Bawnboy and Templeport
History Heritage Folklore
by Chris Maguire

 
 

SAINT MOGUE OF TEMPLEPORT

 

Templeport = Teampall a' Phoirt, the Church of the landing place.

The beautiful plain in which Templeport lake is centrally situated, was originally called 'Breaghy', and the lake itself and its island, known as 'Breaghy' lake and 'Breaghy' island. Breaghy = Bréach mhaigh or wolf plain. These names have long since passed out of use. The earliest known pastor of Templeport was Andrew Magauran whose death created a vacancy which was filled by Manus Magauran, appointed by Nicholas MacBrady, bishop of Kilmore, on 12th September 1414. The official title of the benefice was 'The perpetual vicarage of Inis Breachmhaigh alias Tempull a puret'.

St Mogue's Island in Templeport Lake
St Mogue's Island in Templeport Lake

It was on Breaghy Island, now known as Port or Inch, or Mogue's island, that St. Mogue, the illustrious bishop of Ferns, was born. Mogue's ancestry is traced back to Colla Uais, one of whose leading families was the 'Fir Luirg' of Loch Erne. In the sixth century the 'Fir Luirg' occupied, along with lands north of Lower Lough Erne, the lands that lay south of Lower Lough Erne which was then, and much later, regarded as part of Connacht. The father of Mogue was Setna, son of Eirc, and his mother was Eithne who belonged to the Ui Fhiachrach, so that paternally and maternally Mogue was of noble origin. The Fir Luirg were an expansionist people, and had taken possession of the Masraighe and Cathraighe territory, and reduced this early population group to subjection. But they had a constant struggle to maintain their dominant position, and were forced to build their residences in strategic places like 'Inis Breachmhaigh' to defend themselves against the ancient inhabitants.

One night while his parents were sleeping, the vision of a star descending from the heavens and falling on each, betokened the future greatness and sanctity of their yet unborn child. Owing to this circumstance, many persons afterwards called him 'Son of the Star'. The day following, a report of this miraculous vision spread abroad, and many wise persons predicted, that as a star led the Magi to adore Christ, so in like manner did this same sign portend, that a son should be born to his parents, full of the Holy Spirit. And shortly afterwards, while travelling in a chariot, Eithne was met by a Magus on the way. Having heard the sound of the vehicle, this magician said to his companions: 'This chariot runs under a king'. On meeting the chariot and finding it occupied by Setna's wife and her companion, he said to the former: 'Woman, thou hast conceived a wonderful son, and he shall be full of God's grace'.

The beautiful legend of St. Mogue's birth is very well preserved in the parish of Templeport, and here we give its outlines in the form in which it has been told by several of the old people. It is practically identical with the account given in the Martyrology of Donegal.

St. Killian or Caillin of Fenagh, on awaking one summer morning finds the ground covered with a miraculous fall of snow. His herd of cattle had stampeded during the night and tracking their hoof-prints in the snow he finds them on the shore of Templeport lake gazing towards the island. At the same time there was a house on the island inhabited by a weaver, and in answer to the saint's enquiries, the weaver's wife informed him that a strange woman who had craved shelter the evening before, had during the night given birth to a son, and that a hazel distaff which she had held in her hand had burst forth into blossom. The weaver had taken his boat with him to look after his nets on the lake (the poor man was drowned on the homeward journey) and there was no means of sending the infant over for baptism. Urged by St. Killian, the weaver's wife seeks for something flat on which to float the child over to the mainland, and told that anything will do. All she can see is the enormous flagstone which forms the hearthstone in the cottage, and this she cannot move. She is told to place the child on it, and she does so, when lo! the stone moves to her touch and the infant is miraculously wafted to the other side of the lake. Having been baptised, the infant is brought back in the same miraculous manner, and with him on the flagstone the wonderful bell - Mogue's Bell - which was for centuries afterwards to be venerated in the island church.

The subsequent history of the flagstone is interesting. For centuries afterwards it plied to and fro from mainland to island whenever any of the Teallach Eathach were to be buried in the island graveyard, the coffin being placed on the stone which then without human agency, conveyed it to the burial ground. One day a pair of local lovers endeavoured to test its powers. They took up position on the stone which conveyed them out into the lake. Midway on the journey the stone cracked. One half sank to the bottom bringing with it the irreverent pair, and the other half completed its journey to the island, where some say it may yet be seen. The holy water font in Kildoagh Church and now in St. Mogue's Church, Bawnboy is said to be made from part of it.

When Mogue was a young boy in his parents' home, Ainmire, King of Ireland required him as a hostage from his father. His father is said to have been a powerful noble. Other hostages of the same area are said to have been his fellow captives. While under that monarch's keeping, Ainmire was impressed with Mogue's modest and innocent deportment. 'This boy is a favourite' said the King 'and he must remain with me in the royal palace, or if he so desires, I shall send him back free to his parents'. Mogue replied, 'If my lord King thou art my patron, I beseech thee in the name of God, whom I wish to serve, that you would liberate these boys who were brought here with me'. The monarch immediately granted his request, dismissing all the hostages to their several places of abode, and at the instance of our saint, Ainmire recommended himself to the prayers of Mogue, predicting at the same time that he should afterwards become a great pillar of the Church.

