Saturday 11 February 2012

The Hymn in Praise of Saint Brigid of Brogan-Cloen

Below is a reprint of an article from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record of 1868 in which the text of Saint Brogan's hymn in honour of Saint Brigid was published in both the original Irish and a Latin translation. I have not reproduced those texts here but have instead used a contemporaneous English translation by Whitley Stokes. The text is difficult and obscure at some points, it largely follows the Life by Cogitosus in recounting the miracles of Saint Brigid. In one of the surviving manuscripts the hymn text is accompanied by a lengthy commentary which sometimes elucidates the incidents mentioned and sometimes only makes them even more obscure. The Record's article overall, however, provides a useful introduction to the text, even if modern scholars would be less confident about its dating.


THE hymn of St. Brogan-Cloen in praise of St. Brigid, which we now publish, is one of the most valuable records of the life of our great patroness which have been handed down by our early Church. It is preserved in a very ancient MS. of Trinity College, which is certainly not later than the ninth century, and in the famous Liber Hymnorum of St. Isidore's, Rome, which is probably of the same age.

The author of this hymn was St. Brogan-Cloen, whose name, as Colgan tells us was honoured on the 17th of September, in the church of Rostuirck, in Ossory. The Martyrology of Donegal also mentions a St. Brocan as honoured on that day. The name Kilbrogan recalls his memory in the neighbourhood of Bandon, and he is venerated as patron of the parish of Clonee in the diocese of Waterford, where a few years ago a new church was dedicated under his invocation in the presence of the Cardinal Archbishop of this city. In the Roman MS. the following title is prefixed to the hymn in the original hand:

"The place where this hymn was composed was Sliabh Bladhma, or Cluain mor Moedhog. The author of it was Brogan Cloen. The time was when Lughaidh, son of Loeghaire, was king of Ireland, and Ailill, son of Dunlang, king of Leinster. The cause of writing it, viz., Ultan of Ardbraccan, the tutor of Brogan, requested him to narrate the miracles of Brigid in appropriate poetical language, for Ultan had collected all the miracles of Brigid for him".

From this important record we learn the following particulars:

1. That St. Brogan lived for some time in the monastery of Sliabh-Bladhma, founded by St. Molua, and in that of Cluainmor Moedhog, now Clonmore, in Bantry barony, county Waterford, founded by St. Aedan, patron of Ferns, about the year 620.

2. The period to which the poem refers embraced the reigns of Lughaidh, king of Ireland, and of Ailildus, king of Leinster. The Annals of the Four Masters mark the death of Lughaidh, son of Loeghaire, in 503, after a reign of twenty -five years. From Colgan we learn that Ailildus, according to the ancient catalogues of the kings of Leinster, died in 523, after a reign of twenty years. Thus, the subject of the poem would embrace the period from 478 to 523, during which St. Brigid adorned our island by her virtues and miracles. The learned Colgan having inadvertently referred this passage to the "time when the poem was composed", fell into a serious anachronism regarding the time of its composition.

3. As to the occasion of the poem, St. Brogan is expressly said to have composed it at the request of his master, St Ultan of Ardbraccan: "Ultan of Ardbraccan, the tutor of Brogan, requested him to narrate the miracles of Brigid in appropriate, poetical language, for Ultan had collected all the miracles of Brigid for him". In the Martyrology of Donegal, the same statement is made under the 4th of September, the feast of St. Ultan, as follows:

" Ultan, Bishop of Ardbrecain. He was of the race of Irial, son of Conall Cearnach. One of the habits of Ultan was to feed with his own hands every child who had no support in Erin, so that he often had fifty and thrice fifty with him together, though it was difficult for him to feed them. One hundred and eighty-nine was his age when he went to Heaven, A.D. 656.

'Ultan loves his children;
A prison for his lean side,
And a bath in cold water
In the sharp wind he loved'.

" It was he that collected the miracles of Brigid into one book, and gave them to Brogan-Cloen, his disciple, and commanded him to turn them into verse, so that it was the latter who composed 'The Victorious Brigid loved not', as it is found in the Book of Hymns" (Martyr, of Donegal, Public. I. A. S. pag. 237. seq.).

Again, when commemorating our holy patroness on the 1st of February, it is said :

" It was Ultan that collected the virtues and miracles of Brigid together, and who commanded his disciple Brogan to put them into poetry, as is evident in the Book of Hymns, i.e., " The Victorious Brigid did not love' ", etc. (ibid., pag. 35).

