Feast Day: September 9
St. Kieran (or Ciaran), unlike most of the Irish saints, was not of noble birth. Born in 512 or 516 in Connacht, Ireland, he was the son of a carpenter and chariot builder. As a boy, he worked as a cattle herder while being tutored by one Deacon Justus.
Despite his humble beginnings, his holiness at an early age was in clear relief. And once he arrived at Clonard, he quickly gained a reputation for being its most learned monk. St. Columba described him as “a lamp, blazing with the light of wisdom.”
After completing his studies at Clonard, he moved to the monastery of Inishmore directed by St. Enda. There, both he and St. Enda had the same vision of a great and fruitful tree growing in central Ireland. The tree sheltered the entire island, its fruit crossed the sea surrounding Ireland, and birds carried some of the fruit to the rest of the world. St. Enda interpreted the vision, saying: “The great tree is you, Ciaran, for you are great in the eyes of God and all people. All of Ireland will be sheltered by the grace in you, and many will be nourished by your fasting and prayers. Go with God’s word to the center of Ireland, and found your church on the banks of a stream.”
In 544/545, he laid the foundation stone for the great monastic school of Clonmacnoise in central Ireland. In time, the monastery drew students from all over Ireland and Europe and became Ireland’s center of study, art, and literature – a status it enjoyed for more than 600 years.
St. Kieran died – probably of a plague – on Sept. 9 in either 544 or 546, depending on the source you consult. Regardless of the year, all accounts agree that his death came about nine months after the work on the monastery began. All accounts also agree that he gave the monastery its character – that of a school for the whole nation.