Then Mogue went to St. Finian's school at Clonard where he met St. Molaise of Devenish with whom he formed a life-long friendship. The following story of their youthful days is recorded in various Lives of both Saints. Towards the end of their schooldays the two friends were seated one day in the shade of two trees discussing their future, and praying for direction whether they should remain together or work apart. Thereupon the tree which shaded Molaise inclined towards the north and that under which Mogue sat inclined towards the south. Molaise, going north founded the monastery of Devenish in Loch Erne, and Mogue (though not immediately) going south, founded the monastery of Ferns in the present County Wexford.

St. Mogue founded many monasteries the first of which was on the island, Inis Breachmhaigh (now St. Mogue's island) in Templeport Lough. This church was the chief religious centre in Templeport throughout the whole mediaeval period, at first on the island itself and then jointly on the island and the mainland pier, leading to the island sanctuary. Port means the landing bank or pier. We do not know the date of the foundation on the island, but Roman documents of 1414 and 1426 show that the church on the mainland had been built. The original site - the one on the island - was not dropped and forgotten. Its name was preserved and incorporated in the joint title, St. Mogue's of Inis Breachmhaigh and St. Mary's, Templeport. There are carved stones on St. Mogue's Island graveyard as well as the ruins of a church. Professor Davies in his book 'The Churches of Co. Cavan' states that these stones may belong to the 16th century, as well as the ruins of a stone church which was probably reconstructed in the 18th century. It can be said that throughout the whole Penal Times period, Mass was furtively celebrated, intermittently on St. Mogue's Island. The McKiernan brothers, Pat and Francis, Killymoriarty, were in their time very proud to declare that their ancestors had attended Mass on St. Mogue's Island. The mainland church was confiscated in 1590 under the terms of the 3rd Inquisition of Queen Elizabeth and transferred to the State Church of King James 1st in 1609. The present church on the mainland, St. Peter's, was built or reconstructed in 1815.

Michael McGovern rowing the old 'Cot' with Cannon Tiernan behind.
June 1939 - Photo taken by Fr Brown S.J. ("the Protestant Priest") who was giving a mission in Kilnavart Church.
Location: Templeport Lake enroute to St Mogue's Island. Subjects: Canon Tiernan (18 years old). Boatman, Micheal McGovern

Before we leave Inch Island or St. Mogue's, it should be mentioned that for hundreds of years it was used as a burial ground. It is now officially closed except for a few families whose ancestors are buried there. It is easy to understand why people should wish to be laid to rest in such a peaceful spot. Twenty-five graves are marked there with headstones and crosses. There is a tradition which states that a pathway of stepping-stones connected the island with the mainland, but through time the stones sank. St. Mogue's clay (or mortar) which can be collected inside the ruins of the old church on the island is said to be an insurance against fire or drowning. It featured in the story of the Titanic disaster when Mary McGovern, Corlough, attributed her rescue to the St. Mogue's clay which she carried on her person.

St. Mogue having built his church on the island on which he was born, and having put in place the personnel to carry out its religious functions, then moved eastward to continue his missionary work. This brought him to Drumlane. Here he founded one of his greatest monasteries. In the townland of Derrintinny a mile to the east of Drumlane Monastery is St. Mogue's well. There is also a holy well dedicated to him in the townland of Kilnacross at which he baptised Aodh Dubh, King of Breifne. The island of Inishmuc beside Drumlane is called in Gaelic Inis Moaedhóg - St. Mogue's Island.

Continuing his missionary work St. Mogue moved into Leinster where he cured the King, Brandubh, of a severe illness and the King in return granted him lands on which he later on built the monastery of Ferns. It was to Wales that St. Mogue next turned. There he came under the monastic rule of St. David of Menevia. There are many incidents recorded about him during his stay with St. David, bishop of Menevia.

A steward placed over St. David's monastery developed a hatred for Mogue. The steward one day told Mogue, who was reading, to go to the forest to bring back wood. Many of his companions had gone there earlier in the day. Mogue obeyed instantly. He was given two untamed oxen to pull a wagon, and the steward gave him a yoke without irons. Notwithstanding all this the yoke stayed perfectly attached to the oxen, and accompanied by a small boy they set out for the wood. Mogue followed the tracks his companions had taken in the morning. The untamed oxen behaved perfectly and they came to where a large morass of bog lay between them and the forest. They would have to do a long circuit. The young boy said 'What a pity the road doesn't run through the bog'. Mogue answered 'Make a sign of the cross on your heart and eyes and you will see the power of God'. St. Mogue then turned his oxen and wagon towards the bog. Immediately a direct way opened before him and remained there afterwards. When Mogue came to his fellow disciples all of them gave thanks to God.

The holy Bishop, St. David observed the great acts of Mogue but the steward was still resentful towards him. His resentment was so great that he urged a workman to slay Mogue with an axe. As the axe was raised the workman's hands withered and lost their power. Confessing his crime he sought pardon from his intended victim. Mogue however, offered prayers to God and the man's hands were restored.

