Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Delving into the past

I've just finished reading A History of the Irish Church 400-700AD written by Fr. John R Walsh and Thomas Bradley; the former is a priest of the Diocese of Derry, and a former teacher in St Columb's College, one of the most renowned secondary schools in the region; the latter-named is one of his past pupils, and is now a history teacher in the same establishment.

It's relatively short at only 192 pages, and I can recommend it for those interested not only in early Irish Christianity, but early British Christianity as well.

One part I found particularly interesting was what they had to say about St Brendan; his father's name was Findlug, and his mother was named Cara. He worked in Wales and Scotland, and the authors credit him with establishing churches in Perthshire and the Isle of Tiree. Let me quote from the book:

His place in history is secured because a medieval document, the Navigatio (The Voyage), bears his name. Some people hold that this odyssey is based on an actual voyage which Brendan made to North America. The Voyage was a most influential work in medieval times. Its text survives in some one hundred and twenty manuscrpts, some of them in Latin and the others in early forms of modern continental languages. The earliest surviving manuscript dates from the late tenth century. The Voyage is usually, and probably correctly, ascribed to a late ninth-century Irish peregrinus ("pilgrim" or "missionary exile") working in the Netherlands or Germany. A fascinating conglomeration of fact, fantasy and plagiarism, its popularity on the Continent in the Middle Ages led to a cult of Saint Brendan there and means that the name of a comparatively obscure sixth-century Irish monk survives in the name of a thriving city in Germany, Brandenburg.


So next time you hear one of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, think of an Irish monk braving the elements of the Scottish climate to bring the faith to the Picts.

So the evidence points to the fact that it was not St Brendan who made that legendary trip across the Atlantic - if anybody did! But I can't help feeling that if the story was so relatively widespread across Europe, surely it must have had an influence on others and inspired them to seek to explore new worlds.

Another section deals with St Canice of Aghaboe, who is remembered as the patron of the city of Kilkenny, which bears his name, and is home of St Canice's Cathedral (Anglican). The authors tell us that he worked for a while in Scotland with St Colmcille (of Iona fame), and state: "He is remembered in Scotland to this day as Saint Kenneth and is credited with founding churches on the islands of Coll, Tiree, Mull and South Uist."

Which means that if you have a friend named Kenneth, then his name is not really Kenneth - it's Canice.

So allow me to pay tribute to the distinguished football player, Canice Dalglish; the late actor, Canice More; and the tenor Voice of Scotland, Canice McKellar; does that sound all right?

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