St. Adamnan

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XI

In 673 Finnachta Fleadhach, or the Hospitable, began his reign. He yielded to the entreaties of St. Moling, and remitted the Boromean Tribute, after he had forced it from the Leinster men in a bloody battle. In 687 he abdicated, and showed his respect for religion still further by embracing the monastic state himself. In 684 the Irish coasts were devastated, and even the churches pillaged, by the soldiers of Egfrid, the Saxon King of Northumbria. Venerable Bede attributes his subsequent defeat and death, when fighting against the Picts, to the judgment of God, justly merited by these unprovoked outrages on a nation which had always been most friendly to the English (nationi Anglorum semper amicissimam ).

It has been supposed that revenge may have influenced Egfrid's conduct: this, however, does not make it more justifiable in a Christian king. Ireland was not merely the refuge of men of learning in that age; it afforded shelter to more than one prince driven unjustly from his paternal home. Alfred, the brother of the Northumbrian monarch, had fled thither from his treachery, and found a generous welcome on its ever-hospitable shores. He succeeded his brother in the royal dignity; and when St. Adamnan visited his court to obtain the release of the Irish captives whom Egfrid's troops had torn from their native land, he received him with the utmost kindness, and at once acceded to his request.

St. Adamnan, whose fame as the biographer of St. Columba has added even more to the lustre of his name than his long and saintly rule over the Monastery of Iona, was of the race of the northern Hy-Nials. He was born in the territory of Tir-Connell, about the year 627. Little is known of his early history; it is generally supposed that he was educated at Iona, and that, having embraced the monastic rule, he returned to his own country to extend its observance there. He presided over the great Abbey of Raphoe, of which he was the founder, until the year 679, when he was raised to the government of his order, and from that period he usually resided at Iona. The fact of his having been chosen to such an important office, is a sufficient testimony to his virtues, and of the veneration and respect in which he was held by his contemporaries.

St. Adamnan paid more than one visit to his friend the Northumbrian monarch (regem Alfridem amicum ). On the second occasion he went with the Abbot Ceolfrid, and after some conversation with him and other learned ecclesiastics, he adopted the Roman paschal computation. Yet, with all his influence and eloquence, he was unable to induce his monks to accept it; and it was not until the year 716 that they yielded to the persuasions of Egbert, a Northumbrian monk. Adamnan was more successful in his own country In 697 he visited Ireland, and took an important part in a legislative council held at Tara. On this occasion he procured the enactment of a law, which was called the Canon of Adamnan, or the Law of the Innocents, and sometimes "the law not to kill women." We have already referred to the martial tendencies of the ladies of ancient Erinn—a tendency, however, which was by no means peculiar at that period of the world's history. The propensity for military engagements was not confined to queens and princesses—women of all ranks usually followed their lords to the field of battle; but as the former are generally represented as having fallen victims to each other's prowess in the fight, it appears probable that they had their own separate line of battle, or perhaps fought out the field in a common melée of feminine forces.

Had we not the abundant testimony of foreign writers to prove the influence and importance of the missions undertaken by Irish saints at this period of her history, it might be supposed that the statements of her annalists were tinged with that poetic fancy in which she has ever been so singularly prolific, and that they rather wrote of what might have been than of what was. But the testimony of Venerable Bede (to go no further) is most ample on this subject.