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[Above: Ruins of Armagh Franciscan Friary—Notafly / [CA-BY-SA 3.0] Wikimedia File:ArmaghFranciscanFriary (2).JPG]

IN THE FIRST HALF of the seventeenth century, some of the best scholars in Ireland gathered in County Donegal to compile their nation's annals. Michael O’Clery was the driving force behind the project: 

All the best and most copious books of annals that I could find throughout all Ireland were collected by me—though it was difficult for me to collect them—into one place to write this book.

He solicited the help of Ireand’s most-respected chroniclers. The completed work became known as The Annals of the Four Masters because  O’Clery and three other scholars were most closely identified with the effort. An entry from that compilation is the focus of today’s story. 

A.C. 1126. The Duleek of the Abbey of SS. Peter and Paul in Armagh, erected by Ivar O’Hegan, was consecrated by Kellach, Coarb of Patrick, the 12th of the Calends of November.

A duleek is a stone church.

Ivar O’Hegan (also known as Imhar O’Hagan, O’Haedhagain, or O’Hoedhagain) was the strictly ascetic abbot of Armagh, devoted to fasts and vigils. His principle claims to fame were that he rebuilt damaged buildings at the monastery and trained one of Ireland’s most famous saints, Malachy. Malachy brought much of Ireland into conformity with Roman Catholic forms from older Celtic Christian practices—including introducing or restoring confession to priests, confirmation, and the sacrament of marriage, all of which were unknown or neglected in Ireland—according to another famous monastic, Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote a life of Malachy. Little else is known of Ivar except that he died in Rome on a pilgrimage in 1134.

coarb is the incumbent of an abbey or bishopric as successor to its patron saint or founder.

Kellach (also known as Cellach or Celsus) was first an abbot at Armagh and then became its archbishop (1105) although he had taken power as a layman. However, he regularized his position by becoming a priest and handled his responsibilities so well he was eventually named a saint.

The Kalends (or Calends) were a Roman way of counting backward into the previous month from the first day of a month.

What the entry in the annals tells us is that on this day, 21 October 1126, Bishop Kellach, successor of Patrick, dedicated the stone church of the abbey of Saints Peter and Paul that Ivar O’Hegan had erected (restored).

Like the rest of Europe, Ireland suffered much from Viking invasions. Armagh, a leading seat of Irish Christianity, did not escape. The long, deeply ingrained monasticism of the Irish helped keep Christianity alive and men like Ivar and Kellach were important in that process.

Dan Graves

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For more on the history of the Irish church, consult Christian History #60, How the Irish Were Saved

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