Saint Kieran of Saighir

Commemorated March 5/18

St. Kieran of Saighir St. Kieran of Saighir
St. Kieran (Ciaran) of Saighir, or St. Kieran the Elder, is also called “the first-born of the Irish saints”. He was born in the fifth century in the Irish kingdom of Ossory and was related to the royal family. His father Luaigne was from Ossory, and his mother Liadan came from Cork. When Liadan was pregnant, she had a dream that a star fell from the sky and rested on her, which was understood as a sign that her infant would have a special role in the history of the Irish Church. Everybody saw brightness and holiness in little Kieran and he was loved by all. He was very kind, humble, inquisitive, loved animals, but first of all wanted to be closer to God. Various traditions connect him with different saints, which is not always chronologically correct, so the connection would have been spiritual, not physical.

Kieran may have been a disciple of St. Finian of Clonard under whom he may have studied. In his youth Kieran spent some time in continental Europe where he was ordained a priest. He probably studied in Gaul (at Tours) and Rome. On his return to Ireland, according to tradition, St. Patrick, the enlightener of the emerald isle, consecrated him the first Bishop of Ossory, where he preached the Gospels and has been venerated from time immemorial. Later the saint settled in the forests of the kingdom of Ossory where he lived in a tiny cell as a true anchorite in Saighir near the Slieve Bloom mountains. According to his biographer, St. Patrick gave him a bell saying that this bell would only ring on the spot where by the will of God Kieran would eventually found a great spiritual center—and this spot was Saighir.

By a spring, the ascetic built a cell of wattle and thin branches smeared with mud, and the roof was of grass and leaves. His diet consisted only of herbs and barley bread once a day, and he drank only water. Some years passed. With time numerous disciples started flocking to the ascetic who became famous for his miracles. And Kieran founded the large monastery of Saighir on the site of his hermitage—not far from Birr in present-day county Offaly—and became its first abbot. Many future saints lived in this monastery, which became a center of learning and preaching.

The place where the monastery was situated—Saighir—most probably means “the fountain of Kieran”. The holy man taught his brethren and led all those under his care to spiritual perfection, setting them a good example in his life. Some while later the saint’s mother Liadan, together with many other pious women, moved to live a holy and God-pleasing life near her son’s monastery. One early source states that Kieran himself founded a community for women close to his main abbey. The monastery of St. Kieran at Saighir also became the place of burial of the kings of Ossory in Ireland. The veneration of St. Kieran was so strong that a perpetual fire was maintained in Saighir Abbey in his memory for many years after his repose.

The modern St. Kieran's Church on the site of his Saighir Monastery, Offaly, Ireland The modern St. Kieran's Church on the site of his Saighir Monastery, Offaly, Ireland
    

St. Kieran was a celebrated ascetic. Sometime during his life he lived as a hermit on the island of Cape Clear in Munster Province (now in County Cork), spending all his time in unceasing prayer. There are also stories relating his life in a cave. St. Kieran is listed among “the Twelve Apostles of Ireland”; that is, the saints who studied at Clonard Monastery, though it is impossible to prove that all of them were in fact monks there. Kieran in his spiritual labors imitated the feats of the Desert Fathers and especially St. John the Baptist, and, like many of them, he wore animal skins and slept on the ground. Angels were his companions and helpers from childhood throughout his life. His biographers said that the saint lived a life of prayer, fasting and abstinence, and that he overcame the devil and made friends with those who dwell in heaven.

An icon of St. Kieran of Clonmacnoise An icon of St. Kieran of Clonmacnoise
Traditions relating the close communication of Kieran with wild animals abound. When he lived in a hermitage surrounded by forests, wolves, deer and other mammals, particularly those which were sick or hurt, used to come to him, feeling his holiness and asking him to cure them: and he healed every animal. According to his life, a fox, a wolf and a badger helped the saint and served him and his monks in monastic labors: to cut trees, to take the wood to the monastery and build small cells. Once the fox dared to disobey the abbot: it stole his boots and ran away to its hole in the forest. On Kieran’s command the wolf and the badger found the fox and led it to the man of God. He rebuked the fox, ordered it to do a penance by fasting for a certain time, and when the animal had done this, he allowed it to stay at his monastery and work on.

Among the miracles performed by this saint of God we should mention raising several people from the dead through his intercessions. As a boy the saint once saw a hawk seizing a defenseless baby bird from its nest. Little Kieran felt pity for the nestling, prayed for it, and the bird of prey suddenly fell down and laid the baby on the ground at his feet. The nestling looked almost lifeless: Kieran prayed again, and the bird was restored to health. There lived a holy abbess named Cuach many miles away from St. Kieran’s Monastery. She had been his nurse in his childhood. And it was noticed that the holy abbot Kieran miraculously visited his former nurse every year on Christmas night and gave her communion; after that he speedily returned to his brethren to celebrate in some miraculous way. One of his contemporaries suggested that each time Kieran was carried to and from his nurse’s convent by angels, like the holy prophet Habakkuk, whom an angel by the grace of God lifted by his hair and took him “by air” to Babylon to give food to the prophet Daniel in the lions’ den.

