Saint of the Day – 9 September – Saint Kieran the Younger (c 516-c 550) Priest, Monk, Abbot, Teacher, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, Founder of Clonmacnoise Monastery St Kieran, like so many Saints, had a supernatural affinity with animals – there are many legends related to this. Born in c 516 at Connacht, County Roscommon, Ireland as Ciarán mac an tSaeir (“son of the carpenter”) and died in c 556 of natural causes. Patronage – Diocese of Clonmacnois, Ireland. Also known as – Kieran of Clonmacnoise, Ceran, Ciaran, Kyaranus, Kyran, Kyrian, Queran, Queranus, Ciarano, Querano, Kiriano, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.
Kieran was born in around 516 in County Roscommon, Connacht, in Ireland. His father was a carpenter and chariot maker. As a boy, Kieran worked as a cattle herder.
He studied under St Finian’s at Clonard and in time became a teacher, himself. Columba of Iona said of Ciarán, “He was a lamp, blazing with the light of wisdom.” In about 534, he left Clonard for Inishmore where he studied under St Enda of Aran, who Ordained him a Priest and advised him to build a Church and Monastery in the middle of Ireland.[ Later, he travelled to Senan on Scattery Island (in about 541). In 544, he finally settled in Clonmacnoise, where he founded the Monastery of Clonmacnoise with ten fellow Monks. As Abbot, he worked on the first buildings of the Monastery; however, he died about seven months later of a plague, in his early thirties.
Various miracles are connected to St Kieran. One of the most famous relates, that it was his cow – which he took with him as payment when he went to Clonard and gave milk to all at the Abbey – which supplied the parchment for the Book of the Dun Cow, one of the oldest and most important Irish literary collections, compiled by a Clonmacnoise scribe in 1106.
One story tells that he lent his copy of the Gospel of St Matthew to fellow-student St Ninnidh. When Finnian tested the class, Kieran knew only the first half of the Gospel. The other students laughed and called him “Kieran half-Matthew.” St Finnian silenced them and said, “Not Kieran half-Matthew, but Kieran half-Ireland, for he will have half the country and the rest of us will have the other half.”
During a time of famine, when it was Kieran’s turn to carry a sack of oats to the mill in order to provide a little food for the Monks, he prayed that the oats would become fine wheat. While Kieran was singing the Psalms with pure heart and mind, the single sack of oats was miraculously transformed into four sacks of the best wheat. Kieran returned home and baked bread with this wheat, which the older Monks said was the best they had ever tasted. These loaves not only satisfied their hunger, they were said to heal every sick person in the Monastery who ate them.
Another tale relates that as a student, a young fox would take his writings to his master, until it was old enough to eat his satchel. Yet another tale tells of the other Irish saints envying him, to such a degree, that everyone of them (apart from St Columba) prayed for his early death and finally, he is believed to have told his followers that upon his death, they were to leave his bones upon the hillside and to preserve his spirit rather than his relics.
The Monastery at Clonmacnoise became one of the most important centres of learning and religious life in Ireland. Unusually, the title of Abbot – which included the title “Heir of Saint Kieran ” – at the community was not hereditary, which reflected the humble origins of its Founder. It managed to survive the plunderings of the Viking raids and the Anglo-Norman wars and was only destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1552. The ruins still exist and remain a centre of civic and religious activity to this day.
The treasures of Kieran’s Shrine were dispersed throughout the Medieval era; although the Clonmacnoise Crozier still exists and is stored in the National Museum of Ireland.