Myths & Legends of the Burren Lowlands

Gort Saint Colman Mac Duach was a 6th century saint who founded the monastery of Kilmacduagh. Today the "leaning tower of Kilmacduagh" still stands at 112 feet high, is almost twice as old as the famous tower in Pisa and tilted at a similarly precarious angle.

The Prophecy

St Colman was the son of Queen Rhinagh and her husband the chieftain Duac. Kilmacduagh is the gaelic translation of 'Church of the son of Duac'. While pregnant, Queen Rhinagh heard a prophecy that her son would be great man and surpass all others of his lineage. Fearing her husband would harm the child, she fled. However, the king's men found her and tried to drown her in the Kiltartan river but she was washed to shore. After Colman was born (c. 560), Rhinagh took him to a priest to be baptized, but there was no water available. They sheltered under an ash tree and prayed. A fountain bubbled up from the earth and Colman was baptized. That fountain is now the miraculous well of Colman mac duagh. Rhinagh entrusted the her child to the care of monks.

Flying Saucers Over The Burren!

After being educated in a monastery on the Aran islands, Colman decided to live a life of solitude and he moved to the Burren, accompanied by a boy servant. After fasting throughout Lent, on Easter morning Colman inquired as to whether his servant had found anything special for their Easter meal. The servant replied that he only had a small fowl and the usual herbs. Perceiving that the servant's patience was near exhausted, Colman prayed for food. At that moment, King Guaire was sitting down to a banquet. No sooner had the dishes been served to the King than they were spirited away by unseen hands. The king and his men followed only to find the banquet spread before Colman and his servant. This is the account of how King Guarie and Colman met. The ascent through the mountain gorge is called to this day Bohir na Maes, the "road of the dishes". King Guarie had his principal place of residence at Kinvara. Upon learning of the hermitage, he was so impressed with Colman's holiness that he asked him to take episcopal charge of the territory of his territory. Although reluctant to accept the title, Colman was ordained a bishop. King Guarie bade him to build a monastery. Colman wanted God to show him where to build the monastery, and so asked God to give him a sign; later while walking through Burren woods, his cincture fell off. He took this to be God's sign and built the monastery on the place his cincture fell.

Lightening Strikes

It is said that that St. Colman declared that no person nor animal in the diocese of Kilmacduagh would ever die of lightning strike, something that appears true to this day.

St. Colman's Unusual Pets

Saint Colman, loved birds and animals. He had a pet rooster who served as an alarm clock but he wanted to pray during the night hours, too, and couldn't count on the rooster to awaken him at midnight and 3am. So Colman befriended a mouse and trained the mouse to wake him for night time prayers. The mouse pattered over to the bed, climbed on the pillow, and rubbed his tiny head against Colman's ear. The monk had another strange pet: a fly. Each day, Colman would spend some time reading a large, awkward parchment manuscript prayer book. Each day the fly would perch on the margin of the sheet. Eventually Colman began to talk to the fly, thanked him for his company, and asked for his help. He pointed the spot on the manuscript where he had stopped and asked the fly to stay there until he returned. The fly did as the saint requested. Colman was delighted. The other monks thought it was such a marvel that they wrote it down in the monastery records, which is how we know about it. As happens to all living creatures, St. Colman's dear pets eventually died. Colman's heart was so heavy that he wrote to his friend Saint Columba. Columba responded:

"You were too rich when you had them. That is why you are sad now.
Trouble like that only comes where there are riches. Be rich no more."

Colman then realized that one can be rich without any money.

The Generosity of King Guaire

King Guaire was renowned as the most charitable and humane and hospitable in Ireland. Guaire's heavily laden table was legendary and bards were known to linger for days under his great welcome. But his generosity was not just to keep the bards on his side; it is said, the hand with which he made gifts to the poor was longer than that with which he made gifts to the bards.

The King of Ireland, Diarmaid, decided to put Guaire's generosity to the test. The High King bade Guaire to kneel before him and placed the point of the his sword in Guaire's mouth, between his teeth.

Diarmuid sent a beggar to ask Guaire for an alms and Guaire gave the man the gold bodkin that held his mantle. King Diarmaid's people met the beggar and took the gold bodkin from him and gave it to Diarmaid. The poor man again came back to Guaire and complained of this to him, and Guaire gave him the gold belt that was round him, and Diarmaid's people took the belt also from the poor man; and he came again to Guaire, who had the point of Diarmaid's sword between his teeth, and, as Guaire beheld the poor man troubled, a flood of tears came from him. "O, Guaire," said the king, "is it distress at being under my sway that makes you weep?" "It is not," declared Guaire, "but my distress at God's poor one being in want."

Thereupon Diarmaid told him to arise and they made a treaty of peace with one another, and Diarmaid asked him to come to the fair of Taillte.