4. The connection of the author of our poem with St. Ultan, sufficiently indicates the time when it was composed. The death of St Ultan, as we have just seen, is marked in the Martyrology of Donegal in 656. The Annals of the Four Masters in the same year record his death on the 4th of September, in the 'one hundred and eightieth year of his age' (O'Donov., i. 269). The Annals of Ulster register it in the same year, though in 662 they again mention it with the additional remark secundum alium librum. Tigernach records his demise in 657, varying as he generally does by one year from the other annalists. This date corresponds perfectly with the historic data which are given in the Scholia on the Metrical Calendar of Aengus the Culdee ; from which we learn that St Ultan specially devoted himself to the care of the orphans, who were deprived of their parents by the yellow plague, which laid waste our island about the middle of the seventh century (see Introduction to Obits, etc., of Christ Church, by Dr. Todd. I. A. S., pag. lxxv.). Cathal Maguire, in his Annotations on Aenghus, at the 4th September, says that Diarmait Mac Cearbhaill was king of Ireland in the time of Ultan of Ardbraccan; and we know from our annalists that Diarmait reigned from 644 to 665. In the Sanctilogium Genealogicum of Michael O'Clery, at chap. 23, is given the genealogy of St. Ultan, who is ninth in descent from Caolbadh, king of Ulster, who died in 357. Allowing then thirty years to each descent, the age of St. Ultan is brought down to 627. As, however, all our ancient writers agree in assigning an extreme old age to our saint, the date 656 may, without hesitation, be marked for his demise.

Since, therefore, St. Brogan composed this poem at the request of his great master, St. Ultan, we may safely assign its date about the year 650. The reference to the monasteries in which it was composed, agrees perfectly with this date. Sliabh-bladhma and Clonmore were both founded about the year 620. The poem itself furnishes some intrinsic data which lead to the same conclusion: thus, in verse 10, a fact from the life of St. Coemghen of Glendaloch is historically introduced, and this saint's repose is chronicled in our annals in 617. We may, therefore, confidently assign the interval between 620 and 650, as the period when St. Brogan composed this poem.

5. We should here add some notes to illustrate the many peculiar forms of expression which are used in the poem itself. Our limited space, however, obliges us to confine our remarks to the phrase which occurs in the second verse, in which St. Brigid is styled “The Mother of the heavenly King". At first sight this seems to be a startling expression, and yet it is only a simple metaphor taken from the words of our Divine Saviour, in which He teaches that whosoever performs the will of His heavenly Father, "the same is His Brother and Sister and Mother'. There was a special reason why our Irish writers used this phrase in regard to our great patroness. They love to style her “the Mary of Erin" : they liken her virtues, miraculous power, and patronage to those of the Holy Virgin; and they add that, as Mary is the leader of all the virgin choirs, so Brigid is the leader of the virgins of Erin. St Ultan, in the beautiful poem, " Christus in nostra insula" (Lib. Hymn , I. A. S., pag. 58), says of St. Brigid, that " she pledged herself to become the Mother of Christ, and proved herself to be so by her words and deeds".

The same great saint, in his Life of St. Brigid, mentions how, during an assembly of the clergy of Kildare, a holy man announced to them that he had seen the Blessed Virgin Mary in vision, and when on the next day St. Brigid came to the assembly, he immediately cried out, " This is holy Mary, whom I saw in my vision" : then adds the writer, " all gave glory unto her as being in the type of Mary" (Colgan, Vit. Tert., cap. 14, pag. 528). The Martyrology of Donegal, on the 1st of February, writes:

" A very ancient old book of vellum, in which is found the Martyrology of Maelruain of Tamhlacht, and the saints of the same name, and the names of many of the mothers of the saints, states that Brigid was following the manners and the life which the holy Mary, Mother of Jesus, led. It was this Brigid, too, that did not take her mind or her attention from the Lord for the space of one hour at any time, but was constantly mentioning Him, and ever constantly thinking of Him" (Public. I. A. S., pag. 35).

Other passages from our ancient writers, illustrating this title, may be seen in the Book of Hymns (I. A. S., pag. 65). Hence, St. Brigid being " the Mary of Erin", our poets did not hesitate to apply to her in a figurative sense those titles which strictly speaking could only designate the special and characteristic prerogatives of the holy Mother of God.

