St. Domangard of Maghera, Hermit of Slieve Donard

March 24 is the Feast of St. Domangard of Maghera

St. Domangard of Maghera, Patron of Maghera, County Down, Ireland, sometimes called Donard. He was a contemporary of St. Patrick and a Hermit. The site of his hermitage, a mountain, now bears the name Slieve Donard.
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“March 24 is the feast of Saint Domangard or Donard, who has given his name to the highest mountain of the north of Ireland: Slieve Donard in the Mourne range of County Down. Sources record Saint Donard as one of the earliest converts of Saint Patrick, certainly his memory remained very much alive in the area and he was the subject of many stories and popular traditions. One, recorded by the nineteenth-century scholar John O’Donovan, was that he still celebrates the Sunday liturgy each week at the cairn atop his mountain home. Slieve Donard also appears to have been the site of a penitential pilgrimage in earlier centuries but it is only one of two sites associated with the saint. The other is Rath Murbhuilg or Maghera, a monastic foundation which sits at the foot of the Mournes. It’s an interesting site comprising a modern Anglican parish church with the ruins of a medieval church behind it, plus an old graveyard attached.
The remains of a round tower are set in an enclosure in an adjoining field … For a comprehensive account of Saint Donard and his locality I can recommend Sam Moore’s book, The Archaeology of Slieve Donard: A Cultural Biography of Ulster’s Highest Mountain, published in 2012. Details can be obtained from the Down County Museum. Below, however, is an earlier paper by an Anglican clergyman, Henry William Lett (1836-1920). Canon Lett, himself a County Down man, was a keen naturalist who had explored the Mourne mountains on fieldwork expeditions to collect specimens of mosses and lichens on which he published a paper in 1890. Here, however, he is writing about the site of Slieve Donard and the lore surrounding its saintly guardian. Lett also attempts to sort out some of the confusion introduced into the identification of some of the landmarks by the eighteenth-century writer Walter Harris:

patrick print
The following version of the legend of St. Patrick and St. Donard was collected just seventy years ago by John O’Donovan. It is the history of the conversion of “St. Donard.” I give it precisely as Dr. O’Donovan relates it in a County Down Ordnance Survey letter, dated Downpatrick, 24th April, 1834, for it would he a pity to risk the loss of the characteristic touches embodied in it by attempting to edit it. He mentions that the officer of the Ordnance Survey had stated that” there was no account of St. Donard existing in the traditions of the neighbourhood, and then he says:

” I find, however, that the fact is otherwise. The tradition preserved in the country concerning St. Donart is briefly this. When St. Patrick and his holy family came to Iveagh, and to that level district at the foot of the mountain called Slieve Donart, he sent one of his servants to a neighbouring chieftain named Donnart, to request of him to contribute something towards the support of his clargy (sic). Donart, at this time a fierce and warlike pagan chief, desired the servant to go and drive home yon bull (pointing to him in a certain field) to his master Patrick; but this was out of derision, because the fierce warrior well knew that twenty persons would be unable to drive that bull to any place, in consequence of his fierce and untameable nature.

‘Patrick’s servant, sir, goes to the field, and far from being able to drive home the mad bull, he narrowly escaped being killed by that fierce animal.

” So he returns to Patrick, and tells him the whole transaction. Then Patrick said to his servant “ As Donnart has given you leave to drive home the bull, take this halter with you, and as soon as you go to the place where the bull is, he will put his head into it, and then walk home with you.’ (The power of God, you know, sir, goes beyond anything. ) This was accordingly done, and, mirabile dictu, the animal having laid aside his native ferocity, walked over to the servant, put his head into the halter, and then walked home with him, meek and silent as the lamb when led to the slaughter. So great are the favours bestowed by the Almighty on those He loves! Patrick then got the bull killed and salted.

” Soon after this, as the fierce Donnart was one day walking out from his habitation, the fort of Rath Murbholg, near where the old Church of Maagherawe stood, he missed his bull, and swore by the wind, the sun, and the moon, that he would banish Patrick and his clargy out of his territory; with that, sir, he assembles his chosen troops, and coming to where Patrick, his family, and adherents were, accuses the saint of having sent his servant to steal his bull. Patrick replied that his servant had first obtained his highness’s permission, but Donnart denied that he had granted any. ” ‘Well then,’ said the holy Patrick, ‘ if your very great honour says so, you shall have your bull back again.’

