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Who was Saint Maighnean or Naomh Maighneán, after whom Kilmainham is called?

In this article we tell the story of this 7th Century monk and saint

Saint Maighneann lived in the first half of the 7th Century. His father Áed died in 606AD. His mother was a sister of St. Senchill, Abbot of the area now known Co. Offlay.

Maighnean had three brothers, Librén, Cobthach and Toa.

He was Abbot of Kilmainham or Cill Mhaighneann, from which the area draws its name, and he is described on several occasions as Bishop Maighneann.

All our information about Saint Maighneann derives from the “vernacular” and it was only written down in Irish by Uilliam Mac An Leaga circa 1480. However, the accounts are so specific and detailed that they are inherently credible.

St. Maighneann was a contemporary of St. Maelruain of Tallaght, St. Finnian of Strangford Lough and St. Dublitir of Finglas all of whom he visited. He also went with St. Finnchu to the Aran Islands.

St. Maighneann had a following of twenty seven monks at Kilmainham and they travelled with him on his various pilgrimages throughout the country.

On one occasion Maighneann is said to have preached to “Dermot, King of Ireland”.

Maighneann was described as being

renowned from “Shannon to Howth as a tower of piety”. However St. Maelruain regarded St. Maighneann as lazy because he was loath to engage in manual labour.

St. Maighneann went to Tallaght to make his confession.

Maighneann, like many other Irish Saints made a prophesy, his being as follows;
“A time should come where there should be daughters flippant and tart, devoid of obedience to their mothers: when they of low estate should make much murmuring, and seniors lack reverent cherishing; where there should be impious laymen and prelates both, perverted wicked judges, disrespect to elders; soil barren of fruits, weather deranged and intemperate seasons; women given up to witchcraft, churches unfrequented, deceitful hearts and perfidy on the increase; a time when God’s commandments should be violated and Doomsday’s token occur every year”.

St. Maelruain is recorded as complimenting St. Maighneann and praising the perennial fire which he kept alight at Kilmainham as follows: “To thy successors’ see great prerogatives shall belong, and in Ireland thy fire shall be the third on which privilege shall be conferred, i.e. The fire of the elder of Lianan of Kivarra, the lively and perennial fire of Innismurray and  

Maighneann’s fire in Kilmainham”.

The monks of Kilmainham lived on a highly fertile ridge with good grazing for cattle.

The two rivers adjacent to the settlement, the Camac and the Liffey, provided ample opportunities for fishing, fish being a staple of the Irish monastic diet.

Besides the complement of twenty-seven monks the settlement would have had tenant farmers and other lay people in residence.

Maighneann’s monastery or Cill would not have been a large structure judging by other surviving ruins from that era. It was more likely to have been a small stone-built church with a stone-clad roof circled by a scattering of wooden huts.

Maighneann’s exact dates of birth and death are not known but it is established that the monastery still existed in 780 AD when Lergus Ua Fiadhchain died at Kilmainham. There are also records which show that a school existed in Kilmainham in the 7th and 8th centuries.



(from Kilmainham and Inchicore Local Dictionary of Biography courtesy of Michael O’Flanagan)

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