History of St. Macartan: Our Patron Saint

We do not know when Christianity reached Ireland but it is certain that by the year 400 A.D. that there were some Christian communities here. By 431 A.D. the Christian communities in Ireland had grown large enough to require a bishop and in that year Pope Celestine ordained Palladius and sent him as first bishop to the Irish believing in Christ. Palladius and other missionaries laboured in the east and south of the country with some success. However it is the British missionary Patrick who received the credit for the conversion of Ireland. It is likely that he was working in this country from about 460-490 A.D. He seems to have been most active in the midlands, the west and the north. He was constantly on the move, accompanied by a retinue of nobles; preaching, baptizing and founding churches. He made thousands of converts, ordained priests everywhere and organised the Irish church. Patrick then, was the greatest of the missionaries to the Irish and well deserves the name of national apostle.

St. Patrick

Son of The Rowan Tree

My name is Macartan
Son of the Rowan tree:
Its orange berries round and bright,
Each autumn time you’ll see.
Close to god around me
As I enjoy the earth!
Close to God who cares for me
Each moment since my birth.
I am Saint of Clogher.
Macartan is my name.
God bless each one among us
and bring us safely home.

St. Macartan grew up in the northern part of Ireland. Before his conversion to Christianity the future saint was known by the name Aidus, the son of Caerthen,(son of the Rowan Tree). Hence his later name was Macartan.

Hearing of Patrick’s teaching Aidus travelled south from his father’s home to hear him preach. Their first meeting took place at Drumlease, near Dromahair, County Leitrim. Here Macartan was baptized and soon became one of Patrick’s missionary staff.  He was spoken of as Patrick’s “champion” or “strong man”. We are told that when the great Apostle was worn out by his work that Macartan supported his faltering steps over rough roads, marshes and rivers.

Macartan 506AD – 2006AD by Elizabeth Ryan

He was the “staff of Patrick” in the Irish patron saint’s declining years. On one occasion after carrying Patrick over a river, an exhausted Macartan expressed a wish that he might be relieved from further travel and allowed settle down in charge of some church close-by his beloved master where he could spend the evening of his life in peace. Patrick, full of sympathy for his faithful companion and friend agreed that he should establish a monastery in Clogher and finish out his life there. The promise of the See was soon to be fulfilled. A monastery was established near the ancient royal fort of Rathmore on the outskirts of the town and one of Ireland’s oldest bishoprics was established. To commemorate the occasion  Patrick gave Macartan his staff and a number of precious relics contained in a shrine known to tradition as the Domhnach Airgid.

St. Patrick presenting St. MacCartan with the Gospel Book.

Clogher in those days was a place of considerable importance. It was the royal residence of the chieftains of Airgilla and the kings of Clogher had their ancient royal palace on the lofty earthwork at Rathmore, County Tyrone. Eochad reigned as King of Clogher when Patrick began his missionary work. The king was the proud owner of the famous Idol of the North. The idol was a large stone covered with gold and set up in the king’s courtyard. It is commonly believed that it was from this stone that the name Clogher (Cloch Oir, Gold Stone) is derived. Patrick preached successfully and converted many of its inhabitants.

Patrick  was succeeded by Macartan, whose appointment was not received favourably by Eochad. Eochad proposed to expel the saint and hand his monastery to Tigernach, his grandson and a future saint himself. He harassed and annoyed Macartan. On one particular occasion he seized an ox which had been  used for carrying supplies to the monastery and tied it to a stone. The ox soon became hungry and began lowing piteously. A wise adviser to the king prophesied that all the land over which the lowing could be heard would soon become the property of the monastery. To prevent the possibility of the prophecy being fulfilled Eochad sent his son Cairpre with orders for Macartan to leave his dominion. When the boy failed to execute his order Eochad went in person, with drawn sword to deal with the saint. He had no sooner raised his hand against the venerable servant of God than he became completely paralysed. His wife who had followed to prevent him harming the saint begged Macartan to have mercy on her husband. The saintly bishop sprinkled her husband with Holy Water and immediately her husband was restored to full health. In gratitude for the favour he promised obedience to the saint. He afterwards endowed the monastery with a large tract of land probably the whole district over which the lowing of the ox had been heard.

St. Macartan Tapestries in the Cathedral

On another occasion Macartan appeared in an unnatural bright light to a woman possessed by an evil spirit. “I am Bishop Macartan,” he said. “I have come to free you from your affliction. Tomorrow you will be restored to full health.” The promise was fulfilled because at dawn the following day the woman was completely cured to the great astonishment of her family and friends.

Macartan loved to read the Word Of God and one evening it is said that he was studying sacred scripture in his wooden hut when the dark shades of evening began to fall. God, in His great wisdom, realised that His servant wished to continue with his study sent a light as powerful as the noon-day Sun. This light surrounded the monastery and continued the whole night allowing Macartan to proceed with his reading until dawn.

The monastery in Clogher was similar to other Irish monasteries of the time. It consisted of a number of huts built of earth and wood in which the monks resided. To build these huts stakes of timber were driven into the ground, branches were intertwined through them and the surface was plastered over with soft clay.

Monastery in Clogher

Sometimes ivy was planted at the bottom and quickly grew up and gave strength and attractiveness to the buildings. A larger central hut was used as a chapel. These were surrounded by a ditch and ramp which acted as a protective barrier against animals and unwelcome visitors. The monks, dressed in white habits, lived their lives as a community singing praise to God, praying,creating religious works of art, studying and labouring in their fields. Others went outside the monastery and travelled, teaching, preaching, administering the Sacraments, visiting the sick and burying the dead. Some established new monasteries where pilgrims and travellers were offered accomodation and Christian hospitality. At one time some strangers came to visit Macartan and to his great embaressment he had very little food with which to feed them. The saint prayed to the Lord for help and that night corn rained down from Heaven on his monastery and a clear fountain sprang up in a place where there had never been water before. The bread produced from this grain tasted sweet as honey and the water was flavoured like wine.

St. Macartan by Ken Thompson

Macartan spent his remaining years as bishop and abbot until his death in 506. His festival is celebrated on 24th. March. His grave, according to tradition is in the burial-ground to the north of the present Protestant church in Clogher. On Sunday 21st. August 1892 a magnificent cathedral was dedicated to St. Macartan in Monaghan town, a fitting tribute to the life and work of the patron saint of Clogher Diocese


A noble feast we celebrate,
A holy man we venerate,
Great Mac-Carten it is he,
Hear us, blessed Trinity.
Most innocent of sinful guile,
He guided others, and the while
Many wonders wrought in praise
Of his Maker all his days.
Oftimes the sick he visited,
And raised to life the nearly dead,
And many tribes baptized he
In St. Patrick’s company.
Upon the earth he lived to God,
And in his Master’s footprints trod.
Thus conquering the world at last,
He to eternal glory passed.
He could do much on earth before,
Happy in heaven he can do no more.
May Mac-Carten keep us free
From pain of endless misery !


Written by Patrick Culin, Bishop of Clogher, died 1868 (excerpt)

Irish Ecclesiastical Review, Vol 6, 1869, 275-276


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