by Garry Bryant / Garaidh Ó Briain
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.
St. Flannan taught his people so well that even his father decided to become a monk. The old chieftain went to St. Colman to be instructed in the life of a monk at Lismore. At the same time Turlough asked for a blessing for his family, since three of his sons had been killed. St. Colman predicted: "From you shall seven kings spring." And so it happened. He retired to become a monk in his old age, receiving a monk’s habit from St. Colman at Lismore. St. Flannan was afraid that since he was one of the family he, too, might be made king. So he prayed to become ugly, and his face was soon covered with big scars and rashes. He made this unusual request because he wanted to be free to follow his vocation. He wanted to devote himself entirely to the service of God and his people. [http://www.kibparish.ie/our-parish/parish-history/ (Kilmurry-
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.
Today the Diocese of Killaloe basically comprises of County Clare. But anciently it began much smaller, then was enlarged at the beginning of the 12th century to include the Dioceses of Roscrea and Inniscathy, giving it the proportions of the ancient kingdom of Thomond.
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.
The Diocese of Killaloe
My name is Garry Eugene Bryant, or in Irish, Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain. My O'Bryan family emigrated from Ireland to Canada around 1830. They were devout Catholics and my 2nd great-grandfather, William, was informed by his parents that he was to become a priest like his two older bro-thers. He ran away changed his name by dropping the O' and adding a 't,' and ended up at Black Hawk, Col-orado about 1861. But this story was family tradition, no paper doc-ument to that gives the name change. To the rescue came Family Tree DNA and the O'Brien Surname Project which confirmed that I was not only of the Dál gCais Tribe with the R-L226 & FGC5659 snp marker's, but a distant cousin to Sir Conor M. E. O'Brien, Chief of the O'Brien Clan. So I'm not an English Bryant, but an Irish O'Brien! I have three children, all grown and married, and two grandchildren. I'm a retired photojournalist, am passionate about family history and heraldry.