Mogue having been instructed in all sacred knowledge and being eminent for his miracles and virtues, asked permission from St. David and his monks to leave their institution and return to Ireland. This he obtained with their blessing and taking some disciples with him, St. Mogue set sail for Ireland.

As he approached the shore of Ireland, he beheld robbers despoiling and wounding some strangers who fell into their hands. St. Mogue sounded a cymbal from the sea, which when he heard it, the Chief of the robbers said 'This is a trumpet sound from a man of God'. The violence ceased. The chief robber a rich and powerful man, sent his men to carry Mogue from the boat to the shore. The Chief gave a tract of land as an offering to God and to St. Mogue, and his chief soldier named Dymma did the same. The lands lay in Hy-Kinsellagh. Our Saint afterwards caused many churches to be built in that part of the country.

Mogue then wished to enter Munster - the Decies district in Co. Waterford. By a miracle he passed over the river Suir and built a monastery in Disert-Nairbre in the Diocese of Ardmore. At one time St. Mogue wished to build a church but could not find a builder. Trusting in God he blessed the hands of a certain uninstructed person named Gobban. Immediately the man became a most ingenious architect and built St. Mogue's church in his best architectural style. One day the Economus of St. Mochua of Lothra came to Mogue and told him they were about to build a church. The timber was cut but they had not the men or oxen for bringing it to the site. Our saint told him to return to his cell and not look upon whatever took place during that night. But a certain simple lay brother peeped through openings in the door-lock, and saw a multitude of beautiful well-formed youths with golden locks flowing down their shoulders, and bearing wood. A voice was heard saying to those youths, which proved to be angels: 'Cease from this labour'. The activities ceased immediately. Afterwards however, the architect Gobban completed this building.

What is substantially the same story of building by angels, is told in Ballaghameehan and Rossinver, about St. Mogue's Abbey in Rossinver.

After an arduous missionary career but still full of energy, Mogue left Ferns and returned to Drumlane. There he had a strange and wondrous vision. An angel through St. Colmcille interpreted the vision which commanded that St. Mogue should raise another honourable place in addition to Drumlane. St. Mogue went to Rossinver where he built 'a strong and ample oratory, and a fair-built quadrangular regular church in preparation for his resurrection'. It was there, by Lough Melvin's shore that he died and there in his own church he was buried. St. Mogue's well, a fine spring is close by and near the lakeshore.

Mrs. Ward’s funeral 1984
Mrs. Ward’s funeral 1984

 

THE BREAC MOAEDHÓG

According to an ancient MS. biography of St. Molaise of Devenish, preserved in the Royal Irish Academy, the saint went on a pilgrimage to Rome, from which he returned carrying with him some clay from the tombs of the Apostles, together with some precious relics bestowed on him by Pope John III (560-573A.D.). Returning to Ireland he visited his friend St. Mogue, with whom he shared his treasures. The shrine or reliquary, known as the Breac Mogue, in which these treasures were kept was for long one of the most precious possessions of Drumlane monastery. After the confiscation of the monastery the shrine, which was said to resemble the old church of Drumlane remained in the possession of the Erenachs of Drumlane, the McGaghran family.

In the 18th century the parish priest of Drumlane had custody of the shrine, which was used for the administration of oaths in lieu of a testament. It was believed that any one taking a false oath upon it would suffer grievous visible judgment. The shrine was often borrowed and to ensure its safe return, one guinea deposit was paid. In 1846 a borrower sold it to a Dublin jeweller, but the great antiquarian, Dr. Petrie, bought it back. It is now in the National Museum.

The shrine is a bronze case 7.25" in height and 8.875" in length. It is shaped like a cottage or early church. The front of the shrine, including the slope of the roof was decorated with more that twenty figures of saints embossed in high relief. Of these figures only eleven still remain. The Polaire, or leather case in which the shrine was carried is also preserved with it in the National Museum.

Another very interesting relic of St. Mogue is the Clog Mogue, or shrine of St. Mogue's Bell - a present from St. Caillin to the baby Mogue at his baptism. St. Mogue presented the bell to his native Inis Breachmhaigh, the parish of Templeport, where its hereditary custodians were the Magaurans. Like the Breac it became the talisman upon which oaths were sworn, especially in cases where an oath on the Testament could not be relied upon. A false oath on the Clog Mogue was believed to be followed by a visible manifestation of Divine wrath and some remarkable confirmations of this belief are still related by the people. For a long span of 1200 years the shrine remained in the possession of the Magauran family, until about 1833, when the last Magauran keeper died, and his son-in-law a man named Kelleher, sold it to the Rev. Marcus Beresford. Later it was presented to the Library of Armagh, where it is now preserved.

Of the bell itself only three fragments exist, two of which are attached to the case. The shrine is 9" high and the base measures 7" by 5". It is greatly injured and the top is missing.

Breac Moaedhóg

Breac Moaedhóg

 

The Shrine of the Bell of St. Moaedhóg

The Shrine of the Bell of St. Moaedhóg


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Last update: 27 March, 2011 15:43