Laois Lore and Legends

Laois Lore and Legends

St. Fintan of Clonenagh

Yesterday the 17th of February marked the feast day of another great Laois saint. St. Fintan of Clonenagh is regarded as one of three patron saints of county Laois which include St. Colman Mac ua Laoise and St. Mochua of Timahoe.
There are a number of sites in the county associated with Fintan both modern and historic. These include most notably the Early Medieval monastic site which he founded in the mid-6th Century A.D at Clonenagh or Cluain Eidhneach (the ivy retreat). Other sites include St. Fintan’s Well at Cromoge Co. Laois, as well as more modern examples which included schools, hospitals and a number present day churches, tributes to his former greatness.

Fintan is said to have been born near Clonkeen in Co. Laois and went on as a young ecclesiastic student to study under St. Columba at Terryglass in Co. Tipperary. Whilst on his journeys to find a new monastery near the Slieve Blooms, Fintan received a vision and was instructed to find a monastery at Clonenagh which he duly did. This was to become one of the most important foundations in the country at the time in the 6th Century. Fintan was known to have a strict rule and forbade the use of the plough, didn’t allow cattle to be held at the monastery (cattle being units of wealth at the time), practiced fasting regularly and prayed almost constantly. His rule was so austere that it prompted a visit from St. Canice to appeal for a more relaxed practice. Fintan agreed but continued adopting this rule for himself. It is said that many monks came to study at Clonenagh from around and even abroad, it became known as a Gallic school due to the number of French student who flocked there during Europe’s “Dark Ages”.

The Book of Leinster describes Fintan as being one of the three most important saints in Ireland, behind Patrick and Brigit. There are quite a few references to Fintan in the annals of the time from all over Ireland. He is regarded to have died in the year 603 A.D and his obituary is recorded all the major chronicles from the time. The Fragmentary Annals record as follows:

“Fintan moccu Echdach, abbot of Cluain Eidnech, chief of the monks of Europe, died on a Thursday” a poem by Colman reads;
“On Thursday Fintan was born
and was brought forth on earth;
and on Thursday he died on my fair thighs”.

Today people still venerate the Holy Well at Cromoge Co. Laois attributed to Fintan. There has been some that have had their prayers answered by using its blessed waters.

This text is courtesy of Sean at Laois Archaeology. Click here for the Facebook page.