Aidan was born near Bawnboy in County Cavan, around 550 AD. Both his parents were of noble origin. Before his arrival, they longed for a child as they prayed, gave alms a made regular visits to the monastery at Drumlane near Belturbet in Cavan to ask the intercession of the monks. From an early age, Aidan was placed under the guidance of St Killian for all his education as he grew in grace, holiness and wisdom. He loved nature and animals.
As a small boy, Aidan was held as a hostage by the High King of Ireland, Áedh MacAinmuirech, probably to insure the loyalty of his family. When he was released, Aidan studied to become a monk under St Finnian of Clonard. Eventually, Aidan is said to have gone to Wales to study under St David.
In 580, Aidan returned to Ireland, landing on the coast of Wexford. He made his way in land where he eventually settled in a place called Ferns, about 12 miles from the coast. This was a place that was very close to his heart and he had a deep love for the people there. In 598 Brandubh, king of the Uí Cinsealaigh in Leinster, defeated and killed King Áedh MacAinmuirech at the Battle of the Pass of Dunbolg (near Holywood, Co Wicklow). Brandubh gave a grant of land to Maodhog (Aidan) and called a celebratory synod at which he elevated Ferns to the status of a diocese and made Aidan its first bishop. When Aidan was building the monastery there, there was a shortage of water so Aidan asked that a certain tree be cut down and in its place a well appeared.
Aidan had a special love of the Trinity and he became a source of edification for others. Many young men approached him wishing to follow his way of life. There are many accounts of St Aidan which tell of the many miracles that flowed from his generosity and kindness. One story tells how some spurious beggars hid their clothes, dressed in rags, and asked Aidan for help; knowing what they had done, Aidan gave away their clothes to some more deserving poor, and sent off the imposters with neither clothes nor alms.
One of Aidan’s successors, St Moling, dedicated a holy well at Ferns in memory of its founder, now known as Maodhóg’s well. During the 9th and 10th centuries the monastery at Ferns was raided and burned by the Vikings on at least eight occasions before they eventually converted to Christianity. In 1158 Dermot McMurrough founded an Augustinian abbey in Ferns. A Cathedral was built in the 13th century. In 1539 with the suppression of the monasteries it passed to the Church of Ireland. The remains of St Aidan or Mogue are said to be buried underneath the Church. In the years after Catholic Emancipation in 1829, a new Catholic cathedral in honour of St Aidan designed by A.W. Pugin was built in Enniscorthy, which then became the Catholic episcopal seat.
Aidan is credited as the founder of thirty churches and a number of monasteries including Drumlane, near Milltown, Co Cavan; at Dísert-Nairbre in County Waterford; and at Rossinver in County Leitrim. A bronze reliquary in which his relics were kept is currently preserved in Dublin.
Reflection of the life of St. Aidan
As we look around us today we see the many fruits of the life of Saint Aidan here in our parish and in our Diocese. Let us give thanks for his witness and teaching. May we remain true to the faith which he brought to Ferns and treasure this precious gift that he left us with. He devoted his life to God and to others. He took the lead in setting up many monasteries and churches. These would not be here today if he had not answered God’s call. Let us give thanks and pray for Bishop Denis, the successor of St. Aidan. Let us also give thanks for the priests across our Diocese and let us pray that our parish communities will flourish in faith under the guidance and care of a Saint who holds this diocese close in his heart.
Finally, St Aidan was both a monk and a pastor of people. His dedication to serve God’s people was interwoven with a life of prayer which was his strength. May all Christians be contemplatives in action where our activity in the world is always penetrated by a spirit of prayer and praise to God.