THE TERMON OF DURROW.
BY THE REV. STERLING DE COURCY WILLIAMS, M.A.
(Continued from page 51.)
[Read MARCH 29, 1898.]
"Annals of the Four Masters" when recording the death of Breanain, Lord of Teffia, tell us that it was he that some time before granted Durrow to God and St. Columbkille ; and it is interesting further to observe that there is a document still extant, which tells us exactly how the Termon of Durrow was enclosed. Bishop Reeves in his "Antiquity of Irish Churches" (p. 46) tells us how amongst the poems ascribed to St. Columba is one which refers to certain mounds and boundary fences erected in the Termon of Durrow by three Pictish abbots: Tiugulb, Erolbb, and Torulb. This MS. is preserved in the Bodleian Library; and Miss Margaret Stokes, some time ago, kindly wrote to me, telling me that through the kindness of the librarian, Mr. Nicholson, she had got a photograph of the MS.; and also obtained a translation of it from her brother, Mr. Whitley Stokes, which she was good enough to send to me, which reads as follows :
Columcille sang -
" I. Tiugulb of the abbot's house, Erolbh and Torulb to whom one comes, three brothers without dispute whose honour or hospitality is best I know."
" II. Three descendants of the conquering Picts; gladness they had at every time ; fortune filled them to the ground in the abbot's house at Durrow."
" III. Holy Colum gave decrees to Laisren no deceitful cause to make dykes (mounds) in Durrow so that there might not be a breach therein."
"IV. They build the bold "mounds (dykes). They see their active workmen thrice fifty (150) conquering champions, with every sober wise man."
" V. From the time that the work ended it is everyone's voice whatever is said : the sober synod went on Sunday into the Abbot's house."
"VI. Thus went the sages, after the mound (dyke) and the dirt (mire) with a shovel and a cutting-spade in each man's hand without avoidance " ?
The Picts inquire of the Abbot –
"VII. What shall we do now for we are not reading with them, and we are without labour and without toil to subdue us under this discipline" ?
The Abbot answers -
" VIII. Cut ye down the brave forest so that it become smooth beams (stakes) ; three trees for every hairy monk proclaim no weakness of effort."-
IX. To put them (the beams or stakes) in a comely row on every side around the monastery so that the congregation may have a protection against danger with the (its) blasts (?)"
"X. "When the monastery was secure they see that is a ...business ; they build mounds at the Glebe. Meseems it is a fervent, manly deed."
"XI Look ye forth at the share of the old man Tiugulb, the prince who collected (? connected) it, from the monastery westward to the bog with just (regular bordering mounds.")
XII. ' With its site of a laborious mill1 on its angle.' He was saying 'tis then the shadow is strong, there has been no grinding, there is none."
XIII. The share of Erolb, i. e. the green field (Tamnach dear bequest; at the end of the lawn of Ethne's son (i.e. St. Columba) was arrayed with mounds, so that it is a help to our order."
"XIV. The youngest of the valiant children, Torulb, without weakness of effort, chose a land without any sorrow (t. e. the land of Cinnead's daughter). He planted a pillar at its corner.
"XV. The land of Ease and hospitality (gloss, thence westward to Greenan, from Sine to the lawn) is common to them all. . . . There was enough of a storeroom of eating.
"XVI. The vineyard (gloss, to the west of Greenan which Erolb got he put under smoothness of ) not wrong .... as far as the side of Tiugulb's land.
"XVII. Many mounds, many choice causeways, many roads, and many ways they made round Ross Grencha, i.e. Durrow, along with the husbandry of their house."
