Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Malachy O'Morgair

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MALACHY O'MORGAIR, Saint (in Irish, Maelmaedhoig Ua Morgair) (1094?–1148), archbishop of Armagh, was born, probably in Armagh (‘ipsa est in qua alitus est Malachias,’ St. Bernard says, Vita, cap. ii. p. 4), in or about 1094. St. Bernard states that his death occurred in 1148 ‘in the fifty-fourth year of his age;’ the ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ ‘say after his fifty-fourth year’ (cf. St. Bernard, Vita S. Malachiæ, cap. xxx. p. 690, and Annals of the Four Masters, anno 1148). His parents were of high rank and influence; his father, Mughron Ua Morgair, who died in 1102 at Mungret, co. Limerick, is described as ‘Armachiæ et totius occidentalis Europæ lector primarius’ (Four Masters). His mother is spoken of as a particularly excellent woman, who made it her special care to give Malachy a religious education. He had a brother, Gillachrist, who became bishop of Clogher, and died in 1138 (ib.), and a sister. In childhood Malachy was noted for his studious, retiring, prayerful habits. At school he outstripped all his fellows in learning. Early in life he became a pupil of Iomhar Ua-h-Aedhagan, founder of the abbey church of SS. Peter and Paul in Armagh, who lived in a cell near the church. Here Malachy gained such a reputation for sanctity and learning that the Bishop of Armagh, Kellach or Celsus, ordained him to deacon's orders, much against his will. He applied himself with great devotion to his new duties, giving special attention to the poor, exerting himself particularly, we are told, to procure them decent burial, and himself assisting at their obsequies. At twenty-five, five years before the canonical age, he was made priest, and appointed the bishop's vicar, in which capacity he displayed burning zeal, especially in the reformation of abuses. St. Bernard particularly mentions that he introduced singing into the church services (Vita, cap. iii. p. 662). He also insisted on the observance of confession, confirmation, and the marriage contract (ib.) To perfect himself further in his knowledge of ecclesiastical discipline, he went to Malchus, bishop of Lismore, whose reputation was then attracting many, and he remained with him for several years. Cormac MacCarthy, who had recently been deposed from his sovereignty of Desmond by Turlogh O'Conor, king of Connaught, was then living in retirement with Malchus; Malachy was appointed his spiritual instructor, and a warm friendship sprang up between the two which continued till the death of the king. By-and-by Malachy was recalled to the north of Ireland, where he became head of the abbey of Bangor, co. Down. Some time before it had been destroyed by pirates, but its site and property were now in the hands of an uncle of Malachy, who had offered them to him that he might re-establish the abbey. He accepted nothing but the site, and here, taking with him ten brethren from Armagh, he in a few days built an oratory (Bernard, Vita, cap. vi. p. 665), Malachy himself handling the axe among the workmen. Soon after the completion of this task he was elected to the bishopric of Connor in 1124 (Annals of the Four Masters, ii. 1018–19). The date is corroborated by Bernard, who says ‘tricesimo ferme ætatis suæ anno Malachias consecratus episcopus introducitur Connereth’ (Vita, cap. viii. p. 666). He refused to accept the office, however, until forced to do so by Kellach and Iomhar, and, when consecrated, continued to live at Bangor. An account is given by his biographer of the deplorable state in which he found the diocese. He set to work for its reformation with characteristic energy, labouring especially to introduce the usages and discipline of Rome.

