Saint of the Month


St. Munna Of Taghmon

21 October
Dr Edward Culleton wrote the following:

MUNNA'S 'LIVES'

Of the many accounts of saints' lives which have come down to us, few are more informative than that of Munna of Taghmon. No saints' life was written during their lifetime, most of those surviving date to the 11th and 12th centuries. But the earliest life of Munna is thought by scholars  to date to around 800. This dating is based mainly on linguistic evidence but also on some historical references in the 'life'. There are four versions of Munna's life, all written in Latin.

MUNNA'S GENEALOGY AND EDUCATION

Munna belonged to the Cinel Conaill of Northern Ui Neill lineage,   whose territory at this time covered most of Donegal and whose stronghold was Grianan Ailech. His father's name was Tulchan. According to the Felire of Oengus  he was a druid; in fact, Munna himself was accused of being a druid in his youth. Munna's mother, Fidelma, was also of Northern Ui Neill lineage.

The year of the saint's birth is not known for certain but it must have been around the middle of the sixth century. He was called Fionn, prefixed by Mo, a term of endearment meaning 'my'. The name Mo-Fhionn-Og was easily elided into Munno or Munna, the name by which he became known. This was sometimes latinised into Fintanus and later into Fintan, the name by which he is now called locally.

Columcille, who had obviously known him, gave a colorful description of the physical appearance of Munna  'After my death there will come to you from Eire a certain youth, holy in character, renowned in intellect, fair in person, curly of head, and rosy cheeked, whose name is Munna and whom I often saw on earth'. He was highly educated, having studied under Comgall of Bangor, also at the monastery and school at Kilmore, Co. Cavan, founded by Columcille; and at Cleenish, an island in Lough Erne, under Silell Mac Mianaig. This place was noted for its harsh regime, a fact that may have strongly influenced Munna when he came to set up his own monastery at Taghmon.

MUNNA'S MISSIONARY WORK

Following his education Munna journeyed to Iona in 597 wishing to become a monk there. But he was refused admission by the abbot on the orders of Columcille who had died in January 597, Columcille having foretold that Munna would found his own monastery in South Leinster.

Munna reputedly returned to Ireland, founding several churches in Scotland on the way home. His principal church there was at Kilmun, in Cowal, to which the Breviary of Aberdeen assigns his burial place, and where local tradition even marks the supposed site of his tomb by the name of Sith-Mon. There was also a church called after him on the island of Loch Leven, Argyle. This may be the island of Coirmrigi named in the "life".

In Ireland he travelled to Ely O'Carroll territory before coming into Leinster where he is associated with the monastery of Tihelly, Durrow, Co. Offaly and eventually into Ui Chennsalaigh.  It appears that he made his way into south Wexford, which at one time ruled most of south Leinster. The monastery of Bangor had been granted extensive lands in Leinster by a disciple of St.Comgall. After twelve years in this place, named Ard Crema, Munna was asked to leave, which he did, but not before calling down a curse on the spot.

In the Calendar of Oengus, Munna is referred to as:

A splendid flame with the father's fervor
Fintan, true gold proven
Tulchan's son, strenuous, abstinent
A battle soldier, trustful, crucified.
'Crucified' refers to Munna's affliction with leprosy.

MUNNA FOUNDS MONASTERY AT TAGHMON

Next Munna came to a place called Acadh Liathdrom, meaning 'the gray field or ridge' where the chief gave him land on which to build his monastery. This Munna did, possibly towards the end of 597, i.e. after the death of Columcille, and the place became known as Teach Munna, which was later shortened to Taghmon. The site was marked out by four crosses made of timber; the broken stone cross now on the site of the monastery is of a later date.

Munna must have labored for over thirty years in Taghmon. He was twenty four years there when he contracted leprosy. This disease was relatively common in Ireland in the medieval period - there was a leper hospital in Maudlintown.

MUNNA THE MAN

Munna has been generally regarded as a harsh and strict taskmaster and this seems to be borne out in some of the stories in the life. The rules in some of the early Irish monasteries were particularly severe and Sinell's school on Cleenish, in Lough Erne, where Munna spent many years, had such a reputation. Thus, Munna not unused to these, became a strict disciplinarian as the following stories show:

After a sojourn in Scotland he did not visit his own people. He threatened to leave Ireland if his relations came near him again.
He was less than pleasant to the virgins who asked for his blessing. He put a curse on Ard Crema when the monks asked him to leave the place. An angel warned him that he treated his monks too harshly. While not taking this episode literally, it does show how he was regarded.