Mr. Whitley Stokes says the original is here and there corrupt and unintelligible, and he has no copy from another MS. which might enable him to learn the right readings; but, he adds, " as far as I can discover, the gist of those lines is as follows : Three brethren in the abbot's house named Tiugulb, Erolf, and Torolf, descendants of the conquering Picts, and honourable men, were led by fortune to the abbot's house at Rosgrencha. Laisren was then abbot of Durrow, to whom the holy Colum had given certain decrees. Thus, he was to make mounds or dykes without a breach in fact, to make the cashell of the monastery. Accordingly, the MS. goes on to tell us, these three, with 150 workmen, who are described as 'conquering champions,' working under them, each one of the three sober, wise men, probably with his fifty labourers under him, built the bold mound or dyke. When the work is ended the sober synod went on Sunday into the abbot's house as they had left the mound, carrying their muddy shovel and cutting-spade, and they ask the abbot, ' "What shall we do now; we do not read with you, and we require labour and toil for our discipline and our subjection?' Then the abbot answers, ' Cut ye down the brave forest, so that it become smooth beams: three trees for every hairy monk.' And the abbot tells them also to fix up these beams of planks in a comely row all round the monastery, so as to form protection for the congregation in the monastery against danger and blasts of wind. "When this task was finished they began to do the same work for the glebe, which dwelling seems to have stood apart from the other monastic buildings. The narrator then proceeds to tell the share each of these master builders had in the work. First we have Tiugulb's share. Tiugulb, prince and old man was he, who enclosed the ground behind the monastery and the bog. This might mean that he made the dyke or mound on the north side of the monastery. A bog or morass of some kind must have occupied the low ground between the monastery and the high ridge of ground planted with trees, bounding the demesne from the north, and running from east to west. He also seems to say that there was a mill at the angle, which had fallen into disuse. Next follows Erolb's share. He took the green field at the back of the lawn of Columb, the son of Ethne, and enclosed it with mounds, so that it became of great use to the community.Then we have Torulb's share. Torulb, the youngest of the brave men, chose the land of Cinnead's daughter a land without sorrow; and he planted a pillar at its corner. There is an evident allusion to the refectory in the next verse, speaking of a common hall or land between the barn and Sine, where there was enough of a storeroom of eating; and a gloss is added, saying that this place lay to the west towards Greenan. The vineyard also enclosed by Erolb lay west of Greenan, and extended as far as Tiugulb's land. They made, besides, many causeways, roads, paths round Rosgrencha, i. e. Durrow, along with the husbandry of their house."
One of the few narratives of the place, which I have heard is told of Seehawn, or Sine. St. Columba, it is said, was journeying from Durrow on one occasion, followed by a vast concourse of admirers. But when he came as far as Kilclare (the same place as that to which the murderer of Hugh de Lacy fled), he discovered that he had left his book behind him. This fact he mentioned to one of his followers, who passed the intelligence back through the crowd, till it reached the last man, who stood at Seehawn and reached for the book, passing it on from hand to hand until it was given to the saint. This narrative, which shows how large was the saint's following (the concourse of people who followed him covering a mile and a-half), helps to explain St. Columba's love for Durrow and his affection for its inhabitants, expressed in the old ballad which professes to be his address to Cormack : -
"O Cormack, beautiful is thy church,
With its books and learning;
A devout city with a hundred crosses,
Without blemish, without transgression.
A holy dwelling, confirmed by my verse,
The green of Aed, son of Brennan;
The oak plain of far-famed Rosgrencha;
The night upon which her pilgrims collect
The number of her wise a fact widespread
Is unknown to any but the only God."
The enlargement and improvement of Durrow after St. Columba left it, as we have seen above, was energetically pushed forward by Laisran when he was abbot there. The story shows that zeal for work was tempered by thoughtfulness for those under them by the saints in olden times; and I think, from my knowledge of the locality, I may add that this tradition of 1300 years ago is still observed on the place by the present proprietor in his dealings with his dependents. “On one very cold and wintry day" (Adamnan tells us, book i., chap, xxix.) "the saint wept, being afflicted by a great sorrow. His attendant Diormit, asking him about the cause of his sadness, received from him this reply: ' Not without reason, my son, am I sorrowful in this hour at the sight of my monks whom Laisran is distressing during the construction of some great building (round tower?), though they are even now worn out by heavy labour, a thing which greatly displeases me.’ Wonderful to say, at that very moment of time Laisran, dwelling in the monastery of Durrow, is some way compelled, and as if kindled by some inward fire, orders that the monks cease from their labour, and that some refreshment of viands be prepared ; and not only were they to cease from work on that day, but to rest on other days of severe weather. The saint hearing in spirit these consoling words spoken by Laisran to the brethren, ceased to weep, and though himself dwelling in Iona, related them throughout, with wondrous joy, to the brethren who were there at the time; and he blessed Laisran, the comforter of his monks."
