’s Life that we are presently aware of, but, as we have seen, the authors of Félire Óengusso and the Martyrology of Tallaght were very probably céli Dé, and the author of the Tallaght memoir included numerous hagiographical exempla in his work. Peter O’Dwyer, following Robin Flower and John Colgan, believed that the ‘Tallaght tradition’ of hagiographical writing which produced these texts was also responsible for the various lists of saints found in L.248 While I have already expressed my doubt about a céli Dé connection with the L hagiographical material, it was not without reason that O’Dwyer concluded that there must have been a hagiographical school at Tallaght.249 The scholia accompanying Félire Óengusso seems to have come at least in part from Tallaght.250 Still, whatever the explanation for the increased frequency of vernacular texts in Ireland after the middle of the eighth century, perhaps too much has been made of the entire issue. The appearance of céli Dé does not mark the beginning of a wholesale shift from Latin to the vernacular in Irish religious prose. Ecclesiastical authors in Ireland continued to produce substantial works in Latin throughout the ninth and subsequent centuries, as demonstrated by Navigatio Sancti Brendani and the numerous saints’ Lives that comprise Plummer’s Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae and Heist’s Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae which date from the ninth or tenth century to the twelfth century.251 Secondly, there are at least two examples of Old Irish religious prose from texts that pre-date céli Dé. The first of these is the macaronic Cambrai Homily, probably from the late seventh century. The second comprises the latter half of the Additamenta to Tírechán’s Collectanea regarding St Patrick, which Bieler believed to have been written at Armagh during or shortly after the abbacy of Flann Feblae (ob. 715).252 This may not seem like much, but the point is this: céli Dé were not the first to write prose religious texts in the vernacular. Thirdly, as Thomas Charles-Edwards has pointed out, those texts which survive are not representative of all those that were actually written.253 There may well have been any number of prose religious texts in Old Irish composed prior to céli Dé but which are no longer extant, and by the same token, céli Dé authors might

247 248 249 250 251 252 253

Mary, the apostles and martyrs, and other saints were brought to Tallaght on that date. The Ld and R prefaces to Félire Óengusso (ed. & tr. Stokes, 12–13) also place relics consecrated to St Michael at Tallaght. Michael, Mary, and Stephen, the protomartyr, are named in the course of devotions described in the Tallaght memoir; see ‘The Monastery of Tallaght’ VIII (edd. & tr. Gwynn & Purton, 130–1). Teaching of Mael Ruain LXXX (ed. & tr. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, 46–7). O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 168. Ibid., 172. See above, 121. See Sharpe, Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives, 5–6, 19–34, 384–5. Bieler (ed. & tr.), The Patrician Texts, 47–8; see also Kenney, The Sources, 334–5. Thomas Charles-Edwards, ‘The context and uses’, 62.


Céli Dé in Ireland have written just as many Latin works, now lost or at present unidentified as céli Dé, as they did vernacular ones. The possible céli Dé authorship of the Latin hymn Archangelum mirum magnum comes to mind.254 Our picture of religious literature in Ireland is quite incomplete, and it seems rash to attribute a preference for writing in the vernacular to céli Dé. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín has recently expressed a similar opinion. Discussing the rise of vernacular writing in Ireland, he remarked, It has often been asserted – though with no justification whatever – that the Céli Dé (‘culdee’) reform movement that emerged in the Irish church in the late eighth and early ninth centuries had as one of its effects (if not, indeed, aims) the replacement of Latin by Old Irish, and the encouragement of spiritual expression in the vernacular (particularly the so-called ‘nature poetry’ of the period). While it is true that the main house of the reform movement (Tallaght, Co. Dublin) did produce two remarkable Old Irish martyrologies, the one in verse and the other prose, this is no evidence that Latin had gone into a terminal decline, either in the Céli Dé centres or in the Irish schools generally.255 While I take issue with Ó Cróinín’s description of céli Dé as a ‘reform movement’, his observation is correct. Obviously, céli Dé did write in Old Irish, perhaps out of a desire to make their works more accessible or perhaps to promote the cults of Irish saints. Nevertheless, we cannot be sure that other ecclesiastics in Ireland at that time were not doing the same thing, or that céli Dé truly preferred to write in Old Irish rather than Latin. Certainly, the matter is worth closer investigation, but as it entails questions of literacy and learning that are beyond the scope of this study, it is better to say nothing further at present.

Summary From this examination of the extant céli Dé texts, a number of points have emerged which allow us to begin to characterise the nature of céli Dé identity. There is no question that asceticism was a significant feature of céli Dé religious observance. Their writings comment on nearly all manifestations of religious asceticism, including chastity, poverty, fasting, and diet, the last-mentioned being particularly emphasised in the Tallaght documents. However, we must exercise caution here, for though we may speak of Tallaght as a ‘céli Dé community’, not all the members of that community practised the same level of asceticism. Strictly speaking, the term céli Dé may have originally referred only to the regular religious of the community who maintained the most severe ascetic rule; the aes aithrige / aes pende and the paramonastic laity had their own regimes. At the same time, it is important to note that while it was indeed rigorous the Tallaght rule was not significantly more ascetic than any rule observed previously among the Irish, save perhaps the arduous vigils and numerous genuflexions the Tallaght céli Dé performed as part of their regular devotions. Furthermore, the Tallaght rule was 254 255

See above, 165. Ó Cróinín, ‘Writing’, 186.


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé not identical to the Finglas rule or to the Terryglass rule; each community set its own standard of ascetic practice. In these aspects and in other regards, céli Dé asceticism exhibited far more continuity with the past than it did distinction. As for how different the Tallaght community’s regime was from those of its contemporaries, there is only limited material from which we might draw comparisons. However, there is certainly one ascetic practice mentioned in the Tallaght documents that appears to validate Brian Lambkin’s elitist perception of the céli Dé, namely, the year-long purification fast that was required of newcomers to the Tallaght community.256 Far more remarkable than their asceticism is céli Dé concern for pastoral care and penance. I think it is beyond contention that the céli Dé advocated an active pastoral ministry to the lay-tenants of their churches. Their writings devote considerable attention to the duties and concerns of the anmcharae or ‘soul friend’, whose responsibility extended not only to religious but also to the déisi or lay-tenants of his community. The Tallaght documents note the difficulties the anmcharae faced in directing the poor, the feeble, and the recalcitrant who would not abide by his guidance, and offer some practical advice on how he was to deal with them. The Rule of Patrick, while not likely a céli Dé work, accords with their written views and may be taken as indicative of the obligation céli Dé felt themselves under to ensure the spiritual welfare of the members of their community. Concomitant with their concern for pastoral care is an emphasis on penance. Here as well, we see evidence of the generally conservative nature of céli Dé: though strict, their Old Irish Penitential does not represent a fundamental change from previous penitential works produced in Ireland. It closely follows the Cummean and Bigotian Penitentials and, like them, it is structured around Cassian’s scheme of eight principal vices and it similarly recommends the pursuit of the contrary virtues as remedies. The practice of arre or penitential commutation, though not original to céli Dé, seems to have had particular appeal to them, possibly because they saw it as a means to encourage repentance. In the Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations we find further pastoral advice on the assignment of penance that recalls the instruction of Gregory the Great in his Liber Regulae Pastoralis. In all the céli Dé texts that address it, penance is regarded not simply as an ascetic exercise, but as a key component of a pastoral ministry that encompassed both laity and religious. In our search for céli Dé attributes, for lack of a better word, I would point immediately to their manifest concern for pastoral care and penance. Matters of liturgy and devotion receive considerable attention in céli Dé texts and point to a further indication of céli Dé distinctiveness. The céli Dé Temporale comprised eight major festivals and three Lenten seasons, but in most respects it appears to have conformed to Roman observance. Céli Dé authors produced two martyrologies, which might suggest that they kept a busy Sanctorale, although Félire Óengusso at least in part seems to have been intended for use in personal devotion. The Stowe Missal offers a fairly complete picture of the Mass, but with the lack of comparative texts it is difficult to determine if it represents a new development in Irish liturgy. The Tallaght documents have little to say regarding the celebration of Mass and Office, but they do provide considerable detail on the extensive vigils performed by the Tallaght céli Dé. In cross-vigils that followed 256

Lambkin, ‘Blathmac’, 142, 150–1; see above, 184.


Céli Dé in Ireland every office the Tallaght religious recited the entire Psalter over the course of each day, as well as numerous hymns and prayers, all accompanied by genuflexions. Céli Dé vigils are daunting, to say the least, and seem to have inspired similar devotional regimes found in some of the vernacular rules that appeared around the same time or not long after the céli Dé, such as the Rule of Ailbe and the Rule of Comgall. There is nothing truly comparable to them in earlier Irish devotion, save perhaps for the cursus psalmorum of the Regula Monachorum of Columbanus. If these vigils are indeed a céli Dé innovation, it is not difficult to understand how céli Dé could have perceived themselves as a religious elite, as Lambkin proposed they did. While the liturgical content of their Mass and Office may have been largely unremarkable, their foropair or ‘additional labour’ set them apart from all others. Céli Dé appear to have attained some reputation for their stringent Sunday observance, which in many regards seems to have been influenced by the biblical proscriptions that marked the Jewish Sabbath. Strict Sunday observance in Ireland did not originate with céli Dé, as we can see from the Epistil Ísu and Cáin Domnaig. Yet it is apparent that céli Dé propagated the teachings of these works, and so, as Kathleen Hughes suggested, the rigid enforcement of Sunday observance may be regarded as a characteristic of céli Dé religious practice.257 Concern in the Tallaght documents for how other churches might take licence from improper Sunday activities at Tallaght indicates that the community there regarded itself as a model for other religious. Here as well we see support for an elitist perception of céli Dé. While the above examination of céli Dé works is far from exhaustive, from what we have seen céli Dé distinctiveness arose from a number of features in their religious observance. Their asceticism was unquestionably an integral part of their identity, although it was not their most significant feature. More impressive is their devotional activity, particularly as manifest in their vigils. The motivation behind their strict observance was not a desire to bring about change or reform in religious practice – on the contrary, continuity of practice is quite evident in their works – but rather a desire for a more personal, spiritually committed relationship with Deity, such as implied by their name for one another, céle Dé, a ‘client of God’. The term, at least as it is employed in the texts we have considered here, is not indicative of institutional affiliation but rather of individual devotion, manifest through service to God. So it is that Óengus mac Óengobann could refer to the biblical patriarchs and prophets as the céli of Christ, as he regarded himself.258 So it is that he could claim close friendship with the ‘kingfolk’ (rígrad), the saints commemorated in his Martyrology, among whom are the biblical ancestors around Noah, who are the ‘céli of the bright-realmed king’ (céli ind Ríg flaithgil), and with them the apostles around Peter, the martyrs around Stephen, the anchorites around Paul the Hermit, and the virgins around Mary.259 For their part, céli Dé in Óengus’s day maintained severe rules, undertook massive vigils, dutifully confessed their sins, performed their penances, and stringently observed Sunday because these were the actions or services that they felt were required of God’s ‘clients’ and that

257 258 259

Hughes, The Church, 179. Félire Óengusso, epilogue, lines 13–14, 307–8 (ed. & tr. Stokes, 264, 278). Ibid., lines 229–52 (ed. & tr. Stokes, 274–5).


