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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

No Geniuses from Ireland!



In Ireland we seem embarrassed to appear as more than just an easy-going and simple people.

When I followed the twisting byroads to Aghaboe I expected to find a striking memorial to an Irish scholar who was one of Europe’s historic geniuses but arrived at what seemed like an abandoned handball court.

Yet on one sidewall were plaques from visiting dignitaries. One is the stone laid by Bishop Jakob Mayr of Salzburg to inaugurate the preservation of the abbey in August 1984. Another, the visit of the Austrian Ambassador in 2001.

Both were honouring the astronomer, Virgilius, also known as St Feargal, who was abbot of Aghaboe before he left Ireland as a pilgrim in 739.

He settled in Salzburg where he was bishop/abbot from 749 to 784 and advisor to Pippin ‘the Short’, King of the Franks. His became known as ‘the Geometer’ and made a number of scientific discoveries that were so radical that they were referred to Rome for judgement. He claimed that there might be people living on other planets and that the earth was actually round.

The plaques are on the wall of the Dominican abbey built in 1382 but the monastery of which Feargal was abbot before leaving Ireland had been founded by a monk named Canice, born in Derry in 527.

He studied at the great university at Clonard under the scholar-monk Finnian and in Glasnevin under Mohbi. During the plague of 543 he went to Wales where he got further training from St Cadoc and then to Scotland in 565 where he established a number of churches and is still popularly revered as St Kenneth.

Settling down in Ireland at Aghaboe, he built a cell at what is now Kilkenny City (Cill Cheannaigh, Canice’s cell). He is the patron of the diocese.


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