Sunday, 6 August 2017

Saint Ailbe and the Foundations of the See of Emly

The Church and Cross of Saint Ailbe
at Emly, County Tipperary

From Fr. Thomas Walsh's History of the Irish hierarchy: with the monasteries of each county, biographical notices of the Irish Saints, prelates, and religious, 1856, c. xx, pps. 194-5.

The see of Emly was founded by St. Ailbe about the year 464. He was a native of Eliach now called Eliogarty in Munster and became a disciple of St. Patrick about the year 445. St. Ailbe is represented by some as a bishop exercising episcopal functions in Ireland before the arrival of the apostle of the nation. Such a statement is at variance with the testimony of Prosper Tirechen and other authorities and with the chronology of the Irish annals which state positively that his death took place in the year 527. Tirechen, one of the most accurate writers of our country, has recorded that Ailbe was ordained priest by St. Patrick. St. Ailbe lived under the pious king Aengus and, having erected his cathedral on a convenient site which that prince had presented, he soon after laid the foundation of a monastery and college in which human and heavenly science was taught gratuitously and to which students from all parts of Europe resorted. Among the number of eminent persons who received their education under Ailbe are reckoned Colman of Dromore and Nessan of Mungret. St. Ailbe justly revered for his piety and sanctity was looked upon as another St. Patrick and a second patron of Munster. He is deservedly ranked among the fathers of the Irish church. Ailbe, in his humility, desirous to avoid the respect which was shown him, resolved to retire to the Island of Tyle in Iceland, but the king who was unwilling that his people should be deprived of the eminent services which his presence would confer, prevailed on him to return to Emly. Twenty-two of his monks were allowed to pursue their journey in order to enlighten the inhabitants of this distant region in the glad tidings of redemption. During the incumbency of St. Ailbe, a synod was held at Cashel attended also by the king and the chiefs of the Desii. St. Declan of Ardmore was present. Many valuable decrees regarding morals and ecclesiastical discipline were enacted.