Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Twelve Apostles of Erin

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 1
Twelve Apostles of Erin

by William Henry Grattan Flood


By this designation are meant twelve holy Irishmen of the sixth century who went to study at the School of Clonard in Meath. About the year 520 St. Finian founded his famous school at Cluain-Eraird (Eraird's Meadow), now Clonard, and thither flocked saints and learned men from all parts of Ireland. In his Irish life it is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard was 3,000, and a stanza of the hymn for Lauds in the office of St. Finian runs as follows:

Trium virorum millium,
Sorte fit doctor humilis;
Verbi his fudit fluvium
Ut fons emanans rivulis.

The Twelve Apostles of Erin, who came to study at the feet of St. Finian, at Clonard, on the banks of the Boyne and Kinnegad Rivers, are said to have been St. Ciaran of Saighir (Seir-Kieran) and St. Ciaran of Clonmacnois; St. Brendan of Birr and St. Brendan of Clonfert; St. Columba of Tir-da-glasí (Terryglass) and St. Columba of Iona; St. Mobhí of Glasnevin; St. Ruadhan of Lorrha; St. Senan of Iniscathay (Scattery Island); St. Ninnidh the Saintly of Loch Erne; St. Lasserian mac Nadfraech, and St. Canice of Aghaboe. Though there were many other holy men educated at Clonard who could claim to be veritable apostles, the above twelve are regarded by old Irish writers as "The Twelve Apostles of Erin". They are not unworthy of the title, for all were indeed apostles, whose studies were founded on the Sacred Scriptures as expounded by St. Finian. In the hymn from St. Finian's office we read:

Regressus in Clonardiam
Ad cathedram lecturae,
Apponit diligentiam
Ad studium scripturae.

The great founder of Clonard died 12 December 549, according to the "Annals of Ulster", but the Four Masters give the year as 548, whilst Colgan makes the date 563. His patronal feast is observed on 12 December.

W. H. Grattan-Flood.