Loughrea November 5th 1838

Dear Sir,

O'Conor has not as yet arrived from Mount Shannon, and I fear he is ill, if you know where he is please to let him know that we are nearly ready to move to Gort, and that he will find us there on Wednesday next.


To attempt any thing like the history of this parish in this letter, were folly in the extreme, as the materials are not yet collected. The life of St. Brendan preserved in a MS. volume in Marsh's library should have been copied and sent me. Mr. Mangan ought to be scholar enough to do it now. I wish he would make the attempt, as, now, he is bound to take interest in bog latin as well as in German poetry, and if he does not decypher it, I shall ask him why not learn to do so as well as to translate Turkish poetry? Verbum sat.


As I have only a few extracts from the life of St. Brendan, I shall only touch lightly on the history of Clonfert for the present, and go on with the description of the features which are to appear on the Map.

Situation. This parish is bounded on the east by the River Shannon, on the south by the parish of Doonanoghta, on the west by that of Kiltonnore, and on the north by that of Cloontooskert. It extends to Shannon harbour, and to the Bridge of Banagher.

Name. This name is compounded of two primitive Irish words which enter largely into Irish topographical names, namely cluain and feart, the former being in the Nominative and the latter in the Genitive form. The meaning of cluain, I have before examined at full length in (my letters) treating of Clonard (Cluain Coirpthe) and Clonmacnoise, where I have come to the conclusion that it signifies an insulated (spot), from having seen that all the cloons in Meath & Offaly are bog islands. The townland of Clonfert is also a bog-island, and in the life of St. Fursey {11th January, Acta SS. p. 87, col. b} it is actually called "insula, quae Cluain fearta vocatur.


feart, the latter part of this compound has various meanings, 1. Trench, 2. grave, 3. virtue miracle, in which last sense it is cognate with the Latin virtus, as we are informed (by the author) of Cormac's Glossary, who says that the U consonant of the Latins appears as F in Cognate Irish words, as vir, fer, visio, fis, vita, fít, virtus, firt.

Ár is gnáth in ur {u} consain las in laitneóir & fern {f} fris. Nindle las in ngaidhel, ut est vir .i. fer, visio .i. fis, viat .i. fit, virtus .i. firt quamvis hoc non per singula currat

Cormac's Glossary in Voce fíne.

It appears from various old Irish historical tales, but (and) particularly from one preserved in the book of Lecan entitled Battle of Kennfebrat, that the word feart was often applied to a trench, and fearta, its plural form, to the tracks of a Longphort or fortified camp. Thus it states that Ardfert took its name from the fearta, trenches, or furrows, which remained in the ground long after the army of ? had encamped on it.

The author of the life of St. Molua, however, translates Cluain fearta Molua, {the name of a parish near Roscrea} Latibulum miraculorum Moluae, the retirement of the miracles of St. Molua, from which it has appeared to some


that the names Clonfert, Ardfert, and all others in which Clon or fert enters, are of Eremitic (or at least ecclesiastical) origin; but I am sceptical enough to go so far as to suspect the accuracy and truth of the writer of the life of Molua for I am certain that Cluain which may be translated latibulum, in a figurative sense, is not of ecclesiastical origin, and I doubt that (even) fearta is, either, for we find it enter into the (name of) a place in Meath before the establishment of Christianity, namely Fearta (graves) Virorum (fer) Fecc, now Slane. The writer of the life of Molua finding that Cluain would bear to be translated latibulum, and fearta, virtues or miracles, took hold of the name Clonfert to make it a historical monument of the wondrous virtues and miraculous powers of the spiritual warrior whose Biography he undertook to write. It will however be yet established that such places (as) Clonfert, Ardfert, Drumfert, (&c) do not owe the origin of their names (either) to hermitages or miracles, but to pagan graves or the tracks of camps or other similar vestiges.

