St. Flannan: Patron saint of Dál gCais

     St. Patrick never entered into the county of Clare when he circled the Emerald Isle teaching about Christianity. He did baptize the people that would become the Dál gCais of northern Thomond, at the present site of Terryglass. These people crossed Lough Derg in their coracles to be with the holy man.  Over the next several hundred years, the lands of the future Dál gCais became dotted with a network of monasteries, churches, schools, etc. of the Christian faith. The Dalcassians became a most faithful people of the Church.
     During the monastic years in Ireland, there ruled one Turlough (Toirdealbhaigh i.e., Uí Toirdealbhaigh Clan), King of Thomond, who began his reign in 625 A.D. He retired to become a monk in his old age, receiving a monk’s habit from St. Colman at Lismore. Turlough’s descendants were those who made up the Dál gCais tribe. One of this king’s sons was Flannan.

St. Flannan, patron saint of Dál gCais

     There are many versions of the life of Flannan, so his story must be taken as tradition, not fact.
     In his youth Flannan was placed in the care of a Biblical scholar named St. Blathmet, who was highly esteemed as a great teacher. Children of the Irish nobility were sent to him to study. Flannan entered a monastery at Killaloe called Molua, where he labored diligently.
     Killaloe is spelled in Gaelic as Cill-da-Lua, “the Church of St. Lua.” St. Lua was an abbot who lived near the end of the sixth century. His oratory can still be seen on Friar’s Island, near Killaloe.
     Tradition states that while he was working in the bakery for 36 hours, a heavenly light emanated from his left hand, lighting up the darkness enabling him to continue. The Abbot of Molua was told about this marvelous event. He appointed Flannan to take his place as the abbot of Molua Monastery.
     Abbot Flannan’s tenure at Killaloe is remembered as a time when  “...the fields waved with the richest crops, the sea poured almost on the shore an abundance of large whales and every kind of smaller fish, and the apple trees drooped under the weight of the fruit, woods abounded in acorns and hazel-nuts, the most restless nations were at peace, and the poor of every description experienced open-handed hospitality.”   
     So loved was the abbot that the people of Thomond sought to have him consecrated as their first bishop. For confirmation of his nomination, Flannan traveled to Rome about 640 A.D., where he was consecrated by Pope John IV. On his home journey, Bishop Flannan traveled through Burgundy and Tuscany. On his arrival at Killaloe, the local people of Thomond, along with nobles and prelates of the Church came to listen to him preach. He had a great reputation for preaching and traveled widely throughout the land. He created church’s at Inishlannaun in Lough Corrib and at Inishbofin. It is not known if the Flannan Islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland are connected to him, or to a Scottish Flannan who was also a saint.
     Over many years Bishop Flannan is credited with performing many miracles. One day he experienced a premonition concerning his death. He gathered around him special people and told them the importance of observing justice, especially human justice, encouraged them to live in peace with one another on the Emerald Isle. Bishop Flannan blessed his kindred and died.
     Proud were the kindred of St. Flannan, for he was the first of the tribe to obtain greatness in being the first bishop of Thomond, and then canonized as a Saint.
     The stories of this holy man spread throughout the land after his death and people went on a pilgrimage to his tomb (said to be buried in the roof area of his oratory).
     St. Flannan’s feast day is 18 December. Flannan is the patron of Killaloe Parish, and the oratory and cathedral of Killaloe is named in his honor.

Killaloe cathedral of St. Flannan
St. Flannan's Oratory

The Diocese of Killaloe

     Today the Diocese of Killaloe basically comprises of County Clare. But anciently it began much smaller, then was enlarged at the beginning of the 12th century to include the Dioceses of Roscrea and Inniscathy, giving it the proportions of the ancient kingdom of Thomond.
     On a little green island in Lough Derg, is Iniscaltra, a celebrated nursery of sanctity and learning in Thomond. This school was directed by St. Caimin, and foreign students came for learning at his feet.
     Besides Iniscaltra as a seat of learning, were other places of great learning.  Birr was founded by St. Brendan in 550 A.D. Here the Gospels of McRegol were written in 820 by McRegol, Abbot of Birr. These gospels are today in the Bodleian Library. Another school was Terryglass, said to have been founded by St. Columcille in 552 A.D., a site said to have been where St. Patrick baptized the northern people of Thomond. The monastery of Lorrha, founded by St. Ruadhan in 550.
     A great builder of churches was Donal Mór Ó Briain, King of Munster from 1168-1194. He erected a cathedral worthy of the Killaloe Diocese, built in the Romanesque style. But this new cathedral was destroyed by Cathal Carrach of Connacht in 1185. In the next century it was replaced and stands today at Killaloe, but it is not nearly the rich architecture of the original, but very simple.  In 1240 A.D., Donogh Cairbreach Ó Briain built a monastery for the Conventual Franciscan friars at Ennis. It was considered one of the finest sites of the Order in all Ireland. It is believed that it was this monastery that made Ennis the capitol of Clare. Today it is in ruins. The Abbey of Quin is still a perfect state of preservation. It was built in the fourteeth century probably by the Macnamara's, over an old castle ruins, and embellishment in 1402 A.D. by Sheda McNamara. By 1641, the abbey built a college that taught 800 students.

Quin Abbey
     Yet the finest site is the one at Killaloe that housed the bishop of the Diocese. Killaloe was the site of St. Lua’s oratory, the oratory of St. Flannan, and the Cathedral of St. Flannan that was built by Donald Ó Briain, King of Limerick, in 1160 A.D. During the reign of English Queen Elizabeth I, the cathedral fell into Protestant hands. From this time in the mid 16th century until the Catholic Emancipation in the early 19th century, the Catholic sites fell into ruins. The bishops, abbots, and priests having to assemble their congregations for mass on some rock on a mountain-side, or some lowly “Mass house.”
     The early records of the Diocese of Killaloe are in a poor state. Only five bishops are on record from St. Flannan to 1150 A.D. Cormacan Ó Mulcaishel, who died in 1019 A.D., is the first known bishop since St. Flannan. Another is Ó Lonergain in 1150 A.D. A fifth generation descendant of Brian Boru, was Bishop Constantine Ó Briain in 1179 A.D.. He attended the Council of Lateran in 1215 A.D.
     Cornelius Ryan, a Franciscan friar, was made Bishop of Killaloe in 1576. He was considered by the English as a most formidable champion for the Catholic cause. He died in exile in 1617 A.D. in Lisbon. Other capable bishops followed over the next couple hundred years. The diocesan chapter was re-established by papal decree on 11 February 1903.


  1., 2001. 
  2. Annals of Four Masters. Dublin: 1846. 
  3. Lanigan. Ecclesiastical History of Ireland. Dublin: 1829.
  4. Dwyer. Diocese of Killaloe. Dublin: 1878.
  5. Frost. History of Clare. Dublin: 1893.
  6. Malone. Life of St. Flannan. Dublin: 1902.
  7. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Co.: Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D.

St. Lua/Lughaidh

     Tipperary. Two saints are honoured locally, St. Flannan and St. Lua. Killaloe is also unique in having two oratories which were built three centuries apart. These are the Churches of St. Flannan and St. Lua. Both towns are full of other historical  monuments and sites, including various churches & forts all dating from different ages.
     Lua/Lughaidh is believed to be the priest who brought Christianity to Thomond in the sixth century.
His churches were so popular centers of worship and friendliness, that people came to refer to the saint as “my Lua”. The Irish word for “my” is “mo”, and so the saint became more widely known as Molua.

St. Lua's Oratory