It is often said that St. Finnian of Clonard trained ‘The Twelve Apostles of Ireland’ writes Eugene Daly


St. Finnian of Clonard was a founding father of Irish monasticism, second only to St. Enda. Finnian was born at Myshall, Co. Carlow, and educated at St. Cadoc’s monastery in Llancarfan in South Glamorgan in Wales.
After travelling abroad to Tours in France, he returned and founded the famous monastery at Clonard. One day his pupil Senach realised how emaciated Finnian was, his ribs showing through his clothes. His daily diet was a piece of barley bread and a glass of water. Only on Sundays and on Holy Days did he have a piece of salmon and a cup of mead or ale.

His monastic school at Clonard became so famous and so important that he became known as ‘tutor of the saints of Ireland’. It is often said that he trained ‘The Twelve Apostles of Ireland’. He emphasised the importance of study, and urged his pupils to set up their own schools. Finnian died about 550 and his feast day is 12th December.

The so-called Twelve Apostles of Ireland are:- Canice of Kilkenny, Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, Ciarán of Saighir, Offaly (and Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork), Brendan of Birr, Brendan the Voyager (of west Kerry), Colmán of Terryglass, Colmcille of Derry, Molaise of Devenish, Mobhí of Glasnevin, Dublin, Ninnidh of Inishmacsaaint, Co Fermanagh, Ruadhain of Lorrha, Co Tipperary and Sinell of Cleenish, in Upper Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh.

CANICE WAS born in Co. Derry and educated at Clonard. He worked for many years among the islands off the west coast of Scotland and assisted Colmcille in his mission to the Picts of Scotland. In Irish he is Cainneach; in Scotland Kenneth. Returning to Ireland, he founded the monastery of Aghaboe in Co. Laois and was buried there around 599. He is the patron saint of the diocese of Ossory and has given his name to its capital, Kilkenny (Irish–Cill Chainnigh, Canice’s Church). His feast day is October 11th.

Ciaran of Clonmacnoise was the founder of the greatest of all the monasteries/universities of early Christian Ireland. Born in Connacht about 516, he was educated by Finnian and Enda. According to legend he left home when he was still a young boy, driving a fine dun cow before him for sustenance (The Book of the Dun Cow was traditionally written on vellum made from this animal’s skin). He founded his church, later a monastery, at Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon. It was a great centre of Irish art and literature. Its magnificence was ruined by the English in 1552, when ‘not a bell, large or small, or an image or an alter, or a book or a gem or even glass in a window, was left which was not carried away’. His feastday is September 9th.

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