Life & Soul

Saint of the week: St Finnian

A statue of St Finnian

During that vital period when Ireland kept much of Western civilisation alive, one of the most important early Irish saints helped to spread the faith in the Emerald Isle, founding Clonard Abbey.

St Finnian (December 12), also called Finian, Fionnán or Vennianus, was born at Myshall, County Carlow, in the fifth century, a time of chaos across western Europe. His early life was surrounded by myth. One story has all the birds of Ireland gathering at his birthplace as a portent of what he would become.

The saint was of noble blood; although patron of Meath, in the Irish midlands, he had connections across the island. At an early age he was placed under the care of the Bishop of Trim (then the capital of Meath). But as he reached adulthood, Finnian expressed an interest in travelling and would make the perilous journey to Britain and Gaul, where he stayed at St Martin’s monastery in Tours. The young Irishman liked the austere feel of the place, but travel eventually brought him to Wales, where he remained in prayer at the monastery of Cadoc the Wise.

Finnian spent much of his time translating and making copies of Roman classics and biblical works. After 30 years, he returned home to preach, establishing his first monastery at Agheowle in Country Kerry, where he spent 16 years, before going to Kildare to teach at
St Brigid’s monastery. Finally, in 520, he built the abbey at Clonard, in Co Meath, which would teach the early saints known as the 12 Apostles of Ireland.

This article first appeared in The Catholic Herald magazine (5/12/14)