St. Enda   

In the 6th century, the wild rocks that would be called Aran, off the coast of Galway, was a large isle of saints, called Innish. The Aran Isles would be all that would be left of this mystical Isle after time and the seas which would be summoned to hide the place of magic.

 

Among the greatest of Gods men was Saint Enda, the patriarch of Irish monasticism. He was an Irish prince, son of Conall Derg of Oriel (Ergall) in Ulster. Legend has it that the soldier Enda was converted by his sister, Saint Fanchea, abbess of Kill-Aine. He renounced his dreams of conquest and decided to marry one of the girls in his sister's convent. When his fiancé died suddenly, he surrendered his throne and a life of worldly glory to morn his loss. Such was his pain that he began to lose any interest in life. It is said that on the day that he would leave this mortal plane due to the grief of loss, a strange man came to him in a vision and told him of an isle where he would find peace. Innish. He made a pilgrimage to Rome and was ordained there. These stories told of the early life of Saint Enda and his sister are unhistorical, but the rest is not. More authentic vitae survive at Tighlaghearny at Inishmore, where he was buried.

 

It is said that Enda learned the principles of monastic life at Rosnat in Britain, which was probably Saint David's foundation in Pembrokeshire or Saint Ninian's in Galloway. Returning to Ireland, Enda built churches at Drogheda, and a monastery in the Boyne valley. It is uncertain how much of Enda's rule was an adaptation of that of Rosnat.

 

Thereafter (about 484) he begged his brother-in-law, the King Oengus (Aengus) of Munster, to let him go to the wild and barren isle of Innish in Galway Bay. Oengus wanted to give him a fertile plot in the Golden Vale, but Innish more suited Enda's ideal for religious life. On Innish he established the monastery of Enda, which is regarded as the first Irish monastery in the strict sense. There they lived a hard life of manual labor, prayer, fasting, and study of the Scriptures. It is said that no fire was ever allowed to warm the cold stone cells even if "cold could be felt by those hearts so glowing with love of God."

 

Enda divided the island into 8 parts, in each of which he built a "place of refuge", and under his severe rule the abbey of St. Enda became a burning light of sanctity for centuries in Western Europe. Sheep now huddle and shiver in the storm under many of the ruins of old walls where once men lived and prayed. Most survive as coastal ruined towers.  These structures were the chosen home of a group of poor and devoted men under Saint Enda. He taught them to love the hard rock, the dripping cave, and the barren earth swept by the western gales. They were "men of the caves", and "also men of the Cross", who, remembering that their Lord was born in a manger and had nowhere to lay His head, followed the same hard way.

 

Their coming produced excitement, and the Galway fishermen were kept busy rowing their small boats filled with curious sightseers across the intervening sea, for the fame of Enda was spreading far and wide. Enda's disciples were a noble band. There was Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, who came there first as a youth to grind corn, and would have remained there for life but for Enda's insistence that his true work lay elsewhere, reluctant though he was to part with him. When he departed, the monks of Enda lined the shore as he knelt for the last time to receive Enda's blessing, and watched with wistful eyes the boat that bore him from them. In his going, they declared, their island had lost its flower and strength.

 

Brendan the Voyager was tutored by St. Enda. It was from the Inishmore monastery that Brendan set out on his voyages. St Jarlath of Tuum, St. Finnian of Clonard and St. Columba called the monastery “Son of the West.”

 

St. Edna died in his little rock cell around the year 530, a very old man.

An annual feast honoring St. Enda is held on March 12th.

   

Grounds of the monastery of Enda, the first Irish monastery