Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Finn Barr

FINN BARR, Saint and Bishop (d. 623), of Cork, was son of Amergin, of the tribe of Ui Briuin Hatha of Connaught, who were descended from Eochaidh Muidmheadhon, brother of Olioll Olum, king of Munster. Amermn left Connaught for Munster and settled in the territory of Muscraidhe (Muskerry), in the county of Cork, where he obtained an inheritance and land at a place called Achaidh Durbchon ; he was also chief smith to Tigernach, king of the Ui Eachach of Munster, who lived at Bathlin in the neighbourhood of Bandon. Amergin married in defiance of the king's prohibition, and the couple were ordered to be burnt alive. A thunderstorm which prevented the sentence from being carried out was regarded as a divine interposition, and they were set free. A child having been born from this union, they returned to Achaidh Durbchon, where he was baptised by a bishop named MacCorb, who gave him the name of Luan (or Lochan accoiding to another account). When he was seven years old three clerics of Munster — Brendan, Lochan, and Fiodhach — who had been on a pilgrimage to Leinster, came to revisit their native territories, and stopping at the house of Amergin admired the child. Eventually they were allowed to take him away to be educated. On their return with him they arrived at a place called Sliabh Muinchill, where it was thought suitable that he should read his alphabet (or elements), be tonsured, and have his name changed. The cleric who cut his hair is said to have observed : 'Fair [finn] is this hair [barra] of Luan.' Let this be his name, said another, 'Barr-finn or Finn-barr.' His name, however, in popular usage, as well as in many authorities, has always been Barra or Bairre. On this occasion Brendan was observed to weep and then soon after to smile, and when asked the reason replied, 'I have prayed to Almighty God to grant me three territories in South Munster for my use and that of my successors, viz. from the Blackwater to the Lee, from the Lee to the Bandon, and from the Bandon to Bere Island, but they have been granted to Barra for ever. I wept because I fear I am blameworthy in God's sight, and I smiled again for joy because of the love which God manifested for Barra.' The three clerics, with Barra, proceeding on their journey, arrived at Belach Gabhran, now Gowran, in the county of Kilkenny. Here he read his psalms and began his studies, and his diligence was shown by his prayer that a heavy fall of snow might continue to block his hut until he could read his 'saltair.' It is said to have continued accordingly. He next went to Cuil Caisin (now Coolcashin), in the barony of Galmoy, county of Kilkenny, where he marked out and founded that church, and thence to Aghaboe, where he blessed a church and stayed for a while. He departed at the request of his predecessor, St. Canice, after some negotiation, and went to MacCorb, by whom he had been baptised. The latter had been a fellow-pupil of St. David, and both were reputed to have been pupils of Pope Gregory, which probably means that they studied his writings, which were held in high esteem by the Irish. About this time Fachtna, an aged chieftain of Muscraidhe Breogain, now the barony of Clanwilliam, in county of Tipperary, whose son and daughter Finn Barr had cured, and whose wife he was said to have brought to life, made a grant to him of Rath Mhartir in perpetuity. Here there is an important difference between the Irish and Latin lives, the latter giving Fiachna as the name of the chieftain, whom Ussher, appearing to have known only the Latin life, identifies with the king of West Munster. But the Irish life evidently gives the correct account. With MacCorb Finn Barr read the gospels of St. Matthew and the ecclesiastical rules, to which another authority adds the Epistles of St. Paul. It was while in this neighbourhood that he stayed at Lough Eirce, in a place called Eadargabhail (Addergoole), where, according to the Irish life, he had a school in which many famous saints are said to have been educated. There has been much discussion as to the situation of Lough Eirce, chiefly owing to an error of Colgan, who placed it in the neighbourhood of Cork. There is a townland of Addergoole in the parish of Aghmacart in the south of Queen's County, and adjoining it in co. Kilkenny is the parish of Eirke, in a low-lying district. Here the site of the school must be looked for. At Lough Eirce there was also a female school, presided over by a sister of Finn Barr's. Coming now to his own country, he founded a church at Achaidh Durbchon. 'Near this,' says the Irish life, 'is the grotto [cuas] of Barra, and there is a lake or tarn there, from which a salmon is brought to him every evening.' This appears to be the lake of Gougane Barra, at the source of the river Lee, which probably derives its name from the cuadhan, pronounced cuagán (the little cavity) of Barra. Warned, as we are informed, by an angel not to stay at the hermitage, as his resurrection was not to be there, he set out, and crossing the Avonmore (Blackwater) proceeded in a north-easterly direction until he arrived at Cluain, where he built a church. This place, which has been strangely confounded with Cloyne, near Cork, is stated by Colgan to have been situated between Sliabh g-Crot (the Galtees) and Sliabh-Mairge, and appears to be Cluainednech, now Clonenagh, a townland near Mountrath, in the Queen's County. Here, when he had stayed some time, he was visited by two pupils of St. Ruadan, whose church of Lothra was some thirty miles distant. These clerics, Cormac and Baithin, had asked Ruadan for a place to settle in. 'Go,' he said, 'and settle wherever the tongues of your bells strike.' They went on until they arrived at the church of Cluain, where their bells sounded. They were much disappointed at finding the place already occupied, not thinking they would be allowed to stay there, but Barra gave them the church and all the property in it, and leaving the place returned to co. Cork, and came to Corcach Mor, or 'The Great Marsh,' now the city of Cork. Here he and his companions were engaged in fasting and prayer, when Aodh, son of Conall, the king of the territory, going in search of one of his cows which had strayed from the herd, met with them and granted them the site of the present cathedral. Before settling there finally, Barra was admonished by an angel, we are told, to go to the place to the westward, 'where,' he said, 'you have many waters, and where there will be many wise men with you.'

