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15th April - St Ruadhán's Day

Written by Anne Newman Monday, 15th April 2019

April 15 is the feast of Saint Ruadhán of Lothra, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Ruadhán, whose name means ‘red-haired man’, is said to have been the son of Fergus Bearn, son of Dera Dubh, of the race of the kings of Munster. He was educated and ordained in Clonard, Co. Westmeath, by St. Finian and was known as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

After this, according to the Bethada Náem nÉrenn, Ruadan went to Muscraighe settling in Ara mac ua Neitt. Ruadhán then moved and founded the monastery of Lorrha (or Lothra) in north Tipperary, fourteen kilometres west of Birr, Co Offaly. He is said to have replaced St. Brendan (the navigator) who moved to Clonfert.

Lorrha is a good example of an early monastic site that was taken over by the Normans in the 12th century and subsequently developed into an Anglo-Irish borough. There are a number of ruins in the village of the Celtic foundation and of later Augustinian and Dominican foundations. Today both the Catholic and Church of Ireland churches in Lorrha, in the diocese of Killaloe, are dedicated to St Ruadhán.

There are stories of disputes between Ruadhán and Brendan of Clonfert, who set up a monastery near to Ruadhan’s, but when the monks of Lorrha protested, Brendan and his monks decided to move on.

There is another tale that Ruadhán cursed the kings of Tara and their high places were abandoned and their influence ended. Despite the evidence of these conflicts, Ruadhán was highly regarded. His monastery was said to have had 150 monks with a reputation for prayer and manual labour.

The most famous story was about Ruadhán’s conflict with the high-king Diarmaid mac Cearrbheoil, who seized a hostage from out of Ruadhán’s sanctuary. Ruadhán cursed Diarmuid as a result. The two made up, and Diarmaid returned the hostage to Ruadhán in return for thirty beautiful dark-grey horses. These horses had come to the saint from a river, and soon after the king had acquired them, they raced away into the sea.

Another legend has Ruadhán giving his own two chariot-horses as alms to lepers, two stags coming from a wood to draw his chariot in their place.

One story makes Ruadhán a friend of Colmán Elo, who had a foundation at nearby Lynnaly (Lann Eala). A hind used to come each evening to Lorrha to be milked by Ruadhán, and then run to Lynnaly for a morning milking by Colmán.

Another story makes him a friend of the saoi liag or master physician Aed Mac Bricc of Killare, Co Westmeath. It may also be that Maelruain (servant of Ruadháin) had some connection with Lorrha, or that he was simply called after him.

Several of the other miracles attributed to him involve healing the sick and raising from the dead people who were recently deceased.

Ruadhan’s hand, enshrined in silver, was preserved at Lorrha until it was lost around the time of the Reformation. His bell is in the British Museum.

He died in 584 AD.

More tales of Ruadhan can be found here: celt.ucc.ie

Aengus praises Ruadhán in his Féilire on his feast of 15th April:

Prímdae bréo nád athbi
ar-fich tola tothlai,
ba caín lie lógmar
Ródán lócharn Lothrai.
An excellent flame that does not wane,
that vanquishes urgent desires.
Fair was the gem,
Ruadhán, lamp of Lorrha.

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Anne is sharing a series of events throughout the year - you can find them listed by clicking to the link Other Notable Dates and Festivals.