Ibar Quirke takes a look at the saints who existed in Ireland before Saint Patrick
It is widely believed that St Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity. However, historians have discovered that the Irish were quite familiar with Christianity through trading-links with France and Spain. Indeed, four saints preceded St Patrick – Kieran, Ibar, Declan, and Ailbhe. It is recorded that these saints, all consecrated as Bishops, were often in dispute with St Patrick, who brought with him a Roman model of Catholicism. As St Patrick’s Day approaches, Ibar Quirke examines the lives of these important pre-Patrician saints.
St Kieran of Saighir, County Offaly, has been called ‘the first-born of the Irish Saints’. He was born of royal blood on Clear Island, and was known for his affinity with animals.
One legend recalls how St Kieran spared the life of a small bird, seized from its nest by a hawk, by summonsing the hawk to lay its injured prey by his feet. St Kieran studied at Tours and Rome, where he was ordained a Bishop, before returning to live as a hermit in the Irish Midlands.
He established a monastery at Saighir, which later became the burial-place of the Kings of Ossory. St Kieran’s mother, Liadan, also joined him in the religious life at Saighir.
St Kieran was also associated with miracles raising the dead to life, and one legend recounts how seven harpers, murdered by robbers, joined him in gratitude for sparing their lives.
St Kieran also cast spells, once showing his disapproval of King Ailill by silencing his voice for a week. St Kieran’s feast day is celebrated on March 5, and he is the Patron Saint of the Diocese of Ossory.
St Ibar established Christianity in County Wexford. St Ibar’s monastery at Beggerin was known as an important seat of learning and culture during the Early Christian era. Plans are currently being made to restore the ruins there to their former glory, thus safeguarding its historicocultural significance for the region. St Ibar was born in east County Down.
From noble lineage, he studied at the leading Druidic colleges of his time.
He was ordained after twenty years of intensive study and memorization of Druidic texts, which took place primarily in remote forests and caves.