6. There is another short Irish poem which presents in a most striking way many of these titles. It is preserved in the Liber Hymnorum of Trinity College and in that of St. Isidore's. Colgan, who gave a Latin translation of it (Trias, pag. 606), attributes it to St. Columbkille, and the preface in the Liber Hymnorum also mentions this saint as one of those to whom it was generally referred. Others, however, attribute it to St. Ultan, the great master of St. Brogan-Cloen, and under his name it was printed with an English translation by the learned Mr. Stokes in his Goidilica, pag. 81. It is as follows:

Brigid, noble woman!
A flame, golden, beautiful,
A sun dazzling splendid,
May she bear us to the eternal kingdom.
May Brigid save us,
Despite the throngs of demons
May she overthrow before us
The battle-hosts of every disetie.
May she destroy within us
Our flesh's taxes (i.e. our sins),
blossoming branch!
Mother of Jesus!
The pure Virgin, dear to us,
Great her dignity,
May we be always safe
With my saint of the Lagenians.
She is a pillar of the Kingdom
With Patrick the preeminent, *
The garment of garments,
The Queen of Queens.
When in our old age
Our bodies are laid in sackcloth,
May Brigid shower her blessings on us,
May Brigid save us.

*The gloss adds that " Patrick is the head of the men, Brigid of the women of Ireland".

7. As regards the hymn of St Brogan-Cloen, it was first published by Colgan (Trias, pag. 515), with a Latin translation. Mr. Stokes, too, has of late published it from the Trinity College text (Goidilica, Calcutta, 1866, pag. 82, seqq.), accompanying it with an English translation which, however, he admits to be very far from classical. We now present the Irish text of St. Isidore's MS., and we add a Latin translation, based on that of Colgan, but in which many corrections have been made in accordance with the more literal version of Mr. Stokes. We cannot conclude without thanking Mr. O'Looney for his kind and valuable assistance in editing this important record of our early Church.

[Please consult the original volume for the Irish and Latin texts].


Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

The translation below is that of Whitley Stokes in his book 'Goidelica', referred to above.



Locus hujus hymni, — Slieve Bloom or Cluain Mor Maedoc. The author, Broccan the squinting. Tempus of Lugaid, son of Loegaire, king of Ireland and of Ailill son of Dunking, king of Leinster. Causa, Ultan of Ardbrecain his tutor asked him to relate Brigit's miracles in short discourse with poetic consonance, for it is this Ultan that collected all Brigit's miracles.

