On this day: St. Ruad·n

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Ruadán of Lorrha, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Ruadhán (pronounced Rowan, meaning red-haired) founded an abbey at Lorrha (in today's Co. Tipperary) about the year 550. He ruled 150 monks and was renowned for his miracles, which included raising people from the dead.

Click here to see a stained-glass window of St. Ruadhán and to read of some of his miracles. His bell, shown with him, is preserved in the British Museum.

"In Ireland, the three attributes commonly associated with a holy man were his bell, book, and walking staff. . . . Bells were a particularly common clerical accoutrement, and were important objects of veneration as well as symbols of saintly power . . . . They were used to bless and to heal, to cast out devils and to inflict curses".

--A New History of Ireland: Prehistoric and Early Ireland, edited By Dáibh' Ó Cróin'n, Oxford University Press, 2005.

St. Ruadhán cursed Tara and fasted against the High King, Diarmait mac Cerbaill, after Diarmait violated the rule of sanctuary by removing from Ruadhán's protection a man taking refuge in the abbey. The king relented, finally, but the curse Ruadhán had placed upon Tara could not be withdrawn.

-- The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland by Dáith' Ó hÓgáin, Boydell Press, 1999.

Diarmat, whose entourage included Druids, was the last High King to celebrate a Feis Temro (Feast of Tara), a fertility rite that demonstrated the divine nature of the kingship. Although High Kings continued to live at Tara for a few generations after Diarmat's death, eventually the place that had been sacred since neolithic times fell into disuse. Was it because of the growing importance of coastal towns, Limerick, Dublin, Waterford, or was it because of St. Ruadhán's curse?

For some background on the tradition of fasting for justice in Irish history, see "The Toscad: Ritual Fasting", from The Druids, by Peter Berresford Ellis, Eerdmans, 1995. "Under law, the person wishing to compel justice had to notify the person they were complaining against and then would sit before their door and remain without food until the wrongdoer accepted the administration or arbitration of Justice. 'He who disregards the faster shall not be dealt with by God nor man ... he forfeits his legal rights to anything according to the decision of the Brehon.'"

In modern times the ritual fast became the political hunger strike, and Terence MacSwiney, Bobby Sands, and many others fasted until they died in English prisons.

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