The Catholic faith has deep roots and a beautiful history in Ireland. If you spend even a day anywhere in Ireland, you’ll see ancient churches and signs of a deep religious faith ingrained in the culture. I spent a year living and ministering in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and even despite the tension between Catholics and Protestants, the religious spirit seeps out of the Irish culture. There is a rich connection between Ireland and the saints.
As we approach St. Patrick’s day, it’s a good time to explore the other Irish saints that have so impacted a whole country that gave many Americans their Irish-Catholic heritage and faithfulness. But, there are a great number of Irish saints (besides the famous St. Patrick) to celebrate. I’ve highlighted just a few below.
Brigid was born into slavery in the 5th century to a Christian mother and a Druid father. She grew up with her mother, and was known for her purity and for her generous charity for the poor. Eventually, she was returned to her father, who was her legal master, who despised her charitable nature. Her father took her to the king to try and sell her, but the king, who was a Christian, saw her charitable spirit and her acts, and convinced her father to free her.
Brigid then went and helped free her mother from slavery, and refused any offers of marriage, deciding to remain chaste. It is said that she prayed for her beauty to be taken away, and her request was granted until she professed final vows.
She founded a monastery in Kildare, two communal monastic communities for both men and women, and a school of art. It is said that she was a good friend of St. Patrick, and because of their holiness, they helped change the culture of Ireland forever. Her feast day is February 1. Read a bit more about St. Brigid here.
Colmcille was born in the 6th century in Donegal, who had some royal Irish ancestors. He became a priest at age 20 and began a monastery on land he was gifted by a cousin. Comcille traveled throughout Northern Ireland preaching the Gospel to the pagans, and he went on to found more than 30 monasteries.
He was known as a holy man, but he was also a pretty fiery preacher, which many didn’t appreciate. Many threatened him with excommunication and he was eventually exiled to Scotland. He did return to Ireland to help settle a dispute and promote peace, but he went blindfolded to avoid “seeing” Ireland again, in accordance with the terms of his exile.
During his life, he wrote many hymns, transcribed books, prayed, fasted, and taught monks how to read. There’s a brief overview of his life here and you can even read about his connection with the Loch Ness Monster (Imagine Nessie standing up to St. Colmcille!)
St. Oliver Plunkett
Plunkett was born in County Meath in the 1600s. He was ordained a priest in Rome, and because of persecution in Ireland, he couldn’t return. However in 1669, he was ordained Bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland (which means he had even more authority than the bishop). He was a natural peacemaker and worked to ordain priests, establish schools, and minister to the faithful.
Soon after, heavy persecution came to Ireland and Plunkett went into hiding, refusing to leave his people. Went persecution eased, he came out from hiding, but was soon arrested and charged with treason. Because putting him on trial in Ireland was futile, he was taken to London for trial, where they allowed him no time to prepare and bring his own witnesses.
After false witnesses testified against him, he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, quartered. He refused to give any evidence against his fellow bishops and publicly forgave those responsible for his death before he died. His feast is July 1. Read more about him on the Plunkett Shrine’s website.
A Rich History
Irish history is rich with Catholicism, thanks, in part, to the work of St. Patrick, and in part to these holy people. Of course, Irish history is layered with troubles and sadness, but there is still a rich, Catholic tradition present throughout this beautiful island. The connection between Ireland and the saints will surely last for the next hundreds of decades.
Pick up a St. Patrick medal in our shop and look out for some of these saints to be added to our extensive collection.