Lives of Irish Saints – Saint Fionntan

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Saint Fionntan was born at Cluain-mac-Trein (near New Ross) in the year 526. His father was Gabhren and his mother was Fionndath, An angel made known to them that their new-born child would be great and holy; and Saint Columba also foretold his holiness.

Fionntan was sent to the monastic school of Tir-da-Ghlas, on the bank of Loch-Deirgdheire (Lough Derg), and there he was taught by Saint Columba-mac-Crimthan. After staying at that school for many years he went with Saint Coemhan and Saint Mochumin to Cluain-Eidhneach (Clonenagh, near Mountrath), a fertile spot, amidst a bog, at the foot of Sliabh Bladhma (Slieve Bloom), and there built a church and monastery, in the year 548. Saint Columba saw angels come down there.

Fionntan and his Monks led a very hard and holy life at Cluain-Eidhneach. They tilled the land; fasted and prayed, ate neither butter, eggs, nor flesh-meat. They did not even keep a cow. He himself, as Saint Aenghus writes, never ate anything besides a little barley-bread, and never drank anything besides a little muddy water from a stream flowing through the bog hard-by.

The wooden huts amidst the lonely bog were soon filled with youths willing to bear the hard fare and to cut themselves off from the outside world. Saint Comgall came from his far northern home and put himself under the holy Superior. All these holy men worked and prayed in turn, eating little but praying much and working hard. They went forth every day to a wood on the side of Sliabh Bladhma and hewed timber for the monastic buildings: they brought firewood on their backs across the bog, and embanked the swift-flowing Fheoir (Nore) that after heavy rain often overflowed on the meadows. They also dug the marshy soil at springtide and made it ready for sowing barley. They, above all, worked very hard at the garden of their souls, and uprooted their sinful habits and sowed instead the seed of good works.

One day whilst the Monks were at their scanty meal the wooden roof of the room took fire and began to blaze. The Monks started from their seats in fright, but Fionntan blessed the fire and at once it died out. Another day whilst he was sitting at table with Lorcan-mac-Cathen he suddenly burst into tears, and Lorcan in wonder said: “Why do you weep?”

He answered: “If you had seen what I have now seen you would say that I had good cause for weeping. A war has been waged to-day in southern Mumhan, and I have seen the souls of many of the slain going down to everlasting punishment: that is why I am so very sad. A few only have been saved. They had always led good lives, and fought only because they could not help it. You shall hear of this war in a short time.”

Before the meal was ended Fionntan said: “Your man-servant shall die this evening in a wood and his body shall not be found for many days.” It all happened as he had foretold.

Sinchell, one of his Monks, said to him: “My father and my foster-father as you know are leading wicked lives. I would like to go to them in order to strive to get them to give up their evil way.” Fionntan said to him: “Go in the name of the Lord.” When Sinchell had come back to the monastery, he said: “I altogether failed to get them to give up their bad life.” Fionntan then said to him: “Go back again and fetch them to me.” When they had come Fionntan put one on his right hand and the other on his left hand, and then spoke to them strongly for a long time of the sufferings of hell and of the unending happiness of heaven. When he had made an end of speaking, turning towards Sinchell, he whispered into his ear: “As these men are now seated, one at my right hand and the other at my left hand, so they shall be on the last day.” And as soon as they had gone away he said: “Your father shall die in his sins, and his land and goods shall be laid hold of by some neighbouring Chieftains; but your foster-father shall give up his sinful life and shall die well.” And all happened as he had foretold. “The father of Sinchell,” says the writer of the life of Saint Fionntan, “died as he had lived, and his ill-gotten goods were lost to his family, and thus the first half of the prophecy has come true; and the second half will most likely come true also.”

When Fionntan had come to Achad-Finnglass (County Carlow), Bishop Braadubh of Hy-Ceannsellagh coming there to see him, humbly begged to be allowed to live in his monastery with him, but Fionntan said: “The life led by the Monks there would be too hard for you, and it would be better for you to stay here where the life is more easy.” But the Bishop answered: “I have governed others until now, and I wish to yield my soul to God whilst living in obedience to another. I therefore give myself to you and to the Lord, and I will do whatever you give me to do. I beg only this favour, that I may not live long after you, and that should you die before me you may come speedily to take my soul with you.”Fionntan then said to him: “I give you my word that I will grant you what you have now asked.” He soon after left the monasteiy and crossing the river Bearbha (Barrow) went back to Cluain-Eidhneach.