A long time after this, Barra, with Eolang, David, and ten monks, is said to have gone to Rome to be consecrated a bishop, but the pope refused to consecrate him, saying the rite would be performed by Jesus Christ himself. The Latin lives, instead of Barra's journey to Rome, tell of a message brought by MacCorb from the pope informing him how he was to be consecrated. At this time, MacCorb having died, Barra desired to have Eolang of Aghabulloge as a soul-friend or confessor in his place. According to the 'Calendar' of Oengus, Eolang was originally at Aghaboe, and probably accompanied Barra, whose pupil he had been. Eolang declined, say ing, 'Christ will take your hand from mine and hear your confession.' It was reported that Barra afterwards wore a glove on one of his hands which Christ had touched, to hide its supernatural brightness. Seventeen years after the foundation of Cork, feeling that his death was near, he went to Clonenagh, and there died suddenly. His remains were brought to Cork and honourably interred, and in after times his bones were taken up and enshrined in a silver casket. His pastoral character is thus described : 'The man of God abode there [at Cork], building up not so much a house of earthly stones as a spiritual house of true stones, wrought by the word and toil through the Holy Spirit.' His generosity is often referred to. Cumin of Condeire, in his poem, says : 'He never saw any one in want whom he did not relieve;' and the 'Calendar' of Oengus at 25 Sept. notices 'the festival of the loving man, the feast of Barre of Cork,' and in his 'Life' he is the 'amiable champion' (athleta). In after times, when Fursa was at the city of Cork, 'he saw [in vision] a golden ladder near the tomb of the man of God, to conduct souls to the kingdom of Heaven, and he beheld the top of it reach to the sky.'

Barra's travels are scarcely referred to in his 'Life.' He is said to have gone to Britain with St. Maidoc. In Reeves's edition of Adamnan's 'St. Columba' reference is made to 'his repeated and perhaps protracted visits to St. Columba at Hy,' though no notice of them is found in his 'Life.' There is an extraordinary story in the Rawlinson manuscript of his having borrowed a horse from St. David in Wales and ridden over to Ireland, in memory of which a brazen horse was made and kept at Cork, but there is nothing of this in the other lives. He is the patron saint of Dornoch, the episcopal seat of Caithness, where his festival is performed riding on horseback, a usage which seems to have some connection with the legend just mentioned. The island of Barra also claims him as patron and derives its name from him. According to Gerald de Barré, or Giraldus Cambrensis, his family name was derived from this island, and thus ultimately from the saint. Mr. Skene thinks the name Dunbarre is connected with him, as Dunblane with St. Blane. The name undergoes many modifications. He is termed Finn Barr, Barr-fhinn, or Barr-fhind, which by the silence of fh becomes Barrind, and then Barrindus. He is also Barr-og, or Barrocus, Bairre, Barra, and Barre, the last being his name in popular usage. In the parallel lists of Irish and foreign saints in the 'Book of Leinster' he is said to have been 'like Augustine, bishop of the Saxons, in his manner of life.' He died on 25 Sept. most probably in 623.

[Beatha Barra MS. 23 a, 44, Royal Irish Academy; Codex Kilkenniensis, fol. 132 b, 134; Codex Bodl. Rawlinson B. 485, both published by Dr. Caulfield in his Life of St. Finn Barr ; Lanigan's Eccl. Hist. ii. 314-18; Calendar of Oengus at 25 Sept. ; Reeves's Adamnan, lxxiv.]

