Bishop Ultan and the Orphans

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XXVI....concluded

10. Bishop Ultan and the Orphans.

St. Ultan, bishop of Ardbraccan in Meath, seventh-century, is commemorated in the Calendars under the 4th September, and his death is recorded in most of the Annals. In the Feilire [Failera] of Aengus, he is mentioned as "the great sinless prince in whom the little ones are flourishing: the children play greatly round Ultan of Ardbraccan." The annotation explains this in words that give us a glimpse of the havoc wrought by the Yellow Plague —which attacked adults more than children—and of the piteous scenes of human suffering witnessed during its continuance. Everywhere through the country numbers of little children, whose mothers and fathers had been carried off, were left helpless and starving. Ultan collected all the orphan babes he could find, and brought them to his monastery. He procured a great number of cows' teats, and filling them with milk, he put them into the children's mouths with his own hands, and thus contrived to feed the little creatures; so that in the words of the annotation, "the infants were playing around him." In one of the accounts, we are told that he often had as many as 150, so that his noble labour of love—even with help—must have kept his hands pretty busy. It would be difficult to find an instance where charity is presented in greater beauty and tenderness than it is in this simple record of the good bishop Ultan.

As curiously illustrative of this record, it is worthy of mention that, at the present day in Russia, it is a very general custom for those peasant women who do not suckle their own children, to feed them with a rude feeding-bottle, called by a name equivalent to the English word "hornie," namely a cow's horn hollowed out, and having a little opening at the smaller end, on which is tied a cow's teat. When the "hornie" is filled with milk, the teat is put into the infant's mouth, who in this manner feeds itself.

END OF CHAPTER XXVI.

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