CONN-NA-MBOCHT (d. 1059), 'Conn of the Paupers,' was head of the Culdees and bishop of Clonmacnois. The term Culdee is the English form of the vernacular Céle dey, companion of God,' which, though not a translation, was suggested by the Latin 'servus Dei,' as applied in a technical sense to a monk. One of the earliest instances of the use of the term Céle de is in the 'Life of St. Findan,' compiled shortly after A.D. 800. The latest mention of the term is in the 'Annals of the Four Masters' at a.d. 1595. During this period of nearly eight hundred years it was used with a large variety of application. If we may credit certain Irish records, it is found at the close of the eighth century in a definite sense and in local connection with a religious class or institution. St. Maelruain of Tamlacht (now Tallaght, near Dublin) (d. 792), abbot and bishop, gathered round him a fraternity, for whom he composed a religious rule, called the Rule of the Culdees, the term being employed in the sense of ' ascetics ' or 'clergy of stricter observance.' They appear also to have had the care of the sick, as may be gathered from the vision of St. Moling of Ferns (d. 697). In that legend, when Satan, assuming the form of an angel of light, ;appears to the saint and assures him he is Christ, St. Moling refuses to believe it, for 'when Christ came to converse with the Culdees it was not in roval apparel he appeared, but in the forms of the unhappy, viz. the sick and the lepers.' They had alao the conduct of divine service, and in later times the charge of the fabric of the chureh. On the rise of the great monastic orders the term Culdee came to mean an old-fashioned Scotic monk living under a less strictly defined discipline.
It had not yet lost its original meaning at the time when Conn-na-mbocht was proud of the name of Conn of the Paupers. The origin of this title is thus given in the 'Annals of the Four Masters:' 'He was the first who invited a party of the poor of Clonmacnois at Iseal Chiarain and presented them with twenty cows of his own.' In other words he endowed the institution at Iseal Chiarain in the only way possible in that age, that is by stocking the land with cattle and making them over to it. The land so termed, 'the low ground of St. Ciaran,' as the meaning is, haa been under tillage in the founder's time when the excellence of the crops is referred to. It afterwards became the name of the hospital established there under the auspices of Conn, the first instance of such a foundation and endowment in Ireland for the maintenance and care of the poor, and perhaps also of the sick and lepers. There was a church attached to the hospital, in which it may be presumed the Culdees ministered to those under their charge. The moral effect of this charitable act seemed so great in that age that a poet quoted by the 'Four Masters' says : 'O Conn ! O Head of dignity, it will not be easy to plunder thy church.' In 1072, however, the 'Annals' record that 'a forcible refection was taken by Murchadh, son of Conchobar O Maeleachlainn, king of Meath, at Iseal Chiarain, and from the Culdees, so that the superintendent of the poor was killed there, for which Magh Nura was given to the poor.' At that period a refection or entertainment of the king and his followers corresponded to the rent payable in later times. Looking at it in this view it is possible that there may nave been a question of title here, as we find that in 1089, seventeen years after, Cormac, son of Connnarmbocht, purchased Iseal Chiarain for ever from the king of Meath, that is the successor of the king who had plundered it.
The descendants of Conn considered his title so honourable that it became a family designation, and they were known as the Meic-Conn-na-mbocht. He himself was descended from a long line of ancestors, all of whom held some office at Clonmacnois, from Torbach, an abbot of Armagh, who died in 812, and who was the son of Gorman, an abbot of Louth, who died on a pilgrimage at Clonmacnois in 798. Joseph, the father of Conn, was Anmchara, or spiritual adviser in the monastery. Conn himself had five sons: Maelfinnen, whose son Cormac became abbot; Maelchiarain, who was abbot; Cormac, who was reversionary abbot; Ceilechair, whose son Maelmuire was the writer of the well-known manuscript Lebar na h-Uidhre; and lastly Gillacrist, who died in 1085. They were a family of eminent piety and practical benevolence, and continued to take a warm interest in the hospital. Maelchiarain, who was abbot at the time of the outrage on the Culdees, was also guardian of the hospital, and the Culdees are called in the 'Annals of Clonmacnois ' 'the family of Maelchiarain,' and it was Cormac, another son of Conn, who, as we have seen, purchased the fee of Iseal Chiarain. From the instances of Maelchiarain and Conn himself, whom O'Curry strangely terms 'a lay religious,' as well as those of SS. Maelruain and Moling, who were bishops and abbots, there does not seem any foundation for that writer's assertion that the Culdees were a lay order.
The fame of this foundation enhanced the celebrity of Clonmacnois. Tidings of it reached even to Scotland, as we are informed by the poet already referred to. Conn himself was accounted 'the glory and dignity of Clonmacnois,' while his son, the Abbot Maelchiarain, was also 'the glory and veneration of Clonmacnois in his time.'
[The Annals of the Four Masters, A.D. 1031, 1059, 1079; Bishop Reeves on the Culdees in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. xxiv.; O'Curry's MS. Materials, p. 184; Martyrology of Donegal, p. 241; Chronicon Scotorum, Rolls ed., p. 209.]