Towards a reassessment of céli Dé would mark them as such. Moreover, while they considered themselves apart from others, they were not entirely reclusive or isolationist, for they advocated an active pastoral ministry within their own communities, if not beyond them as well. While perhaps not all members of Christian society could attain as high a level of devotion as they could, céli Dé strove to bring others as close to it as possible.


EPILOGUE Modern scholarship has unhesitatingly regarded the céli Dé ‘movement’ a failure.1 From the perspective of the reform theory, it is not difficult to understand why. According to the received wisdom, céli Dé were intent upon countering the ascetic laxity that supposedly characterised Irish churches by the eighth century. Their aims were deemed comparable to those of other reformers in early medieval Europe intent upon restoring the spirituality and vitality of clergy and religious who had become worldly and lethargic.2 Yet unlike Continental reformers such as Benedict of Aniane in the ninth century or the Cluniacs in the tenth century, céli Dé were unable to make their aims a reality. There is no evidence that céli Dé promulgated a universal rule for monks, no indication that they possessed any authority, save perhaps moral, to effect widespread change, nor proof that their leaders presided over anything more than their own religious houses. Through the eighth and ninth centuries Irish religious life seems to have gone on much as it had before. Certainly the various ‘abuses’ that Kathleen Hughes and Peter O’Dwyer associated with ascetic decline in Ireland, notably the preponderance of lay abbacies, succession and pluralism of ecclesiastical office, and secular interference in the affairs of churches and monasteries, continued unabated during this period and, in the views of some, ‘finally led to the downfall of the Irish monasticism in the twelfth century’.3 Accordingly, advocates of the reform theory could conclude that céli Dé ultimately failed and the only lasting effects of their efforts were in the literary sphere. Complicating earlier efforts to understand céli Dé is the attempt to explain circumstances in Ireland by using models of historical interpretation employed in studies of seemingly comparable circumstances elsewhere in medieval Europe. The reform theory of céli Dé identity, which presupposes that monastic reform in Ireland must have been preceded by a decline, follows the pattern of decline and reform elucidated in studies of monastic history on the Continent. A case in point is Bernard Hamilton’s examination of religious revival in tenth-century Rome. In 936, St Odo of Cluny accepted the invitation of the Senator Alberic, the secular ruler of Rome (932–54), to reform the monasteries of the city. Before the close of the tenth century, the Benedictine Rule was accepted as the sole authoritative code for all Latin religious houses in Rome, and fifteen new monasteries and convents were established in accordance with the principles of the reform that began under the direction of Odo and Alberic.4 It is clear from Hamilton’s study that religious life in Rome before 932 was badly in need of reform. There had been a discernible

1 2 3 4

Kenney, The Sources, 470; Hughes, The Church, 182–5; Mac Niocaill, Ireland before the Vikings, 151; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 192; Carey, King of Mysteries, 247. Kenney, The Sources, 468. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 200. Hamilton, ‘The monastic revival’, 47–63.


Epilogue drop in the calibre of postulants to the religious vocation, secular clergy had assumed duties formerly entrusted to regulars, and the number of religious houses in the city had declined by more than half since 806. Furthermore, the decline of the monastic life in Rome had produced a corresponding decline in spirituality and in learning.5 In Hamilton we find strong support for the contention that where there is a reform, a decline must have precipitated it. Yet when we turn to early medieval Ireland, a similar view seems unwarranted when no firm evidence of religious decline there has been produced. Upon considering the primary sources for Irish asceticism prior to the appearance of céli Dé, we are led to conclude such a decline never occurred. Irish monasticism before the appearance of céli Dé was characterised by diversity of practice. There was no common standard of religious discipline in Ireland from which general observance could have slid or to which céli Dé might advocate a return. Not until after the arrival of foreign religious orders in the twelfth century would any degree of monastic uniformity emerge in Ireland. This is not to suggest that Irish religious in the early period were less devout in their vocation, merely that they had differing notions of how much asperity was requisite to their way of life. In none of our sources do we detect signs of ascetic laxity or apathy in Ireland. Rather than decline, we find a measure of continuity in the way the Irish thought about asceticism.6 This is especially apparent in Hiberno-Latin and vernacular texts dating from the sixth to the eighth century that rely upon Cassian and incorporate the monastic ideals he observed in the Eastern deserts. As Nora Chadwick and Colmán Etchingham concluded, there is no reason to regard céli Dé as reformers when the evidence points not to reform or reaction but to continuity.7 There can be little question that the instigators of religious change in medieval Europe frequently employed language that supports their identification as reformers. Commenting on Church reform in the eleventh century, Giles Constable remarked, An extraordinary range of images indicating the process of renewal and reform was used at that time, including terms drawn from cosmology (recreate), religion (convert), instruction (correct), construction (remake, restore, repair), and travel (return, revert) as well as from the natural cycles of life (regenerate, recover, recuperate, revive, resuscitate), seasonal growth (reflower, regrow, reflourish), night and day, the weather, and fire (rewarm, relight, rekindle).8 It becomes much easier to label someone a reformer when he consistently employs words such as recalescere, recuperari, reflorere, and reformare to discuss institutional change.9 Yet it is quite striking that the strongest evidence that D.A. Binchy and others have offered in support of the view that céli Dé regarded themselves as reformers is a few passages in the Tallaght memoir that refer to the laxity of the

5 6 7 8 9

Ibid., 35–45. Cf. Sharpe, ‘Some problems’, 267. Chadwick, The Age, 84–9; Etchingham, Church Organisation, 361. Constable, ‘Renewal and reform in religious life’, 39. Ibid., 41–3.


Epilogue folk of the ‘old churches’ (senchella). Turning to the Tallaght memoir, we do find indications of céli Dé disapproval of the ‘course’ of the folk in the ‘old churches’. The proper context for such remarks, however, is the longstanding concern of both Insular and Continental churchmen regarding the propriety of receiving material support from the unworthy. While céli Dé disapproved of the ‘course’ (réim) of other churches in Ireland, there is no indication that they attempted to change it. In none of their writings do céli Dé reveal themselves to be reformers, ascetic or otherwise. Knowing what céli Dé were not, we can look beyond their asceticism to other concerns emphasised in their writings for indications of what they were. An assessment of the céli Dé corpus, however, is no simple matter. Our examination of the numerous texts that scholars have attributed to céli Dé and the histories of the manuscripts in which those texts are preserved has revealed, first of all, that we cannot associate nearly so many works with céli Dé as O’Dwyer believed possible. Furthermore, the manuscripts of those texts that we can ascribe to céli Dé with any degree of confidence have their provenance, if not origin, in either the Tallaght area or Lower Ormond in northern County Tipperary. This suggests that céli Dé, at least in their eighth- and ninth-century manifestation, were more of a local phenomenon than a regional or general one, as has often been supposed. The Tallaght consuetudinal texts do show considerable interest in asceticism, but do not evince an asceticism substantively different from previous expressions of ascetic devotion in Ireland. Moreover, pastoral care, penance, liturgy, and Sunday observance figure at least as prominently as asceticism in the works we have associated with céli Dé. Brian Lambkin has postulated that céli Dé may be best understood as religious who perceived themselves as belonging to the personal retinue of God – the very meaning of céli Dé – and so distinguished themselves from other religious in the manner of their devotion. Lambkin limited his discussion of céli Dé to the poems of Blathmac and Félire Óengusso. Yet as we have seen, material in other céli Dé works, such as descriptions of the extra-Office vigils preferred by the Tallaght céli Dé, lends support to such a view. An elitist understanding of céli Dé should have particular resonance for scholars familiar with the nature of early medieval Irish society. Old Irish law texts draw a social distinction between persons who were nemed, ‘privileged’, and enjoyed certain legal perquisites, and those who were not nemed. Among the former are kings, lords (flatha), clerics, poets, and other classes of professionals and craftsmen who were entitled to partial nemed status. Below the nemed were the unprivileged freemen who likely comprised the majority of the adult male population at this period.10 While the cleric in orders qualified as nemed, provided he maintained his worthiness and met the obligations of his office, such as the provision of pastoral care and the sacraments, there is reason to believe that the monk under vows was not a fully privileged person in Irish law. A monk who was not also ordained could not fulfil all the duties of the nemed cleric.11 The Collectio Canonum Hibernensis rules that the oath or legal witness of a monachus was invalid without the knowledge of his abbas, just as the oaths of children without the knowledge of their father or the oaths of servants without the sanction of their 10 11

Kelly, A Guide, 9–10. See comments by Sharpe, ‘Some problems’, 251–2, on monks and pastoral care.


Epilogue master were without force.12 There remains more to be worked out on the legal status of regular monks in early Irish society, but it seems appropriate that further investigation of an elitist perception of céli Dé should occur in the context of the nemed and non-nemed dichotomy. Might céli Dé have desired to raise the social standing of the monk? Finally, a modern edition of the Tallaght consuetudinal texts remains a desideratum. Edward Gwynn and William Purton produced respectable editions of The Monastery of Tallaght, the Teaching of Mael Ruain, and the Rule of the Céli Dé in 1911 and 1927, but these are published in journals not readily obtainable by many students of early medieval Ireland, particularly in North America. Furthermore, their editions do not take into full account the evidence of the fragments of the Tallaght memoir found in other manuscripts – Gwynn and Purton appear to have been entirely unaware of the incomplete Latin version that survives in the St Isidore manuscript – and their translations are not always reliable. Given the nature of these documents, in particular their not infrequent lack of correlation and their differing stages of linguistic development – The Monastery of Tallaght is written in Old Irish, the Rule of the Céli Dé in Middle Irish, and the Teaching of Mael Ruain in Early Modern Irish – a comparative edition that sets down the text of each version in parallel columns is a reasonable way to deal with their peculiarities. With the text of each version thus established, it would be possible to determine their interrelations more precisely and to attempt the reconstruction of the content, if not the language, of the original Tallaght memoir written in the ninth century by an unnamed associate of Mael Díthruib.


Collectio Canonum Hibernensis XXXV.5h (ed. Wasserschleben, Die irische Kanonensammlung, 126). It is possible, however, that the Synodus Hibernensis which promulgated this canon had in mind not a regular monk under vows, but rather the ecclesiastical tenant or layman who gave testimony without the approval of his princeps or ecclesiastical lord.


