Three saints' lives from the northwest of Ireland
: a study from within the context of the Columban tradition

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis presents a historical contextualisation and discussion of three previously understudied examples of Irish Lives of saints associated with the northwest of Ireland which date from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Vita Sancti Baithini/Beathadh Baoithín, the Life of Baoithín (Baithéne) of Iona, locally venerated in counties Donegal and Roscommon, Betha Farannáin – the Life of Farannán of county Sligo, and Betha Náile – the Life of Náile of Donegal and Fermanagh. The three Lives in Latin and Early Modern Irish have not been the subject of any substantial study since they were published in edition (and in the case of Betha Náile, translation) by W. W. Heist and Charles Plummer, and semi-diplomatic editions and translations of Betha Náile and Betha Farannáin have been given in Volume 2. The thesis considers three case studies in which these Lives are presented within the context of the Columban Tradition. That concept is defined in Chapter 1 of the thesis, which details the politicisation of the character and cultural memory of Colum Cille from the early Middle Ages (Vita S. Columbae) to the Early Modern period (Betha Colaim Chille). Chapters 2-4 are focused on the three case studies of the Lives of Baoithín, Farannán, and Náile, as they demonstrate three distinct ways in which Colum Cille is utilised to legitimise the existence of a lesser-known, local saint. Chapter 2 presents a study of the development of the character of Baoithín as he is portrayed by Adomnán, which influenced the composition of Vita Sancti Baithini and the equation of Baoithín with Colum Cille in cultural memory. It suggests the composition of the Latin Life in an Augustinian monastery in the northwest of Ireland, and the possible connection of the Life with Tigh Baoithín (Tibohine), co. Roscommon, which may have influenced its partial translation into Irish. Chapter 3 demonstrates that Betha Farannáin, which primarily consists of material relating to Colum Cille, may have been composed on behalf of the coarb of his church in Allt Farannán (Alternan), co. Sligo, by a member of Clann Meic Fhir Bhisigh. His connection to Colum Cille appears to have developed around a local tradition that he was present at the meeting of Druim Ceat. As this Life was copied by Míchéal Ó Cléirigh, this chapter also provides some evidence that he may have supplemented material into the text on the basis of that tradition. As discussed in Chapter 4 of the thesis, Betha Náile may have been compiled both in co. Donegal and Fermanagh, as evidenced through local references in the text which show intimate knowledge of his church associations. Colum Cille grants Náile the land for his church in Donegal, and serves as a guarantor for his claims of tribute over an ancestor of the Meig Guidhir of Fermanagh in this Life. It is suggested in this chapter that this Life may have been composed by a member of the Uí Dhroma, his erenagh family in Fermanagh, though it was most likely revised in the 16th century. The thesis then demonstrates the methods in which the hagiographers of these Lives built upon the already extant traditions of Colum Cille to the extent that they might be read as extensions of the Columban Tradition.
Date of AwardAug 2023
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorMaxim Fomin (Supervisor) & Peter Smith (Supervisor)


  • Celtic studies
  • Medieval Ireland
  • Early modern Ireland
  • Hagiography
  • Medieval Ulster
  • Medieval Connacht

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