I here insert some (scattered) notices of Clonfert-Brendan collected from Colgan:


[Hand of Patrick O'Keeffe:]

CLONFERT: (Longford Barony)

XXIX Januarii AA.SS. p. 192. Notes to the Life of Gildas Badonicus

Eod. anno {533.} S. Brendan the son of Finnloga built the celebrated Monastery of Clonfert. Four Masters. He was a man of most celebrated sanctity, the Father of three thousand Monks both in this Monastery, and in many others subject to him, as being the founder of the monastic Rule dictated by the Angel, according to his acts; as concerning the number of his Monks Peter de Natalibus in his catalogue 1. 5. c. 117. Werner in his Fasciculus temporum, and others testify; and concerning the Rule, Possevinus in his Apparatus, Capgravius and others in common.

Life of S. Iarlaith Bp. of Tuam XI Feb. AASS. p. 310, Col. b.

Note 13. Truim millium Monachorum pater &c. cap. 3. Thus the Chronicles of the world, and Werner in his fasciculus temporum at the year 554, and Ware on the Writers of Ireland lib. 1, Cap. 2. Saint Brendan, says he, Abbot {the son of Finloga} by country a Kerryman, was educated by Bishop Erc, he built the Monastery of Clonfert in the land of Galway in the year 558, and another afterwards {i.e. that} of Enach-dun. In these and other communities founded by him, he is said to have presided over three thousand Monks. See his life at the 16th of May. {see after the notice of Cumin fada infra}



1 Martii.Ex variisAA.SS. p. 437, Col. a.

There flourished in Ireland about the year 560 a man conspicuous for the sanctity of his life and the fame of his learning, by name Moinennus (1) or Mo-nennius, who therefore seems to have been first called Nennius or Nennio; concerning whom because we have not as yet seen his acts, there occur a few things which are certain, {&} some which are dubious, to be related. Of those which are certain.

The first be it (sit) that he was very familiar with and the friend of (2) that great Brendan; of whom we read that he saw great wonders on the Ocean during the time time of his sailing for the space of 7 years.

The second, that S. Brendan so approved of his erudition, sanctity and other virtues, by the testimony of fact, that he chose


him alone out of the multitude of some (Col. b:) thousand Monks (3) who were subject to him, and the other innumerable Saints with whom this island shone, as the person to whom the government of the Church of Clonfert very lately elevated by him into an Episcopal See, should be committed, and who should be appointed (4) Bishop of that See in his place, as was also performed. For S. Brendan founded the Arch-Monastery of Clonfert; in which and in many others erected by him through Ireland, he ruled as supreme Abbot (Archimandrita), three and more thousand Monks; so that this might seem the cause why having resigned the government to that Diocese he transferred it on the shoulders of S. Monennius.


The third, that this most holy Prelate after he had in a laudable manner discharged that office for some years, he slept in the Lord renowned for merits and virtues in the year of salvation 570, (5) according to the domestic Annals. Whence he died {p. 438} while S. Brendan was yet surviving; who died in the (6) year 576 or 577 as appears from the same Annals and other Writers.

The fourth is that his birth-day is celebrated on the Calends of March (7) as is found recorded in our calendars and festilogies. ***


NOTES, p. 439

(1). Moinennus, sive Monenius, qui proinde Nennius sive Nennio &c. He is called in Irish by the Calendar of Cashel below Maineann and Moeneann, by the Martyrology of Tallaght, Marian Gorman and the Martyrology of Donegal Moenenn; by the life of S. Tigernach he is called Mo-nennius, by other lives cited Nennius & Nennio. But the origin of this discrepancy is frequently discovered {to be} that the Irish are accustomed to prefix Mo i.e. My to the proper names of Saints, for the sake of respect.

(2). Amicus magno illi Brendano. It is so stated in the Irish life of S. Brendan, where it is related that he was even present with S. Brendan in a certain rapture of his. And it is collected from the fact that Brendan being as yet living he was appointed in his place in the administration of the Bishoprick of Clonfert.

(3). Ex aliquot millium subditorum Monachorum numero. This is told in the life of S. Brendan to be given at the 16th of May by Usher in his Chronological Index at the year 541. Werner in his Fasciculus temporum & others to be there cited, where they relate that he was the father of three thousand Monks.

