Twelve Apostles of Ireland

This article is about the group of Irish saints. For the IRA unit sometimes known as the Twelve Apostles, see The Squad (Irish Republican Army unit).

St. Finnian imparting his blessing to the Twelve Apostles of Ireland

The Twelve Apostles of Ireland (also known as Twelve Apostles of Erin, Irish: Dhá Aspal Déag na hÉireann) were twelve early Irish monastic saints of the sixth century who studied under St Finnian (d. 549) at his famous monastic school Clonard Abbey at Cluain-Eraird (Eraird's Meadow), now Clonard in County Meath.



Clonard Abbey, situated on the River Boyne in modern County Meath was one of the main monastic schools in early Christian Ireland. During the 6th century, some of the most significant names in the history of Irish Christianity studied at the Clonard monastery. It is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard was 3,000. Twelve students who studied under St Finian became known as the "Twelve Apostles of Ireland".

This tradition is recorded in the 17th century, possibly based on older sources. The twelve saints are grouped together as such in the text Dá apstol décc na hÉrenn ("The Twelve Apostles of Ireland", the modern Irish being Dhá Aspal Déag na hÉireann). The text is preserved in a manuscript that belonged to Michael O'Clery (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale MS 2324–2340), dated 1629.

In the narrative, the twelve apostles of Ireland are gathered together for a feast in the house of St Finian, a magical flower appears in their midst. It is decided that a voyage to the flower's homeland is to be undertaken by one of them, the choice of person then being determined by casting lots. When, however, the lot falls on the old Brendan of Birr, his younger namesake Brendan moccu Altae goes in his stead. Brendan sets out with many companions and undergoes many adventures, much as related in Brendan's Life.

The Twelve Apostles

  1. Saint Ciarán of Saighir (Seir-Kieran). In the Martyrology of Oengus, saint Ciarán of Saighir is not listed as one of the twelve apostles of Ireland and instead is replaced by Finnian of Clonard himself. The numbering of Finnian as one of the Twelve, and not Ciarán of Saighir, appears to be the older tradition, by which Ciarán was attached to pair with Ciarán of Clon.
  2. more

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