St. Patrick never entered into the county of Clare when he circled the Emerald Isle teaching about Christianity. He did baptize the people that would become the Dál gCais of Thomond, at the present site of Terryglass. These people crossed Lough Derg in their coracles to be with the holy man. Over the next several hundred years, the lands of the future Dál gCais became dotted with a network of monasteries, churches, schools, etc., of the Christian faith. The Dalcassians became a most faithful people of the Church. The majority of Flannan's history is from the site of Patrick Comerford unless otherwise stated. [http://www.patrickcomerford.com/
During the monastic years in Ireland, ruled one Turlough (Toirdhelbhach), King of Thomond, who began his reign in 625 A.D. Turlough’s descendants were those who made up the Dál gCais tribe. One of this king’s sons was Flannan. As for Turlough, after he endowed his son's church with ample revenue in his old age became a monk. [William Smith & Henry Wace, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines. Volume II. (London: John Murray, 1880) "Flannan," p. 527.]
There are many versions of the life of Flannan, so his story must be taken as tradition, not fact.
In his youth Flannan was placed in the care of a Biblical scholar named St. Blathmet, who was highly esteemed as a great teacher. Children of the Irish nobility were sent to him to study. Flannan entered a monastery at Killaloe called Molua, where he labored diligently. Killaloe is spelled in Gaelic as Cill-da-Lua, “the Church of St. Lua.” St. Lua was an abbot who lived near the end of the sixth century. His oratory can still be seen on Friar’s Island, near Killaloe.
Tradition states that while he was working in the bakery for 36 hours, a heavenly light emanated from his left hand, lighting up the darkness enabling him to continue. The Abbot of Molua was told about this marvelous event and he appointed Flannan to take his place as the abbot of Molua Monastery.
Abbot Flannan’s tenure at Killaloe is remembered as a time when “...the fields waved with the richest crops, the sea poured almost on the shore an abundance of large whales and every kind of smaller fish, and the apple trees drooped under the weight of the fruit, woods abounded in acorns and hazel-nuts, the most restless nations were at peace, and the poor of every description experienced open-handed hospitality.”
So loved was the abbot that the people of Thomond sought to have him consecrated as their first bishop. For confirmation of his nomination, Flannan traveled to Rome about 639 A.D., where he was consecrated by Pope John IV, who recognized the wisdom and holiness of the man. [Geoffrey Keating, translated from Gaelic by John O'Mahony, The History of Ireland: From the Earliest Period to the English Invasion. (New York: P.M. Haverty, 1857) P. 99.] On his home journey, Bishop Flannan traveled through Burgundy and Tuscany. On his arrival at Killaloe, the local people of Thomond, along with nobles and prelates of the Church came to listen to him preach. They were eager to learn the instructions the saint had brought back from the pope of Rome.
Ibrickane Parish) accessed 18 May 2015.]
He had a great reputation for preaching and traveled widely throughout the land. He created churches at Inis-Flannan in Lough Corrib, Inishbofin, and also Iris-Flannan Point, with the ruins of St. Flannan's church at Manin Bay. It is not known if the Flannan Islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland are named after him, but the monastery there bore his name. [William Smith, Henry Wace, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines. Volume II. (London: John Murray, 1880) "Flannan," p. 527.]
Over many years Bishop Flannan is credited with performing many miracles. One day he experienced a premonition concerning his death. He gathered around him special people and told them the importance of observing justice, especially human justice, and encouraged them to live in peace with one another on the Emerald Isle. Bishop Flannan blessed his kindred and died.
Proud were the 'Kindred of St. Flannan,' for he was the first of the tribe to obtain greatness in being the first bishop of Thomond, and then canonized as a Saint.
The stories of this holy man spread throughout the land after his death on 18 December 640, and people went on a pilgrimage to his tomb at Killaloe.
St. Flannan’s feast day is 18 December. Flannan is the patron of Killaloe Parish, and the oratory and cathedral of Killaloe is named in his honor.
On a little green island in Lough Derg, is Iniscaltra, a celebrated nursery of sanctity and learning in Thomond. This school was directed by St. Caimin, and foreign students came for learning at his feet.
Besides Iniscaltra as a seat of learning, were other places of great learning. Birr was founded by St. Brendan in 550 A.D. Here the Gospels of McRegol were written in 820 by McRegol, Abbot of Birr. These gospels are today in the Bodleian Library. Another school was Terryglass, said to have been founded by St. Columcille in 552 A.D., a site said to have been where St. Patrick baptized the northern people of Thomond. The monastery of Lorrha, was founded by St. Ruadhan in 550 A.D.
A great builder of churches was Donal Mór Ó Briain, King of Munster from 1168-1194. He erected a cathedral worthy of the Killaloe Diocese, built in the Romanesque style. [http://cathedral.killaloe.anglican.org/history.html] But this new cathedral was destroyed by Cathal Carrach of Connacht in 1185. In the next century it was replaced and stands today at Killaloe where it is not nearly the rich architecture of the original being very simple.
In 1240 A.D., Donogh Cairbreach Ó Briain built a monastery for the Conventional Franciscan friars at Ennis. It was considered one of the finest sites of the Order in all Ireland. It is believed that it was this monastery that made Ennis the capitol of Clare. Today it is in ruins. The Abbey of Quin is still in a perfect state of preservation. It was built in 1402 A.D. by Sheda McNamara. By 1641, the abbey built a college that taught 800 students.
Yet the finest site is the one at Killaloe that housed the bishop of the Diocese. Killaloe was the site of St. Lua’s oratory, the oratory of St. Flannan, and the Cathedral of St. Flannan that was built by Donal Ó Briain, King of Limerick, in 1160 A.D. During the reign of English Queen Elizabeth I, the cathedral fell into Protestant hands in the mid 16th century until the Catholic Emancipation in the early 19th century, the Catholic sites fell into ruins. During this time the bishops, abbots, and priests having to assemble their congregations for mass on some rock on a mountain-side, or some lowly “Mass house.”
The early records of the Diocese of Killaloe are in a poor state. Only five bishops are on record from St. Flannan to 1150 A.D. Cormacan Ó Mulcaishel, who died in 1019 A.D., is the first known bishop since St. Flannan. Another is Ó Lonergain in 1150 A.D. A fifth generation descendant of Brian Boru, was Bishop Constantine Ó Briain in 1179 A.D. He attended the Council of Lateran in 1215 A.D.
Cornelius Ryan, a Franciscan friar, was made Bishop of Killaloe in 1576. He was considered by the English as a most formidable champion for the Catholic cause. He died in exile in 1617 A.D. in Lisbon, Portugal. Other capable bishops followed over the next couple hundred years, than on 11 February 1903, the diocesan chapter was re-established by papal decree.
· www.killaloe.ie, 2001; Kilmurry-Ibrickane Parish website, 2008.
· Dwyer. Diocese of Killaloe. Dublin: 1878.
· Frost. History of Clare. Dublin: 1893.
· Malone. Life of St. Flannan. Dublin: 1902.
· The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Co.: Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D.
· Rev. John Lanigan, Ecclesiastical History of Ireland. 4 volumes. (Dublin: 1822.)
· John O’Donovan, editor & translator, Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters. 7 volumes. (Dublin: 1856.)
· Rev. Matthew Kelly, D.D., Martyrology of Tallaght, with Notices of the Patron Saints of Ireland. (Dublin: 1857.)