(4). Et suo loco Episcopus illius sedis instituatur. This is collected from the Martyrologies and Annals immediately to be cited, from which it is collected that he was Bishop of Clonfert while S. Brendan was yet living. Since therefore Brendan was the first Bishop and founder of that See, and S. Monennius was his intimate (bosom) friend, he seems to have been elected and raised to that office by him.


(5). Obdormivit in Domino anno 570. Thus from the Annals of Senat, the Four Masters in their Annals. Anno 570. S. Moennius Bishop of Clonfert of S. Brendan died on the 1st day of March.

(6). Nivente S. Brendano quem anno 576 vel 577. That Brendan died in the year 576, the Four Masters hand down in the cited Annals; but Usher in his Chronological Index in the year 577.

(7). Natalis Calendis Mastii. Thus the Annals quoted in no. 5 & Marian Gorman at the same day saying: S. Moennius Bishop of Clonfert of Brendan. the Calendar of Cashel. S. Moennius or Mainennius Bishop of Clonfert (Cluainferta); & Comarb .i. Successor of S. Brendan. the Martyrology of Tallaght ({the feast of}) S. Moennius Bishop. the Martyrology of Donegal. S. Mainennius Bishop of Clonfert (Cluainferta) of Brendan. Whence it could be suspected that he was the British Bishop named Moenna or Moennius who was also the intimate friend of S. Brendan, and of whom we have treated at the 26th of February; unless (but) that a certain difference, even, of names, and different festivals assigned by all shew that they were plainly different. ***



XXI. Feb.AASS. p. 385.

Domestic hagiographers in several places make mention of Saint Fintan surnamed Corach; And although no one has published his acts, which I could see; yet many {persons} in few {words} hand down concerning him such things, as sufficiently indicate that he was a man celebrated for the important offices {which he discharged} and his eminent sanctity of life. For we read that not only in the office of Abbot, but also in the Pontifical dignity he for many years had the care of souls, and ruled successively many Churches. The first was the Church of Leamchuill in Leinster (1) on the confines of the territories of Leix and Hy-duach. The second, the noble Monastery of (2) Clonenagh lying in the (aforesd.) territory of


Leix; in which it is known that he either lived during his life time or lay (burned) after death; although it is certain that many other prelates (3) of the same name, and of not unequal sanctity flourished in the same place. The third, the Church of Clonfert in Connaught; in which from the first (4) foundation of the place there were two different (distinct) offices, namely that (those) of Abbot and of Bishop; both of which we read that he discharged. For we read that he not only administrated (ruled) the Episcopal See of that place (5) after S. Moenendus; but also that after S. Brendan (6) he ruled the noble Monastery adjoined (adjoining), in which office we read that he was succeeded by Senachus surnamed Garbh; Senachus, by S. Colman (7) the son of Comgellus. The fourth Church also, namely {that} of (8) Cluainaithchi in Leix, others indicate was founded or administrated by him. It is believed either that


having resigned that charge, he returned to the Monastery of (9) Clonenagh according to his promises; or at least that he was buried there. For it is said that when he first travelled into Connaught, he confidently promised in the Lord or (10) gave sureties, that he would return to them living or dead.

And from these causes it is supposed that he obtained that name Corach. For the word Corach in the native idiom, under a different (sub diversâ ratione) consideration denotes many things, (signifying) at one time volubilis, sometimes spousor, at other times melodes (accus: melodem) or modulator. Whence it is thought that he (11) received that cognomen, either because he often changed the place of his abode & governorship, or because in the just mentioned manner he promised that he would return


to his former place; or because he changed the manner of psalming (psallendi, singing) or chanting the divine praises which was usual (customary) with the ancient Monks, and introduced a new method of singing. For he is singularly praised for his special diligence and devotion in the Divine praises. And among (inter) these pious offices, he is said to have lived (12) one hundred and thirty five years. I do not find the year of his death observed; however it appears (seems) that he flourished towards the close of the (13) sixth century; and his birth-day according to all (14) domestic festilogia is celebrated on this 21" of February



1. 2 *** 3 *** (p. 385 Col: b.) 4 A prima loci fundatione duo munia. For before the death of S. Brendan who died in the year 576, and who was the ruler and first Abbot of that Church, Moennennius also was Bishop of the same Church, and died in the year 570 according to the Annals of Clonm'noise and of Donegal.

