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Finbar

(c. 560—610)


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(c.560–610),

bishop, patron of Cork and of Barra, Outer Hebrides. Of the clan of Ui Briuin Ratha from West Connacht, Finbar was born at Lisnacaheragh (Co. Cork). His father, of illegitimate birth, was a metal-worker who married a slave-girl. Finbar studied under bishop MacCuirp at Achad Durbcon (Macroom). Later he became a hermit at lake Gougane Barra. Soon disciples gathered round him: the monastery at Etargabail on the east bank of the lake became a famous school which attracted students from southern Ireland. Several other churches in the neighbourhood claimed to be founded by him, but the greatest work of his life was the foundation of the monastery at Cork, round which the town developed.

Traditionally he was consecrated bishop c.600. The year of his death has been variously calculated as 610, 623, and 630. The Irish cult was founded on his reputation as teacher and saint and was strictly local: no foreign disciples or overseas missionary journeys were claimed for him. But there is also a Scottish cult, based on calendars and place-names, though almost devoid of hagiographical literature. His patronage of Barra, with his feast on the traditional day, is more probably due to journeys by men of Cork than by Finbar. The cult in Caithness and Sutherland (especially at Dornoch) is probably due to a confusion with Finnian of Moville.

Although Cork was Finbar's burial-place, the real centre of his cult in penal times and today is his monastery at Gougane Barra, still a place of pilgrimage. Feast: 25 September.

AA.SS. Sept. VII (1760), 130–9; V.S.H., i. 65–74;P. Grosjean, ‘Les Vies de S. Finbarr de Cork, de S. Finbarr d'Écosse et de S. MacCuilinn de Lusk’, Anal. Boll., lxix (1951), 324–47;T. A. Lunham, ‘The Life of St Finbarre’, Jnl. Cork Historical and Archaeol. Soc., ii (1906), 105–20. P. O'Riain, ‘St Finbarr: a study in a cult’, ibid., 82 (1977), 63–81.

Subjects: Christianity — Literature.


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