Éogan of Ardstraw
|Roman Catholic Church|
|Feast||August 23 (Catholic)|
|Patronage||See of Derry|
The name Eoghan means "born under the (protection of the sacred) yew tree". The yew was believed to be the oldest tree. Its wood was hard and hard to work, used for war and peace, for domestic vessels and door posts, for spears and shields. It had to be treated with care because its berries are toxic. The name Eoghan then already had a religious significance in pagan Ireland.
Eogan was born in Leinster. According to his Vita, Eoghan was born the son of Cainneach and Muindeacha. His mother is said to have been of the Mugdorna of south-east Ulster. These people seem to have had some contact with the Laighin (who gave their name to Leinster), to whom his father Cainneach belonged. Since this is the area where Christianity first reached Ireland it may well be that Eoghan's father's family had been Christian for some time. As a boy he studied at Clones, and it was from there that he was carried off to Britain by pirates, and subsequently he was taken captive to Brittany, together with St. Tighernach, who is best known as the founder of the abbey of Clones, Co. Monaghan. On obtaining his freedom, he went to study at St. Ninian's Candida Casa. Others said to have studied with Ninian include Enda of Aran, and Finnian of Moville. Returning to Ireland, he made a foundation at Kilnamanagh, in the Wicklow hills.
After presiding over the Abbey of Kilnamanagh (Co. Wicklow) for fifteen years, he settled in the valley of Mourne (Co. Tyrone), his mother's country, about the year 576. It is reasonable to assume that Eoghan came north not just as a missionary to pagans, but also ‘as a pilgrim for the sake of Christ’ in exile. It was not necessary to go abroad to do this. Due to the division of Ireland into a grid of independent states or tuatha, exile meant leaving one’s own and taking one’s chances in another tuath. Without personal resources one had no honour or personal standing outside one’s own tuath. He was followed by many disciples including his kinsman, St. Kevin of Glendalough, who completed his studies under this saint. So great was the fame of the sanctity and learning of St. Eoghan, at Mourne, that he was consecrated first Bishop of Ardstraw about the year 581.
His Vita contains a number of miracle stories. While going through the forest Craoibheach, he sang fifty psalms and when his attendant answered "Amen" at the end of the Lord's Prayer the trees all around also answered "Amen".
It is difficult to give his chronology with any degree of exactness, but the Irish annalists give the date of his death as 23 Aug., 618. His name is generally Latinized as Eugenius, but the Irish form is Eoghan (Owen), hence Tir Eoghain, or Tyrone.
St. Eoghan is the patron saint of the See of Derry. His feast is celebrated on 23 August.