Once the saint blessed a holy well so that it had the flavor of wine and honey. From that time on all who drank from this well felt filled.

One day a venerable abbot paid a visit to Kieran’s monastery. The brethren invited him to dinner. But it was extremely cold in the abbey that day. St. Kieran prayed to God for at least a little heat, and a fireball descended and the fire sufficed to heat up the refectory with the abbot, the guest and all the monks. One day St. Patrick came to St. Kieran’s monastery and some nobles with him. But there was a shortage of food at the abbey. Kieran prayed and the supplies of food miraculously multiplied at once. Another legend relates that a war broke out between two kingdoms in Ireland. The opposing parties met near a brook close to Kieran’s monastery. The saint showed himself to be a peacemaker: he went out and tried to persuade each party not to fight; but they were stubborn. Then he started praying, and the brook became so swollen that it turned into a wide river so that the armies could not fight with each other at all. Only then, following this miracle did they come to their senses and decide to stop the war.

Saighir Monastery's ruins and the stump of tower (photo by Andreas Borchert) Saighir Monastery's ruins and the stump of tower (photo by Andreas Borchert)
    

According to tradition, St. Kieran till the end of his life served as Bishop of Ossory and Abbot of Saighir, tirelessly ministering to the people and working miracles. Afterwards a whole town grew up around his monastery. St. Kieran of Saighir should be distinguished from his famous namesake: St. Kieran of Clonmacnoise, or St. Kieran the Younger, who lived approximately at the same time as him. Kieran of Saighir reposed in the Lord in about the year 530. By that time his fame had spread all over Ireland, though he did not seek fame, but cared only for service to the Lord and people. On the day of his repose many monks and bishops gathered at his death-bed. Kieran blessed them and asked them to love each other and the monastery, to keep unity and piety and to remember the temptations of our common enemy. The saint also asked them to pray for him, and predicted that the time would come when the faith would be distorted and the monasteries would be destroyed (indeed that was fulfilled after the Anglo-Norman Conquest and at the Reformation).

After his demise, the veneration of St Kieran spread rapidly all over the emerald isle and he has been commemorated in all its dioceses since ancient times. His monastery became the center of the Diocese of Ossory for several centuries (consequently the see was transferred to Aghaboe and later to Kilkenny). Saighir Abbey prospered until the eleventh century despite several attacks by the Vikings, and after the Norman Conquest it was occupied by Augustinians in 1170. The Augustinian priory was closed in the sixteenth century and monastic life here stopped, though the atmosphere of holiness (even among the ruins) still reigns.

The base of the Celtic cross on the territory of Saighir Monastery The base of the Celtic cross on the territory of Saighir Monastery
    

The saint was often depicted with a fox, a doe or a badger. Today pilgrims can visit the ruins of Saighir Monastery. The village where the monastic remains are located is called Clareen, in County Offaly. The stump of the tenth-century monastic round tower and the base of a Celtic decorated “high cross” can be distinguished there, along with a holy well (whose water heals headaches) and a “holy tree” connected with the saint. According to local residents, even water that gathers in the cross base cures warts, and a stone lying near the tree has marks of the knees of the saint who supposedly prayed on it! In the nineteenth century a new Anglican Church (Church of Ireland) in honor of St. Kieran was built there right near the ruins, and it incorporates some stones from the ancient structure. Every year on March 5, Catholic believers organize processions to these holy sites linked with Kieran. Ruins of an ancient church and an early holy well can be found on Cape Clear Island where the saint lived as a hermit. It is said that the saint built this church himself. Part of a very early cross can also be seen there. This isle is virtually the most southerly populated area in Ireland. Its present population is about 100 people. According to tradition, St. Kieran was born precisely on this island or near it. There are ruins of the early medieval St. Kieran’s Church, a holy well and a bush connected with the saint in the village of Errill in County Laois. Tradition holds that the saint built a monastery there.

Ruins of St. Kieran's Church in Errill Ruins of St. Kieran's Church in Errill
    

Today he is the patron-saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ossory in Ireland and is venerated by many Christians, including Orthodox. Outside Ireland this saint is venerated in Wales (where, according to a legend, he visited St. Illtud and preached), in England, Scotland and Brittany.

Holy Father Kieran of Saighir, pray to God for us!

