FACHTHNA, Saint and Bishop (fl. 6th cent.), of Ros Ailithir, now Rosscarbery, in the south-west of the county of Cork, was descended in the twelfth generation from Lugaid Lagda, brother of Olioll Olum, king of Munster, of the race of Lugaid, son of Ith (from whom the territory derived its name Corca Luidhe). His pedigree in the ‘Lebor Brecc’ describes him as son of Mongach, son of Maenach, as does the ‘Book of Leinster.’ In the ‘Calendar’ of Œngus he is said to have been called mac mongach, ‘the hairy child,’ from his appearance at birth; a legend perhaps suggested by the apparent connection between Mongach, the proper name, and ‘mong,’ hair.
He first held the office of bishop and abbot of Dairinis Maelanfaidh, ‘the oak island of Maelanfaidh.’ This is usually identified with Molanna, an island in the river Blackwater, near Lismore; but the ‘Martyrology of Donegal’ at 14 Aug. places him at Dairinis in Ui Ceinnselach, that is, the island in the Bay of Wexford, which it appears from an entry at 31 Jan. was also called Dairinis Maelanfaidh, both places probably acknowledging the authority of this saint.
Fachtna is best known as the founder of the great school of Ross, situated on the sea coast near the now useless harbour of Ross, once navigable by ships. The school was easily accessible by sea, and attracted students from abroad, as well as from home. In the life of Mochaemog or Pulcherius (13 March) he is thus referred to: ‘He lived in his own monastery, founded by himself near the sea, where a city grew up, in which a large number of scholars is always to be found.’ The word ‘city’ (civitas) used here is applied in ecclesiastical Latin to a monastic school, which consisted of groups of rude huts put together for the students. From this influx of strangers it came to be known as Ros Ailithir, or sometimes Ros Ailithri, ‘Ross of the pilgrims or pilgrimage.’ Ailithir, a loan word from the Greek ‘allotr-ios,’ was used, like the Latin ‘peregrinus,’ to signify a stranger in the narrower sense of one who came with a religious purpose. St. Brendan of Clonfert is reported by Hanmer to have been once ferleighinn, or prelector of this school. It continued to exist until 972, when it was destroyed by the Danes. The prelector then in office, named MacCosse (MacCosh), was taken prisoner and carried off to Scattery Island in the Shannon, whence he was ransomed by Brian Boroimhe (926–1014) [q. v.]
All traces of Fachtna's foundation have vanished, but a geography attributed to MacCosse is preserved in the ‘Book of Leinster.’ Though in its present metrical form it dates from the tenth century, it may have been originally compiled in the time of the founder. It is a summary of the geography of the known world, exhibits some knowledge of Greek, and mentions some facts, such as the burning plain at Baku on the Caspian, formerly known as the ‘eternal fires,’ which were unknown elsewhere in Europe in that age. The poem has been published with a translation in the ‘Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy.’
It appears to have been after the foundation of Ross that Fachtna became blind (cæcus, which probably represents the Irish caech = purblind), and he earnestly besought the Lord for a remedy. In response to his prayers he was informed that he must ‘bathe his face and eyes in the milk of the wife of Beoan the artisan.’ Not knowing who this person was, he was directed to her by the prophetess Ita, and after a journey of five days arrived at Corcabaiscinn, in the county of Clare, where he discovered the wife of Beoan, and having used the prescribed remedy recovered his sight.
There were several saints of the name, and St. Cuimin of Connor (fl. 7th cent.), in his poem on the saints of Ireland, celebrates one, who seems from the reference to his teaching and his hospitality to have been the subject of our sketch:—
Fachtna the hospitable, the pious, loved
To teach all with candles.
This may mean that he gave lessons in the evening, and if a conjecture is allowable thus injured his eyesight. According to the ‘Book of Lecan’ twenty-seven bishops of the race of Lugaidh governed Ross from Fachtna to Ua Dungalach, all of whom were natives of the territory.
Fachtna is supposed to have died in the forty-sixth year of his age. The story just given implies that he was at Ross before the death of St. Ita, i.e. 570, and Colgan thinks he was alive as late as 590. His name is the Irish form of the Latin Facundus; it is locally preserved in the name of the adjoining parish of Kil-faughna-beg, ‘the little church of St. Fachtna.’ He is sometimes called Faughnan or Fachtnan, i.e. Fachtna with ‘án,’ the diminutive of affection, added. His day, according to the ‘Martyrology of Donegal,’ is 14 Aug., although Smith (Hist. of Cork) gives the 16th as the day observed in the neighbourhood.[Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. ii. 193–4; Martyrology of Donegal, pp. 21, 219; Smith's Hist. of Cork, i. 266–7; Calendar of Œngus, cxxiii–cxxxi.; Vita Mochaemog seu Pulcherius, Bollandists' Acta Sanct. 13 March, tom. ii. 281 seq.; Book of Leinster, 351 a; Lebor Brecc, 18 e; Geography of Ros Ailithir; Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 2nd ser. ii. 219, &c.]