Saturday, 9 July 2016

St Odhran & Iona

St Odhran's Well

So what links the far flung island of Iona with the landlocked hills of Latteragh?

St Odhran (as he was known in Tipperary) or Oran on the Scottish island of Iona is thought to have been born in County Meath in Ireland. He set up a monastery at Latteragh in the 6th century. In 563 along with 12 others he followed St Columba to the island of Iona in western Scotland to bring Christianity to the Picts there. There are some suggestions that the name Iona comes from Innis nan Druinich or "the isle of Druidic hermits. However there is no archaeological evidence to suggest any such presence on the island.

This, you could argue, ties in with St Columba whose Christian credentials are often questioned. His family (who were the royal Dál Riata family in Ireland) would have been pagan and it has been suggested that St Columba's take of Christianity had a pagan "tinge" to it. Due to Iona's later influence as a place of learning in the Christian world it has been argued that some of these pagan beliefs may have made there way into Christianity.

Although Iona is remote today, when St Columba & St Odhran went there it would actually have been part of the Irish Dál Riata kingdom. Geographically it would have been reasonably central via the sea to its borders which included north eastern Ireland & parts of western Scotland (see here for more info). As mentioned above St Columba was actually a member of the royal family of the Dál Riata and was able to get his kinsmen to engage in battles on his behalf with other monasteries in Ireland. Once in 560 over the right to copy a book and again in 561 due to a disagreement where a follower of a rival King in Ireland broke the rule of safe sanctuary at a holy place.

St Odhran today is the patron saint of the Silvermines parish and the ruins of his monastery are still intact today at Latteragh (although what remains today are later ruins built on the earlier church).

One of the more interesting features from Latteragh are four early Christian graveslabs found there while digging a grave in 1977. They are an unusual form of cross-carved slab that is mainly found in the midlands with some outliers in Co. Mayo, Co. Donegal & Co. Wexford. They have been dated between the 6th century and 7th century (so after St. Odhran's time there).
These slabs can now be viewed in the Nenagh Heritage Centre.

The views from the hillside are spectacular and its location near to the probable route through the mountains linking North & South Tipp can not be an accident.

View from Latteragh graveyard

Less than 1km away from the ruins of the monastery is St Odhrans well. It is described in as follows

"Situated in a marshy hollow in an upland area with a nearby church (TN028-025) to the NW. A circular well (diam. 2.3m E-W; D 0.75m) enclosed by a drystone wall surviving three courses high with a small stream flowing out from the N face of the well (FitzPatrick 1985b, 134-43). Dedicated to St Odhran with a pilgrimage to the well on August 15th. The OS Letters describe the well as possessing curative properties for sore eyes and headaches. Cures were obtained by placing a stone on top of your head. Stations at the well were performed on the 27th of October (O'Flanagan 1930, vol. 1, 192)."

An annual mass is still held at the well on the feast day of the 15th August.

Entrance to holy well

St Odhran's holy well

St Odhran's time on Iona seems to be equally well spent. The oldest remaining church on Iona is named after him and the surrounding cemetary is called Reilig Odhráin.

Oran's Church & Reilig Odhráin on Iona
By Otter under creative commons license
Remarkably he was also chosen by the Vikings of Waterford to be the patron saint of that settlement and it must suggest that the monks on Iona also helped Christianise some of the Vikings of the western isles in Scotland. This website says that Vikings were buried on Iona and that is the reason he became patron saint of Waterford.

He is also associated with some unusual folklore on Iona, from Wikipedia.

"One popular legend surrounding Odran's death is that he consented to being buried alive beneath a chapel that Columba was attempting to build at Iona. A voice had told Columba that the walls of the chapel would not stand until a living man was buried below the foundations, and indeed, each morning the builders would arrive at the site to find all their work of the previous day undone. So Odran was consigned to the earth, and the chapel was erected above him. One day, however, Odran lifted his head out of the ground and said: "There is no Hell as you suppose, nor Heaven that people talk about". Alarmed by this, Columba quickly had the body removed and reburied in consecrated ground – or, in other versions of the story, simply called for more earth to cover the body.
In a Hebridean version of this tale, Odran was promised that his soul would be safe in heaven. Some time after the burial, Columba wanted to see Odran once more and opened the pit under the chapel. When Odran saw the world, he tried to climb out of his grave, but Columba had the pit covered with earth quickly to save Odran's soul from the world and its sin.
These legends are one of the few instances of foundation sacrifice in Great Britain. While the story of St. Odran's self-sacrifice does not appear in Adomnán's Life of Columcille, George Henderson says that the legend points to an ancient folk-belief, and sees a similarity with the Arthurian legend of the building of Dinas Emris, where Vortigern was counseled to find and sacrifice "a child without a father" to ensure that the fortress walls did not collapse"

There is also mention of St Odhran in the Schools Manuscripts on but nothing as dramatic as on Iona!

"Saint Odraín of Latteragh is the patron Saint of this parish.
He built a famous monastery in Latteragh about the year 500 A.D. on a level space on side of a hill.
Some time later he built another in Kilmore which means the big church, it was made of timber but later on it was made of stone, it is now in ruins.
There was a great miracle performed there by St. Sennon, he brought the son of a woman of that district to life.
The name of Templeorum near Fiddoun, Co. Kilkenny is another form of Teampull Odhrain the church of St Odhran. Several town lands in Co. Tipperary are called Killoran, the Church of Odhran. A pattern in honour of the Saint is held at Holy Well in Latteragh on August 15th."

One question that sprung to mind while researching this piece, it would be interesting to see what the dimensions were of the original church in Latteragh and compare it with his church on Iona or if there were any other similarities in layout etc between the two monasteries.

1 comment:

  1. Just come across this post, Derek, while researching St Otteran/Oran/Odhran. Great information. Must come visit the site and holy well some day.