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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

What Wales and Ireland Share

Ireland and Wales are only 50 miles apart and can see each other across the water on a crisp clear day. It is natural that they share language, stories, songs and music. From 400AD to 1000 they were shaped and energized by the same cultural heritage.

An Irish chief named Anlach went to south Wales in the middle of the 4th century and became a minor ruler there. His son, Brecon, succeeded him and became a Christian. Brecon’s wife was to be known as ‘the mother of ten holy sons’. She also had seven daughters. One of them, Non, was the mother of David, the Patron of Wales, who founded a famous school to which many Irish scholars flocked.

At least three of Brecan’s sons went ’back’ to Ireland: Canoc, Mochorog and Dubhan. They founded Christian communities along the east coast of Leinster.

The eldest, Canoc, founded Ballyhack (Baile Canoc), Kilmacanogue (Kil-ma- Canoc) and, most famously, Gallen (Ferbane). I came across Mochonog’s name when vising Delgany in Wicklow. Dubhan build his cell on Hook Head.

No wonder the family was known as ‘one of the three holy families of Wales’. They symbolise the Welsh pioneers who helped embed Christianity in Ireland.

Canoc eventually returned to Wales where he was killed by the Saxons. The connection between Wales and Ireland was so strong that he was hailed as ‘the only martyr in the early Irish Church’ though he came from Wales and died there.

The Welsh influence in Ireland is reflected in place names like Lynally (Offaly). Llan was the Welsh word for a monastic enclosure.

The Irish also went to Wales and made their contribution there. I hope to find out more about them.

In the lifetime of Brecan’s sons Christianity in both Wales and Ireland were at a similar early stage of development. Both people were Celts who found the Desert Fathers’ robust approach to spirituality and religion congenial. Disciplined and learned men and women in pioneering communities impressed them more than complex theologies and formal procedures.

(For more on the forgotten heritage of Ireland see the Facebook pages of Hugh MacMahon.)


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