Dmitry Lapa

3/18/2016

See also
Holy Hierarch Flannan of Killaloe Holy Hierarch Flannan of Killaloe
Dmitry Lapa
Holy Hierarch Flannan of Killaloe Holy Hierarch Flannan of Killaloe
Commemorated: December 18/31
Dmitry Lapa
The holy man called Flannan who lived in the seventh century is equally venerated in Ireland and Scotland.
Saint Bega, Anchoress of Cumbria Saint Bega, Anchoress of Cumbria
Commemorated: September 6/19 and October 31/November 13
Saint Bega, Anchoress of Cumbria Saint Bega, Anchoress of Cumbria
Commemorated: September 6/19 and October 31/November 13
Dmitry Lapa
St. Bega is said to have been Irish. She was a virgin who led a holy life in north-western England. The legend says that she was an Irish princess, the most beautiful in her kingdom, who fled from her native land to avoid marriage with a pagan Viking—a Norwegian prince. Guided by an angel, Bega refused a pagan husband, as she wanted to devote her life to the Heavenly Bridegroom—Christ.
Holy Hierarch Aidan of Lindisfarne, Apostle of Northumbria and Wonderworker Holy Hierarch Aidan of Lindisfarne, Apostle of Northumbria and Wonderworker
Dimitry Lapa
Holy Hierarch Aidan of Lindisfarne, Apostle of Northumbria and Wonderworker Holy Hierarch Aidan of Lindisfarne, Apostle of Northumbria and Wonderworker
Commemorated August 31/September 13
Dmitry Lapa
The first missionary who came from Iona was Corman, but he was very stern with the Angles and could not speak their language, so he soon had to go back. On his return to Iona, Corman told the brethren: “What a hopeless task it is to preach to these savage and stubborn Angles!” One of the monks, named Aidan, answered him gently: “Brother, you were probably too strict with these illiterate people.” So it was decided to send Aidan to Northumbria.
Holy Father Modomnoc of Ossory, Patron Saint of Bees Holy Father Modomnoc of Ossory, Patron Saint of Bees
Dmitry Lapa
Holy Father Modomnoc of Ossory, Patron Saint of Bees Holy Father Modomnoc of Ossory, Patron Saint of Bees
Commemorated: February 13/26
Dmitry Lapa
Before he had sailed three miles he suddenly saw a small black cloud that was swiftly approaching from the Welsh coast. Soon the cloud drew near and the holy man to his great astonishment realized that these were the bees from all the beehives of the Mynyw Monastery. The insects began impetuously and joyfully descending onto the boat of their master.
Holy Fathers Seiriol and Cybi of Anglesey in Wales Holy Fathers Seiriol and Cybi of Anglesey in Wales
Dmitry Lapa
Holy Fathers Seiriol and Cybi of Anglesey in Wales Holy Fathers Seiriol and Cybi of Anglesey in Wales
Commemorated February 1/14 (St.Seiriol); November 8/21 (St. Cybi)
Dmitry Lapa
St. Seiriol is one of a great multitude of island saints who led a solitary life in tiny hermits’ cells on small isles off the coasts of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. St. Cybi is along with St. Seiriol one of the most venerated saints in Anglesey.
Saint Ciaran, Abbot of Clonmacnoise in Ireland Saint Ciaran, Abbot of Clonmacnoise in Ireland
Commemorated September 9/22
Saint Ciaran, Abbot of Clonmacnoise in Ireland Saint Ciaran, Abbot of Clonmacnoise in Ireland
Commemorated September 9/22
Dmitry Lapa
Ciaran was educated by the prominent theologian St. Finnian of Clonard, the spiritual father of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland”. Here he showed himself to be a most gifted student and one of the most zealous monks.
Comments
Steve Ahearne-Kroll5/2/2018 6:01 am
Do you know where I could purchase the icon (or a copy of it) pictured here? We named our son after him, and we are looking for an icon of St. Ciaran for a first communion gift. Thanks for any help!
Dmitry3/22/2016 1:34 pm
Dear Isaac,
Yes, it was me who replied to your first comment.
I'd like to express my deep gratitude to you for your kind and sincere words! We are really pleased that you enjoy reading our articles on these early saints of the British Isles and Ireland!
Isaac Crabtree3/20/2016 1:32 am
All I saw originally was the icon in the midst of the article. Forgive my oversight!

Is this the Dmitry Lapa that posts all of these wonderful articles of Orthodox Western saints? If so I owe you such an immense debt of gratitude! This is such an important thing for us in the West to see. God bless your efforts for this! May you have the prayers of these holy intercessors!

So often we Orthodox in the West can be made to feel like Orthodoxy is "exotic" but in fact your articles show that the essence of the Church is universal. Of course one reads about this in theory, but your articles are objective examples of this fact that educate people like me! Please, please continue!
Dmitry3/19/2016 5:24 pm
Dear Isaac,
The top icon in the article is indeed that of St Kieran of Saighir, it is even indicated on the icon itself. The lower icon is of St Kieran of Clonmacnoise who is also mentioned in the article - and that is indicated in this icon too. So there is no mistake here.
Isaac Crabtree3/18/2016 7:16 pm
The icon posted in the article is not St. Kieran of Saighir, but the other St. Kieran.
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