APPENDIX A CATALOGUE OF TEXTS ATTRIBUTED TO CÉLI DÉ Reference sources cited in the catalogue Best (1913) Plummer Kenney Best (1942) Lapidge & Sharpe Baumgarten

R.I. Best, Bibliography of Irish Philology and of Printed Irish Literature to 1912 (Dublin 1913) C. Plummer, ‘A tentative catalogue of Irish hagiography’, in Plummer, Miscellanea Hagiographica Hibernica (Brussels 1925) 171–238 J. Kenney, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical (New York 1929, repr. 1966 with revision by L. Bieler) R.I. Best, Bibliography of Irish Philology and Manuscript Literature. Publications 1913–1941 (Dublin 1942) M. Lapidge & R. Sharpe, A Bibliography of Celtic-Latin Literature 400–1200 (Dublin 1985) R. Baumgarten, Bibliography of Irish Linguistics and Literature 1942–71 (Dublin 1986)

A. Probable céli Dé texts 1 The Tallaght memoir MSS: Extant in two versions (plus a later derivation, ‘Rule of the Céli Dé’, no. 11 below): (1) Dublin, RIA, 3 B 23, pp. 33–47, 51–2 (s. xv2); Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fo. 14v (1467), fragment only; London, BL, Additional 30512, fo. 33v (s. xv2), fragment only; Dublin, RIA, C I. 2, fo. 38rv (s. xv/xvi), fragment only; (2) UCD, Franciscan A 31.10 (s. xvii1); Rome, St Isidore’s College, W 21.4 (s. xvii1), fragment only, translated into Latin ED:

(1) E.J. Gwynn & J. Purton, ‘The Monastery of Tallaght’, PRIA 29 C (1911) 115–79 (from RIA 3 B 23, collated with RIA 23 P 3 and RIA C I 2); A. Scarre, ‘Bithbin Menadaigi’ in Anecdota from Irish Manuscripts, edd. O. Bergin et al., vol. 1 (1907) 75 (from RIA 23 P 3); P. Grosjean, ‘Extraits de la Règle de Tallaght’, Textes hagiographiques Irlandais no. 14, Études Celtiques 2 (1937) 301–3 (from BL Additional 30512); O. Bergin, ‘A fragment of Old Irish’, Ériu 2 (1905) 221–5 (from RIA C I 2); J. Carey, King of Mysteries (Dublin 1998) 246–58 (transl. of selected passages from RIA 3 B 23); (2) E.J. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, Hermathena 44 (1927, second supplemental volume) 1–63; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 81–96 (transl. only); C. Mooney, ‘Paenitentiarum S. Maoil-Ruain, Abbatis Tamhlachta’, Celtica 2 (1954) 297–304 (from St Isidore’s College W 21.4) 220

Appendix REF:

Best (1913), 229; Kenney, no. 264; Best (1942), 149; Baumgarten, 577–8


R. Flower, ‘The two eyes of Ireland’, in The Church of Ireland, A.D. 432–1932, edd. W. Bell & N.D. Emerson (Dublin 1932) 71; P. Grosjean,’Un fragment des coutumes de Tallaght et la Vision de Laisrén’, Notes d’hagiographie celtique no. 51, Analecta Bollandiana 81 (1963) 251–9; K. Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society (London 1966) 174–81; K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 91–4; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 60–121 passim; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 348–55

2 Félire Óengusso MSS: Leabhar Breac: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, pp. 75–106 (ca 1411); Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fos 1r–12v (1467); Oxford, Bodleian, Laud Miscellaneous 610, fos 59r–72r (s. xv); Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 512, fos 53v–64r (ca 1500), incomplete; Brussels, BR, 5100–4, fos 68r–119v (162736); Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 505, fos 211r–220r (s. xv); UCD Franciscan A 7 (s. xv); Dublin, NLI, G 10 olim Cheltenham, Phillipps 10266, pp. 20–45 (s. xvi); London, BL, Egerton 88, fos 88–93; TCD 1337 (H. 3. 18) pp. 616–22 ED: W. Stokes, On the Calendar of Oengus (Dublin 1880) (from Leabhar Breac, Rawlinson B. 512, Laud 610, and Rawlinson B. 505); W. Stokes, Félire Óengusso (London 1905) REF:

Best (1913), 226; Plummer, no. 180; Kenney, no. 272; Best (1942), 147; Baumgarten, 581–2


J. Hennig, ‘Studies in the Latin texts of the Martyrology of Tallaght, of Félire Oengusso, and of Félire hÚi Gormain’, PRIA 69 C (1970) 45–112; K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 205–8; O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 142–51; P. Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies, redated’, CMCS 20 (Winter 1990) 21–38; L. Breatnach, ‘Poets and poetry’, in Progress in Medieval Irish Studies, edd. K. McCone & K. Simms (Maynooth 1996) 74–5; P. Ó Riain, ‘The Martyrology of Óengus: the transmission of the text’, Studia Hibernica 31 (2000–1) 221–42; D.N. Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso: problems of dating a monument of Old Irish’, Éigse 33 (2002) 19–48

3 Rule of Mochutu/Rule of Fothud na Canóine Leabhar Breac: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, pp. 261–2 (ca 1411); London, BL, Additional 30512, fos 20r–22r and 23r (s. xv2); Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fo. 14r (1467), fragment only; Dublin, RIA, 23 N 10, pp. 82–6 (ca 1575); Yellow Book of Lecan: TCD 1318 (H. 2. 16) pp. 407–9, cols 221–7 (s. xiv/xvi); TCD 1285 (H. 1. 11) fo. 125v (1752); Maynooth, St Patrick’s College, M 48 (s. xix) p. 312 MSS:

ED: W. Reeves, The Culdees of the British Islands as they appear in History with an Appendix of Evidences (Dublin 1864) 82–3 (the section Do Chéliu Dé only, from the Yellow Book of Lecan); K. Meyer, ‘Regula Mucuta Raithni’, Archiv für celtische Lexicographie 3 (1907) 312–20 (from BL Additional 30512 collated with RIA 23 N 10) with additional sections in Ériu 2 (1905) 172 (from RIA 23 N


Appendix 10) and ZCP 13 (1921) 27–30 (from RIA 23 N 10, Leabhar Breac, and the Yellow Book of Lecan); ‘Mac Eclaise’ (T. de Róiste) ‘The Rule of St. Carthage’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record 27 (1910) 495–517 (from Leabhar Breac, collated with the other manuscripts); E. O’Curry, Irish Ecclesiastical Record 1 (1864) 112–18, 172–80 (transl. only); U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 59–73 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 230; Kenney, no. 267

COMM: K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 91–4; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 124–31; E. de Bhaldraithe, ‘Obedience: the doctrine of the Irish monastic Rules’, Monastic Studies 14 (1983) 71–9; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 343–5

4 Old Irish Penitential MS: Dublin, RIA, 3 B 23, pp. 16–28 (s. xv2), acephalous; see also the homily derived from the Penitential, item no. 12 below ED: E.J. Gwynn, ‘An Irish penitential’, Ériu 7 (1914) 121–95, with corrigenda in

Ériu 12 (1938) 245–9; D.A. Binchy, in The Irish Penitentials, ed. L. Bieler (Dublin 1975) 258–77 (transl. only) REF:

Kenney, no. 75; Best (1942), 149; Baumgarten, 577–8.

COMM: K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 82–3; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 63–6; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) passim, see especially 340–2

5 Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations MSS: Dublin, RIA, 3 B 23, pp. 13–16 (s. xv2); Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 512, fos 42v–43v (ca 1500) ED: K. Meyer, ‘An Old-Irish treatise De Arreis’, Revue Celtique 15 (1894) 485–98

(from Rawlinson B. 512) with corrigenda in Revue Celtique 17 (1896) 320; E.J. Gwynn, ‘De Arreis’, Ériu 5 (1911) 45–8 (from RIA 3 B 23, collated with Meyer’s text); D.A. Binchy, ‘The Old-Irish table of penitential commutations’, Ériu 19 (1962) 47–72; D.A. Binchy, in The Irish Penitentials, ed. L. Bieler (Dublin 1975) 277–83 (transl. only)


Kenney, no. 76

COMM: K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 82–3; K. Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society (London 1966) 178; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 291–308, passim

6 Martyrology of Tallaght MSS: Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, pp. 1a–11c (s. xii); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, fos 209r–224v (162736) 222

Appendix ED: M. Kelly, Calendar of Irish Saints, The Martyrology of Tallagh (Dublin 1857) (from BR 5100–4); R.I. Best & H. Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght (London 1931); R.I. Best & M. O’Brien, The Book of Leinster vol. 3 (Dublin 1957) 1596–1648 REF:

Best (1913), 227; Plummer, no. 182; Kenney, no. 273; Best (1942), 147; Baumgarten, 581–2


J. Hennig, ‘Studies in the Latin texts of the Martyrology of Tallaght, of Félire Óengusso, and of Félire hÚi Gormain’, PRIA 69 C (1970) 45–112; K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 208–9; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 139–42; J. Hennig, ‘The function of the Martyrology of Tallaght’, Mediaeval Studies 26 (1964) 315–28; P. Ó Riain, ‘The Tallaght martyrologies, redated’, CMCS 20 (Winter, 1990) 21–38; P. Ó Riain, Anglo-Saxon Ireland: The Evidence of the Martyrology of Tallaght (Cambridge 1992); D.N. Dumville, ‘Félire Óengusso’: problems of dating a monument of Old Irish’, Éigse 33 (2002) 19–48 7 Stowe Missal MS: Dublin, RIA, Stowe D. 2. 3 (s. ix1) ED: G. Warner, The Stowe Missal 2 vols. (London 1906, 1915); for numerous inferior nineteenth-century editions, see Kenney no. 555 REF:

Best (1913), 225–6; Kenney, no. 555; Lapidge & Sharpe, no. 537; Best (1942), 147–8; Baumgarten, 55


B. Mac Carthy, ‘On the Stowe Missal’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 27 (1877/86) 135–268; E. Gwynn, ‘The Stowe Missal’, Irish Church Quarterly 9 (1916) 119–33; T. O’Rahilly, ‘The history of the Stowe Missal’, Ériu 10 (1926) 95–109; J. Ryan, ‘The Mass in the early Irish Church’, Studies 50 (1961) 371–84; F.J. Byrne, ‘The Stowe Missal’, in Great Books of Ireland (Dublin 1967) 38–50; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 151–9; T. O’Neill, The Irish Hand (Portlaoise 1984) 6, 64; J. Stephenson, ‘Introduction’, in The Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church by F.E. Warren (2nd edn, Woodbridge 1987) lviii–lxxii; P. Ó Riain, ‘The shrine of the Stowe Missal, redated’, PRIA 91 C (1991) 285–95; T. O’Loughlin, Celtic Theology: Humanity, World and God in Early Irish Writings (London 2000) 128–46

B. Possible céli Dé texts 8 Archangelum mirum magnum MS: Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Codex Augiensis CCXXI (s. viii–ix) fos 191–2 ED: C. Blume, Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi, vol. 51 (Leipzig 1908) 333–5; H.A. Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus, vol. 5 (Leipzig 1855) 103–5; F.J. Mone, Lateinische Hymnen des Mittelalters, vol. 1 (Aalen 1853) 447–9 REF:

Kenney, no. 581; Lapidge & Sharpe, no. 815 223

Appendix COMM: P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981)

183–4; J. Stevenson, ‘Introduction’, in The Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church, by F.E. Warren (2nd edn, Woodbridge 1987) lxxi–lxxii

9 Énlaith betha bríg cen táir MSS: Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, p. 2 (s. xii); Brussels, BR, 5057–59, p. 49 (s. xvii1) ED: R.I. Best & H. Lawlor, The Martyrology of Tallaght (London 1931) 95–7; A.