Respecting these mounds, then, let me in continuation add all that I have been as yet able to ascertain. I have made some small attempt at excavation on each of them. The first of these is that which is associated with the murder of Hugh de Lacy, immediately to the north of which the old castle of Durrow stood, and which was itself covered with buildings at one time. Some remains of the old walls still may be found on top of it, and when I excavated I found that the mound was raised about 6 feet with small stones and debris from the old buildings which were ruthlessly destroyed, I believe, at the time that the Stepneys were at Durrow. A tradition has been told me of this mound, similar to others which one hears of other moats of the same kind. It is said that a certain native of Durrow travelling abroad was summoned to the bedside of a very aged Dane, to whom he had shown at some time some kindness. The dying man asked him if he knew where Durrow was, and upon his answering that he knew it well, he directed him to go to this moat for him, telling him he would find an entrance on its north side, and directing him to bring him something which he had left inside. The simple kindhearted Irishman went on his mission, came to Durrow, found all as he had been told; and after effecting his entrance to the moat, and braving the wrath of an angry cat and also a watch-dog, on whose head he was directed to throw an apron, he found not only the garment he was told to bring, but much gold and silver as well. Being very much frightened, and lest he should receive injury, he left the treasure untouched, and returned with ail haste to fulfil his promise. But the story goes on to tell how, instead of being much pleased, the old Dane was very wrath. "You did me a service," he said, "and I thought to reward you. I gave you a great opportunity; but since you have not availed yourself of it, you will always remain in need." I give the tradition as it has been told me, for I think it seems a pity that these old traditions should be forgotten. This one in particular shows how widespread and how lasting was the impression made by the inroads of the Northmen, since the time of their incursions is still remembered, and also that connected with their names there is almost invariably linked some tradition of the magic which they practised. It seems especially interesting to hear this tradition, too, about this mound, since we have a written record of the Danes who were employed in making mounds in Durrow.
But from a story which, perhaps, may be deemed too mythical and superstitious to be worthy of the regard of serious-minded people, we may pass to one which is well authenticated, and which, though already well known, it cannot be out of place to repeat while the site of the fell deed is in your view. I venture therefore to tell again the story of the murder of Hugh de Lacy. A contemporary who was a great admirer of his," Giraldus Cambrensis," gives us a graphic history of him; indeed, historians at all times have been much taken up with his life and work; for of all the Norman conquerors of Ireland no one seems to have left a deeper impress of his strong hand and iron rule. His castles, moreover, are still pointed out to us, by which he overawed the whole of the kingdom of Meath and also Kildare. Wherever there was a favourable site and a good post of advantage, there De Lacy seems to have erected a stronghold. His very features and appearance are described to us so vividly that we almost think we see him, as we read of his dark features, flat nose, deep-sunk piercing black eyes, and the horrible scar caused by a wound which disfigured a countenance which, even apart from this, would not have been attractive. His appearance altogether was uncouth : small in height, ill-proportioned in shape, with short neck and hairy body, it would seem as though the gifts and graces which nature had denied to him in his external appearance, she had more than compensated for by reason of the muscular strength of body which fitted him to carry out the feats of daring which his courageous spirit prompted, or enabled him to follow out the wise counsels for the administration of his government that his vigorous intellect devised. We only regret to learn that so many fine qualities of the mind were spoiled by his immorality and covetousness, and that, from the account of him given by Giraldus Cambrensis, we are forced to the conclusion that his moral character, like his physical features, was disfigured by a scar. So powerful had the great Hugh de Lacy become that the King of England (Holinshed tells us) was by no means sorry when he heard of his death. Leland, in his history, however, tells us that his death was avenged, if not by his master, yet by his friend Sir John de Courcy. In conjunction with young Lacy, son to the late lord, he is said to have taken severe vengeance for the murder of his gallant countryman (cf. "Giraldus Cambrensis" and also Hanmer) ; and it is not without significance, in connexion with this piece of history, that we find that the name of the old country of the Foxes, who instigated the murder, and which was then called Munter Thadgan, has been changed, and the barony now bears the name of Kilcoursey.
