Flannan (DNB00)

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FLANNAN, Saint and Bishop of Cill-da-Lua, now Killaloe (fl. 7th cent.), was son of Torrdelbach (called also Theodoric), son of Cathal, king of Munster. Torrdelbach ruled the territory of Ui Torrdelbaigh, nearly co-extensive with the present diocese of Killaloe. He was a very pious and charitable king. Flannan was sent at an early age to St. Blathmac, ‘who surpassed all the saints.’ Blathmac trained him in sacred literature and taught him ‘to plough, sow, reap, grind, sift, and bake with his own hands for the monks.’ He was next sent to Molua, who was reckoned among the greatest saints in Ireland, and is mentioned by St. Bernard as the ‘founder of a hundred monasteries.’ Molua is said to have resigned his bishopric in consequence of his engagements in England and Scotland, and to have appointed Flannan as his successor. But Molua or Lua, the founder of Killaloe, died, according to the ‘Annals of the Four Masters,’ in 588, or 592 in Bishop Reeves's ‘Adamnan.’ The date of his death proves that the alleged transaction with Flannan is impossible. It was probably meant to account for Flannan's being the patron saint of Killaloe, though not the founder.

Flannan, now appointed to a bishopric, wished to visit Rome and receive holy orders from Pope John; and, according to Ware, he was consecrated at Rome by Pope John IV in 639, who, however, was not pope until 640. His parents and friends had strenuously objected to the journey; St. Bracan, probably St. Berchan of Cluain Sosta or Clonsast in the King's County, who flourished, according to O'Curry, in 690, had vainly endeavoured to dissuade Flannan from his purpose, but finding his resolution fixed, they had earnestly prayed for a ship, and Flannan had been granted a miraculous voyage on a smooth stone. This legend, which has probably no foundation in fact at all, was known ‘all over the south of Ireland when the Emperor Frederick took Milan.’ Returning home through Tuscany, Burgundy, and France, Torrdelbach with his chieftains conducted him to Killaloe, and some Romans who attended him received permission to settle on an island near. Then all the saints and chiefs of the kingdom, far and near, came to hear what ‘new rules and instructions and sacraments of holy church he had brought from the church and court of Rome.’ Flannan's discourse in answer so affected Torrdelbach that the king sought the monastery of St. Colman at Lismore, where he became a monk, and with his companions laboured in clearing the ground. On Torrdelbach's return to Killaloe by direction of St. Colman he refused Flannan's entreaties to resume his kingdom, and died on his way back to Lismore.

Flannan, disappointed by the lukewarmness of his hearers, set sail for the Isle of Man. There nine men of horrid aspect demanded of him nine black rams. When he hesitated about complying, they threatened to ‘defame him as long as they lived.’ Flannan used to ‘sing his psalter in cold rivers,’ and fearing that he might be called on to desert his religious life and become king, he besought his Creator to send him some disfiguring blemish. In answer to his prayer he was visited by the ‘disease called morphea, which is the sixth species of elephantiasis, and forthwith rashes and erysipelas and boils began to appear on his face, so that it became dreadful and repulsive.’ Thus by native law he was ineligible for the throne. There is no record of the time or place either of his birth or death, but Dr. Lanigan conjectures that he was born in 640 or 650. In after times his bones were placed in a shrine wrought with wondrous art, and covered with gold and silver, which was placed on the altar of Cill-da-Lua. His memorials, that is his gospels, bells, and staff, were also ornamented with artistic skill and covered with the purest gold. There are still to be seen at Killaloe the church of Molua, on an island in the Shannon, and the oratory of St. Flannan, also called his ‘house.’ They are coeval with these saints according to Dr. Petrie, and the oratory served the twofold purpose of a church and a house like that at St. Doulough's. Ware, referring to St. Flannan's occupancy, says: ‘While he sat there his father Theodoric endowed the church of Killaloe with many estates, and dying full of years was magnificently interred in this church by his son Flannan.’

The life from which most of the foregoing particulars are taken was evidently written by one who desired to flatter the O'Briens, who were descended from Torrdelbach. This family was mainly instrumental in bringing in the customs of the Roman church to the south of Ireland, and hence the account of St. Flannan's visit to Rome, which would be highly improbable in the seventh or eighth century, though not in the twelfth or thirteenth, when in all probability this life was written. Flannan's day is 18 Dec.

[Vita Flannani Episcopi et Confessoris Codex Salmanticensis, pp. 643–80, London, 1888; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. ii. 205, 211, iii. 147–9; Petrie's Round Towers, pp. 274–8; Martyrology of Donegal, pp. 179, 341; O'Curry's MS. Materials, p. 412; Reeves's Adamnan, pp. 34, 371; Ussher's Works, vi. 476.]

T. O.