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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

A Touch of Scotland

The latest place to expose how little I know of Irish history is Cloncurry on the old N 4. It is an easy-to-pass half- forgotten graveyard, up a stone-walled laneway.

There is no signpost to encourage visitors and no information even about the adjoining Norman Motte-mound crowned by a scarecrow-like tree.

I eventually discovered that a cell had been built there by St Ninian early in the 5th century. He is the ‘St Patrick of Scotland’ who founded a famous school-monastery in west Scotland called Whithorn or White House. Among those who studied there were prominent scholars from the north of Ireland.

Ninian was born about the year 360, the son of a Christian Briton chieftain. He made a pilgrimage to Rome where he was consecrated bishop. On his way back to Scotland he visited Tours to meet St Martin, trailblazer of the spirituality of the Desert Fathers in Western Europe.

Ninian was so impressed that he dedicated his centre in Scotland to Martin and due to his efforts, and those of others, Martin became an inspirational figure in Ireland. His image can be found on many of the great High Crosses.

How did Ninian find time to go to Ireland and establish a monastery at Cluain Conaire (Cloncurry)?

One account is that before he died Ninian wanted to fulfil a promise he had made to his mother, presumably Irish. Another is that he went to assist Palladius, the earlier St Patrick, having met him in Rome.

Cloncurry was designed as a copy of Whithorn, down to sharing the same patrons, St Martin and the Blessed Virgin.

If this is even approximately true, much-neglected Cloncurry must be one of the earliest Christian sites in Ireland.


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