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The Founding of Killeshin
Co Laois

(Previously published in ''The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. by P.MacSuibhne. 1972.)

The Founding of Killeshin

Norman Doorway. KilleshinA monastery was founded at Killeshin about the year 545 A.D. Its founder and first Abbot was St. Diarmuit. His successor was St. Comgan, a native of Thomond. He built a church at a place called Ceann-Indis but it is not known whether he built it before or after he became Abbot. He was a friend of St. Ita; before his death he sent for her, so that she might lay her hands upon his lips and close his eyes in his last moments. From this it is apparent that St. Comgan died before 570 A.D., the date of St. Ita's death. There is no record of who succeeded St. Comgan, but a saint named Muirgein or Murin was abbot for some period during the seventh century. As we have said he was the tutor of St. Laserian, first bishop of Leighlin. In the Calendar or Feilire of Saints written by Oengus the Culdee about 800 A.D. the three Abbots of Killeshin are mentioned. St Diarmuid is entered under 8 July:

Diarmuid, a true flame,
the bright sun of Glenn Uisean.
Under 2 February, St. Comgan is entered:
The Feast of Comgan without reproach,
Comgan from Glenn Uisean.
St. Muirgein's entry is under 27 February:
 My Lord loved Muirgein
A wonderous birth with victories.

Very little is known of these Abbots who helped to make Gleann Uisean so important a monastery that happenings there were thought worthy of being set down in the historical records, principally The Annals of the Four Masters.

Killeshin ruins from The Dublin Penny Journal 1832
Source: Google Books

Abbots and Annals of Killeshin

Killeshin was henceforth a place of note and the deaths of Abbots, Lectors, Stewards and other prople connected with it are chronicled by the pen of Brother Michael O'Clery as matters of importance. Among them were Aedan who died in 843 A.D.; Abbot Diarmuid, whose grave is still pointed out in the old churchyard, died-in 874 A.D.; Abbot Cathasach died in 946 A.D. Except their'names and years in which they died no further details are given.

More exciting events recorded are the battle of Confey, near Leixlip, in 915, where Archbishop Maelmaedhog, son of Diarmuid, who was one of the Ui Conannla, Abbot of Gleann Uisean, a distinguished scribe anchorite, and an adept in the Scotic language, was slain; a slaughter of the men of Munster by Donnchadh, son of Aedh, in Gleann-Uisean, 1024 A.D.; and the burning of Gleann-Uisean with its yews in 1077 A.D. An even more serious happening was the plundering of Gleann-Uisean by Mac Mael na mBo in 1041, when the oratory was destroyed, a hundred people slain, and seven hundred taken away as prisoners.

The compilers of the Annals from which these extracts are taken were: An Brathair Michael O'Clerigh, Fearfeasa 0 Maolconaire, Cucoigre 0 Cleirig, Cucoigre O Duigeanain, generally known as the Four Masters. Two other learned antiquaries assisted in the compilation of the Annals namely: Muirgheas Ua Maolconaire and Conaire O Cleirigh. Amongst the illustrious names of the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland who gave their imprimatur to the Annala Rioghachta na h-Eireann is found the name of Dr. Ross Mageghegan, Bishop of Cill Dara. His approbation is dated 8 January, 1637, ex loco nostrae mancionis — the cabin in* the bog in which he had to take refuge from Protestant ascendancy in evil times.

They began their great work of compiling all the available materials on Irish history in the Franciscan monastery of Donegal during the year 1632, and completed it in 1636, Events were entered under the years in which they took place, and the compilers had not time to give more than a bare summary of what took place each year. The Irish in which they wrote is now slightly archaic. It is interesting to set forth a few extracts, in present day Irish, about Killeshin as they appear in the Annals:

