A Saint with an Attitude

Cill Éinne-Inis Mór-Aran Islands

You cycle towards the eastern end of Inishmore, towards Killeany, along a winding paved road, sandwiched between verdant green fields and sloping hills on the right and the glittering coast on the left. You fly past the guesthouse Tigh Fitz, the remains of Arkin Fort, Killeany Lodge, and finally you arrive at a small graveyard at the edge of a grassy head overlooking the beach an Trá Mhór. You walk through the graveyard, navigating over the trampled path in the grass.

At the end of the graveyard you see the ruins of a monastery, slightly sunken in the ground, the stone triangles of the sides of the roof peeking up over the grass. The sign at the entrance of the graveyard told you that this is where you’d find it: Teampall Einne. The monastery of St. Enda, the patron saint of Aran. The town of Killeany gets its name from the famous (or perhaps infamous) saint.

I wondered about this saint who had had such a great impact on Aran. Enda brought countless monks and seekers to Aran over the years, and inspired many to follow in his footsteps, establishing Aran as a place of pilgrimage and religious study.

Unfortunately, the life of Enda as we know it is hazy and uncertain, since there are few reliable historical documents from the time he was alive.

Fortunately, there’s a whole lot of fun mythology to play with!

In the 5th Century AD, Enda the monk discovered that the Fir Bolg chieftain, Corban, controlled Aran. (Note: I’ll discuss the Fir Bolg in a later post – there’s much to say about this mythical race). Enda still had to actually get to the island, so he decided to use the trip as an opportunity to demonstrate his power. Enda took the voyage in a stone boat, which thoroughly spooked Corban’s followers into fleeing the island.

Beach-Inishmore-Aran Islands

Corban didn’t give up easily. He devised a test of Enda’s powers: he placed a barrel of corn in the water near the shore at Corcomroe in County Clare. If the barrel made it to Aran on its own, he would peacefully cede the island to the saint. The corn arrived on the beach of an Trá Mhór, and so Corban went without a fight.

Another version of the Corban story: Corban went to Corcomroe for forty days to see if God did in fact want to give Enda the island. While he was away from Inishmore, Enda rounded up all Corban’s horses and drove them off a cliff. I’m not sure of the purpose of this act of violence, but it’s pretty hardcore. Enda was clearly not messing around.

Even with Corban gone there were conflicts with Enda’s followers. St. Brecan was not happy with Enda’s land division (he had given himself half of the island, and the other half was divided among nine other monks!) So Enda and Brecan made a deal: they would each say mass at their respective monasteries on either end of the island, and when they finished they would begin walking towards the center. Wherever they met, that’s where they’d divide the land. But Brecan began saying mass earlier than he’d agreed to in order to try to con Enda, who, of course, found out about the deception. Enda prayed for divine intervention, and Brecan’s feet became stuck in the sand at the beach of Kilmurvey, and Enda wound up getting most of the land.

inishmore-sunken-church

Enda, like many chieftains at the time, wanted control over as much land as possible, and was constantly wary of threats to his power. St. Colmcille, a newcomer to Aran, asked Enda for a bit of land, and Enda said that Colmcille could only have as much land as Colmcille’s cloak could cover. But when Colmcille placed his cloak on the ground it began to spread further and further until it covered a very large field, much more land than Enda had wanted to give him. In a rage, Enda ordered him to fast, which he did until he became emaciated and finally had to leave the island. But Enda would not give him a boat to use, so Colmcille had to embark on an epic swim to Kerry, where he dried himself off and cursed the island for how terribly he was treated.

These are just some colorful tales of Enda’s fiery personality, and this is by no means a complete collection. There are many other versions of these myths, and much more to know about the history of Enda. But these are myths I enjoy, and I hope you enjoy them, too.

For more information, read J.W. O’Connell’s chapter in The Book of Aran.

For interesting notes on Enda-specific sites on Inishmore that you can visit, check out Legends in the Landscape: A Pocket Guide To Arainn, written by Dara O’Maoildhia, a Celtic monk who currently resides on Aran.

Do you know of any of the sites associated with Enda on Aran? Churches, holy wells, unmarked sites? Please share!

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6 thoughts on “A Saint with an Attitude”

  1. Dear Emily
    Thank you very much for your wonderful stories about Aran Islands.
    I am thinking about my journey there. I was on Inis Mor in 2006 and 2009 I spent spiritual and miraculous time in Killeany then.
    Your photographs are breathtaking. I will be waiting for more your nice, historical and inspiring stories.
    All the very best
    Mariola Socha
    Poland

    1. Thanks Mariola! Let me know if there are any specific topics you’d like to read more about.

      1. Dear Emily, Thanks a lot for your kind reply. I am most interested in an early Irish Saints on Arans – Ciaran, Breacan, Chaomhan from Inis Oirr and women Saints – Gobhnait and mysterious Sourney. Your stories are wonderful because of historical things with a subtle poetic feature. It reminds me of Aran atmosphere. I miss them much. I believe the next year I will come there.
        I wish you all the very best and many good vibes for your life.
        Mariola

  2. I love Dara’s book, A Pocket Guide to Arainn. He took me to a church on Inis Mor that was known as the Church of the Four Lovelies – or Church of the Four Combly Saints. There’s a holy well there. Very thin place.

    1. @ Mindie: Isn’t that a great book? I brought it with me on my last visit to Inishmore and found it incredibly helpful. As for that holy well, I also went there with Dara! I’ll write a future post about Irish holy wells, and that one in particular.

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