Victorious Brigit loved not (the) world ; she sat (the) seat of a bird on a cliff :
The holy-one slept a captive's sleep because of her Son's absence.
Not much of carping used to be found with (the) noble faith of (the) Trinity,
Brigit mother of my Lord,— of heaven's kingdom best was she born.
5 She was not a carper, she was not malevolent, she loved not vehement woman's-war :
She was not a serpent wounding, speckled : she sold not God's Son for gain.
She was not greedy for treasures, she gave without gall, without abatement :
She was not hard (or) penurious : she loved not the world's pastime.
She was not harsh to sojourners, gentle was she to wretched lepers.
10 On a plain she built a town: to (God's) kingdom she convoyed hosts.
She was not a herdswoman on a mountain-side : she wrought amid a plain,
A marvellous ladder for pagans to visit (the) kingdom of Mary's Son.
Marvellous (was) St. Brigit's congregation : marvellous the flame that went (from it) :
It was only about Christ sang (the) assembly that was frequent with multitudes.
15 In a good hour MacCaille set the veil on Saint Brigit's head :
Clear was she in her goings : in heaven was heard her prayer.
" God, I pray Him in every struggle, in every way that my mouth may speak,
Deeper than seas, greater than can be told, Three-Persons, One-Person, marvel of a story!"
She prophesied to the sage, famous Coemgen, that wind would hurl him through a storm of snow :
20 In Glendalough a cross was suffered so that he possessed peace after trouble.
Saint Brigit was not sleepy, she was not changeful about God's love:
The holy-one neither bought nor gained profit of this world.
What the King wrought of miracles for St. Brigte
Hath not been wrought for man where car of anyone living hath heard.
25 The first calling to which she was sent in spring in a chariot,
She took not from her guests' food, she diminished not their substance.
Her (caldron's) charge of bacon after this — one evening — high was the marvel !
Although the dog was satisfied thereout, the guest was not
On her day of reaping well reaped she — fault was not found there with my pious one :
30 There was fine weather always in her field — though on the world fell a storm.
Bishops who visited her, not trifling was the danger to her
If it had not been that the King increased the cows' milk three-fold.
She herded on a day of storm sheep amid a plain :
She spread afterwards her hood in (the) house on a sunbeam.
35 The hard youth besought her, Brigit, for love of her King :
She gave seven wethers from her, her flock's number she lessened not.
It is according to my lore if I should relate what she did of good :
Marvellous for her the bath which she blessed : about her it was red ale.
She blessed the pregnant nun, she was whole without poison, without illness :
40 There was a greater marvel another (time) — of the stone she made salt (for the poor).
I have not told, I tell not, what the holy creature wrought.
She blessed the table-faced man, so that his two eyes were clear.
A dumb girl was brought to Brigit — it was one of her miracles —
Her hand went not from her hand until her speech was clear.
45 A marvel of (the) bacon she blessed — it was God's power that secured it :
It was a full mouth with the dog: the dog marred it not.
There was a greater marvel at another time ! a bit she asked from the (caldron's) charge
Spoiled not her scapular's colour, (though) it was flung hot into her bosom.
The leper begged a boon of her : it was good for him that she granted it :
50 The choice of the calves she blessed : (the) choice of the cows it loved.
She afterwards sent her chariot north ward to the hill of Cobthach Coil,
The calf with (the) leper in (the) chariot, the cow behind the calf.
The oxen that had gone away from her — well for them had anyone turned them —
Against them rose the river, at morning they came home.
55 Her horse separated head from bridle when they were running down hill:
The yoke was not uneven — God's Son helped the royal hand.
A wild boar frequented her herd — northwards the beast drove it:
Brigit sained (him) with her staff, with her swine he took his stay.
A hog, a fat pig which was given her, over Magh Fea — it was a marvel ! —
60 Wolves hunted it for her until it was in Uachtar-gabra.
She gave the wild fox for grace of her vassal the wretched :
To a wood it went although the hosts pursued.
She was clear in her goings : she was one mother of (the) great King's Son.
She sained the swift bird so that it played in her hand.
65 Nine outlaws she sained, who reddened their weapons in a pool of gore:
The man on whom they inflicted wounds, his body was not found.
What she wrought of miracles there is not (one) who has rightly counted :
A marvel, she took Lugaid's dinner, (the) champion, his strength did not lessen.
An oak which the host lifted not at the other time — excellent, famous !
70 Her son brought to her for Brigte to (the) place in which her house was founded.
The pin of silver — not to be concealed— for evil against the Nia's woman
Was flung into (the) sea a cast's full length so that it was in a salmon's belly.
A marvel for her, the (poor) widow, who dwelt (?) in Magh Coil,
Burnt the new weaver's beam on (the) fire cooking the calf.
75 Greater was (the) marvel than the other ! the saint wrought (?) it :
In (the) morning whole was the beam, at (its) mother the calf suckled.
The treasure of silver which the artisan broke not, it was a marvel for her !
Brigit struck it against her palm so that afterwards it brake into three.
It was put into a scale by the artizan, a marvel was found after this,
80 It was not found that even one scruple (one third) was greater than another third.
What she wrought of miracles, there is not a human being who may recount them :
She blessed raiment for Condla when he was taken to Latium.
When there was danger to her, her Son before her did not fail her :
He brought (like) raiment in a coffer of sealskin in a chariot of two wheels.
85 The vat of mead that was brought to her, there was no hardship to every one who brought :
(The vessel) was found beside (his) house : it was not observed there with her.
She gave (mead) for her vassal's benefit when he needed it :
There was not found increase there, nor was a drop wanting from it.
On us let Brigit's prayers be, long against dangers may she aid us !
90 May they be on her weaklings' side before going into (the) Holy Spirit's presence !
May she come to us with a sword of fire at the fight against dark flights (of demons) !
May her holy prayers convoy us into heaven's kingdom beyond pains !
Before going with angels to the battle, let us visit the church running :
Commemoration of God is better than any poem — victorious Brigit loved not (the) world.
95 I beseech (the) patronage of Saint Brigit, with (the) Saints of Kildare :
May they be between me and pain, (that) my soul come not to ruin.
The Nun that used to run over (the) Curragh, may she be a shield against sharp weapons :
She found not her like save Mary : we put trust in my Brige !
We put trust in my Brige — may she be a protection to our host !
100 May her patronage work with me ! may we all deserve escape !
Christ's praise, a glorious utterance, adoration of God's Son, a gift of victory,
Of God's kingdom without denial be every one who has sung it, who has heard it.
Whoever hath heard, whoever hath sung, let Brigit's blessing be on him :
Brigit's blessing and God's be upon us together.
105 There are two nuns in heaven, whom I rely on (?) for my protection,
Mary and Saint Brigit: under (the) protection of them both be we!

Sancta Brigitta etc.

[In the MS. Trinity College, Dublin, is added the Latin strophe:

Sancta Brigitta virgo Sacratissima
In Christo Domino fuit fidelissima. Amen 

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