O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1600 (from the Book of Leinster only); P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 140–1 (transl. only)


Baumgarten, 581

COMM: J. Hennig, ‘The Irish counterparts of the Anglo-Saxon Menologium’, Mediaeval Studies 14 (1952) 98–106; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé, 140–1

10 Poems attributed to Blathmac: (1) Tair cucum, a Maire boíd (2) A Maire, a grian ar clainde MS: Dublin, NLI G 50, pp. 118–42 (s. xvii) ED:

J. Carney, The Poems of Blathmac son of Cú Brettan, together with the Irish gospel of Thomas, and A poem on the Virgin Mary (Dublin 1964)


Baumgarten, 407

COMM: J. Carney, ‘Two Old Irish poems’, Ériu 18 (1958) 1–3; J. Good, ‘The Mariology of the Blathmac poems’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record 104 (1965) 1–7; G. Mac Eoin, ‘The poems of Blathmac’, Studia Hibernica 7 (1967) 222–6; B. Lambkin, ‘The structure of the Blathmac poems’, Studia Celtica 20–1 (1985–6) 67–77; B. Lambkin, ‘Blathmac and the Céili Dé: a reappraisal’, Celtica 23 (1999) 132–54

C. Later derivations of céli Dé texts 11 Rule of the Céli Dé MS: Leabhar Breac: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, pp. 9–12 (ca 1411) ED: W. Reeves, The Culdees of the British Islands as they appear in History with an Appendix of Evidences (Dublin 1864) 84–97 (transl. by J. O’Donovan); E.J. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, Hermathena 44 (1927, second supplemental volume) 64–87; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 81–96 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 229; Kenney, no. 266; Best (1942), 149


K. Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society (London 1966) 174–82; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 60–121, passim; E. de Bhaldraithe, ‘Obedience: the doctrine of the Irish monastic Rules’, Monastic Studies 14 (1983) 71–2; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 348–54, passim 224

Appendix 12 Homily on the Deadly Sins MSS: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fo. 15rv (1467); Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 512, fos 39r–40v (ca 1500); Dublin, NLI, G 10, olim Cheltenham, Phillipps 10266, pp. 47–8 (s. xv) ED: K. Meyer, ‘Aus Rawlinson B. 512. Von den Todsünden’, ZCP 3 (1901) 24–8 (from Rawlinson B. 512) REF: Best

(1942), 149


E.J. Gwynn, ‘Notes on the Irish penitential’, Ériu 12 (1938) 245–9; D.A. Binchy, in The Irish Penitentials, ed. L. Bieler (Dublin, 1975) 258

D. Céli Dé-influenced texts 13 Rule of the Lord/Rule of Comgall of Bangor MSS: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fo. 13rv (1467); Dublin, RIA, 23 N 10, p. 88 (ca 1575), incomplete; Brussels, BR, 5100–4, pp. 31–3 (162736); TCD 1285 (H. 1. 11) fo. 157r (1752); Maynooth, St Patrick’s College, M 48 (s. xix) p. 334; TCD 1136 (s. xix) ED: J. Strachan, ‘An Old Irish metrical Rule’, Ériu 1 (1904) 191–208, with addenda in Ériu 2 (1905) 58; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 29–36 (transl. only) REF:

Kenney, no. 268 (i); Best (1913), 230

COMM: K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 91–4; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 132–3; E. de Bhaldraithe, ‘Obedience: the doctrine of the Irish monastic Rules’, Monastic Studies 14 (1983) 71–9

14 Rule of Ailbe of Emly MSS: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fo. 13r (1467), acephalous; Dublin, RIA, 23 N 10, p. 79 (ca 1575); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, pp. 24–9 (162736); TCD 1285 (H. 1. 11) (1752); Maynooth, St Patrick’s College, M 48 (s. xix) p. 328; TCD 1136 (s. xix) ED: J. O’Neill, ‘The Rule of Ailbe of Emly’, Ériu 3 (1907) 92–115; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 17–27 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 228; Kenney, no. 123

COMM: K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 91–4; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 134–6; E. de Bhaldraithe, ‘Obedience: the doctrine of the Irish monastic Rules’, Monastic Studies 14 (1983) 71–9; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 342–3


Appendix 15 Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith MSS: Dublin, RIA, 23 N 10, p. 89 (ca 1575); Dublin, RIA, Stowe, B. IV. 2, fo. 139r (s. xvi) ED:

K. Meyer, ‘Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith so’, ZCP 7 (1910) 310–12


Best (1913), 161; Kenney, 475 n. 325

COMM: P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981)

136–7; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 342–3

E. Texts closely associated with though not written by céli Dé 16 Apgitir Chrábaid MSS: Dublin, RIA, 3 B 23, pp. 47–51 (s. xv2); Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 512, fos 37r–39r (ca 1500); London, BL, Harleian 5280, fos 39v–41r (s. xv); Dublin, RIA, 23 N 10, pp. 44–8 (ca. 1575). The following copies are incomplete: Yellow Book of Lecan: TCD 1318 (H. 2. 16) p. 410, cols 228–9 and pp. 252–3, cols 570–2 (s. xiv/xvi); TCD 1363 (H. 4. 22) p. 60 (s. xvi/xvii); Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fos 15v, 18v (1467); Dublin, NLI, G 10 olim Cheltenham, Phillips 10266, pp. 46, 48 (s. xvi); TCD 1337 (H. 3. 18) p. 40 (s. xvi); Book of Lismore: Chatsworth, Duke of Devonshire Collection, S.N., fo. 81v (s. xv); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, fo. 6r = p. 1 (162736); Brussels, BR, 2324–40, fo. 65r (s. xvii1); London, BL, Egerton 1782, fo. 45r (s. xvi) ED: K. Meyer, ZCP 3 (1910) 447–55; V. Hull, ‘Apgitir Chrábaid: the Alphabet of Piety’, Celtica 8 (1968) 44–89; T. Clancy & G. Márkus, Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery (Edinburgh 1995) 195–207 (transl. only); U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 157–69 (transl. only); J. Carey, King of Mysteries (Dublin 1998) 231–45 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 232; Kenney, no. 265; Baumgarten, 612


V. Hull, ‘The date of Apgitir Chrábaid’, ZCP 25 (1956) 88–90; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 177–82; P. Ó Néill, ‘The date and authorship of Apgitir Chrábaid: some internal evidence’, in Irland und die Christenheit: Bibelstudien und Mission, edd. P. Ní Chatháin & M. Richter (Stuttgart 1987) 203–15; K. McCone, ‘Prehistoric, Old and Middle Irish’, in Progress in Medieval Irish Studies, edd. K. McCone & K. Simms (Maynooth 1996) 34–5; D.N. Dumville, Review of K. McCone, Pagan Past and Christian Present (Maynooth 1990) Peritia 10 (1996) 293; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 66, 295–331 passim

17 Rule of Patrick MSS: Leabhar Breac: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, pp. 11–12 (ca 1411); TCD 1336 (H. 3. 17) cols. 852–4 (s. xvi); Bakewell, Derbyshire, Library of Chatsworth House, Book of Lismore (s. xv), fragment only 226

Appendix ED: J. O’Keefe, ‘The Rule of Patrick’, Ériu 1 (1904) 216–24 (from TCD 1336); E.J. Gwynn, ‘The Rule of Tallaght’, Hermathena 44 (1927, second supplemental volume) 78–87 (from Leabhar Breac); W. Stokes, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore (Oxford 1890) 135 and 359 (from the Book of Lismore) REF:

Best (1913), 230


R. Sharpe, ‘Some problems concerning the organisation of the church in early medieval Ireland’, Peritia 3 (1984) 252–4; C. Etchingham, ‘The early Irish church: some observations on pastoral care and dues’, Ériu 42 (1991) 105–9; T. Charles-Edwards, ‘The pastoral role of the church in the early Irish laws’, in Pastoral Care before the Parish, edd. J. Blair & R. Sharpe (Leicester 1992) 63–80; R. Sharpe, ‘Church and communities in early medieval Ireland: towards a pastoral model’, in Pastoral Care before the Parish, edd. J. Blair & R. Sharpe (Leicester 1992) 81–109; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 63–5; P. Kelly, ‘The Rule of Patrick: textual affinities’, in Irland und Europa im früheren Mittelalter: Texte und Überlieferung/Ireland and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: Texts and Transmission, edd. P. Ní Chatháin & M. Richter (Dublin 2002) 284–95

18 Rule of Colum Cille Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 512, fos 40v–41r (ca 1500); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, p. 23 (162736) MSS:

ED: E. O’Curry in A. Haddan & W. Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland (Oxford 1878) vol. 2, 119–21 (from BR, 5100–4); K. Meyer, ‘Regula Choluimb Chille’, ZCP 3 (1901) 28–30 (from Rawlinson B. 512); U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 37–41 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 229; Kenney, no. 268 (iii)

COMM: K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 91–4; U. Ó Maidín, ‘The monastic Rules of Ireland’, Cistercian Studies 15 (1980) 27–8; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 11–12; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 345–8. E. de Bhaldraithe, ‘Obedience: the doctrine of the Irish monastic Rules’, Monastic Studies 14 (1983) 71–9

19 Epistil Ísu MSS: Leabhar Breac, Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, pp. 202–4 (ca 1411); London, BL, Harleian 5280, fos 36r–39r (s. xv); Dublin, RIA, 23 N 10, pp. 103–7 (ca 1575), incomplete; Yellow Book of Lecan: TCD 1318 (H. 2. 16) cols. 217–20 and col. 957 (s. xiv/xvi); Liber Flavus Fergusiorum: Dublin, RIA, 23 O 48, vol. 1, fo. 45 (s. xv), fragment only ED: J.G. O’Keefe, ‘Cáin Domnaig: 1. the epistle concerning Sunday’, Ériu 2 (1905) 189–214 REF:

Best (1913), 229; Kenney, no. 270 (a)


R. McNally, Scriptores Hiberniae Minora I, CCSL 108/B (Turnhout 227

Appendix 1973) 175–9; D. Whitelock, ‘Bishop Ecgred, Pehtred and Niall’, in Ireland in Early Mediaeval Europe: Studies in Memory of Kathleen Hughes, by D. Whitelock et al. (Cambridge 1982) 47–68 20 Cáin Domnaig MSS: Leabhar Breac, Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, p. 204 (ca 1411), incomplete; London, BL, Harleian 5280, fos 36r–39r (s. xv); Dublin, RIA, 23 N 10, pp. 108–11 (ca 1575); Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Gaelic xv, pp. 72–5; London, BL, Additional 4783, fo. 6v (s. xv), incomplete ED:

J.G. O’Keefe, Anecdota from Irish Manucripts 3 (1910) 21–7; Vernam Hull, ‘Cáin Domnaig’, Ériu 20 (1966) 151–77


Best (1913), 229; Kenney, no. 270 (c); Best (1942), 149; Baumgarten, 578

COMM: K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge 1972) 80–2; R. McNally, Scriptores Hiberniae Minora I, CCSL 108/B (Turnhout 1973) 175–9; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 23–4; D. Whitelock, ‘Bishop Ecgred, Pehtred and Niall’, in Ireland in Early Mediaeval Europe: Studies in Memory of Kathleen Hughes, by D. Whitelock et al. (Cambridge 1982) 47–68; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 197–9

F. Unlikely céli Dé texts 21 Óentu Mail Ruain MS: Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, p. 16c (s. xii) ED:

A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1683; P. Ó Riain, Corpus Genealogiarum Sanctorum Hiberniae (Dublin 1985) 162–3


Plummer, no. 148


K. Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society (London 1966) 181–2; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 35–46; N. Ó Muraíle, ‘Notes on the history of Doire na bhFlann’, in The Derrynaflan Hoard: A Preliminary Account, ed. M. Ryan (Dublin 1983) 57 22 Óentu Feidelmid Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, p. 20c (s. xii)


ED: A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1707–8; P. Ó Riain, Corpus Genealogiarum Sanctorum Hiberniae (Dublin 1985) 182–3; K. Hughes, ‘The distribution of Irish scriptoria and centres of learning from 730 to 1111’, in Studies in the Early British Church, by Nora Chadwick et al. (Cambridge 1958) 263 (partial transl. only) COMM:

K. Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society (London 1966) 182; F.J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High Kings (London 1973) 226–7; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 47–9; N. Ó Muraíle, ‘Notes on 228

Appendix the history of Doire na bhFlann’, in The Derrynaflan Hoard: A Preliminary Account, ed. M. Ryan (Dublin 1983) 56–7 23 Rule of Cormac MSS: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fo. 14v (1467), acephalous; Dublin, RIA, 23 N 10, pp. 78–9 (ca 1575); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, pp. 29–30 (162736); Maynooth, St Patrick’s College, M 48 (s. xix) p. 334; Dublin, RIA, 23 N 11 (s. xviii); TCD 1136 (s. xix) ED: J. Strachan, ‘Cormac’s Rule’, Ériu 2 (1905) 62–8; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 53–7 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 229; Kenney, no. 268 (v)

COMM: P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981)

133; E. de Bhaldraithe, ‘Obedience: the doctrine of the Irish monastic rules’, Monastic Studies 14 (1983) 71–9; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 342–3 24 Rule of Ciarán Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fo. 14v (1467); TCD 1136 (s. xix)


ED: J. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, Ériu 2 (1905) 227–9; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 43–7 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 229; Kenney, no. 268 (ii)

COMM: P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981)

135–6; C. Etchingham, Church Organisation in Ireland AD 650 to 1000 (Maynooth 1999) 342–3 25 Rule of the Grey Monks Dublin, RIA, 23 P 3, fo. 13v (1467)


ED: J. Strachan, ‘Two monastic Rules’, Ériu 2 (1905) 229; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 49–52 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 229; Kenney, no. 268 (iv)

COMM: P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981)


26 Rule of Echtgus Ua Cuanáin Brussels, BR, 5100–4, pp. 16–18 (162736)


ED: A.G. van Hamel, ‘Poem from Brussels, MS. 5100–4’, Revue Celtique 37 (1917–19) 345–9; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 143–55 (transl. only)


Appendix REF:

Kenney, no. 268 (vi); Best (1942), 149; Baumgarten, 606


G. Murphy, ‘Eleventh or twelfth century Irish doctrine concerning the Real Presence’, in Medieval Studies presented to Aubrey Gwynn S.J., by J. Watt et al., (Dublin 1961) 19–28; A. Gwynn & D. Gleason, A History of the Diocese of Killaloe (Dublin 1962) 73–8; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 160

27 Teist Chóemáin Cluaina maic Tréoin MSS: Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, p. 17c (s. xii); Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 512, fo. 39r (ca 1500) ED: K. Meyer, Hibernica Minora (Oxford 1894) 41–2; A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1689–90; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 133–6 (transl. only) REF:

Best (1913), 230; Kenney, no. 269

COMM: P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981)


28 Miscellaneous hagiographical tracts from the Book of Leinster 1. (a) Nomina episcoporum Hibernensium, (b) De Sacerdotibus, and (c) De Diaconibus MSS: Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, pp. 11d–12e (s. xii); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, fos 225r–226v (162736) ED: P. Grosjean, Irish Texts fasc. 3 (1931) 28–39; A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1649–58 REF:

Plummer, no. 191


J. Colgan, Acta Sanctorum et Maioris Scotiae seu Hiberniae Sanctorum Insulae (Louvain 1645) 5b, 581b; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 167

2. (a) Comainmnigud naem nÉrenn and (b) Comanmand naebúag nÉrenn Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, pp. 12e–15c (s. xii); London, BL, Additional 30512, fos 48r–51v (s. xv); Book of Ballymote: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 12, pp. 225–9 (s. xv); Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 502, p. 92 (s. xii); Dublin, RIA, 23 D 9, p. 352 (s. xviii); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, fo. 225r (162736) first part only MSS:

ED: D. Brosnan, Archivium Hibernicum 1 (1912) 314–65 (from Rawlinson B. 502); A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1659–75 REF:

Plummer, nos. 189 and 190; Kenney, no. 278


J. Colgan, Acta Sanctorum et Maioris Scotiae seu Hiberniae Sanctorum Insulae (Louvain 1645) 5b, 581b; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 168 3. (a) Maccrad noeb nÉrenn, (b) Oenmaic nÉrenn, and (c) Ingenrada noeb nÉrenn of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, pp. 15c–16b (s. xii)

MS: Book


Appendix ED: P. Grosjean, Irish Texts fasc. 3 (1931) 22–8; A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1675–81 REF:

Plummer, no. 192; Best (1942), 153


J. Colgan, Acta Sanctorum et Maioris Scotiae seu Hiberniae Sanctorum Insulae (Louvain 1645) 5b, 581b; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 168

4. Ordbauin no Gombauin of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, pp. 18a–19b (s. xii); London, BL, Additional 30512, fos 52v–55r (s. xv2); Book of Ballymote: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 12, pp. 212–14 (s. xv); Book of Lecan: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 2, pp. 34–5 (s. xv) MSS: Book


A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1692–7


Plummer, no. 195


J. Colgan, Acta Sanctorum et Maioris Scotiae seu Hiberniae Sanctorum Insulae (Louvain 1645) 5b, 581b; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 167 n. 5

5. (a) Secht noeb epscoip déc, (b) Trí choicait curach, and (c) Secht noeb epscoip Dromna Urchailli MSS: Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, pp. 19b–20c (s. xii); London, BL, Additional 30512, fo. 23v (s. xv2), incomplete; Leabhar Breac: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, p. 23 (ca 1411) parts b and c only; TCD 1285 (H. 1. 11) fo. 130r (1752), incomplete; Leabhar Uí Maine: Dublin, RIA, Stowe D. 2. 1, fo. 53r (s. xiv–xv) ED: B. MacCarthy, Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 (1867) 385–97, 468–77; C. Plummer, Irish Litanies (London 1925) 54–75; A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1698–1705 REF:

Plummer, no. 198; Kenney, no. 586


J. Colgan, Acta Sanctorum et Maioris Scotiae seu Hiberniae Sanctorum Insulae (Louvain 1645) 5b, 581b; K. Hughes, ‘On an Irish litany of pilgrim saints compiled c. 800’, Analecta Bollandiana 77 (1959) 305–31; E.G. Bowen, ‘The Irish Sea in the age of the saints’, Studia Celtica 4 (1969) 68–71; K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources (London 1972) 209–10; S. Sanderlin, ‘The date and provenance of the “Litany of Irish Saints – II” (The Irish Litany of Pilgrim Saints)’, PRIA 75 C (1975) 251–62 6. Sancti qui erant bini unius moris MSS: Book of Leinster: UCD, Franciscan A 3, p. 16c (s. xii); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, fo. 208rv (162736) ED: J. Todd, The Book of Hymns of the Ancient Church of Ireland vol. 1 (Dublin 1855) 69–70; M. Kelly, Calendar of Irish Saints: The Martyrology of Tallagh (Dublin 1857) xli; W. Stokes, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore (Oxford 1890) 298–9; A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1682–3 REF:

Plummer, no. 197; Kenney, no. 277


Appendix COMM: P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981)


7. Crimthand ainm Coluim Cille of Leinster: TCD 1339 (H. 2.18) p. 354d (s. xii)

MSS: Book

ED: W. Stokes, Lives of Irish Saints from the Book of Lismore (Oxford 1890) 300–1; A. O’Sullivan, The Book of Leinster vol. 6 (Dublin 1983) 1595 REF:

Kenney, no. 276; Best (1942), 153

29 Naemhshenchus Naem nInsi Fáil MSS: Book of Ballymote: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 12, pp. 229–33 (s. xv); Book of Lecan: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 2, fos 49v–51r (s. xv); London, BL, Additional 30512, fos 67v–71v (s. xv2); Brussels, BR, 5100–4, fos 230r–238r and 239r–244v (162736); Brussels, BR, 2542–3, fos 2r–20r (s. xvii1); TCD 1348 (H. 4. 7) vol. 2 (s. xviii); TCD 1248 (H. 1. 10) fos 120r–139v (s. xviii); TCD 1281 (H. 1. 7) fos 146–51 (s. xviii); TCD 1285 (H. 1. 11) fos 179v–183v (s. xviii); Dublin, RIA, 23 M 12, pp. 11–48 (s. xviii); Dublin, RIA, 24 P 4, pp. 226–9 (s. xvii), incomplete; Dublin, RIA, 23 D 9, pp. 319–48 (s. xviii); Dublin, RIA, 23 M 18, pp. 353–65 (s. xviii); Dublin, RIA, 23 D 16, pp. 75–80 (s. xviii–xix), incomplete; Dublin, RIA, 23 Q 1, pp. 141–59 (s. xviii–xix); Dublin, RIA, 23 C 33 (s. xix) ED: P. Grosjean, ‘Naemsenchus Náemh nÉrenn’, Irish Texts fasc. 3 (1931) 40–80 (from BR 2542–3); P. Ó Riain, Corpus Genealogiarum Sanctorum Hiberniae, 79–108 REF:

Plummer, no. 188; Best (1942), 153


J. Colgan, Acta Sanctorum et Maioris Scotiae seu Hiberniae Sanctorum Insulae (Louvain 1645) 5b; E. O’Curry, Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History (Dublin 1861) 163, 167–8; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 167

30 Rushworth Gospels MS: Oxford, Bodleian, Auct. D. 2.19 (s. ix) ED: J. Stevenson & G. Waring, The Lindisfarne and Rushworth Gospels, 4 vols. (Durham 1854–65) REF:

Kenney, no. 472; Lapidge & Sharpe, no. 527

COMM: P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981)

