Aengus the Culdee

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XI

But if Ireland gave saints and martyrs to foreign lands, her charity was in some measure repaid in kind. True, she needed not the evangelic labours of other missionaries, for the gospel-seed had taken deep root, and borne a rich harvest on her happy shores; still, as the prayers of saints are the very life and joy of the Church, she could not choose but rejoice in the hundreds of pure and saintly souls who gathered round her altars at home, who crowded her monasteries, or listened devoutly to the teachers of her distinguished schools. In the Litany of Aengus the Culdee [7] we find hundreds of foreign saints invoked, each grouped according to their nation. "The oldest tract, or collection of the pedigrees of the saints of Erinn," says Professor O'Curry, "of which we have now any recognizable copy remaining, is that which is ascribed to Aengus Ceilé Dé, commonly called Aengus the Culdee. The genuineness of this composition is admitted by all writers of modern times, Protestant and Catholic, by Usher and Ware as well as by Colgan."

Aengus wrote about the year 798. He was descended from the illustrious chieftains of Dalriada, and completed his education in the Monastery of Cluain Eidhneach, in the present Queen's county. The remains of a church he founded at Disert Aengusa, near Ballingarry, in the county of Limerick, may still be seen.

The Monastery of Tamhlacht (Tallaght), near Dublin, was founded in the year 769, by St. Maelruain, on a site offered "to God, to Michael the Archangel, and to Maelruain," by Donnach, the pious and illustrious King of Leinster. St. Aengus presented himself at this monastery as a poor man seeking for service, and was employed for some time in charge of the mill or kiln, the ruins of which have but lately yielded to "the improving hand of modern progress." Here he remained hidden for many years, until, by some happy accident, his humility and his learning were at once discovered.


[7] Culdee.—There was much dispute at one time as to the origin and true character of the Culdees. The question, however, has been quite set at rest by the researches of recent Irish scholars. Professor O'Curry traces them up to the time of St. Patrick. He thinks they were originally mendicant monks, and that they had no communities until the end of the eighth century, when St. Maelruain of Tallaght drew up a rule for them. This rule is still extant. Mr. Haverty (Irish History, p. 110) has well observed, they probably resembled the Tertiaries, or Third Orders, which belong to the Orders of St. Dominic and St Francis at the present day. See also Dr. Reeves' Life of St. Columba, for some clear and valuable remarks on this subject.