Saint of the Day – 15 April – St Ruadán (died 584) – Priest and Monk – also known Rowan, Ruadon, Roadan, Rodon and Rodan, was an Irish Christian abbot who founded the monastery of Lorrha (Lothra, County Tipperary, Ireland – see the ruins below), near Terryglass. He was known for his prophesies. After his death, he was venerated as a saint and as one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland”.
Ruadhán is said to have been the son of Fergus Bern, son of Dera Dubh, of the race of the kings of Munster. He studied and was ordained at Clonard. He was educated in Clonard County Westmeath by St Finian (470-549). He replaced St Brendan (the navigator) at Lorrha who preceded to cross the Shannon and set up his monastery at Clonfert Co. Galway.
Ruadhan founded a monastic settlement at Lorrha that would have consisted of a monastery and various other buildings including cells for the many monks that would have lived here. Also a ditch or large mound would have been built around the settlement to keep animals in and intruders out, the outlines of these are still visible today. Life for the monks would have been tough but simple, rising early from their beds which would have consisted of rushes or straw placed on the bare ground. They then would pray and fast between their domestic chores. The settlement would have been self-sufficient providing everything from food, clothing, to shelter. Despite the evidence of conflicts with the surrounding hierarchy and with St Brendan, Ruadhán was highly regarded. His monastery was said to have had 150 monks with a very holy reputation.
On the site of this settlement are the remains of an 11th century church probably on the spot of Ruadhan’s original monastery. It has at the west end of the south wall an ornate doorway that shows many carved motifs including a pelican drawing blood from its breast. Also there are the remains of two high crosses with only the decorated shafts remaining, one of these is said to mark the grave of a Munster king who died at Lorrha, the other is said to mark St Ruadhan’s grave although it seems to have been crafted many years after his death. Villages and towns often popped up around monastic settlements as trade and refuge attracted the local people, the origin of Lorrha village can be attributed to this.
There are many legends attributed to Ruadhan but he is probably most famous for his curse on the High King’s residence at Tara after the king, Diarmuid Mac Cerbhaill, had violated the sanctity of the church by taken a hostage from its protection. The downfall of Tara from a once thriving royal residence is credited to Ruadhan.
Ruadhan’s hand, enshrined in silver, was preserved at Lorrha until the Reformation time, when it was lost. The bell of St Ruadhan which was found in a well named after the Saint is kept in the British Museum after being discovered many years ago. This well is situated across the road from the present day Church of Ireland.
“My splendid cloak adorned with gold which was on the altar of Rome, bring it to Ruadhan of Lortha, since we shall die this day” extract from the last will and testament of the high king of Cashel.
Today both the Catholic and Church of Ireland churches in Lorrha in the diocese of Killaloe, are dedicated to St Ruadhán.
Praise in the Féilire of Aengus
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.