So taking the feet, flesh, and skin, and placing them together, as well as he could, he knelt down, sir, on his hare knees on the ground, and prayed to the Disposer of all things to restore the hull to his former life and ferocity; and, wonderful to he said, all the distorted joints of the animal were replaced in their respective sockets, and all the organs and instruments of motion and life in all the channels and conductors of the animal fluids and spirits of existence were restored to their original functions, and the hull started into life resuming all his original fierceness.

” At the sight Donnart was seized with dismay, and throwing himself at the feet of the saint begged that he would take him under his protection, and make him one of his people by baptizing him.

” From this moment the warlike Donnart became a meek and humble disciple, and having become acquainted with the mild spirit of the Gospel, and seen the strict morality and self-refusal recommended in the Book of Life, he was induced to resign his chieftainship, abandon his fortified residence, give up his savage amusements of hunting the elk and other wild animals of the plain, and to betake himself to fasting and praying on the highest apex of that wild and desolate range of mountains which formed the southern boundary of his kingdom.

” St. Donnart says Mass every Sunday on his altar on the North -Western cairn on the mountain. There is also a cave running from the sea-shore at the South of Newcastle to the summit (if report be true) of Slieve Donard, through which cave some men have been so foolhardy as to venture up to the summit of the mountain, but after they had gone to a certain distance they were met by St. Donnart in his robes, who admonished them of the foolhardiness of their adventure, and, Lord bless you, Donnart was right, for it is difficult to climb up the steep side of that wild mountain in the open air, and under the broad light of day, not to say in a dark, steep cave. He also told them that it was to be his own peculiar residence until the day of Judgment.”

St. Donnart, or Domangard, or Donard, spent the life of a hermit on the mountain which bears his name, and built a cell or oratory on the top of it, somewhere near the end of the fifth century, having died, according to the Calendar, in the year 506, on the 24th of March; but the Patron Day used to be observed on St. James’s Day, the 25th of July, when, according to Harris, “people in this neighbourhood climb up the mountain to do penance, and pay their devotions perhaps to both saints.”

This author states further, that: “On the Summit of this Mountain are two rude Edifices (if they may be so termed) one being a huge heap of Stones piled up in a piramidical Figure, in which are formed several Cavities, wherein the Devotees shelter themselves in bad Weather while they hear Mass; and in the center of this Heap is a Cave formed by broad, flat stones so disposed as to support each other without the help of Cement. The other Edifice is composed of many Stones so disposed in rude Walls and Partitions, called Chappels, and, perhaps, was the Oratory and Cell erected by St. Domangard.”

“St. Domangart of Slieve Donard, or Domangard, also known as St. Donard, was a follower of St. Patrick and is the patron saint of Maghera in County Down, Ireland. His feast day is march 24th; his “church Rath Muirbuilc, now called Maghera, was at the foot of the mountain near the sea, but he had also an oratory on the very summit of the hill.” His death is given as 507 AD.
Domangart was the son of Eochaid, king of Ulster, a pagan king, and Derinilla, the kings wife. Eochaid, a wicked king, had condemned two Christian virgins who had offered their virginity to God, “bound them on the sea-shore under the rising waves,” because they refused to marry or worship his pagan idols. “Patrick begged a boon for them, that they should not be punished, and it was not obtained.” The king’s brother also attempted to intercede with the king, but to no avail. Patrick, in just retaliation, laid a curse on Eochaid, saying “There will never be either kings or crown-princes from thee …” and further predicted that the king’s brother and his sons would rule over all Ulster. The king’s wife Derinilla was hurt by this curse and its affect on her unborn child. “So the king’s wife went and prostrated herself at Patrick’s feet. Patrick gave her a blessing, and blessed the child that was in her womb, and he is Domangart, son of Eochaid. He it is that Patrick left in his own body, on Sliab Slangra, and he will abide there for ever; for he is the seventh person whom Patrick left alive safe-guarding Ireland.” Domangart lived on the mountain now called after him Slieve-Donard/ Sléib Domangaird.
In the book Tripartite which describes St. Patrick’s life there is mention made of the keepers whom Patrick had set on various well known hills in Ireland. They are said to belong to Patrick’s familia, or household; and the writer adds, “they are alive in Ireland still.”
… There is a fifth watcher of Patrick on Slieve Slainge — namely, Domongart, from whom the hill gets its present name of Slieve Donard — in Down. It will not be denied that he, too, has an airy postion and a wide look out, but he has a special duty to perform. It will be his business to upraise Patrick’s relics before the day of doom.

