St Comgal of Bangor

Founder of one of the greatest monastic schools in Europe

"The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow when She begins to again venerate Her own Saints" (Saint Arsenios of Paros 1877)

Saint Comgall was an Irish nobleof the Dál nAraide (one of the main tribes of the Ulaid in what we now call Ulster) and was born in 516 near the place now known as Magheramorne in the present County Antrim.

He seems to have served as a soldier and later studied at Clonard Abbey under its founder and abbot, St. Finnian. He later studied under Saint Ciaran, Abbot of Clonmacnoise. This abbey was founded by Saint Ciaran circa 545,.

We know he spent some time living an austere life on island in Lough Erne. In fact the regime was so austere that no less than seven companions died of cold and hunger.

He had intended to go to Britain, but was dissuaded from this step by Lugidius (St Moluag), the bishop who ordained him deacon and then priest. St Moluag persuaded him to stay in Ireland and establish what was to become one of the greatest of all Irish Monastic schools at Bangor in about 558. (Many writers suggest that this Bishop Lugidius was St Molua of Clonfert. This is clearly not the case as in 559 Molua was a disciple of Saint Comgall of Bangor.)

According to his Plummers’ Latin Life, so great a number of monks came to him there that there was not room for them; “he therefore founded very many cells and many monasteries, not only in the district of Ulaid, but throughout the other provinces of Ireland.” There were as many as 3000 monks under his rule.

Bede speaks of “the monastery of Bangor, in which, it is said, there was so great a number of monks, that the monastery being divided into seven parts, with a superior set over each, none of those parts contained less than three hundred men, who all lived by the labour of their hands.”

Bangor became one of the greatest schools in Europe sending missions far afield. Famous students such as St Columbanus and St Gall spent many years in present-day France, Germany, Austria and Italy establishing monasteries throughout Europe. Tomas Cardinal O’Fiaich said “Before his death much of Western Europe was dotted with monasteries founded by Columbanus’ disciples.”

The Irish Annals also tell us that Saint Comgall of Bangor travelled with St Moluag to King Brude of the Northern Picts at Inverness to obtain his authority for Moluag’s mission within Brude’s kingdom.

St Comgall is said to have been the friend of St. Brendan, St. Cormac, St. Cainnech, and Finnian of Moville. After intense suffering he received the Eucharist from St. Fiacre, and expired in the monastery at Bangor c. 602.

Saint Comgall 's feast day is on May 10.

Last updated 11 July, 2015