Saints of the Day – Canice, of Kilkenny, Abbot

detail of a stained glass window depicting Saint Canice, created c.1900 by Meyer and Co; Cathedral of Saint Eugene, Derry, Northern Ireland; photographed on 17 September 2013 by Andreas F Borchert; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

(also known as Caimnech, Cainnic, Canicus, Cainnech, Kenneth, Kenny)

Born at Glengiven (Derry), Ireland, c.515-527; died at Aghaboe (the ox’s field) in Laois, c.599. All we know about Canice is from unreliable legend, according to which he was the son of a scholar-poet, who became a pupil of Saint Finnian at Clonard. He may have gone with Saints Kieran, Columba, Comgall on mission to Saint Mobhi at Glasnevin, preached for a time in Ireland. When plague scattered the community, Canice became a monk under Saint Cadoc at Llancarfan, Wales, where he was ordained.

Canice was a close friend of Saint Columba whom he accompanied on a visit to King Brude of the Picts at Inverness, because he was of the Pictish race and spoke the language. Thus, he assisted Columba in establishing his base at Iona, where there was once a Killchainnech. He served similarly in introducing Comgall at Lismore.

For a time Canice worked in the Western Isles and on the mainland of Scotland, where he is known as Kenneth. A number of place names and old dedications confirm his presence in Scotland, notably the islet called Inch Kenneth in Mull. He founded churches on Tiree, South Uist, Coll, and Kintyre. He was the first person to build a church at Saint Andrews, then known as Rigmond. As Aengus records, “Aghaboe was his principal church and he has a Recles (monastery) at Kill-Rigmonaig in Alba.” At the Reformation, the Irish abbot of Rigmond, Riaghail or Regulus, was transformed by a fanciful legend into a 4th-century Greek monk named Rule, who carried the relics of the apostle Saint Andrew to Rigmond. But the relics were not acquired until 736, at which time the name was changed to Saint Andrews.

When he returned to Ireland he founded the monastery of Aghaboe in Ossory, c.577. Other foundations included Drumahose in Derry and Cluain Bronig in Offaly. Saint Canice is said also to have had a foundation at Kilkenny. That city is named after Canice, who was the titular patron of the Brethren of Saint Kenneth.

Canice copied a manuscript of the four Gospels. He was known as an effective preachers, when, according to the saint, he was divinely illuminated by God.

Until the Reformation, the society maintained the abbey at Maiden Castle. Canice is one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and patron of Kennoway in Fife (Attwater, Benedictines, D’Arcy, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth, Montague, Montalembert, Mould, Moran, Ryan, Skene).

Like other Irish monastics saints, Canice periodically lived as a hermit and enjoyed the close communion such a life afforded with nature. These three short tales tell us a little about the legends of Saint Canice, called Cainnic by Plummer:

“One Sunday Saint Cainnic was lodged on the island of Inish Ubdain; but the mice of that place gnawed his shoes and nibbled them and ate them. And the holy man, when he was aware of their naughtiness, cursed the mice, and cast them out of that island forever. For all the mice, assembling in a body, according to the word of Saint Cainnic, precipitated themselves into the depths of the sea, and mice on that island have not been seen unto this day” (Plummer).

“Another time Saint Cainnic was lodged one Sunday on another island, called En inish, the Isle of Birds. but the birds on it were garrulous and extremely loquacious, and gave annoyance to the saint of God. So he rebuked their loquacity, and they obeyed his command, for all the birds got together and set their breasts against the ground, and held their peace, and until the hour of Matins on Monday morning they stayed without a movement, and without a sound, until the Saint released them by his word” (Plummer).

“Another time when Saint Cainnic was in hidden retreat in solitude, a stag came to him, and would hold the book steady on his antlers as the Saint read on. But one day, startled by a sudden fear, he dashed into flight without the abbot’s leave, carrying the book still open on his antlers; but thereafter, like a fugitive monk to his abbot, the book safe and unharmed still open on his antlers, he returned” (Plummer).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 29 July 2020. Web. 13 May 2021. <>