Genealogy and Birth
Congus was from Cul Athguirt in the parish of Islandmagee, County Antrim. He was descended from Dá Slúaig, the son of Ainmere so he was a member of the Húi Nadsluaga clan who were one of the five prímthúatha of Dál mBuinne, east of Lough Neagh, County Antrim. Congus was a scribe before being elevated to the See of Armagh.
Bishop of Armagh
Battle of Faughard
In 735 the High King of Ireland Áed Allán defeated Áed Róin mac Bécce Bairrche, the king of the Ulaid at Faughart, in Magh Muirtheimhne in County Louth. Áed Róin and Conchad mac Cúanach of Ui Echach Coba were slain. This conflict arose as a result of a request by Bishop Congus. The Annals of the Four Masters give the story as follows under the year 732-
“The battle of Fochart, in Magh-Muirtheimhne [was fought] by Áed Allán High King of Ireland and the Clanna-Neill of the North, against the Ulidians, where Aedh Roin, King of Ulidia, was slain; and his head was cut off on Cloch-an-chommaigh [The Stone of Decapitation], in the doorway of the church of Fochard; and Conchadh, son of Cuanach, chief of Cobha [Magh Cobha, a plain in Iveagh, Co. Down], was also slain, and many others along with him. The cause of this battle was the profanation of Cill-Cunna [Kilcloony, parish of Ballyclog, Barony of Dungannon, Co. Tyrone] by Ua Seghain, one of the people of AedhRoin, of which Aedh Roin himself said: " I will not take its Conn from Tairr" for Ceall-Cimna and Ceall-Tairre [Cill-Thairre, anglice Kilharry, a glebe in the parish of Donaghmore, Barony of Dungannon, Co. Tyrone] are side by side. Congus, successor of Patrick, composed this quatrain, to incite Aedh Allan to revenge the profanation of the church, for he was the spiritual adviser of Aedh, so that he said:
‘Say unto the cold Aedh Allan, that I have been oppressed by a feeble army; Aedh Roin insulted me last night at Cill-Cunna of the sweet music.’
Aedh Allan collected his forces to Fochard, and Aedh Allan composed [these verses] on his march to the battle:
‘For Cill-Cunna, the church of my confessor, I take this day a journey on the road;Aedh Roin shall leave his head with me, or I shall leave mine with him.’
Of the same battle was said:
’The slaughter of the Ulidians with Aedh Roin [was made] by Aedh Allan, King of Ireland. For their coigny at Cill-Cunna he placed soles to necks’
An Irish proverb arose from this incident- “Torad penne Congusa” (the fruit of Congus's pen), i.e. the downfall of the Ulidia resulted from the letter of Congus.
Supremacy of Armagh
The primacy and influence of Armagh expanded greatly during the rule of Congus. This was mainly due to his influence over two successive High Kings of Ireland, Áed Allán whose spiritual confessor he was and Flaithbertach mac Loingsig whose bishop-abbot he was.
Before the reign of Congus the primates generally restricted themselves to the see of Armagh but afterwards they began to make circuits and visitations through the rest of Ireland for the collection of their dues. This was called the Cattlecess or "Law of St. Patrick".
Geoffrey Keating states- “It was about this time that a meeting took place between Aodh Ollan, king of Ireland, and Cathal, son of Fionghaine, king of Munster, at Tir Daghlas, in Urmhumha, where they imposed Patrick's rule and law and tribute on Ireland”
The Annals of Ulster have the following entries under the year 737-
“A meeting between Aed Allán and Cathal at Tír dá Glas. The law of Patrick was in force in Ireland”
A further impetus to the widening influence of Armagh was the fact that the High King of Ireland Flaithbertach mac Loingsig of the Cenél Conaill abdicated his throne in 734 and went to reside in Armagh monastery for the rest of his life
Congus died in 750. The Annals of Ireland give the following obits-
- Annals of the Four Masters 749- “Congus, the scribe, Bishop of Ard-Macha, died; he was of the race of Ainmire”
- Annals of Inisfallen 750- “Repose of Congus, abbot of ArdMacha”
- Annals of Ulster 750- “Repose of Congus, bishop of ArdMacha”
- Annals of Tigernach 750- “The rest of Congus, bishop of Armagh”
- “The Ancient List of the Coarbs of Patrick”, by Rev. H. J. Lawlor and R. I. Best in PRIA, Vol. XXXV (1919), p. 321, No. 23.