Fintan (d.595) (DNB00)

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FINTAN, Saint (d. 595), of Cluainednech, according to his pedigree in the 'Book of Leinster,' and his life as quoted by Colgan, was the son of Gabren and Findath, and a descendant of Feidlimid Rectmar. In the 'Codex Kilkenniensis' his father is called Crymthann, but Gabren is added in the margin, apparently as a correction. Again, in the 'Life of Finnchu' he is said to have been the son of Nuadu, king of Leinster, by his wife, Anmet. But as, according to some accounts, there were four Fintans at Cluainednech, the son of Nuadu was evidently a different person from the subject of the present notice. On the eighth day after his birth our Fintan was baptised at Cluain mic Trein, which may be presumed to have been in or near Ross, anciently called Ros mic Trein. He studied with two companions, Coemhan and Mocumin, under Colum, son of Crimthann, afterwards of Tirdaglas, now Terryglas, barony of Lower Ormond, county of Tipperary. Coemhan became eventually abbot of Enach Truim, now Annatrim, in Upper Ossory, and Mocumin, otherwise Natcaoim, was also subsequently of Tirdaglas.

The party of students and their master moved about, and on one occasion stayed at Cluain-ednech, where there was then no monastery. Here such numbers flocked to them that they had to move to Sliabh Bladma, now Slieve Bloom. Looking back from the mountain-side it was said that angels were hovering over the place they had left, and Fintan was at once advised to build his monastery there, which he did about A.D. 548. This place is now Clonenagh, a townland near Mountrath in the Queen's County. Here he led a life of the severest asceticism, but notwithstanding the strictness of his rule many sought admission to his community. 'The monks laboured with their hands after the manner of hermits, tilling the earth with hoes, and, rejecting all animals, had not even a single cow. If any one offered them milk or butter it was not accepted ; no one dared to bring any flesh meat.'

This mode of life being felt as a reproach by the neighbouring clergy, a council assembled, at which St. Cainnech of Kilkenny and others were present, who visited St. Fintan and requested him for the love of God to relax the extreme rigour of his rule. Fintan after much persuasion conceded the changes proposed as regarded his community, but refused to alter his own mode of living. His discernment of character is shown in the case of two relatives of one of his monks. After the young man had failed to convert them, Fintan visited them and pronounced that one would be converted, but that the case of the other was hopeless. He seems to have been kind to his community, for when some of them, eager, like all the Irish of the period, for foreign travel, went away without his leave, and proceeded to Bangor in Ulster, and thence to Britain, he said to those who spoke of them, 'They are gone for God's work.'

A warlike party once left the heads of their enemies at the gate of Clonenagh. They were buried by the monks in their own cemetery, Fintan saying that all the saints who lay in that burial-ground would pray for them, as the most important part of their bodies was buried there. At this time the king of North Leinster held the son of the king of South Leinster (or Hy Censelach) prisoner, intending to kill him as a rival, but Fintan and twelve disciples went to the king at a town named Rathmore, in the north-east of the county of Kildare, to remonstrate with him. The king ordered the fortress to be firmly closed against him, but Fintan overcame all resistance, and rescued the youth, who afterwards became a monk at Bangor.

Walking on one occasion in the plain of the Liffey, he met Fergna, son of Cobhthach, and kneeled before him. The man was much, surprised, but Fintan told him he was to become a monk. He said : 'I have twelve sons and seven daughters, a dear wife, and peaceful subjects,' but he eventually gave up all. Bishop Brandubh, 'a humble man of Hy Censelach,' went to Fintan to become one of his monks. Fintan met him in the monastery of Achad Finglas, near Slatey, and desired him to remain in this monastery, 'where,' he added, 'the mode of life is more tolerable than in mine.'

His most famous pupil was Comgall [q.v.] of Bangor, who came to him at Cluain-ednech. Here he joined the community, but so hard was the life that he grew weary of it, and the devil tempted him to return to his native place. He told Fintan of this, but shortly after, when praying at a cross to the west of Cluain-ednech, a supernatural light broke in on him, and he became quite happy. Fintan then sent him back to his native place to build churches and rear up servants to Christ. He subsequently founded the famous monastery of Benchor (Bangor) in Ulster.

Fintan when on his deathbed appointed as his successor Fintan Maeldubh. In the 'Lebar Brecc' notes on the 'Calendar' of Oengus there are said to have been four Fintans there. His life was a continual round of fasts, night watches, and genuflexions. He is termed by Oengus 'Fintan the Prayerful,' and on the same authority we read, 'he never ate during his time, save woody bread of barley, and clayey water of clay.' In the parallel list of Irish and foreign saints, he, as 'chief head of the monks of Ireland,' is compared with Benedict, 'head of the monks of Europe.' His day is 17 Feb.

[Colgan's Acta Sanct. Hiberniæ, p. 349, &c. ; Codex Kilkenniensis ; Marsh's Library, Dublin, p. 74 aa ; Calendar of Oengus, lii. liii. ; Martyrology of Donegal, p. 51 ; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. ii. 227-30.]

T. O.