The Celtic Literature Collective

Disappearance of Caenchomrac

A certain noble bishop that was in Clonmacnoise: Caenchomrac was his name, which at first had been Mochta. He was a son of purity, a 'coarb' of God; and on a pilgrimage it was that he came to Cluain, where the reverence and consideration paid to him were great: for in the case of all such as died from time to time he would learn of God whether the same should have reward or should have torment. Also to any [that desired it] he would in the preceding year's last quarter announce the year in which he should die. But the deference shown to him in Cluain he by-and-by deemed to be excessive; and he came to inis aendaimh [angl. 'Devenish'] in loch Ree, there to perform his pilgrimage; for he took it to be suitably lonely for performance of canonical order, for Mass and for orisons.

Along with him in the isle was a prayerful body of monks, that to gather alms and firstfruits in Teffia used to wander abroad over the mainland; for the men of Teffia were in great subservience to him: one hundred piglings, a hundred calves, a hundred lambs, a cake of bread for every kneading trough, and for every cathair a screpall, they yielded him on condition that (they being thus subject to a screpall payable to him) the number of their slain at any one time should never exceed nine: as he said [once after a battle] "My King I thank that the men of Teffia are for their land [i.e. likely to endure therein]: not one of them is killed. I affirm to you (and no false profession of amity it is) that if ye but invoke me nine only shall be your loss in battle."

He added: "moreover, though they that attempt you be many, and ye but few, if ye but think on me ye shall come whole away:--

"Nine men in Teffia's land opposed to a hundred thousand thousands: let them only meditate on Caenchomrac, and to their own countries they shall go back safe and sound. Of this world's hosts whole bands shall not have the victory over them—if they but render me their service, my service too being to Godward."

For a while then he had been thus in both Cluain and inis aendaimh [i.e. first in one, then in the other], and of a time when he was in the island his monks went forth as above. Eoghan and Ecertach, two sons of Aedhacan of Hy-Many, and bosom disciples of the cleric both, proceeded to Slieveleitrim in Hy-Many. There the clan-Fannan were: hunting in the mountain; they had killed a goodly number of wild swine, a pigling of which they bestowed on the clerics. These carried him off to their house and, having imposed him on a forked stick, put him to the fire. But as the cleric chanted his psalms he saw towards him a tall man that emerged out of the loch: from the bottom of the water that is to say. He saluted the cleric, and this latter him. He said: "well would he that on a forked stick is at the fire have rendered thee the responses and sung psalms with thee." "What is this at all?" Caenchomrac asked. The other answered: "soon told-a monastery that we have down under this loch (now that there should be subaqueous inhabiting of men is with God no harder than that they should dwell in any other place), and the monastery's young men mutinied: for which they were expelled in form of swine. These now it is that to-day are slaughtered in Slieveleitrim, and one of the same is he at the fire on a forked stick. I am his father according to the flesh; here in my hand is his psalter, and on thee I confer it" ('the Swine's Psalter' it was called, and for a length of time subsisted in Clonmacnoise; but the name given to Eoghan was an banbh, or 'the Pigling,' which indeed was an application of the term to one with a boar's mouth). Caenchomrac licensed the father to take him away and bury him, and he said to the bishop: "what hinders thee, cleric, that thou comest not with me to inspect the monastery that is under this loch ?" Caenchomrac answered: "I will go." They both dive into the loch and enter the monastery, where from the one canonical hour to the same of the following day Caenchomrac tarried. On the morrow he returns to his house, and he all covered with lacustrine wrack. He made a frequent practice of resorting to the parts beneath the loch; nor from that time forth, and so long as he lived, was the monastery in any way veiled from him.

On every Easter Thursday the various clerics used to resort to inis aendaimh, to Caenchomrac, that he might consecrate oil for them. He on the other hand would perform canonical service for them, give them Mass, consecrate their oil, and preach to them. After service and Mass on which day it was customary to have a banquet; and [on this particular occasion of ours] ale and meat, as the habit was, is served out to the clerics. Caenchomrac left them, went out, and the greater part of that day spent away from them. Later he came back to the house where they dined, saluted them, and after like fashion they greeted him. He sees them have their dishes full of fat pork, and falls to chide them for eating such in Lent. He gave them great objurgation-anger and prodigious indignation seized him to the extent that for the godliness flashing in his visage they might not look him in the face. The clerics fled before him. Away from them Caenchomrac rushed abroad, and from that time to this has not been seen nor is it known whether it were under the loch he went to dwell in the monastery, with serving of God, or whether it were angels that carried his soul to Heaven. After this the sages of the Gael never have eaten flesh on Maunday Thursday.


Silva Gadelica. ed. and trans. Standish Hayes O'Grady. 1892. reprint: NY: C. Lemma Publishing Corporation, 1970.

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