I. THE HOMILETIC INTRODUCTION (VG)
The three Latin lives plunge in medias res at the beginning; but VG prefixes an introduction borrowed from a Homily on Charity. The Irish text of this homily, with the original Latin, will be found printed from the fifteenth-century MS. called Leabhar Breac ("The speckled book”) in Atkinson’s Passions and Homilies (Dublin 1887). The text announced by the preacher is clearly suggested by incident XXII. It has already been shown in the Introduction, that this Life, with its homiletic preface, was a sermon written to be preached or read on the festival of the saint (9th September) at Clonmacnois.
The keynote of the Irish homily is struck in this first section. It is the work of some scholar of Clonmacnois, with a warm enthusiasm for the dignity of his alma mater. The sermon is as much a eulogy of Clonmacnois as of Ciaran. In the preacher’s view, Clonmacnois is the chief and central church of Ireland, and the source of all ecclesiastical discipline in the country. Its founder excelled his fellow-saints as the sun excels the stars (Sec. 2). His pre-eminence was recognised by angels, who relieved him of labour when his turn came (Sec. 13): and on several occasions Findian showed a like favouritism (Sec.Sec. 18, 20, a, d, 23). Clonmacnois was superior to the rival house at Birr (Sec. 20 b); and possessed in the hide of the Dun Cow an infallible passport to heaven (Sec. 20 c). The vision of the tree seen by Enda and by Ciaran prophesied the pre-eminence of Clonmacnois (Sec. 24). The other saints were envious of his renown and of the glory of his monastery (Sec. 40).
The Hymn of Colum Cille.—Following the usual practice of Irish prose literary composition, the homilist intersperses his work throughout with verse extracts, appealed to as the authority for the various statements which he has occasion to make. In the present section he draws upon a hymn made by Colum Cille in honour of Ciaran. To this hymn, and to its surviving fragments, we shall return in commenting upon incident LI, where the composition of the hymn is alluded to.
The Ante-natal Prophecies.—Patrick is said also to have prophesied the advent of Senan (LL, 1845) and of Alban (CS, 505); and Becc mac De that of Brenainn (LL, 3343). But the parallels drawn between the Life of Ciaran and that of Christ have made such prophecies especially appropriate in the present case.
The prophecy of Saint Patrick took place under the following circumstances (VTP, p. 84 ff.). The leper whom, in accordance with a custom frequent in early Irish monasticism, Patrick is said to have maintained—partly for charity and partly for self-abasement—departed from Patrick when the latter was on the holy mountain of Cruachan Aigli (Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo). He made his way to the then empty site of Clonmacnois, and sat in the split trunk of a hollow elm tree.