5. Post S. Moenennum, sedem Episcopalem illius loci. Marian Gorman & the Martyrology of Donegal infrà call him Bishop of Clonfert; but I do not assert that he immediauaely succeeded S. Moenennius.

6. Post S. Brendanum. Neither do I determine whether he immediately succeeded S. Brandan; however it is certain that he did succeed him, for (as) S. Aengus according to what is to be said immediately in n. &, says that he was succeeded by S. Colman the son of Comgal, & that S. Senach succeeded in the government of the same Monasuaery; but S. Senach was Abbot of the same Monastery, as the Annals of the Four Masters testify in these words: Anno 620. Senach, surnamed Garbh Abbot of Clonfert of Brenand, died.

7. Ipsi successisse S. Senachus; S. Senacho S. Colmanus. Thus the Scholiast of S. Aengus, or more truly Angus himself in his scholia to his festilogium at the 21st of February, saying: Fintan Corach, Senach Garbh, & Colman the amicable the son of Comgellus were three black {Friars} of the Lord (tres nigra Domini, qu? three black gentlemen? No!) succeeding one after another successively in the same Abbacy. Where by the bye


observe that the author insinuates that they were of the black order or habit & consequently Benedictines; as we do not read that any other order of black Monks existed at (in) that age.

8 *** 9 *** 10 ***

11. Novemique introduxit conendi modum. Thus under doubt Maguire indicates at the 21st of February.

12. Annis centum triginta quinque. Thus Aengus at the 21st of February, saying: Fintan (Corach) lived one hundred and thirty five years, continually singing psalms, at the brink of a fountain.

13. Floruisse juxta saeculi sexti finem. For S. Senach, his immediate successor, died in the year 620, according to what is said in no. 6.

14. Secundum omnia domestica festilogia 21 Febr. Thus at the same day S. Aengus, The Solemnity {says he} of Fintan Corach, after a contempt of the world. The Martyrology of Tallaght, {the feast} of Fintan Corach in Lemchuill or Clonenagh. The Calendar of Cashel: Fintan Corach rests in Leamchuill, between Hy duach and Leix, or in Cluainaithchin, or in Clonfert of Brendan. But he is called Corach, because when about to travel, he gave sureties that he would return either living or dead. Marian Gorman: Fintan Corach, Bishop of Clonfert of Brendan; he is (is buried?) also in Clonenagh. The Martyrology of Donegal uses the same words, and Cathaldus under disjunction (sub disjunctione) says that he is (is buried?) in Leamhchoill, or in Cluainaithchin in Leix, or in Clonfert, or more truly {says he} in Clonenagh. He adds also that that cognomen was given to him on account of some of the causes adduced above; or moreover because the Shrines (scrinia) in which his relics lie, were seen miraculously to move.



XXVII of March.AA.SS. p. 771

{Col a} On the same 27th day of March S. Fintan surnamed the Mouth of the Psalms, says the Martyrology of Tallaght. With the same Elogy of cognomen he is also praised by other (1) Hagiologists at this day who style him in the native idiom Bel na Salm i. the Mouth of the Psalms or the Psalm-Singer. Whence there are strong grounds for conjecturing that he is the same as he, whom Sausains in his Martyrologium Gallicanum calls Psalmodius the Disciple of S. Brendan. And hence again are supplied two arguments, that he is the same as that Fintan surnamed Corach, of whom we have treated above at the 21st of February; For the Irish word Corach equivocally denotes at one time volubilis, at another Psalmodius, a


Psalm-singer or devoted to the Psalms and Canticles. And moreover the same Fintan surnamed Corach was the Successor of saint Brendan in the government both of the Monastery and Episcopal See of Clonfert, as we have shewn at the same 21st day of February. Add {what confirms this conjecture} that we read that he travelled to distant parts, as we have observed at the same place, and hence seems to have stopt some time in Gaul; whence he merited to be reckoned among the Saints of Gaul. If these things, which appear to me very probable, be true, he flourished towards the close of the sixth century. For he was preceded in the governorship by S. Brendan who died in the year 576, and succeeded


by S. Senach who departed in the year 620, as we have shewn at that day often-times cited; at which more can be seen concerning him, as also afterwards at the 13th of June.


