Ultan of Ardbraccan

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For the brother of Saint Fursey, see Saint Ultan.
Saint Ultan of Ardbraccan
Died c657[1]
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast September 4
Patronage children, paediatricians

St. Ultan of Ardbraccan, also known as Ultan the scribe was an Irish saint and Abbot-Bishop of Ardbraccan during the 7th century. He died ca.657[2] and his feast day is celebrated on September 4.[3]


He was the maternal uncle of St. Brigid, and collected a life of her for his pupil, St. Brogan Cloen of Rostuirc, on Ossory. The Irish Annals describe St. Ultan as of the royal race of O'Connor. Ultan was a disciple and kinsman of St. Declan, who made him bishop of Ardbraccan.[4] He succeeded St. Breccan as Abbot-Bishop of Ardbraccan about the year 570.[1]

Ultan founded a school, educating and feeding its poor students, and was noted for his work in collecting the writings of Saint Brigid and illuminating them. He was also known for his beautiful hymns. His Latin hymn, commencing "Christus in nostra insula", is incorporated in the Solesmes Chant books.[1]

In the Feilire [Failera] of Aengus, he is mentioned as "the great sinless prince in whom the little ones are flourishing: the children play greatly round Ultan of Ardbraccan." The annotation explains that the Yellow Plague attacked adults more than children and described the piteous scenes of human suffering witnessed during its continuance. Everywhere through the country numbers of little children, whose mothers and fathers had been carried off, were left helpless and starving. Ultan collected all the orphan babes he could find, and brought them to his monastery. In one of the accounts, we are told that he often had as many as 150.[5] He is said to have invented a method of feeding his young charges by "procuring a number of cows' teats, which he filled with milk".[4]

Having preached the Gospel in Ardbraccan, he went to the Aran Islands after a short stay in County Meath.[6] Ultan ended his days on one of the Aran Islands, where his tomb slab was discovered.[7] He died on 4 September.[1] The Annals of Clonmacnoise placed St. Ultan's death in the year 653.[6]

He is believed to have been Bishop of Meath and an apostle of Desi of Meath. Much mention of him is made in the Martyrology of Aengus.

Ultan's Holy Well was originally within the Celtic Monastery, and later within the Anglo Norman bishop's grounds.[6]


He is now regarded as the Patron Saint of paediatricians, a well known children's hospital and a special school in Navan being named after him.[7]


The Church at Upper Killinkere takes its name from St. Ultan, a well-known patron of children, whose Abbey was established at Ardbraccan between Kells and Navan in the 6th Century. He is reputed to have travelled to Killinkere and founded the first Christian Church in the area.[8]

The establishment of Saint Ultan's Hospital was the result of the activity of a group of female doctors and activists, who were deeply concerned at the high level of infant mortality in Dublin, and the rise of infant syphilis in the wake of the First World War. The hospital opened at 37 Charlemont Street on Ascension Thursday, 29 May 1919. The name of the hospital came from the seventh century Saint Ultan of Ardbraccan, bishop of Meath, who had looked after the children of Meath during an outbreak of yellow plague. St. Ultan's was closed in 1984.[9]



  • Farmer, D.H. (1979). The Oxford dictionary of saints. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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