163; T. O’Neill, The Irish Hand (Portlaoise 1984) 12 31 Book of Dimma 59 (A. 4. 23) (s. viii2)


ED: W. Stokes & J. Strachan, Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus: A Collection of Old-Irish Glosses, Scholia, Prose and Verse vol. 2 (Cambridge 1903) 257 (Old Irish passages only) REF:

Kenney, no. 458 (cf. no. 563); Lapidge & Sharpe, no. 517 232

Appendix COMM: R.I. Best, ‘On the Subscriptions in the “Book of Dimma”’, Hermathena 20 (1926) 84–100; P. McGurk, ‘The Irish pocket gospel books’, Sacris Erudiri 8 no. 2 (1956) 249–69; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 159–60; T. O’Neill, The Irish Hand (Portlaoise 1984) 14

32 Milan Glosses on the Psalms MS: Milan, Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, C. 301 (s. viii/ix) ED: W. Stokes & J. Strachan, Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus: A Collection of Old-Irish Glosses, Scholia, Prose and Verse vol. 1 (Cambridge 1901) 7–483 REF:

Best (1913), 71; cf. Kenney, no. 515; Best (1942), 54

COMM: R. Thurneysen, A Grammar of Old Irish, transl. D.A. Binchy & O. Bergin

(Dublin 1946) 5; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 160–1

33 Saltair na Rann MSS: Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 502, fos 19r–40r (s. xii); Leabhar Breac, Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, p. 111 (ca 1411), excerpts only; Dublin, RIA, 23 G 25 (s. xix), modernised excerpts only ED:

W. Stokes, Saltair na Rann (Oxford 1883)


Best (1942), 95; Kenney, no. 609; Baumgarten, 607


G. Mac Eoin, ‘The date and authorship of Saltair na Rann’, ZCP 28 (1960/1) 51–67; G. Mac Eoin, ‘Observations on Saltair na Rann’, ZCP 39 (1982) 1–28; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 164–5 34 Catechesis Celtica MS: Rome, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Codex Regiensis Latinum 49 (s. x1) ED: A. Wilmart, ‘Reg. Lat. 49: Catéchèses celtiques’, Analecta Reginensia, Studi e testi 59 (Rome 1933) 29–112 (partial edition only) COMM:

P. Grosjean, ‘À propos du manuscrit 49 de la Reine Christine’, Analecta Bollandiana 54 (1936) 113–36; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 166–7; D. Ó Laoghaire, ‘Irish elements in the Catechesis Celtica’, in Irland und die Christenheit: Bibelstudien und Mission / Ireland and Christendom: the Bible and the Mission, edd. P. Ní Chatháin & M. Richter (Stuttgart 1987) 146–64; M. McNamara, ‘The Irish affiliations of the Catechesis Celtica’, Celtica 21 (1990) 291–334; M. McNamara ‘The affiliations and origins of the Catechesis Celtica: an ongoing quest’, in The Scriptures and Early Medieval Ireland, ed. T. O’Loughlin (Turnhout 1999) 179–203

35 Scuap Chrábaid Yellow Book of Lecan: TCD 1318 (H. 2. 16) cols. 336 (13989); Leabhar Breac: Dublin, RIA, 23 P 16, p.74 (ca 1411), incomplete; London, BL, Additional 30512, fo. 38r (s. xv); Oxford, Bodleian, Rawlinson B. 512, fos 41v–42r (ca 1500), MSS:


Appendix fragment only; Brussels, BR, 5100–4, pp. 9–12 (162736); Brussels, BR, 2324–400, fos 69r–70r (162736); Brussels, BR, 4190–200, fos 219v–223r (162736) ED: B. MacCarthy, ‘On the Stowe Missal’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 27 Antiquities (1886) 178–82 (from Yellow Book of Lecan); K. Meyer, Hibernica Minora (Oxford 1894) 42–3 (from Rawlinson B. 512); K. Meyer, Otia Merseiana 2 (1900–1) 92–8, 100–3 (from BR 4190–200, with readings from the other two BR MSS); C. Plummer, Irish Litanies (London 1925) 30–45; U. Ó Maidín, The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks (Kalamazoo MI 1996) 178–80 (partial transl. only) REF:

Kenney, no. 580


K. Hughes, The Church in Early Irish Society (London 1966) 180; P. O’Dwyer, Céli Dé: Spiritual Reform in Ireland 750–900 (Dublin 1981) 173–5


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INDEX Page numbers in bold type indicate where an item is discussed under its own sub-heading abstinence, dietary: see diet abstinence, sexual, 17, 25, 42–3, 45, 52, 58, 68, 77, 80, 85, 178, 181–2, 208 active life (actual, practical life), 45, 51, 79, 80, 87 Adomnán, abbot of Iona, 34n, 56, 98, 112, 144 De Locis Sanctis, 61, 69 Vita S. Columbae, 27, 37, 55, 61–7, 80, 82, 83, 86 Adomnán of Coldingham, 72, 80 Aed Allán, king of Cenél nÉogain, 154 Aed mac Ainmirech, king of Cenél Conaill, 37 Aed mac Bricc, St, 165 Aed mac Néill, king, 174 Aed ua Crimthainn, 129–30, 139 Aedán of Iona, bishop of Lindisfarne, 27, 63n, 69, 70–1, 72 aes aithrige/aes pende: see penitents Ailbe of Emly, St, 82–3, 93–4, 147 Life of, 93, 135 Ailerán, sapiens of Clonard, 55, 164 Airennán, bishop of Tallaght, 131 Airerán, abbot of Tallaght, 131, 137, 164 Aix-la-Chapelle, council of, 11 Alberic, bishop of Cambai and Arras, 73 Alberic, senator of Rome, 216 Alexander of Tralles, 36n almsgiving, 37, 52, 55, 58, 90, 182–3, 192–3 Ambrose, bishop of Milan, 68 Amra Choluim Chille: see under Dallán Forgaill anchorites, 16–17, 19–20, 25–7, 64–5, 74–5, 83, 86, 89–92, 144; see also under monasticism and under céli Dé anmcharae (anmchairdes) 148, 176–8, 182, 185, 191–4, 213 Anmchairdes Mancháin Léith, 151–2 Annegray, 29 Anthony, St, 33, 48, 55, 84n Life of: see under Athanasius of Alexandria and Evagrius of Antioch Antiphony of Bangor, 41n, 84 Aodh Óg mac Domhnaill, 104 Apgitir Chrábaid, 7, 27, 67, 100, 102, 140–2, 143, 194 Archangelum mirum magnum, 165, 212 Armagh, 10, 14, 28, 56, 59, 60, 80, 143, 154, 173, 179 arr(a)e: see penance, commutation of

Artrí mac Faelmuire, king, 174, 185 asceticism (ascesis), 33, 37, 40, 44, 46, 50–1, 69, 85–7 among céli Dé, 17, 21, 181, 212, 214 decline of, in Ireland, 3, 5–6, 16–17, 19, 86–8, 217 meaning of term, 24–5 Athala, abbot of Bobbio, 47 Athanasius of Alexandria Life of St Anthony, 12, 24, 33 Athlone, 111 Augustine of Canterbury, bishop, 69 Augustine of Hippo, bishop, 2n, 25, 26, 33, 76, 78 Rule of Augustine, 10n Auxerre, 60 Baetán, 66, 67 Ballymacegan, 103, 112, 114, 117, 141 Bangor, 47, 48, 85 Barrind, abbot of Drumcullen, 83 Bede, 69–70 Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, 27, 49n, 67, 69–73, 86 Benedict of Aniane, 5, 17, 18, 216 Benedict of Nursia, St, 75, 204, 207 Regula Monachorum (Benedictine Rule), 5, 68, 69, 76, 82–3, 86, 216 Bernard of Clairvaux, 5 Bertulf, abbot of Bobbio, 47 Bigotian Penitential, 67–9, 80, 83, 86, 195, 210 Birr, 159 synod of, 61 Blathmac mac Con-Brettan, poems of, 21–2, 168–70 Blathmac mac Flainn, abbot of Iona, 98, 144 Bobbio, 29, 47, 161 Boniface, 18 Book of Armagh, 2n, 59n Book of Ballymote, 157–8 Book of Dimma, 7, 160–1 Book of Glendalough, 156n, 159, 168 Book of Lecan, 158 Book of Leinster, 7, 15, 119, 129, 159 fragment at University College Dublin, 129n, 130n, 157 miscellaneous hagiographical tracts in, 156–7


Index Book of Lismore, 142 Brendan, St, 51, 81–4, 98 Voyage of: see under Navigatio S. Brendani Bretha Nemed Toísech, 39, 73, 78–81, 86, 95–6 Brigit, St, 56, 86 Life of: see under Cogitosus Butler family, 104n, 118n Bulter, James, fourth earl of Ormond (the White Earl), 118 Cáin Adomnáin, 61, 111 Cáin Domnaig, 7, 27, 152–5, 209 Cáin Phátraic, 154 Cainnech, St, 82, 201 Cambrai Homily, 54–6, 57, 72, 86, 211 canons, Augustinian (canons regular), 1n, 9–10, 12, 133 Cashel, 111, 139 Cassian, John, 25, 26 Conlationes, 26, 36, 38, 43, 45, 50–1, 53, 88n influence on others, 52, 54, 65, 67, 68, 69, 75, 87, 88n, 184, 217 on anchorites (anchoritical life), 64–5, 75 on curing contraries by their contraries, 36, 53–4, 196 on purity of heart, 37n, 38–9, 44–5, 54, 69, 87 on the eight principal vices, 38, 53, 68, 87, 125, 184, 195, 213 on the goal of the monk, 37n, 87 on the three-fold renunciations of the monk, 38, 43–4, 48 on the three kinds of monks, 26 on the two types of spiritual knowledge, 50–1, 58–9, 75, 78 castigation, 17, 52, 97n, 179–80, 190, 208 Catachesis Celtica, 162–3 Catalogus Sanctorum Hiberniae, 15 Cathal mac Finguine, king of Munister, 154 Celestine I, pope 27 céli Dé, 1, 8, 23, 127–8 and asceticism: see under asceticism and Cassian, 184 as anchorites, 12, 13, 14–16, 19 as canons regular, 9–10, 12, 14 as missionaries, 9 as monastic elite, 21–2, 99, 169, 173, 184, 213, 214, 218 as reformers, 3–6, 11, 13–19, 24, 89, 216–18 at Armagh, 3, 10, 173 at Clondalkin, 3 at Clonmacnoise, 3, 173 at Dairinis, 3, 139 at Derrynaflan, 139 at Finglas, 13, 188 at Lismore, 3 at Loch Cré, 3, 160–1, 173 at Tallaght, 159, 179–80, 212 at Terryglass, 101, 108, 188

at Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island), 3, 10 in Scotland, 3, 9, 12 meaning of name, 1–2, 9, 21–2, 169, 214 place of origin, 3 reasons for decline, 13, 17–18, 19, 174–5, 216 use of the vernacular, 209–12 writings, 7–8, 15, 100–1 Cellach mac Dúnchada, king, 174 célsine, 21 169, 170 Cenél Conaill, 154 chastity: see abstinence, sexual Chrodegang, bishop of Metz, 11, 14, 18 Rule of the Common Life, 11, 12, 13 Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, St, 34n, 149, 167, 201 Ciarán of Saigir, St, 149 Cistercians, 1n, 150 Clement of Alexandria, 24 Clonenagh, 130, 151 Clonfert, 51, 81, 98 Clonlisk, barony of, 103 Clonmacnoise, 18, 173 Clough Uatéir, 111 Cluain Cóiláin, 147 Cluain Finchoil, 64 Cluain Leathan, 103, 111, 114, 116, 117, 124, 139 Cluain mac Tréin, 155 Cluniacs, 5, 216 Cogitosus, 56–9, 67 Vita S. Brigitae, 56–9 Colcu, anchorite of Slane, 89–90, 96, 187–8 Colgan, John, 106n, 107, 109–10, 119, 125, 130, 156–7, 158, 165 Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, 30, 46n, 54, 73–8, 80, 83, 86, 94–5, 96 Colmán, bishop of Lindisfarne, 69, 71, 72 Colmán mac Mur-chon of Moville, 165 Colmán moccu Béognae, 140 Colum mac Crimthainn, St, 129–30 Columba (Colum Cille), St, abbot of Iona, 9, 34n, 37–9, 56, 62–7, 82, 86, 98, 144, 185n Amra Choluim Chille: see under Dallán Forgaill Life of: see under Adomnán of Iona Columbanus, St, abbot, 40, 47–9, 52, 87, 92, 207, 210 founder of monasteries, 29, 47, 161 letter to Pope Gregory I, 29, 48 Life of: see under Jonas of Bobbio Regula Coenobialis, 40n Regula Monachorum, 27, 41–2, 43, 44, 45, 84, 85 sermons, 12 Paenitentiale, 34, 41, 42, 190 writings of, 40–5, 85 Comgall, St, abbot of Bangor, 40, 47, 80, 82, 85, 145, 185 Conleth, bishop of Kildare, 57–8 Constantius of Lyons, Vita S. Germani, 60


Index Eochu ua Tuathail, anchorite, bishop and abbot of Louth, 99 Éogan mac Saráin of Cluain Cóiláin, 147 Éoganacht, 51, 105 Épstil Ísu, 152–5, 209 Eustasius, abbot of Luxeuil, 47 Evagrius of Antioch, translation of Life of St Anthony 12, 24–5, 61, 67 Evagrius of Pontus, 25, 26, 37n, 45 exomologesis, 33–4, 37, 40, 41, 48n, 53, 68, 87

contemplation (contemplative life, theoretical life), 44, 45, 50–1, 58, 65, 67, 74–5, 78, 79, 80, 86, 87 Cork, 112 Cormac mac Cuilennáin, king of Cashel, 137, 148, 158 Cormac mac Tomaltaigh, 150 Córus Béscnai, 79, 143 Crónán, St, Life of, 160 Crone of Tallaght, 131, 176 Crundmael, abbot of Beg-Ére, bishop and fer léiginn of Tallaght, 175 Cú-Chuimne of Iona, 73, 165 Cú-Echtge, 186 Cummíne Ailbe, abbot of Iona, 56 Cummíne Fota, 51–2, 85, 127 Paenitentiale Cummeani, 32, 51–4, 68, 80, 86, 88n, 127, 190, 195, 210 Cuthbert, St, 71 Cyprian, St, bishop of Carthage, 167, 201n Dairinis, 3, 136, 137, 139 Dallán Forgaill, 37–8, 65 Amra Choluim Chille, 37–40, 67, 87, 210 Daniél, abbot of Glendalough and Tallaght, 175 De Excidio Britanniae: see under Gildas Derrynaflan, 136, 137, 138, 139, 147 Diarmait, abbot of Iona, 98, 102, 144 Diarmait ua Aeda Róin, anchorite, 148, 161 Dícuill of Boshom, 72 diet, 25, 31, 32, 33, 45, 64, 82, 85, 179, 186–8, 208 Dillon, Louis, 106n Dísert Diarmata (Castledermot), 13, 148–9 Divine Office, 41–2, 52, 57, 62, 80, 82, 83–4, 85, 151, 171–2, 175, 203–4, 205, 207 Drogheda, 111 Drowes, River, Franciscan convent on, 111, 112, 113, 118 Druim Abrat, 139 Dublin, 13, 19, 111, 175 Dublitter, bishop and abbot of Finglas, 2, 14, 98, 99, 125–6, 137, 168 Duniry, 103 Durrow, 64 Easter controversy, 23, 61, 201n Echtguide, 184 Ecthtgus, coarb of Tallaght, 151 Egans: see Mac Aodhagáin (Mac Egan) family Elair, anchorite of Loch Cré, 2, 20n, 89, 90–2, 96, 97 Éli Uí Chearbhaill, 103 Énlaith betha brig cen táir, 7, 131, 166–8, 201–2 Eochaid, bishop and abbot of Tallaght, 131, 132, 134, 136–7 Eochaid mac Ardgair, king, 158–9 Eochaid son of Colcu, anchorite of Armagh, 27

Faelchú of Finglas, 168, 201n Farne Island, 71 fasting, 25, 31, 32, 33, 41, 45, 52, 63, 71, 77–8, 82, 85, 184–5, 208–9, 213 Feidlimid mac Crimthainn, king of Cashel, 17–18, 136, 137, 138 Félire Huí Gormáin: see under Ua Gormáin, Mael Muire Felire Óengusso: see under Óengus mac Óengobann Fer-dá-chrích, abbot of Dairinis, 99, 121, 128, 136 Ferdomnach, sapiens and scribe of Armagh, 59n Fergnae, 64 Fínán, anchorite, 27, 64 Fínán, bishop of Lindisfarne, 71, 72 Finglas, 13, 14, 19, 137, 175, 188, 201 Finn mac Gormáin, bishop, 129 Finnian of Clonard, St, 34n Finnian of Moville, St, 34n, 181 Fintan St, 155n ‘First Synod of Patrick’, 46n, 76 Fis Adomnáin, 111 flagellation: see castigation Flann mac Cairpre Maic Aodhagáin, 111, 112 Fontaine, 29 Fothud na Canóine, 119, 122, 123; see also Rule of Fothud na Canóine Fragmenta Gildae: see under Gildas Fursa, St, 49–50, 142 Life of, 49–51, 64, 72, 86, 93 genuflexions, 52, 123–4, 146, 148, 151, 189–90, 207 Gerald of Wales, 3, 10, 160, 173 Germanus, St bishop of Auxerre, 28n, 60, 62 Gildas, 28–32, 41, 46n, 52, 76, 85 De Excidio Britanniae, 29, 31 Fragmenta Gildae, 30–2 glasmartre, 54–6, 57, 72 Glendalough, 111 Gregory I, pope 2n, 29, 48, 61, 68, 76 Homilia in Evangelia, 54 Liber Regulae Pastoralis, 197–8 Vita S. Benedicti (Dialogi), 83 hermits, 26, 57, 74, 75; see also anchorites Homily on the Deadly Sins, 125, 141, 143, 145 Hinba, Isle of, 63–4, 65, 82


Index Ikerrin, barony of, 103 Iona, 56, 62–5, 80, 131, 144 Isidore of Seville, 26, 68, 78 De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, 74–5 Jerome, 25, 26, 28n, 33, 45, 75–6, 78, 80, 84n Jonas of Bobbio, 47 Vita S. Columbani, 27, 47–9, 66, 86, 92, 93 Joseph, abbot of Armagh, 138 Joseph, bishop of Tallaght, 131, 137, 201n Kellia, 26 Kildare, 56, 57, 111, 148, 174 Killeigh, 155, 156, 157 Kiltyroe, 103 Kinalehin, 112, 114 labour, 25, 31, 45, 62, 68, 85, 175, 208 Laighnen, coarb of Ferns and Tallaght, 175 Laisrén, anchorite of Clonmacnoise, 99, 105 ‘Law of Patrick’, 154 lay-abbots, 5–6, 19, 216 Leabhar Breac, 3, 103, 114 Lebor na hUidre, 111 Lent (three Lents of the year), 32, 78, 182, 184, 185, 187, 200–1 Lethglenn, 157 Liber Angeli, 55, 80, 179 Librán, 64 Liguntius, 94–5 Limerick, Franciscan chapter at, 112 Lismore, 3, 7, 13, 98, 137, 157 liturgy, 15, 17, 23, 199–207; see also Divine Office and Mass Loch Cré, 3, 10, 13, 160–1, 173 Lorrha, 13, 103, 130, 133, 134, 136, 139, 168 Louvain, 106, 107, 111, 114, 117 Lower Ormond, barony of, 102–3, 116, 132, 139, 218 Luxeuil, 29 Mac an Leagha, Uilliam, 104, 105, 106, 117, 118, 121, 139 Mac Aodhagáin, Domnhnall, 158 Mac Aodhagáin (Mac Egan) family, 102–3, 114, 116, 139, 170 school of: see Cluain Leathan Mac Aodhagáin, Gilla na Naomh, 158 Mac Caille, bishop, 58 Mac Coelmaine, Conall, abbot of Inniskeel, 152, 153 Mac Craith (Magrath) family, 104 Mac Donnchaidh, Tomaltach, 158 Mac Fir Bhisigh family, 158 Mac Fir Bhisigh, Gilla Iósa Mór, 158 Mac Óige of Lismore, 98 Mac Raith Mac an Ghabhann na Scéal, 159 Mac Riaguil ua Magleni of Birr, bishop and abbot, 159 Mac Síthigh, Robeartus, 158

Mael Anfaid of Dairinis, 136, 137 Mael Cáich, 133, 134, 135 Mael Díthruib, anchorite of Terryglass, 2, 20n, 91, 101, 130, 188 and castigation, 190 and Elair, 90–1 and Mael Ruain, 2, 97, 101, 108, 137, 184, 189, 204 and the author of the Tallaght memoir, 101, 108, 109 and purification fast, 184 and Sunday penance, 164 and vigils, 202 as a reformer, 89 Mael Ruain, bishop and abbot of Tallaght, 2, 100, 101, 134, 136, 137, 176 and Colcu, 89–90, 187 and Dublitter, 188 and King Artrí mac Faelmuire, 174, 185 and Mael Díthruib, 2, 97, 137, 184, 189, 204 and Mary, 121 and Óengus, 119–20, 121, 130–1 and the Beati, 124 and the foundation of Tallaght, 131, 173–4 as a reformer, 11, 13, 16, 89, 97 burial site, 119–20 feast of, 131, 167–8, 201 genealogy, 121 meaning of his name, 13 on genuflexions, 124, 189–90 on peregrinatio, 156, 157 on Sunday observance, 97 on the acceptance of offerings, 90 on the Psalter, 204–5 on the ‘old churches’, 97, 99 place of origin, 13, 168 Mag Lunge, monastery of, 64 maic bethad, 98, 127–8, 141, 178, 181 Malachy, St, 1n manaig, 6, 90, 171, 177–8, 179, 193–4 Manchán of Lemanaghan, St, 151 Marmoutier, 83n Martin, anchorite and coarb of Glendalough and Tallaght, 175 Martin of Tours, St, 33, 55, 86, 94–5 Life of, see under Sulpicius Severus martyrdom, different kinds of, 54–6; see also glasmartre martyrs, cult of, 210–11 Martyrology, Hieronymian, 128, 131, 132, 134, 201 Martyrology of Óengus: see under Óengus mac Óengobann Martyrology of Tallaght, 7, 15, 100, 120, 128–32, 134, 135, 139, 157 Mass, 57, 79, 202–3 Melaigh Móir, 104 Mernóc, anchorite, 83 Michael, St, 165, 174, 202, 211n Milan glosses on the Psalms, 1n, 7, 161


