St. Colman of Kilmacduagh, Bishop
Born at Corker, Kiltartan, Galway, Ireland, c. 550; died 632; cultus approved in 1903. Son of the Irish chieftain Duac, Colman was educated at Saint Enda’s (f.d. March 21) monastery in Aran. Thereafter he was a recluse, living in prayer and prolonged fastings, at Arranmore and then at Burren in County Clare. With King Guaire of Connaught he founded the monastery of Kilmacduagh, i.e., the church of the son of Duac, and governed it as abbot-bishop. The “leaning tower of Kilmacduagh,” 112 feet high, is almost twice as old as the famous town in Pisa. The Irish round tower was restored in 1880.
There is a legend that angels brought King Guaire to him by causing his festive Easter dinner to disappear from his table. The king and his court followed the angels to the place where Colman had kept the Lenten fast and now was without food. The path of this legendary journey is called the “road of the dishes.”
As with many relics, Saint Colman’s abbatial crozier has been used through the centuries for the swearing of oaths. Although it was in the custodianship of the O’Heynes of Kiltartan (descendants of King Guaire) and their relatives, the O’Shaughnessys, it can now be seen in the National Museum in Dublin (Attwater, Benedictines, Carty, D’Arcy, Farmer, MacLysaght, Montague, Stokes).
Other tales are recounted about Saint Colman, who loved birds and animals. He had a pet rooster who served as an alarm clock at a time before there were such modern conveniences. The rooster would begin his song at the breaking of dawn and continue until Colman would come out and speak to it. Colman would then call the other monks to prayer by ringing the bells.
But the monks wanted to pray the night hours, too, and couldn’t count on the rooster to awaken them at midnight and 3:00 a.m. So Colman made a pet out of a mouse that often kept him company in the night by giving it crumbs to eat. Eventually the mouse was tamed and Colman asked its help:
“So you are awake all night, are you? It isn’t your time for sleep, is it? My friend, the cock, gives me great help, waking me every morning. Couldn’t you do the same for me at night, while the cock is asleep? If you do not find me stirring at the usual time, couldn’t you call me? Will you do that?”
It was a long time before Colman tested the understanding of the mouse. After a long day of preaching and travelling on foot, Colman slept very soundly. When he did not awake at the usual hour in the middle of the night for Lauds, the mouse pattered over to the bed, climbed on the pillow, and rubbed his tiny head against Colman’s ear. Not enough to awaken the exhausted monk. So the mouse tried again, but Colman shook him off impatiently. Making one last effort, the mouse nibbled on the saint’s ear and Colman immediately arose–laughing. The mouse, looking very serious and important, just sat there on the pillow staring at the monk, while Colman continued to laugh in disbelief that the mouse had indeed understood its job.
When he regained his composure, Colman praised the clever mouse for his faithfulness and fed him extra treats. Then entered God’s presence in prayer. Thereafter, Colman always waited for the mouse to rub his ear before arising, whether he was awake or not. The mouse never failed in his mission.
The monk had another strange pet: a fly. Each day Colman would spend some time reading a large, awkward parchment manuscript prayer book. Each day the fly would perch on the margin of the sheet. Eventually Colman began to talk to the fly, thanked him for his company, and asked for his help:
“Do you think you could do something useful for me? You see yourself that everyone who lives in the monastery is useful. Well, if I am called away, as I often am, while I am reading, don’t you go too; stay here on the spot I mark with my finger, so that I’ll know exactly where to start when I come back. Do you see what I mean?”
So, as with the mouse, it was a long time before Colman put the understanding of the fly to the test. He probably provided the insect with treats as he did the mouse–perhaps a single drop of honey or crumb of cake. One day Colman was called to attend a visitor. He pointed the spot on the manuscript where he had stopped and asked the fly to stay there until he returned. The fly did as the saint requested, obediently remaining still for over an hour. Colman was delighted. Thereafter, he often gave the faithful fly a little task that it was proud to do for him. The other monks thought it was such a marvel that they wrote it done in the monastery records, which is how we know about it.
But a fly’s life is short. At the end of summer, Colman’s little friend was dead. While still mourning the death of the fly, the mouse died, too, as did the rooster. Colman’s heart was so heavy at the loss of his last pet that he wrote to his friend Saint Columba (f.d. June 9). Columba responded:
“You were too rich when you had them. That is why you are sad now. Great troubles only come where there are great riches. Be rich no more.”
Troparion of St Colman of Kilmacduagh tone 8
Rejecting the nobility of thy birth, O Father Colman,/thou didst seek
God in the solitude of desert places./ Thy virtue, like a beacon, drew
men unto thee/ and thou didst guide them into the way of salvation./
Guide us also by thy prayers, that our souls may be saved.
May God’s angels guard us
and save us till day’s end,
protected by God and Mary
and *Mac Duach and Mac Daire
and Colm Cille
till days’ end.
Aingil De dar gcoimhdeacht
‘s dar sabhail aris go fuin;
ar coimri De is Mhuire,
Mhic Duach is Mhic Daire
agus Colm Cille
aris go fuin.
*St. Colman MacDuagh
“An Duanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed”
Map of Monastic Ireland c. 650 AD
[Kilmacduagh is situated in northwest Munster]
Photographs of KilMacduagh Monastery:
Lives kindly supplied by:
For All the Saints:
Orthodox Ireland Saints
- Celtic and Old English Saints – 29 October . 2016. Celtic and Old English Saints – 29 October . [ONLINE] Available at: http://celticsaints.org/2016/1029a.html. [Accessed 29 October 2016].