Ciaran of Saighir

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Piran (d. c. 480) holy man

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Ciarán (c. 512—545)


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(5th–6th century),

bishop and monk. Born in West Cork of an Ossory family, Ciarna went to Europe as a young man, was baptized and ordained. He returned to Ossory and settled at Seirkieran ( = Saighir) near Birr (Co. Offaly), first as a hermit, and later as abbot of a large monastery. He may have been consecrated bishop by Patrick.

Many legends are told of him, especially of his influence over wild animals. A wolf, a badger, and a fox together worked for him and his monks, helping them to cut woods and build huts. Eventually the fox stole Ciaran's shoes and fled to his lair. The wolf and the badger were charged by the saint to bring him back; the badger bound the fox from ear to tail and delivered him unwillingly. Ciaran reproved the fox, told him to fast and do penance like a monk, and to continue work as before.

Ciaran's monastery became the burial-place of the kings of Ossory; notable ruins remain. The site may have been pre-Christian; as in some other Irish sanctuaries, perpetual fire is said to have burnt there. His other site, the island of Cape Clear (Cork), was probably his hermitage at or near his birthplace. Here a ruined church and well survive of great antiquity. From medieval times this Ciaran was identified wrongly with the Cornish Piran; he must also be distinguished from his younger namesake, Ciaran of Clonmacnoise. Feast: 5 March.

W. W. Heist, Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae (1965), pp. 346–52;P. Grosjean, ‘Vita S. Ciarani, Episcopi de Saighir’, Anal. Boll., lix (1941), 217–71, The Irish Saints, pp. 76–9.

Subjects: Christianity.

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