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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

The Ireland -- Scotland Network



On a visit to an ancient graveyard in Co Kildare I discovered the site of a cell built by St Ninian, the 4th century ‘St Patrick of Scotland’. Was he in Ireland too?

It led me to researching the Irish-Scottish relationship during Ireland’s forgotten Splendid Age (400-1000).

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

Martin impressed Ninian to the extent that when he return to west Scotland he built a centre dedicated to Martin’s spirituality. The whitewashed stone church was called Whithorn, or White House, and drew students from the north of Ireland such as Finnian of Moville and Eoghan of Ardstraw.

Because of Ninian, and others early pioneers like him, Martin was to became a heroic figure in Ireland. His image can be found on many of its great High Crosses.

In his later years Ninian came to Ireland. He built a monastery at Cluain Conaire (Cloncurry – the site I had discovered) ) that was a copy of Whithorn, even down to sharing the same patrons, St Martin and the Blessed Virgin.

Why did he go there? One account is that it was to fulfil a promise he had made to his mother, she may have been from Ireland. Another is that he went to assist Palladius, the earlier St Patrick, at the beginnings of the Irish mission.

Reading about Ninian led me to ‘Islands of the Evening’ by the broadcaster and scholar Alistair Moffat. In it he hikes the islands of western Scotland, encountering the memories of the great Irish pioneers there: Columba , Moluag, Merrin, Maelrubha, Cormac and others. He found their influence alive in place names and stories.

That Irish/Scottish connection is more than geographic. In illustrating the shared heritage Alistair Moffat draws on Gaelic words that resonated with me because the two languages, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic remain similar. They bring back memories of a rich heritage shared for over a thousand years.

(For more on visits to ‘Forgotten Places’ see the pages of Hugh MacMahon on Facebook.)

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