Saint of the Day – 25 June – Saint Moluag of Lismore (c 520–592) Bishop of Lismore, Missionary to Scotland and a contemporary of St Columba, Founder of Monasteries, Apostle of the Picts, Patron Saint of Argyll – born as Lughaidh in c 520 in Northern Ireland and died on 25 June 592 in Rosemarkie, Scotland of natural causes. Saint Lughaidh, better known by his pet name of Moluag, was an Irish noble of the Dál nAraide (one of the main tribes of the Ulaid in what we now call Ulster). He is also known as Lua, Luan, Luanus, Lugaid of Les Mór, Lugaidh, Lugide Lis Moer, Luoch, Mallock, Molaug, Molluog, Moloag, Molua, Moluag, Murlach. St Moluag, the Founder of over a hundred Monasteries, was a Bishop active during the period of the First Order of Celtic Saints and known as ‘The Clear and Brilliant, The Sun of Lismore in Alba.’ The First Order were ‘most holy – shining like the sun.’ This is a clear reference to his membership of the First Order. Saint Moluag was the first Patron Saint of Argyll, as evidenced by a charter in 1544, from the Earl of Argyll, which states “in honour of God Omnipotent, the blessed Virgin, and Saint Moloc, our Patron.”
St Moluag was born between 500 and 520. We know that he was a Bishop in about 552 and that he Ordained St Comgal (c 510–520 – 597/602), his close kinsman, initially as a Deacon then as a Priest. Moluag persuaded St Comgal to found Bangor Abbey, in modern day Ulster.
Having helped St Comgal set up this Abbey, perhaps the greatest of all Abbeys of its time, he took the road of white martyrdom and left with twelve followers to lead the life of a missionary. In 562 he founded his great community on the large island of the Lyn of Lorn in Argyll now called the Isle of Lismore (Lios mor is ancient Gaelic for ‘great monastery’ hence the reason Moluag is also kown as St Lios mor).
Lismore was the most important religious spot to the pagan kings of the area. It was, therefore, the most desirable site for a missionary. The Lismore Abbey lands were once very extensive and included the ancient parish of Lismore which embraced Appin (the Abbey Lands), Eilean Mund and Kingairloch and Morvern districts.
St Moluag truly evangelised the Picts. From Lismore, St Moluag went on to found two other great centres in the land of the Picts – at Rosemarkie and Mortlach. These were his three centres of teaching (we would now call them universities) and, it is significant, that all three were to become the seats of the Roman Catholic Sees of the Isles, Ross and Aberdeen.
St Moluag became the Patron Saint of the Royal House of Lorne and was acknowledged as such by, Somerled, King of Argyll and the Isles and the later Lords of Lorn and the Earls (now Dukes) of Argyll. From a 1544 charter it can be seen that The Earl of Argyll, having inherited the MacDougall Lordship of Lorn, refers to St Moluag as his family’s Patron Saint ‘in honour of God Omnipotent, the blessed Virgin, and Saint Moloc, our Patron.’
St Moluag was probably also Patron Saint of Rushen, on the Isle of Man and, according to Lismore tradition, the whole island. This is plausible as Somerled, a supporter of St Moluag, married Raghnild, daughter of Olaf, King of Man. Moluag was also the original dedicatee of the Manx Monastery of Rushen founded in 1134. In the 12th century, the Isle of Man was united with Sodor or the Sudreys, as the Norse called the ‘southern isles’ of the Hebrides, in the Diocese of Sodor and Man. A very ancient inscription on a paten found at Kirk-Malew (Malew is a corruption of Moluag), preserves the invocation of the Patron Saint, ‘St Maloua, ora pro nobis’: St Moluag, pray for us. Malew is the largest parish in Rushen and includes Castletown, the ancient capitol of the Island.
By the time of his death in 592, five years before St Augustine arrived at Canterbury, he had founded over 120 Monasteries and converted the Picts of Alba. Saints Moluag and Comgall, together with their famous disciples which included, Mael-ruba of Applecross, St Mirran, first Abbot of Paisley, Moluag’s kinsman St Catan of Kingarth on Bute and Catan’s nephew St Blaan, had a major influence on the spread of Christianity in North Britain.
The “Coarb” (Successor) of a Celtic Abbot was the heir of the Abbot in his ecclesiastical functions and abbatical mensal territory. St Moluag as the Abbot of Lismore and the Abbots of the 100 or so Monasteries which emanated from St Moluag, followed the rule of the Successor. The Successor of St Moluag provided the authority of the Church to support the Kings of Dalriada and the Lords of Lorn.
The Successorship of St Moluag is the oldest office in the country – the Abbey of Lismore was founded in 562. In the Celtic tradition it remains an hereditary office.
Moluag lived to extreme old age and died on 25 June 592 in the Garioch and was buried at his Monastery in Rosemarkie, Ross-shire, Scotland. The Annals of Ulster record the death of Lugaid of Les Mór in 592 – Obitus Lugide Lis Moer. His remains were later transported to Lismore and honoured in the Cathedral which bears his name.
The feast day of Saint Moluag was restored in 1898 by Pope Leo XIII. He is one of the 48 saints referred to in the Lorrha Missal used by Churches of Ireland, Scotland, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and northern Italy – “Saint Lua of Lismore, Pray for us.”