Index Mocholmóc ua Liatháin of Lismore, 98, 178 Mochua, St, 91 Mochutu, St, 122 Life of, 166 Rule of Mochutu: see Rule of Fothud na Canóine Molua mac Ocha, 136 Moluanén of Tallaght, 131, 137 Monahincha: see Loch Cré Monastery of Tallaght, The, 2, 3, 7, 27, 101–2, 141, 143, 144, 170; see also Tallaght memoir fragments of, 104–6 relation to Teaching of Mael Ruain, 106 monasticism, anchoritical (eremitical), 20, 26, 49, 50–1, 57–8, 64–5, 67, 74, 76–7, 84, 86 cenobitic, 20–1, 26, 50–1, 57, 62, 74–5, 78, 85, 86 mortification, 25, 44–5, 63 Muirchertach mac Olchobair, erenagh of Clonfert, 98, 128 Muirchú, Vita S. Patricii, 56, 59–61 Multyfarnam, 111 Múscraige Tíre, 116, 117 Naemhshenchas Naem nInsi Fáil, 157–9 Navigatio S. Brendani Abbatis, 67, 81–5, 86–7, 211 Nessán, deacon, 93–4 Nitria, 26 nuns: see virgins and widows Ó Ceinnéidig, Pilib, king of Ormond, 133 Ó Cléireacháin, Eochaid Éigeas, 158 Ó Cléirigh, Bernardine, 112 Ó Cléirigh, Míchéal, 107, 116, 117, 118, 128, 130, 139, 145, 151, 158, 163–4, 166, 168 Martyrology of Donegal, 110, 113 travels in Ireland, 111–14 Ó Cléirigh, Peregrine, 158 Ó Cuindlis, Murchadh, 114, 115, 116, 117, 139, 163 Ó Domhnaill family, 111 Ó Droma, Solamh, 158 Ó Duibhgeannáin, Maghnus, 158 Ó Maoil Chonaire scribes, 118, 122, 125, 139 O’Queely, Malachy, 112 Ó Rigbardáin, Tadhg, 102, 103, 108, 114, 116, 117, 125, 126, 139, 143 O’Sheerin, Thomas, 109, 114 obedience, 34, 52, 75, 76, 78, 80, 85, 86 Odo, St, abbot of Cluny, 5, 216 Óengus mac Óengobann, 119–20, 122, 123, 137, 156, 157, 158, 162, 169, 170, 206, 210, 214 Felire Óengusso, 2, 21, 51, 100, 103, 117–21, 123, 124, 130, 131, 132, 135, 139, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 206

and Mael Ruain, 119–20, 121, 130 and Fothud na Canóine, 119, 122, 123 Óentu Feidelmid, 138–9 Óentu Mail Ruain, 3, 14–15, 100, 101, 136–8, 139, 161 ‘old churches’, in Ireland, 6, 16, 17, 89–91, 96–9, 218 Old Irish Penitential, 2, 7, 20, 27, 68, 100, 102, 124–6, 127, 139, 170, 181–2, 184, 195, 210 Old Irish Table of Penitential Commutations, 7, 16, 102, 126–8, 139, 170, 196–8, 210 Origen of Alexandria, 24, 45, 95, 96 ordo poenitentium: see under penitents Oughavall, 130, 134 Palladius, bishop, 27 Paschasius Radbertus, De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, 151 pastoral care, 4n, 23, 79, 96, 191–4, 213, 215 Patrick, St, 1, 27–8, 46n, 56, 59–61, 62, 84, 85, 86, 90 Confessio, 28, 57, 59, 60 Epistola ad milites Corotici, 28, 60, 92 Life of, by Muirchú: see under Muirchú Tripartite Life of, 116, 172 Paul, hermit, 84, 214 Paenitentiale Cummeani: see under Cummíne Fota Penitentialis Vinniani: see under Uinniau penance, 32, 33–6, 45, 52–3, 68, 85, 181–2, 195–9, 213 commutation of, 126–7, 196–9, 213 ‘Penitential of Mael Ruain’: see sean leabhar penitents (aes aithrige/aes pende), 55–6, 57, 63–4, 72, 77, 80, 86, 176, 178–9, 212 order of penitents, 55–6, 72, 77 peregrinatio, peregrini, 47–8, 52, 66–7, 68, 81, 86 Péronne, 49, 51 pilgrimage, 156– 157 pluralism, 175 poverty, 25, 30–1, 43, 44, 45, 85 182–4 Praefatio Gildae de Poenitentia, 32–4, 35, 37, 52, 86 Psalter of Cashel, 158 Psalter, recital of, 98, 123, 146, 148, 189, 191, 193 Office of the Three Fifties, 204–6, 207, 214 Quin, Franciscan convent, 150 Red Book of Munster, 163, 164, 165 Redwood castle, 103 reform, monastic, 5, 13, 18 relics, 121, 131, 173, 210, 211n Roscrea (Ros Cré), 14, 91, 151, 160, 173 Ruadán, St, 133, 167, 201 Rubin of Dairinis, 73 Rule of Ailbe of Emly, 147–8


Index Rule of Augustine: see under Augustine of Hippo, bishop Rule of Ciarán, 149–50 Rule of Colum Cille, 115, 143, 143–5, 183, 209 Rule of Comgall of Bangor, 145–7 Rule of Cormac, 148–9 Rule of Echtgus Ua Cuanáin, 150–1 Rule of Fothud na Canóine, 7, 10, 14, 103, 115, 121–4, 146, 148, 170, 171–3 Rule of Mochutu: see Rule of Fothud na Canóine Rule of Patrick, 67, 79, 115, 142–3, 193, 213 Rule of the Céli Dé, 3, 7, 10, 103, 114–16, 142, 143, 193 Rule of the Grey Monks, 150 Rule of St Benedict: see under Benedict of Nursia, St Rushworth Gospels, 7, 159–60 Saltair na Rann, 7, 162 Samthann, St, abbess of Clonbroney, 98–9 Sciath, St, 135, 176 Scuap Chrábaid, 163–5 ‘Second Synod of Patrick’, 46n sean leabhar, 107–9, 110–11, 116–17, 125, 139 Sedulius, St: see Siadal, St Ségéne, abbot of Iona, 51 Selbach, 158 Siadal, St, 109–10 Sinchell, St, 155, 157 Sketis, 26 Slane, 90 St Andrews, 3 St Anthony, Franciscan college of, 106; see also Louvain St Isidore, Franciscan convent of, 106 Stowe Missal, 132–6, 139, 170 Sulpicius Severus, Vita S. Martini, 49, 56, 61 Dialogi, 94–5 Sunday observance, 12–13, 17, 97, 152–5, 180, 207–9, 214 Tallaght, 14, 16, 100, 101–2, 130–1, 132, 134, 135, 136, 138, 139, 165 and the fair of Tailtiu, 174 and Vikings, 13, 19, 174–5 as a free church, 174 as centre of reform movement, 13 céli Dé at, 13, 179–80 community of, 2, 173–81, 212 foundation of, 11, 121, 131, 173–4 laity at, 177–9 nuns at, 176 one of the ‘two eyes of Ireland’, 14, 137 penitents at, 176–7 plundered by Kildare, 174 pluralism at, 175 school of hagiography at, 7, 211

Tallaght Codex, 102–4, 106, 108–9, 110, 117, 143 exemplar to: see sean leabhar scribe of: see Ó Rigbardáin, Tadhg Tallaght memoir, 2–3, 101–14, 117, 125, 136, 139, 143, 170, 219 author, 2, 101, 109, 116, 124, 219 Franciscan paraphrase of: see Teaching of Mael Ruain place of origin, 102 Tara, synod of, 14, 125–6 Teaching of Mael Ruain, 2–3, 7, 106–10, 114; see also Tallaght memoir exemplar: see sean leabhar Teist Chóemáin Cluaina maic Tréoin, 155–6 Terryglass, 7, 13, 91, 101–2, 108, 129–30, 133, 134, 139, 151, 159, 188 Tertullian, 33 Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the Psalms, 161 Theuderich, Burgundian king, 92 ‘Three Fifties’: see Psalter, recital of Timoleague, 112 Tírechán of Tirawley, 56, 59, 211 Tiree, Isle of, 63–4 Ua Cuanáin, Echtgus, 150–1 Ua Cuanáin family, 160 Ua Cuanáin, Isaac, bishop of Roscrea, 151 Ua Dubda, Ruaidrí, king of Uí “iachrach, 158 Ua Duinechda, Colcu, fer léiginn of Clonmacnoise, 163–4, 165 Ua Gormáin, Mael Muire, abbot of Knock, 130–1 Félire Huí Gormáin (Martyrology of Gorman), 130 Ua Liatháin, Cormac, 66–7, 82 Fragmenta Gildae, 30–2 Ua Macáin, Gilla Ruadán, coarb, 133 Ua hUiginn, Gilla Glass, 164–5 Uí Búirecháin, 79 Uí Chearbhaill, 103 Uí Cheinnéidig, 102–3, 104, 133 Uí Cheinnéidig, coarb of Terryglass, Finn mac maic Célechair, 130 Uí Dúnchada, 174 Uí Rigbardáin, 103 Uinniau, 28, 29–30, 34, 45, 46n, 52, 62, 85 Penitentialis Vinniani (‘Penitential of Finnian’), 27, 29, 34–6, 86, 182 Ultán, anchorite, 50, 64 Ultán moccu Conchobair, bishop of Arcbraccan, 56 Vennianus: see Uinniau vernacular, use of: see under céli Dé vigils, 25, 31, 32, 42, 45, 63, 68, 82, 85, 98, 189–90, 203, 206–7, 213–14, 218 cross-vigil, 17, 128, 189, 205, 206 in cold water, 17, 61, 191


Index virginity: see abstinence, sexual virgins, 28, 57, 58, 77 Vikings, 13, 19, 152, 173, 174–5 Ward, Hugh, 106, 109, 112, 114

Wearmouth-Jarrow, 69, 70 Widows, 57, 77 Yellow Book of Lecan, 114 Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island): see under céli Dé