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Life of St Senan, Bishop, Patron Saint of West Clare

An Irish Saint

It has already been observed that Colgan, in copying from ancient sources, wrote the lives of more than two hundred Irish saints. Today, an Irish saint who has been seen to perform any of the miracles attributed to our Irish saints would be considered a rare phenomenon indeed. Admittedly, not a few of those who wrote the ‘lives’ of our saints failed to resist the temptation to exaggerate, especially when the saint in question belonged to the writers own monastery or clan. Hence, in using the title ‘saint’ with reference to the Bishop of Iniscathaigh, we may well ask what this title, ‘saint’, really connotes.

The Apostles, in their letters to the Christians in Rome, Corinth or Ephesus, addressed the faithful followers of Christ as ‘saints’. The apostles properly considered as saints those who followed faithfully the teaching and example of Jesus Christ: for all Christians have been effectively called to become saints since they have been sanctified in baptism, and thus become members of Christ’s mystical body, the Church. In this way the truly faithful Christian who continues in the union with God in charity is truly sanctified and a saint in the literal sense of that title.

This title, however, is used in another and more exclusive signification: for the Holy Spirit chooses and calls certain members of the church for the sanctification of other souls as well for the perfection of their own lives. And so St. Paul in his epistle to the ‘Ephsians’. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, there is one God and Father of all men... It was he (Jesus Christ) appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be pastors and teachers. He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christ’s service, to build up the body of Christ’.

When such chosen and dedicated servants of God manifest in their own lives the life of Christ in self-abnegation and lead souls to God by example and word, moreover when they are known to have preserved in such generous service, surely such devoted servants deserve to be ranked as saints.

The humble Apostle, St. Paul, though he considered himself the least of the apostles could yet assure himself that, having fought the good fight and kept faith with his Divine Lord, the crown of glory awaited him in the life to come.

The holiness of St. Senan’s life has been vouched for in the history and tradition of his native country. Add to these attestations the continued devotion of the people of Clare through many centuries, and the sincere Catholic will entertain little doubt regarding his claim to be invoked as a saint. All this, of course, rests on human opinion.

The author of the prose life of the saint thus concludes the account of his ‘acts’: ‘Let these few words suffice to tell of the principal acts of St. Senan. Wonderful, indeed, were the virtues which he daily practised. He was persevering in prayer, assiduous in fasting, untiring in works of charity, frequently absorbed in contemplation, yet withal, vigilant to see the religious rule of life observed. In the practise of austerity he was more to be admired than imitated. In the opinion of all who knew him he was sublime in virtue: yet in his own opinion, he was the least of all’.

There is another truth relating to the saints, which is very encouraging when we pray to our patron saints: Every true Christian believes that between the children of God, whether here on earth or in heaven, there exists such spiritual communion through prayer that the saints in Heaven are mindful of our needs in their petitions to God.

How this thought must have consoled and encouraged our people when they prayed to their to their patron saint of West Clare! Had he not been chosen by the Holy Spirit and granted gifts to enable their ancestors to receive the work of God and to keep in faithfully! How often through the centuries they implored his intercession. And with what anguish of heart they saw the churches which had been dedicated to his memory despoiled by the enemies of their country and their faith!

The author of the prose life states that many miraculous occurrences were attributed to the intervention of our saint centuries after his death. Some of them may have been written as a warning to those who presumed to interfere with the monastery, its churches or its lands. At any rate, they have a certain amount of interest, not only to illustrate the faith of the people in the protective power of the saint but to awaken interest in the history of a parish and its ancient ruins.

On one occasion, Theodoric O'Brien, son of the chieftain of Thomond invaded the monastery of Iniscathaigh to apprehend a man who had fled there for sanctuary. The saint appeared to Theodoric and, striking him with his staff, inflicted on him such a severe wound that he died soon afterwards in great pain.

Yet another of the same clan, Donat, made a foray into the peninsula of West Clare, took cattle from the lands and even robbed ‘the churches of Kill-na-callige,

Kill-charatain and Rosanarchail’. The vicars of these churches went in solemn procession to demand restitution. To their appeals and their threats the insolent Donat paid little heed. Not long after he had committed these outrages and several others, Donat and his nefarious band perished in the field of battle.

The church which was most dear to the saint and at one time held in great veneration by the people was that of Kill-na-caillige. But times changed the devotion of the people and this church was converted into a barn. When it had been destroyed by fire and the inhabitants of the place were considering how to restore it, the saint is said to have appeared in a dream of vision to a man named O'Hettromain and told him where sufficient lime and material could be found for this work.

A like incident is said to have occurred when a council of the clerics was held in Iniscathaigh to consider the building of a Chapel to Our Lady. The project, however, was deferred owing to the difficulty of finding suitable material. The following day one of the monks found stone which was most suitable for the edifice quite near the church.

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Excerpts from various annals and manuscripts relating to Iniscathaigh