Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Exploring Monasteraden's Ecclesiastical Roots

The village of Monasteraden (Mainistir Aodain) is believed to have got its name from an early ecclesiastical site founded there by Saint Aidan. However, this saint should not be confused with the Saint Aidan who founded a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne,  Northumbria, in the seventh century.

According to Gwynn and Hadcock (1988, 398), this is an early monastery that was probably founded by Aedhan O Fiachrach (d. 570: AU). Ui Fiachrach descended from Fiachra brother of Brion. There were two chief branches – those of the north and those of the south – the latter otherwise known as Cenelnaeda. The northern Ui Fiachrach occupied the greater part of Co Mayo and part of Co Sligo.

Monasteraden Graveyard, which overlooks Lough Gara, is unique in that it is one of a few circular graveyards still in use in Ireland. It is thought to contain the remains of an old church although the exact location is not known. The only mention of a church comes from 1836 when it was described as ‘the ruins of an old church’.  The graveyard and early ecclesiastical site are surrounded by a stone wall, resembling a large cashel.

This graveyard also contains a souterrain or underground chamber which consists of a drystone-built passage measuring roughly five metres in length, 1.5 metres wide and 1.08 metres high.  It has been suggested that these structures served as food stores or hiding places during times of strife. In 1985-6 a circular drystone-buit kiln was discovered within the enclosure. A quantity of charcoal and charred cereal grains were found in the kiln. The kiln was sealed and a stone seat now marks the location. The Monasteraden Graveyard also contains what archaeologists call a ballaun stone. This is a lozenge-shaped stone with a shallow depression in the centre of the upper surface. Such stones are frequently associated with early Christian sites.

We know from ecclesiastical history that as Saint Patrick travelled west and, after visiting Elphin and Croghan, he came around the north of Lough Gara through the present townlands of Cuppenagh and Templeronan.  It is said that St Patrick went to Gregraidhe of Loch Techet  which was the ancient name of Loch Ui Ghadhra (i.e. O’Gara’s Lake) or, as it is known today, Lough Gara. The Gregraidhe or Gregory comprised the baronies of Coolavin in Sligo and Costello in Mayo. The O’Garas were driven out of their lands by the Jordans and Costellos in the 14th century and settled Coolavin. They erected a castle at Moygara or Muy O’Gara.

To the east of Lough Gara are the remains of the early medieval monastery of St Attracta. The complex consists of a graveyard, a church and a holy well. The monastery is mentioned in early medieval sources and is believed to have been founded in the sixth century. The saint is said to have been the daughter of the druid Talan Cathbadin, son of Cathbadh of the Gregraidh of Loch Techet. Attracta received the blessing of St Patrick. The Feast of Saint Attracta is celebrated throughout the diocese of Achonry on the 11th August. The monastery of St Aedhan, like the ecclesiastical site of St Attracta in Killaraght, is located on what was the boundary between the living settlement at the tme and areas considered important in earlier periods.

Monasteraden is one of several monastic sites around Lough Gara including: Templeronan, Killaraght and Kilnamanagh. Other ecclesiastical nearby are: Cloonshanville and Tibohine to the south; Kilcolman to the west and Carrowntemple and Kilfree in the north.  Sadly, nothing of the old church is visible today.

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