Ultan (DNB00)

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ULTAN (d. 656), Irish saint, called of Ardbrecain to distinguish him from eighteen other saints of the same name in the Irish calendar, was the tribal bishop of his clan, the Dal Conchubhair, whose country lay round Ardbrecain in Meath. As his episcopal jurisdiction in later times became part of that of Meath, he is considered an ecclesiastical predecessor of the bishops of that diocese. The mother of St. Brigit [q. v.], who was Broicsech of the Dal Conchubhair, was his kinswoman. In the ‘Tripartite Life of St. Patrick’ Ultan is said to have made collections for the ‘life’ of St. Patrick, and Tirechan in the ‘Book of Armagh’ is made to say that Ultan told him, as an eye-witness, of Patrick's life. This error has led to the statement that Ultan was aged 189 when he died in 656. He is mentioned in later writings as a biographer of Brigit, and the Irish hymn (Liber Hymnorum, i. 110), ‘Brigit be bith-maith’—‘Brigit, woman ever good’—is attributed to him, as is the Latin hymn (ib. i. 14), ‘Christus in nostra insola quæ vocatur Hibernia,’ but in each case other authors are possible. Besides his literary occupations, Ultan is always mentioned as feeding and teaching orphans, and as addicted, like St. Erc of Slane, to bathing in cold water. His well at Killinkere in Cavan, near the borders of Meath, was long a place of pilgrimage; 4 Sept. is celebrated as the day of his death. A hymn in his honour is printed by Dümmler in his ‘Poetæ Latini Ævi Carolini.’

[Colgan's Trias Thaumaturga, 1645; Liber Hymnorum, ed. Bernard and Atkinson (Bradshaw Society), 1897; Whitley Stokes's Tripartite Life of St. Patrick (Rolls Ser.) 1887, and Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, 1890; O'Donovan's Martyrology of Donegal, and Annala Rioghachta Eireann, vol. 1.]

N. M.