[1]Ab aliis Hagiologis. For thus Marian Gorman, the Martyrology of Donegal, and Maguire at this 27th of March, call him.


XXI Martii{AASS. p. 746.}

Whilst on a certain day S. Camin, and S. Cumineus surnamed the Long (6) were in the Church which S. Camin founded in the Island called lnis-Keltra, situated in Lough Derg-dherc, &c &c &c.


p. 747} [6] Cumineus cognomento Longus. He was Bishop of Clonfert, and died in the year 662, on the 2nd day of December according to the Four Masters but Marian & others place his birth-day on the 12th of November.


XI Feb.AASS. p. 309, Col: b.

I however would not affirm that he {Iarlaith} lived in that year {550}; first because it is evident (from) what has been said that he was not only a Bishop, but also even an old man when S. Brendan {who died in the 94th year of his age, or according to others the 97th, and of Christ 577.} was his disciple {being} as yet in the flower of his youth.


XVI of January.AASS. p. 89, Col: b.


11. {S. Brendanus} Qui in insula, quae Cluainfearta vocatur; Monasterium construxit, C. 7. This Monastery lies in the Southern district of Connaught, and is now a Bishop's See, as it was even from the very time of S. Brendan; concerning which see more in the notes to the life of S. Brendan at the 16th of May. It is here called an Island either perhaps from the circumstance, that it lies in a certain sinus at the bank of the great river Shannon, or more truly from a certain hallucination, from the circumstance, to wit, that S. Brendan in his seven-years navigation is said (legatur) to have continually proceeded from Island to Island.


[Hand of J. O'Donovan resumed:]

For a list of the Bishops and abbots of Clonfert see Harris's Ware, Archdall's Monasticon ps. 276, 279 & sequen, and annals of the Four Masters at the following years - 570, 576, 620, 661, 723, 744, 747, 748, 768, 776, 781, 797, 812, 817, 820, 824, 842, 843, 848, 867, 879, 881, 882, 885, 914, 920, 944, 951, 961, 980, 991, 1006, 1015, 1031, 1036, 1045, 1081, 1117, 1132, 1134, 1136, 1164, 1166, 1170, 1171, 1173, 1179, 1186, 1202, 1259, 1263, 1266, 1319, 1377, - 1508, 1580, 1595.


(1) The Cathedral, now (called) the parish church as Clonfert is no longer a protestant Diocese. This church was (evidently) modernized, and remodelled at various periods, as the antiquarian will see at a glimpse, and no part of it is worthy the attention of the investigator of ancient architecture except the doorway, which is placed in the west gable,


of which, as being very curious and of considerable antiquity, a description will be attempted presently. The tower of this church appears to be as old as the 15th century at which period the entire building seems to have been remodelled, but the greater part of it is evidently much more modern. These two inscriptions are to be seen on two grave stones inserted in the floor & ornamented with crosses.


The O'Callannans were hereditary physicians of Iar-Connaught. They are now very numerous about Galway where they Anglicise their name incorrectly Cullennan, and in the town of Loughrea, and its vicinity where they very correctly write it Callannan. See my account of the territory of Iar- Connaught, and its families.



These two families were certainly Roman Catholics as appears from the crosses, IHS, and Maria. q? Was the church in the possession of the Roman Catholics at the time? It probably was, as it appears from the Liber Regalis Visitationis, which is dated 1618? that the then Bishop of Clonfert was a half papist himself.

Of the Value of these Bishopricks {Clonfert & Kilmacduagh} we cannot form any certain idea the bishop having so perversely and fraudulently dealt with us, that (we consider that) no credit whatever should be given to his assertion {ut illius relationi nullam omnino fidem adhibendam censemus!!}.