Meanwhile Kellach, bishop of Armagh, died in 1129 (Annals of the Four Masters, ii. 1032), having in his will designated Malachy as his successor. Mauricius (or Murtogh), however, seized the see and held it for five years, Malachy being apparently not sorry to escape further elevation. The city of Connor, the seat of his bishopric, was meanwhile destroyed by a northern chieftain, probably Conor O'Lochlainn, and Malachy fled to the south of Ireland, where, under the protection of Cormac MacCarthy, he established the monastery of Ibrach, in which, with a number of disciples, he took up his residence. But at the urgent request of the papal legate and bishops he at length allowed himself most reluctantly to be consecrated to the primacy in 1132 (ib. ii. 1040), stipulating that when peace should be restored to the see he should be allowed to return to his quieter charge in Connor. To avoid bloodshed, however, he refused to take up his residence in Armagh as long as Mauricius lived. At length, on the death of the latter in 1134 (ib.), he came to the city, although another claimant appeared in the person of one Nigellus, who seized on the gospels which had belonged to St. Patrick and the ‘Staff of Jesus,’ currently believed to have been presented to the saint by our Lord, which were regarded as the insignia of the see. In the end he was forced to surrender them to Malachy, who, in pursuance of the conditions which he had made, now resigned the primacy in 1136, and redividing the united diocese over which he had previously presided into Down and Connor, assumed the bishopric of the former, and recommenced his earnest labours among the people. In 1138 he is said to have founded a priory of regular canons at Downpatrick (Archdall, Monasticon Hibernicum), and a little later a monastery at Sabhall-Patrick, now Saul, in the same county. Carrying out his policy of having the Roman rule recognised all over Ireland, he undertook a mission to Rome in order to obtain the pallium for the archbishoprics of Armagh and Cashel, visiting on his way the abbey of Clairvaux, where he made the acquaintance of Bernard, his future biographer, who tells us that seeing him and listening to his words he was delighted and refreshed ‘as in all manner of riches.’ A warm friendship between the two was the result, and they kept up a regular correspondence until Malachy's death. So pleased was the latter with Clairvaux that on reaching Rome he earnestly entreated Innocent II to permit him to take up his permanent residence there. The request was refused, and after a month's stay in Rome he returned to Ireland as papal legate, with instructions to summon a council by which the palls for the two archbishoprics might be asked for in due form. On his way back he left four of his followers at Clairvaux to be trained in the Cistercian discipline, and before Bernard's death five branches of the parent house at Clairvaux had been established in Ireland. In accordance with the pope's directions a council was summoned at Inis-Patrick, an island on the east coast of Ireland, and the request for the palls being formally preferred, Malachy set out again in 1148 to convey it to Rome. Reaching Clairvaux in October he was seized with fever, and after about a fortnight's illness died on 2 Nov. in Bernard's arms. He was buried at Clairvaux, but portions of his relics are said to have been taken to Ireland and distributed in various monasteries (Ware, transl. Harris, i. 57). Those which remained at Clairvaux were dispersed at the revolution. Bernard pronounced two funeral orations over his friend, who in 1190 was canonised by Clement III, his day being made not 2 Nov., the date on which he died, but 3 Nov., the former being All Souls' day, which, it was thought, might prevent that special honour being paid to the memory and merits of Malachy which they deserved.

Many epitaphs on him are preserved, some in verse attributed to Bernard, one in prose taken from the ‘Book of Sepultures’ at Clairvaux (Menolog. Cist., 5 Nov.—Maurique). The chronology of his life is rather tangled.

Malachy was the most eminent Irish bishop of his day. He endeared himself to the people not only by his abundant labours, but by his humility and unselfishness. He went about the country on foot, and was content to live in poverty, possessing neither house, nor property, nor servants, nor income of his own. ‘A brilliant lamp,’ the ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ call him, ‘which illuminated territories and churches by preaching and good works.’

Several works are attributed to him, viz.: 1. ‘Constitutionum Communium lib. i.’ 2. ‘De Legibus Cælibatus lib. i.’ 3. ‘De Traditionibus.’ 4. ‘Vita S. Cuthberti.’ 5. ‘De Peccatis et Remediis lib. i.’ 6. ‘Conciones Plures lib. i.’ (Stanihurst, Descriptio Hiberniæ, cap. vii.; Ware, Writers of Ireland, bk. i. cap. 9). 7. ‘Prophetia de futuris Pontificibus Romanis’ (cf. Monestier's treatise in regard to this last, translated into Latin by Francis Porter, an Irish Franciscan friar, and published at Rome, 1698). 8. ‘An Irish Poem’ (cf. O'Hanlon, Life, p. 185). The evidence in regard to all these is doubtful. The biographers have in some cases confused our Malachy with another of the same name who flourished at Oxford circa 1310 (cf. Ware, Writers of Ireland, bk. i. p. 81).

An interesting account of Malachy's relics by Ph. Guignard, keeper of the archives of the Department of L'Aube, was first published in 1845–6 in a series of letters addressed to le Comte de Montalembert, and is now to be found in ‘Patrologiæ Cursus Completus,’ edited by Abbé Migne (tom. clxxxv.; Opera S. Bernardi, iv. 1661–1798).

[S. Bernardi Liber de Vita et Rebus Gestis S. Malachiæ; Letters of Bernard to Malachy; Epistolæ ad Fratres de Hibernia de Transitu Malachiæ; Two Sermons by Bernard concerning Malachy; Hymnus de S. Malachia, by Bernard; Annals of the Four Masters; Chronicon Scotorum; Catalogue of Materials relating to the Hist. of Great Britain and Ireland (Rolls Ser.); Ware's Bishops of Ireland; Ware's Writers of Ireland; O'Hanlon's Life of St. Malachy; King's Memoir introductory to the Early History of the Primacy of Ireland; Butler's Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and other principal Saints; Reeves's Antiquities of Down, &c.; Cotton's Fasti; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib.]

T. H.