One of the Monks died. When his younger brother, also a Monk, came back from the wood where he had been hewing timber and learned that his brother was dead, almost beside himself with sorrow, he ran to where the Monks were sino-insj psalms over the dead body; and throwing himself on his knees before Fionntan begged him, with floods of tears, to pray to God that he too might die and go to heaven with his brother. Bat Fionntan gently chided him for his words, and said to him: “Your brother has already gone to the heavenly kingdom: you are alive and cannot go with him unless he were to come to life again.” Fionntan besought God to enlighten him what to do, and God heard the prayer of the holy man, and made known to him that as he had always done his will He would now enable him to do a wonderful work. Fionntan sent for the young Monk, and said to him: “Your wish is pleasing to God: stay here and you shall behold your brother alive again.” Fionntan then prayed, as Elias did once before in presence of the dead child of the widow of Sarepta, saying: “O Lord, my God, let the soul of this child, I beseech Thee, come back into his body;” and as God then heard the prayer of His Prophet, so now He heard the earnest prayer of this holy old man: and the soul of the dead Monk came back into his body. Then Fionntan said to the younger Monk: “Behold your brother is alive.” And the newly risen Monk said to him: “Make haste and receive the holy Eucharist, for angels have come with me to bear us both to heaven together.” When the younger Monk had got the Viaticum he lay down beside his brother and they both slept in the Lord. They had lived together, and now they died and went to heaven together.

One day Fionntan, when driving along the road, met a good man, called Ferghna, and alighting from the chariot, knelt before him. Ferghna, ashamed, said: “Why do you kneel before a sinner,” Fionntan answered: “I would not have knelt before you were it not that I have seen you amongst the angels in heaven. I beg you to leave the world and its amusements and to become a Monk.” But Ferghna said to him: “I cannot do it because I have many children to watch over and provide for, and there are many persons also devoted to me whom I could not leave.” Fionntan then said: “Go to your home and when I am on my way back I shall call to see you.” Fionntan went to see him and found him full of the love of God, and willing to forsake all and follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. He became a holy Monk at Cluain-Eidhneach.

When Saint Columb, of Nuachonghbail (Aughaval), was going to set sail from the island of Iona for Ireland, he said to Saint Columcille: “Father, how can I live in mv native land and still continue to confess my sins to you?” Saint Columcille answered: “Go to the holy man whom I behold standing every Sundey evensong with the angels before the throne of God.” And Columb said: “Father, who is that holy man?” Saint Columcille answered: “He is indeed a holy man and is beautiful to behold, and he is of your own kindred. He has rosy cheeks and bright eyes, and a few grey hairs are beginning to show themselves on his head.” Then Columb said: “I do not know any one in my own country like that except Fionntan of Cluain-Eidhneach.” Columb came to Cluain-Eidhneach and told Fionntan all that Saint Columcille had said of him; but the holy man, full of true wisdom, forbade him to speak of it to any one else. However he told it to the Monks after the death of the holy Abbot.

Fionntan was wont to go forth every night to the graveyard of the monastery, and to kneel for hours in prayer upon the grass. A Monk stole after him one night to watch him, and on coming near where the old man was kneeling in prayer saw a bright light shining over his head.

Fionntan, “the prayerful of great Cluain-Eidhneach,” had now grown old, and the end of his wandering in this vale of tears was drawing nigh. He was worn out with prayer and fasting, but was very rich with good works. Falling sick, he gathered his weeping brethren about him, and having blessed them, gently breathed out his soul to God, February 17th, in the year 616. His Feast is kept on that day. The Office for it was written by Bishop de Burgo. The people of Cluain-Eidhneach have great devotion to his holy well at Cromogue.

MLA Citation

  • Father Albert Berry. “Saint Fionntan”. Lives of Irish Saints. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 February 2014. Web. 21 September 2017. <>