Ciarán of Saigir

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For the 6th-century Irish saint and abbot of Clonmacnoise, see Ciarán of Clonmacnoise.
Saint Ciarán of Saigir
Bishop and Confessor of Ossory
Born c.375
Cape Clear Island
Died c.450
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church and certain Protestant churches. Having been canonized prior to the Great Schism, he also qualifies as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Feast 5 March
Patronage The Diocese of Ossory.

Ciarán of Saigir (c. 501 – c. 530), also known as Ciarán mac Luaigne or Saint Kieran, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland[1] and is considered the first saint to have been born in Ireland,[2] although the legend that he preceded Saint Patrick is questionable. Ciarán was bishop of Saighir (Seir-Kieran) and remains the patron saint of its successor, the diocese of Ossory. He is identified with the Saint Piran who is venerated in Cornwall, Wales, and Brittany.[3][4] Ciarán's date of death is uncertain but thought to have been around 530 and from natural causes. His feast day is celebrated on 5 March.

He is sometimes called Saint Ciarán the Elder (Latin: Kyaranus or Ciaranus Maior) to distinguish him from the other 6th-century Irish Saint Ciarán, who was abbot of Clonmacnoise.

The Church of Seir Kieran, in County Offaly, Ireland.


Various medieval traditions about the saint are recorded in a number of hagiographic works: two Lives in Latin, both of uncertain date, and two Lives in Irish. The shortest Latin Life is preserved in the Codex Salmanticensis, while the longer one is found in the Codex Kilkenniensis. The latter was rendered into Irish and a second Irish Life was produced after the Protestant Reformation. The latter, though the latest of the four, is thought to draw on the oldest traditions when it deals sympathetically with the Osraige.[3]

Family background and early career[edit]

The martyrologies, notably the Félire Óengusso, and medieval Irish genealogies identify Ciarán's father as Lugna (also Laighne), a nobleman of the Osraige, and his mother as Liadán, of the Corcu Loígde.[3] Before he was conceived Ciarán's mother had a dream that a star fell into her mouth. She related this dream to the druids who were knowledgeable of things, and they told her that she would bear a son whose fame and virtues would be known as far as the world’s end.[5] Cape Clear Island south west of County Cork is regarded as his birthplace and it is said that a church was built by him on the island.

Ciarán's biography is full of obscurities. It is commonly said, however, that he left Ireland before the arrival of St Patrick. Already a Christian, and of royal Osraige blood, he had determined to study for the Church; hence, he secured an education at Tours and Rome.[4]

Foundation of Saigir[edit]

On his return from Rome, he built himself a little cell in the woods of Upper Ossory. He settled as a hermit at Saigir near to the Slieve Bloom Mountains, but soon disciples were attracted to him and a large monastery grew up round his cell, which became the chosen burial place for the Kings of Ossory. Sier Kieran became a center for the preaching of the Gospel and a large industrial community noted for its wealth.[4] His mother, Liadain, is said to have gone to Saigir with a group of women who devoted their lives to the service of God and the members of her son's community.

By one account Patrick sent Ciaran to precede him and directed him to build a monastery at the site of a well. When Ciaran asked how he should find this well, Patrick gave him a little bell, that would not ring until he reached the well.[5]

A tradition shared by all four Lives describes Ciarán as a wild man wearing skins, whose first pupils are animals in the forest.[3]


Like the saints Ailbe of Emly, Declán of Ardmore and Abbán, Ciarán is credited with a pre-Patrician career in Munster, though the Lives hardly refer to these putative contemporaries. He is said to have met Patrick in Italy and made allegiance to him.[3]

When St. Patrick arrived in Ireland, Ciarán became an assistant to him. Some writers say that Ciarán was then already a bishop, having been ordained while on the continent. It seems more likely, however, that he was one of the twelve men that Patrick, on his arrival, consecrated as helpers.[6] He became the first bishop of Ossory.


Legends attribute remarkable miracles to Ciarán.[7] One day when Ciaran was still yet a child he made a beginning of his miracles; for in the air right over him a kite came soaring and, swooping down before his face, lifted a little bird that sat upon her nest. Compassion for the little bird took Cieran, and he deemed it an ill thing to see it in such plight; thereupon the kite turned back and in front of him deposited the bird half dead, sore hurt; but Cieran bade it rise and be whole. The bird arose, and went whole upon its nest again.[5]

One such relates how the Lord Justice of Ireland, Risteárd de Tiúit, went to Athlone, with the intention of sending his brothers to Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford, that he himself might reside in Dublin and Athlone (alternately); but it happened, through the miracles of God, St Peter and St Ciarán, that some of the stones of the castle of Athlone fell upon his head, killing him, his priest and a number of his people.[8]

Another tale tells of how Cathal Carragh, King of Connaught, assembled his forces against the English, and, marching towards the enemy, arrived at Guirtin Cuil Luachra, in the vicinity of the monastery. During this time, daily skirmishes took place between the two hosts. At the end of this time Cathal Carragh went forth to view a contest; but a body of his people being violently driven towards him, he was caught in the crowd and killed. This happened through the miracles of God and St Ciarán, and it was claimed that he restored to life several of those who had died.

Folklore also relates many charming tales of St Ciarán's influence on wild animals. Tales tell of a fox, badger and wolf who worked with Ciarán and his monks to cut wood and build huts for the brothers. One day the fox stole Ciarán's shoes; upon which Ciarán ordered the badger to retrieve them. The badger found the fox, and bound him from head to tail, returning him to his master; the saint ordered the fox to repent for his sin as a monk would, and to return to his tasks as before.[9]


The ruins of Ciarán's monastery - which were long the burial place of the kings of Ossory - still remain to this day. It is speculated that the site is pre-Christian, and, in common with other Irish sanctuaries, a perpetual fire was said to have burnt there. Another site exists at the island of Cape Clear, which is said to have been his birthplace and the hermitage of his youth. Church ruins and a well exist here of considerable age.[9] Saint Ciaran is venerated in England, Brittany, Wales, and Scotland, on 5 March.[10] St. Kieran's College (est. 1782) is the oldest Roman Catholic secondary school in Ireland, and is named for the saint.[11]

See also[edit]



Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]