St. Finnian of Clonard

St. Finnian

Tutor of the Saints of Ireland


"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 Finnian of Movilla was born in the latter part of the fifth century, at Myshal in County Carlow, on the slopes of Mount Leinster. His father was Rudraigh, a noble of the Dal Fiatach, then one of the most powerful families in Ulster.

His education included studying under St. Colman of Dromore (Co. Down) and under St. Mochai at Nendrum (Mahee Island). His studies also included a period at Whithorn, the school founded by St. Ninian in the latter part of the 4th century. He then travelled to Rome “learning the Apostolic customs and the Ecclesiastical Laws”.

He returned to Ireland with a highly prized manuscript of the Vulgate, which had been corrected by St. Jerome. This work was greatly admired and was often referred to in the ecclesiastical history of the times. It greatly contributed to the prestige of his establishment of Movilla, at the head of Strangford Lough, which he founded in 540.

Typically he chose a site that was already considered sacred, and had been venerated in pagan times. This school became highly respected attracting many scholars. Amongst these was an arrogant boy from Donegal called Grimthann (Griffan). This child was allowed to go into town once a week to play with other boys of his age. Even at this time he was rather impetuous and hot tempered. With a humour that still exists in those parts today, the local boys gave him the sarcastic nickname of the ‘Dove of the Church’. St Finnian, hoping that this nickname would teach the child humility ordained that this should become the name that he was known by – Colmcille, now known as Columba.

St. Finnian, was known as “Tutor of the Saints of Ireland.”

As in the case of St Moluag of Lismore, where many have confused St Molua of Killaloe with him, so there is growing doubt about the legends of St Finnian. In the Spring 2001 issue of The Innes Review, Thomas Owen Clancy opines that Saint Ninian of Whithorn, Saint Finnian of Moville, Saint Finnian of Clonard and even Saint Finbarr of Cork are one and the same. This may or may not be the case but from a Lismore perspective this does not materially affect the impact of the legends associated with St Finnian.

The Annals of Ulster note in A.D. 578. The repose of Vinnian (St. Finnian), the bishop, son of Ua Fiatach

St Finnian of Clonard's feast-day is 12 December

St Finnian of Molville's feast-day is 10 September

Last updated 11 July, 2015