But the power of DeLacy is shown in another way, for just as after his death there was a contention between Bective and St. Thomas' Abbey, Dublin, as to who should have his body, so that they were not content to let him rest in peace in Durrow, but Bective should claim his head and St. Thomas' Abbey his body; so also with respect to the occasion of his death, there has been some dispute between those who record it as to which place should have the honour ascribed to it of being the site of his murder. Even in this neighbourhood there are some who will tell you that he was slain, not at Durrow itself, but at Shancourt or Rosdeala Castle, which is about a mile away. In 1838 John Daly of Kilbeggan, aged 82, told O'Connor that it was while engaged in making a trench at Shancourt that De Lacy was murdered. In 1898 John Daly of Durrow, about the same age, gave me much the same account. It is evidently to reconcile these two traditions that some say he was engaged making a causeway between Durrow and Shancourt, and that it was while engaged at this work he met his death. However, if De Lacy thought it advisable to have these two strongholds so near one another (i.e. Shancourt and Durrow), it is an evidence that Durrow was an important Celtic stronghold, and an especially advantageous position to make secure; and the event proves that he was not wrong in his judgment, for there the strong Norman Conqueror himself was treacherously slain. Tradition tells us that the murderer dressed himself in mean garments, and took the place of one of De Lacy's workmen when he went to dinner, and in this way got the opportunity he sought for to accomplish the end he had in view. One thing, however, seems clear to me, and that is, that all the authentic accounts agree in making the Castle of Durrow, lying immediately at the monastery of St. Columba, the site of the murder. At any rate this is the account taken from the "Annals of Ulster": " 1186. Hugo de Lacy, the profaner and destroyer of the sanctuaries and churches of Ireland, was killed in revenge of Columbkille while making a castle at Durrow. He was killed by O'Meyey of Teffia." We have the history in a still more interesting form in the " Annals of Lough Ce": "A.D. 1186. Hugo de Lacie went to Durrow to make a castle there, having a countless number of the English with him, for he was king of Meath, Breefny, and Oriel, and it was to him the tribute of Connaught was paid, and he it was who won all Ireland for the English. Meath, from the Shannon to the sea, was full of his castles and English (followers). After the completion of the work by him, he came out to look at the castle, having three English along with him. There came then one youth of the men of Meath up to him, having his battleaxe concealed, named Gilla-gan-inathar O'Meyey, the foster-son of the Fox himself, and he gave him one blow so that he cut off his head, and he fell, both head and body, into the ditch of the castle."
I made excavations at two other places also. On the top of another mound we found stones, which seemed to indicate that the soil at some time had been moved. Then we came on some cinders, and soon afterwards found an entire skeleton of a man. I have been told of one other instance of a rath being opened, and of cinders being found buried with a body. There was not the smallest trace of cremation, and the idea suggested itself to me that perhaps the cinder may have been made emblematic of the life which was extinct, and perhaps also of its being capable of being rekindled. The other place, outside the graveyard itself, which I have made any attempt to excavate was at the mound called Sine or Seehawn. There I found just a trace of mortar, which would show that the tradition of the place, which says the monastery was situate there, was not altogether wrong. In this part of the demesne also the rabbit-holes are oftentimes found to contain numbers of human bones. I do not know that any other object of interest is to be found outside the graveyard, except, indeed, the holy well, which is still resorted to for cures, as the dead tree, covered with rags, which stands beside it, testifies. Patron-day, June 9th, is celebrated at Durrow with due honours. The peasants, too, will tell you how Mr. Stepney long ago closed the well, and forbade anyone to use its waters ; but how the spring would not be repressed, but, as a punishment to the sacrilegious proprietor, burst up through the drawingroom floor. One could wish that our Saint had also some method equally efficacious to repress those ardent aspirants after cheap celebrity, who, in order to put themselves in evidence, must needs scratch their names on and deface the inscription which in modern times has been put over the well. Under the directions of Captain Garvey (the father of Mr. Toler Garvey, the agent) the well was again cared for and covered in, and a suitable inscription placed over it, with lines taken, I believe, from poetry supposed to have been written by St. Columba about his other monastery at Derry. The words are, nevertheless, quite as applicable to Durrow: -
" Here angels shall enjoy my sacred cell,
My sloe, my nut, my apple, and my well."
