Tuesday, 13 June 2017

St. Carthage and Spike Island

The River Lee flows from Gougane Barra through the City of Cork, as a sort of perpetual re-enactment of the religious lift of the great Saint Finbar, whose monastery in Gougane was followed by his monastery and great school in Cork, where he spent the last seventeen years of his earthly life, until his holy death on 25th September, 623.

However, the Lee flows on past Cork into the ocean, just as Finbar's soul flowed on into eternal life - there is deep meaning in the flowing of rivers!  As the Lee passes into its estuary, the harbour of Cork, it passes Spike Island, where Little Nellie of Holy God lived and where her mother died.  Nellie had been born in Waterford, and it was another saint associated with Waterford who first sanctified Spike Island.

St. Carthage was born of a noble family of Kerry.  He founded a monastery at Rahan in Offaly but was forcibly expelled with all his monks on account of the jealousy of local clerics about the year 634.  Travelling south, he obtained a cure for the King of Munster, Cathal Mac Aodh, and was granted the islands in Cork harbour for a monastery.  He seems to have resided there only a year but to have left a small monastic community there, including the three sons of Nascann, Bishop Goban, Sraphan the Priest and Saint Laserian.  He then proceeded to Lismore, where he established his great monastery and school that was to form the basis of the present Diocese. 

For this reason, even at the time of the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1110, it appears that the Diocese of Lismore extended as far as the Diocese of Cork and encompassed the Diocese of Cloyne.  I cannot account for the 'disappearance' of the Diocese of St. Colman Mac Léine (522-604) for the period of four and a half centuries.  There is also some doubt as to whether Spike Island itself was included in the Diocese of Lismore or of Cork at the time.  Certainly, a decretal of Innocent III of 1199 includes Spike Island in the Diocese of Cork.  There was certainly a Bishop in Cloyne by 1148 and the Diocese is listed among the Dioceses of Ireland at the Synod of Kells in 1152.  Even as late as the 16th Century, the collection records include Kilworth in the Diocese of Lismore.

Returning to the Holy Island of Spike, the Martyrology of Tallaght recordes a St. Ruisen or Lappan in connection with Spike Island.  He seems to be one with the Bishop of Cork, second successor of St. Finbar, who died in 685 or 687.  The monastery was still extant in 821, when the death of Sealbhach, the abbot, is recorded.

The church and island of "Ynespic" was granted by Henry II to Milo de Cogan in 1177 and later fell to St. Thomas' Abbey in Dublin and at the time of the despoilation of the Religious Houses of Ireland in 1541, it was under the control of St. Catherine's, the Augustinian House in Waterford.