T. O.

FINNCHU, Saint (fl. 7th cent.), of Brigobann, now Brigown, in the county of Cork, was son of Finnlug, a descendant of Eochaidh Muidhmeadhon, and an inhabitant of Cremorne, county of Monaghan. Finnlug's first wife, Coemell, was of the Cianmachta of Glen Geimhin. After a married life of thirty years Coemell died, and Finnlug married Idnait, daughter of Flann, also of the Ciannachta. Soon after he was expelled from Ulster with his followers, and making his way to Munster the king, Aengus Mac Nadfraoich, granted him land in the province of Mog-Ruth (Fermoy). Here Idnait gave birth to the child Finnchu, who was baptised by Ailbe of Imlach Ibair (Emly), and 'a screpall, that is seven pennies of gold, paid as a baptismal fee.' The form of his name given in the 'Calendar' of Oengus is Chua, to which Finn (fair) being added makes Chua-finn, and by transposition Finnchua. The Irish life and the 'Martyrology of Donegal' make him son of Finnlug, son of Setna, but in other authorities he is son of Setna. He was placed with Cumusgach, king of Teffia (in Westmeath and Longford), with whom he remained seven years. At the end of that time Comgall [q. v.] of Bangor (county of Down) obtained leave to educate the child as an ecclesiastic at Bangor. Here he distinguished himself by his courage in bearding the king of Ulaidh, who had insisted on grazing his horses on the lands of the monastery. Nine years later Comgall died, and Finnchu succeeded him as abbot, though he does not appear in the regular lists. Seven years afterwards he was expelled from Bangor and the whole of Ulaidh, 'because of the scarcity of land.' He then returned to Munster, where the king of Cashel allowed him to choose a place of residence. Finnchu said : 'I must not settle in any place save where my bell will answer me without the help of man.' From Cashel he proceeded to the territory of Fermoy, and on the morrow his bell answered him at Fán Muilt (the wether's slope). As this was the queen's home farm, he would have been evicted had he not consented to pay rent. After this Finnchu 'marked out the place and arranged his enclosure, and covered his houses, and allotted lands to his households.' Hither came to him Conang, king of the Déisi, who prostrated himself to him, and Finnchu gave him, 'as a soul-friend's jewel, his own place in heaven.' Then, in order to obtain a place in heaven instead of that which he had given away, he suspended himself by the armpits from hooks in the roof of his cell, so that 'his head did not touch the roof, nor his feet the floor.' Thenceforth the place was called Bri gobann (Smith's Hill), now Mitchelstown, from the skill shown by the smiths who manufactured the hooks. During seven years he continued to practise this self-mortification until he was visited by St. Ronan Finn with an urgent request for help from the king of Meath, who was distressed by the inroads of British pirates. After much persuasion he saw St. Ronan, 'though sorely ashamed of his perforated body holed by chafers and beasts.' Accompanying St. Ronan to Tara, on the night of his arrival an inroad took place, and by Finnchu's advice, 'all, both laymen and clerics, turned right-handwise and marched against the intruders,' with the result that they slew them, burnt their ships, and made a mound of their garments.

At this time, dissensions having arisen between the two wives of Nuadu, king of Leinster, he sent off his favourite wife to Munster 'on the safeguard of Finnchua of Sliabh Cua.' Arrived near Brigown the saint desired she should not come any further until her child was born, for at that time 'neither wives nor women used to come to his church.'

On the birth of the child he was baptised by Finnchu, and named Fintan. In a war which ensued between the king of Leinster and the kinsmen of his neglected wife, Finnchu was successful in obtaining the victory for the king. Fintan was with him, and when the king begged that the boy might be left with him, Finnchu consenting gave him 'his choice between the life of a layman and that of a cleric.' Having chosen the latter the land was bestowed on him, from which he was afterwards known as St. Fintan of Cluainednech. The St. Fintan (d. 634) [q. v.] generally known by this title was the son of Tulchan, but it appears from his 'Life' that there were four of the name at Cluain-ednech. Returning to Munster, Finnchu was next called to repel an attack from the north, the queen of Ulaidh having instigated her husband to invade Munster to provide territory for her sons. The king of Munster was then living at Dun Ochair Maige (the fort on the brink of the Maige), now Bruree, in the county of Limerick, and when he and his consort beheld 'the splendid banners floating in the air, and the tents of royal speckled satin pitched on the hill,' they sent for Finnchn, who had promised, if occasion required, to come, 'with the Cenn Cathach [head battler], even his own crozier.' After vainly trying to make peace, he 'marched in the van of the army with the Cenn Cathach in his hand, and then passed right-handwise round the host.' For the complete victory which followed the king awarded 'a cow from every enclosure from Cnoc Brenain to Dairinis of Emly, and a milch cow to the cleric carrying