For one thing the reference to the apple will recall to those familiar with Adamnan's " Life of St. Columba," the pretty story that is told (Book ii., Miracles of Power, chap, ii.), entitled " Of the Sour Fruit of a certain Tree which was turned into Sweetness by the Blessing of the Saint." I think the story bears repetition, so I may be pardoned for again quoting from Adamnan: " There was a certain tree very full of apples near the monastery of Campus Eoboris (i.e. Durrow), in the southern part of it, and when the inhabitants of the place made some complaint about the exceeding bitterness of the fruit, one day in the time of autumn the Saint approached it, and seeing that the tree bore abundant fruit to no purpose, which hurt rather than delighted those who tasted it, raising his holy hand, blessing it, he says, ' In the name of Almighty God, let all thy bitterness, bitter tree, depart from thee, and let thine apples, up to this time most bitter, be turned into the very sweetest’. "Wonderful to say, and no sooner than said, in the same moment all the apples of that tree lost their bitterness, and, according to the word of the saint, were turned to sweetness."
Whether we are inclined to believe this miracle in its literal sense as implicitly as Adamnan seems to have done, or not, we have to acknowledge amongst the good deeds which these monks performed, the knowledge of agriculture that they acquired, by which bad land was so enriched, that to this day it bears testimony to their skill. At the present time the best land in Durrow is round the spot where the monastery stood. It is, I think, with the exception of the land in the vicinity of Tihilly, the only grass-land in the parish which is capable of fattening cattle, and yet, so far as I can judge, the subsoil is much the same as the district all around. The rabbit-holes show the same kind of fox-sand which, in this district, lies close to the surface in all the upland. This same thing was pointed out to me lately by one well qualified to be a judge in agricultural matters, where land was tilled in the neighbourhood of an old monastic building which for centuries had been a luxuriant pasture. He pointed out to me that the land had no natural richness, but owed its fertility to the superior management it had received in the past. Whether, then, St. Columba actually performed a miracle on this apple-tree at Durrow, or not, we know his successors evidently showed their sympathy for those not gifted with miraculous powers in the knowledge of practical agriculture and horticulture they imparted, teaching alike the farmers how to till their land, and gardeners how to graft their apple-trees.
Another characteristic of these saints in old times strikes me as being one which is, I believe, only found amongst the most civilized people and refined natures, i.e. kindness to animals. This Christian duty, which seems to be reviving at the present day, appears to have been understood by them. The most enthusiastic amongst us, in this respect, have scarcely come up to our predecessors who lived in these monastic institutions. Their affection for their animals led them even to depict them on their crosses amongst the most sacred surroundings. Adamnan, relating the story of St. Columba's life, is careful to relate his concern for a crane which came to Iona from Ireland, and needed food and rest; and in his story of the saint's death, we read how the old white horse was inspired by God to perceive that which was hidden even from Columba's own associates. And equal emphasis is laid upon the animal's affection for the saint, and the saint's concern for the old horse who had served him so well.
An account of Durrow, too, would be incomplete, if it did not take notice of the rivalry which existed between Durrow and Clonmacnoise, the foundation of Kieran the carpenter. The "Annals of Clonmacnoise " tell us of a great battle, in 759, between the Family of Durrow and Clonmacnoise, at Argamoyne, In 1070 we are told of another battle with another great monastic institution, for we are told how the people of Teffia came to the Termon land of Killeaghie, and preyed and spoiled it. But our Adamnan once again comes in, and tells us that this spirit of warfare was not the spirit of its founder, and that in the oldest and best days of both places, Christian love and Christian fellowship existed such as should exist between all who claim that sacred title (Adamnan, Book i., chap. iii.).