St. Domongart, son of Echaid, was a historical personage who had an oratory on the mountain; but his ceaseless watching is no doubt purely imaginary. The writer adds, however, that “he has a fork and its belongings” — meat, let us hope — “and a pitcher of beer always before him at his church at Rath Muirbuilc on the slope of the mountain, and he gives them to the mass-folk on Easter Tuesday always. It may be said that in a spiritual sense all this is true. From these lone summits God’s Guardian Angels keep watch and ward over all the land of Erin that Patrick loved so well. … Perhaps, too, it might have some foundation in a more literal sense if we take it that Patrick ordered a perpetual watch to be maintained by the religious of the nearest monasteries from those conspicuous peaks. … There certainly was an ancient oratory on Slieve Donard.” “
slieve donard
Slieve Donard (Sliabh Domangard or Sliabh Dónairt in Irish) is the highest mountain in Northern Ireland at 849 (2,786 ft). It is situated by the small seaside town of Newcastle on the east coast. Sitting at the edge of the Mourne Mountains only 2 miles (3 km) from the sea, it provides spectacular views of the coast and as far afield as Belfast, 30 miles north. The mountain is an easy climb although the path is very eroded at places. In recent years a stone path has been made on the steepest parts of the mountain. The most prominent feature of this mountain is the Mourne Wall running along its southern and western shoulders. Slieve Donard is named after Saint Domangart, or Domangard, also known as Saint Donard. He was a follower of Saint Patrick and the patron saint of the town of Maghera, also in County Down. His feast day is March 24; his “church Rath Muirbuilc, now called Maghera, was at the foot of the mountain near the sea, but he had also an oratory on the very summit of the hill.”
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“Ireland was Christianized from the 5th to 8th centuries. A local Christian missionary, Saint Donard (known in Irish as Domhanghairt or Domhanghart), became associated with the mountain. According to tradition, he was a follower of Saint Patrick and founded a monastery at Maghera, a few miles north of the mountain. Donard seems to have made the Great Cairn into a hermit’s cell and used the Lesser Cairn as an oratory. In doing so, he “appropriated the mountain and the monument for Christianity”. According to the Life of Saint Patrick and the Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick, Patrick blessed Donard in the womb, declaring that Donard would not die but abide inside the mountain as a perpetual guardian. According to folklore, a cave runs from the seashore to the cairn on the summit, and it is here that Donard (or Boirche) lives. The writings of Gerald de Barri indicate that in the late 12th century the name Sliabh Slángha was going out of use and being replaced by Sliabh Domhanghairt. Sliabh Dónairt is the modernised spelling.
Up until the 1830s, people made a pilgrimage to the mountaintop in late July each year. It is likely that this was originally a Lughnasadh ritual that became Christianized. The church at Maghera and St Mary’s Church at Ballaghanery Upper may have been starting points for the pilgrimage.”
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Maghera Round Tower 002s
It is believed that St Domangard or Donard founded a monastery here in the early christian period c.500 AD. He lived as a hermit on Slieve Donard, a nearby mountain that is named after him. There are no antiquities remaining from the early foundation but excavations in 1965 produced evidence of occupation around the tower during the Early Christian period. The medieval church situated behind the more modern church probably dates to the 12th century. It is much harder to date the round tower as there are no features such as windows or doors that normally help in dating round towers. The tower, which is built from rough uncoursed granite field-stones similar to the tower at Castledermot, is believed to have fallen in the 18th century as a result of storm damage.
Maghera Round Tower 005s

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