Munna's obduracy was shown on one of the few occasions that the Irish Church disagreed with Rome. The controversy surrounded the dating of Easter, a question still debated. In 525 Rome adopted a new system based on a more accurate lunar cycle of nineteen years in comparison to an older system brought to Ireland by St Patrick. In the famous convention held at Old Leighlin in 630 to discuss the matter Munna vigorously led the opposition to the new system. Although his side was defeated in the debate, the old dating system persisted in parts of Ireland for many years afterwords.

Some see Munna in a different light 'a man of somewhat harsh and hasty temper, but placable and conciliatory when the momentary irritation was over'. And in the Martyrology of Donegal, Munna is credited with the patience of Job for the way in which he endured his leprosy.

In An Irish Litany of Pilgrim Saints compiled around 800 (Hughes, 1959, 305-331) the following reference to Munna is found: 'Thrice fifty martyrs under the yoke of Munna, son of Tulchan, on whom no man may be found buried until doom'. 'Thrice fifty martyrs' is the standard number of monks attributed to the saints and has no basis in fact. The word martyr in this case refers to what the Irish called 'white martyrdom' indicating a harsh ascetic life, rather than 'red martyrdom' which meant death by violent means.

MUNNA REMEMBERED

Munna, undoubtedly was a man of importance in his own lifetime. His monastery at Taghmon, which boasted around 230 monks, became famous and lasted until l061.



St Munna's well, recently restored, is located in a secluded, picturesque area more commonly known as Brown's Castle, in Mulmontry, Taghmon. A smooth piece of shale bedrock nearby is called St Munna's bed.



There was also a monastery at Taughmon, Co. Westmeath, founded by Munna.

MUNNA'S MIRACLES AND EXTRAORDINARY POWERS

In contrast to the 'lives' of other saints, Munna's contains a minimum of fabulous episodes. This may indicate that the earliest lives of the saints, none of which survived long after their deaths, were less prone to embellishment. But, in keeping with the custom of the time, it was essential to attach extraordinary, superhuman powers to every saint to show that he was no common mortal, but that he had a close affinity with God and access to His almighty power. This was done by having the saint perform Christ-like miracles such as raising the dead to life. Munna is credited with two such miracles; on one occasion he raised his sister Conchinne from the grave, another time he brought a dead man back to life..

He also had prophetic powers predicting the death of Guaire for disobeying him , he foretold the contrasting futures of Dimma's two sons - one to be a murderer, the other to be a bishop and the imminent death of one of his monks.

He was believed to know the thoughts of his monks, a good strategy, no doubt, for keeping them in check. Munna also had magic powers. Once he saved Dimma's life by making him invisible to his enemies by wearing his, Munna's, tunic.

HISTORICAL VALUE OF MUNNA'S 'LIFE'

Unlike many saints' lives which simply recount miracles, extraordinary powers and fabulous exploits, the life of Munna provides real historical information. Thus, the names of most of the people mentioned can be verified from other sources and the places named give a genuine topographical background for the events described. The genealogy of his father, Tulchan is recorded in the literature. While the place where he was under Comgall's rule is not listed, the other two places where he studied are well documented. Kilmore, Co. Roscommon, was founded as a monastery and school by St Columcille and Cleenish on Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh was founded by Sinell Mac Mianaig.

Though not of strictly historical value several anecdotes in Munna's 'life' throw a little light on the mores of the time. For example, to be shaved in front of someone was considered insolent; beheading was the favorite way of killing an enemy. On one occasion Columcille seems to be acting like the charismatics, chanting 'of those things, which the Holy Spirit dictated'.

The monasteries were obviously schools for the sons of nobles. The monasteries were also open to people from abroad as shown by the description of the monk who came to Taghmon from Britain and who 'was learned in the craft of wood and who used to make wagons and other appliances for the brethren'.

MUNNA'S DEATH AND BURIAL

Munna's death is recorded in the 'life' as follows: 'And one day the saint, knowing that the day of his reward was come, directed his people should be summoned to him and blessing them he committed to them all the divine commands. Afterwords, having received the Body and Blood of Christ in the presence of his disciples, on the 2lst day of October, he happily sent forth his spirit among the choirs of angels into the presence of Jesus Christ, who with God the father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen'.

According to the Annals of the Four Masters, Munna died on 21 October 634 and his feast is celebrated on that date. The Annals of Ulster also give the year of his death as 634. It seems certain that the saint would have been buried in his own monastery at Taghmon.