"At another time the blessed man, while staying some months in the central part of Ireland, founding, by Divine favour, his monastery, which is called in Scotia (Irish) Dair mag (Durrow), thought it well to visit the brethren who were dwelling together in St. Kieran's monastery at Clonmacnoise ; and, on hearing of his arrival, everyone from the fields about the monastery, together with those who were found gathered together within it, following, with all eagerness, their Abbot Alither, set off, with one consent, going outside the enclosure of the monastery to meet St. Columba as an angel of the Lord. And they humbly bowed, with their faces to the earth, as they saw him, and, with all reverence, they kissed him, and raising their voices in hymns and praises, they conduct him through, with all honour, to the church; and tying together a canopy of poles, they had it borne by four men, walking in pairs, around the saint as he walked, lest, mark you, a man of St. Columba's age, should be thronged by the crowding together of such a multitude of the brethren. And in that same hour a certain servant-boy, much cast down in countenance, and meanly clad, and not yet approved by his elders, came behind, hiding himself as much as he could, that he might touch even the fringe of that cloak which the blessed man wore, secretly, and, if possible, without his knowing or perceiving it. But yet this was not hidden from the saint, for that which with his bodily eyes he could not see done behind him, he perceived by spiritual vision, and so he suddenly stops, stretches out his hands behind him, catches the boy by the neck, and drawing him forth, sets him in front of him, while all those who are standing around say, send him away! send him away! why dost thou detain this wretched and troublesome boy ? But the saint, on the other hand, utters these prophetic words from his pure heart: 'Suffer it to be so now, brethren suffer it be so now '; but to the boy, who is trembling all over, he says: ' my son, open thy mouth, and put out thy tongue.' Then the boy, at his bidding, and with much trembling, opened his mouth, and put out his tongue, and the saint, stretching forth his loving hand, reverently blesses it, and thus prophetically speaks, saying: ‘Although this boy may now appear to you one to be despised, and of very low esteem, let no one despise him on that account ; for, from this hour, not only will he not displease, but he will greatly please you, and in good conduct, and the virtues of the soul he will, by degrees, advance from day to day; wisdom also, and prudence shall, from this day, be increased in him more and more, and great is his future career in this your congregation. His tongue also will be endowed by God with wholesome doctrine and eloquence.' "This was Erene, son of Crasene, afterwards famous, and of the greatest note among all the churches of Scotia (Ireland).
Besides those passages quoted above, we find the following interesting references made to Durrow in Adamnan's "Life of St. Coluniba," Book i., cap. 49: "The foreknowledge of the Blessed Man concerning the war which took place after many years in the fortress of Cethrin, and about a certain well near to that place." In this narrative Adamnan incidentally tells us of a "soldier of Christ, Finan by name, who, for many years, led an Anchorite's Life near the monastery of Durrow (Roboreti Monasterium Campi)." In Book II., chap, 39, we are told of Libran of the Reed Ground. In the course of the narrative we are told how Libran faithfully took the monastic vow; and when he was being sent back by the holy man to the monastery, in which he previously, for seven years, served the Lord as a penitent, he received from him, as he bade him farewell, these prophetic words uttered concerning himself: " Thou shalt live a long life, and close the present life in a good old age not, however, in Britain, but in Ireland, will thy resurrection be." Hearing the word, he (Libran) wept bitterly, on bended knees, and the saint seing him much distressed, began to console him, saying: "Arise, and let not thine heart be troubled; thou shalt die in one of mine own monasteries, and with my chosen monks in the kingdom shall thy portion be; with them shall thou awake from the sleep of death to the Resurrection of Life." He then having received from the saint no ordinary consolation, greatly rejoiced, and made well by the benediction of the saint, went on his way in peace which true prophecy of the saint concerning the same man was afterwards fulfilled. For while he served the Lord in obedience in the monastery of the Plain of Lange, though many rolling years after the passing away of St. Columba from the world, the monk being sent, in extreme old age, to Scotia (Ireland) on some monastic service, as soon as he went down from the ship, passed through the Plain of Breg (in Meath), and came to the monastery of Oak Plain (Durrow), and there received as a guest in the guest house; afflicted by some infirmity, on the seventh day of his sickness he departed in peace to the Lord, and was buried among the chosen monks of St. Columba, according to his prophecy to rise to eternal life."
In Book II., chap. 9 tells of the soul of a blacksmith carried off to heaven by angels. This Columb Coilrigin lived in the central portion of Ireland" In Mediterranea Scotiae." In Book I., chap. 3, which I have quoted above, Durrow is thus described: " In Mediterranea Hiberniae parte monasterium quod Scotice dicetur Dair-mag."
I don't think I could conclude with an incident better calculated to leave on your minds a pleasing impression of life in ancient times in Irish monasteries, or a narrative better calculated to give us a lofty idea of the character of him who founded Durrow more than 1300 years ago. I can best comment on it by using the words of the prophecy ascribed to St. Patrick, and said to have been uttered, concerning St. Columba, one hundred years before his birth, that "there should descend of ffergus one who, for sweetness of life and hospitality, would prove a very good man."
JRSAI Vol 29 (1899), 219-232
Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.
Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.