Again, treating of the Prebend of Killenan:

Donald O'Cormacan, a reading Minister as the Bishop affirms (affirmed?), but on examination we found him to be a Missal priest (Mass-priest), for being asked concerning the number of the Sacraments, he argued that they were six in number. He


was therefore deprived, and the fruits were sequestrated.

Again speaking of the Rectory of Mileek.

Donaldus O'Cormocan minister legens omnino ignorus!!

In the churchyard opposite the west door of the church there is an ancient tombstone ornamented with a cross and exhibiting this name


There is another stone about 2 feet in height above ground exhibiting a cross and part of an inscription. It stands in the east part of the church(yard), and about 9 yards to the south of the south side wall of the cathedral.

Door-way in the West gable of the Cathedral of Clonfert.
Door-way in the West gable of the Cathedral of Clonfert. (P. O'Keeffe fecit)

Height of the highest part of the outer arch 11ft. 9inches. {about}. Height of the second arch from the inside, which terminates the ancient part, pointed to by the letter G ({about}) 8ft. 8inches.

Breadth fromA to B12ft. 10inches.}diffce.
Do.C to D13ft. 3inches.}5 inches
Do.e to f4ft. 6inches.}difference
Do.E to F5ft. 0inches.}6 inches

Hh and Ii are perfectly parallel, and of black (grey) marble. They were evidently inserted in modern times as appears from the figures on them especially the bishop's crozier which has a circular head not the simple crook. The remaining part of this doorway is certainly ancient, and formed of the kind of stone which the country people called Cloch Eimhir or reddish grit stone. The columns on either (the one) side are not parallel to each (those on the) other as appears from the measurements above given, which is one of the characteristics of the primitive doorways of the most ancient Irish churches.

By comparing this with the large archway at present forming the doorway of the Cathedral of Tuam, which is said to have been erected by Turlogh O'Conor R.H. one will come to the conclusion that this is perhaps older & may be of the 10th century


(2) Site of the monastery. The monastery of Clonfert (stood) about 250 yards to the south of the Cathedral. It has all disappeared excepting a small fragment of one wall 12 feet high, 7 broad, and three (3) feet thick.

(3) Site of the Nunnery. The nunnery of Clonfert, according to tradition, stood in a field opposite the Pound, some 500 (600) yards to the south of the Cathedral, but there is not a vestige of it now remaining. There is a very curious tombstone where it is said to have stood, somewhat in the shape of a coffin, and ornamented with a cross, and exhibiting an inscription which is certainly ancient, but so effaced that I could not decypher it. The Keeper of the pound of Clonfert told me that this inscription was decyphered by a Mr. Robert (Joé) Hamilton, who has also copied every old inscription in Ireland. Who can this Robert Hamilton be? Has Mr. Petrie


seen this tombstone?

(4) The Castle of Brackloon. This castle stands (in a townland of the same name) immediately to the left of the road as you go from Clonfert to Eyrecourt, about a mile from the former and two from the latter. It is in a small (but conspicuous) square tower in tolerable preservation, and repaired not long since to keep it standing. Tradition ascribes its erection to the great O'Madden, in whose Country it certainly is.

This castle is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters at the year 1557.

A.D. 1557. As soon as the Lord chief Justice heard that the O'Conors of Offaly were at Meelick, he mustered an army to drive them from it and conveyed canon from (to) Athlone, whence he carried (transported) them in boats to Meelick, while he himself led his army through Bealach an fhothair (see letter on the Parish of Lusmagh near Banagher in the King's County, in which the situation of Bealach and Fhothair is shewn) and by


Lurgan Lusmhaighe. He afterwards took Meelick and Breac-chluain, &c.

See this quoted at full length in the letter on Meelick parish.

I find nothing else in this parish of antiquarian interest but a holy well in the townland of Ballymore, which the people say is called Tobermurry.

There is no well within the parish dedicated to St. Brendan.

Your obedient Servant,
John O'Donovan.