Aois Crfost, se sin A.D. 874:— D'eag Diarmait Mac Coirpre, Abb Gleanna Uisin.
A.D. 915 — Thug Sitruig Ua h-lomhair agus na Gaill cath Ginnfuait ar fhearaibh Laighean agus torchradh ann se cead de thighearnaibh Laighean . . . Ard-easbog Maolmhaodhog Mac Diarmata, d'Uibh Conanula do, abb Gleanna Uisin,scrfobh chlumhail, agus saoi ins an eagna Laideanta agus ins an mBearla Scotaigh.
A.D. 916 — D'eag Domhnall Mac Diarmata, abb Gleanna Uisin.
A.D. 946 — D'eag Cathasach Mac Domhnaill, abb Gleanna Uisin.
A.D. 951 — D'eag Feidhlimidh dalta Maolmhaodhoig, abb Gleanna Uisin.
A.D. 986 — D'eag Caenchomhrac Mac Ainbhithe, abb Gleanna Uisin.
A.D. 1016 — D'eag Caenchomhrach Ua Buithin, abb Gleanna Uisin.
A.D. 1024 — Cuireadh ar ar fhearaibh Mumhan ag Donnchadh Mac Aodha in nGleann Uisin, tre mi'orbhail De agus Comhdhain.
A.D. 1037 — D'eag Fleann, pn'or Gleanna Uisin.
A.D. 1041 — Deineadh Gleann Uisin do chreacadh ag urnaidhe Mac Mael na mBo, an urnaidhe do bhriseadh agus cead de dhaomibh do mharbhaidh, agus seacht gcead do bhreith as,i ndi'ol Fearna Moire do chreacadh ag Mac Briain agus ag Murcadh Ua Dunlaing, agus in ndfol a bhrathar Domhnall Reamhar.
A.D. 1045 — D'eag Cathasach Ua Corcrain, comharba Gleanna Uisin.
A.D. 1077 — Loisceadh Gleann Uisin lena chranna iubhair.
A.D. 1.082 — D'eag Conchobhar Ua Uathghaile, fear leighinn Gleanna Uisin agus Dunchadh Ua Ceatfhadha beirt shruith-Sheanoin leigheanta Cuige Laighean thiar.

St. Diarmuid's Well

St. Diarmuid's Well goes back to the beginning of the sixth century when St. Diarmuid, the first abbot, founded the monastery. The Well may be earlier than that date. The early saints of Ireland had no churches, no baptisteries, no baptismal fonts. People were baptized in existing wells or wayside streams. But each well had first to be blessed: it might have been profaned by evil influences, or the stream might have been used by the Druids for their pagan worship. It was necessary to bless the well or stream by exorcism, by prayer and invocation of the Holy Spirit in order to drive out evil spirits and to consecrate it to divine worship. Churches were always built beside wells or streams.

Before churches were built, holy men and hermits spent their lives near wells or streams, in caves or huts made of wattles or loose stones. They wore the coarsest clothes until these clothes fell to pieces from their backs. Their food was a little corn or roots, with water from the spring. That fountain was blessed by the saint's prayers and doubly blessed by his use. Frequently he knelt or stood knee-deep in the cold stream while he recited the whole psalter. But his secret was always found out. People came to see him, to see his grotto, his cave, his hut, hib little church, and the holy spring which gave him nourishment and kept him alive. St. Diarmuid's well goes back to the Saint himself, to about 500 A.D. possibly to an earlier date, to the time of the great apostle himself who came to Ireland in 432, who brought St. Fiacc to Sletty about 460 and established him as chief bishop of Leinster. St. Diarmuid's well has been sanctified by the prayers and penances of the holy men who ministered here down through the ages.

On 25 May 1973 the blessing was renowed by the worthy parish priest Fr. Byrne. We hope that many parishioners and others will frequent this holy place, hallowed by the footsteps and penances of innumerable saints of the past; that they will come here to gain strength and inspiration from the example of the saints of Killeshin- and to seek their prayers and powerful intercession. The Mass-hollow is on the lands of Mr. Denis Doran, Keelogue and the Blessed Well on the lands of Mr. Albert Fennell, Killeshin. To both we tender our sincere thanks.

Parish of Killeshin
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