Saint Fortiarnán, Bishop and Hermit
February 17 is the Commemoration of Saint Fortiarnán (Fortchern)
St. Fortiarnán (Fortchern) left his native Meath and travelled down to Carlow to set up monastic communities at Killoughternane and Tullow. He was the teacher of St. Finian, himself known as a great educator.
“Saint Fortchern is said to have been converted to the faith by Saint Loman, whom he succeeded as bishop of Trim, Ireland, before becoming a hermit. In art, St. Fortchern pictured as a bishop among bell-founders of whom he is the patron.”
“St Fortchearn 2nd Bishop of Trim, Co Meath and Cill-Fortcheirn in Uí Drona, Co Carlow 5/6th centuries. St Fortchearn was the son of Prince Feidhlimidh who had a castle in Trim and who was son to King Laoghaire Mac Niall, the reigning monarch in Ireland. His mother was Scoth, a daughter of the King of Britain. When St Patrick and St Loman came to Trim, she welcomed them and encouraged her son to hear them. He was thereupon baptised by St Patrick.
St Fortchearn became a pupil and novice of both St Loman and St Patrick and they took charge of his education in all fields. St Fortchearn followed a religious vocation and soon became a priest, and later Abbot in one of St Loman’s monasteries When St Loman felt his death approaching he wanted St Fortchearn to succeed him but the latter wanted to refuse through humility and the fact that he was about to inherit his fathers’ previous possessions which had been given to the Church. However, he was persuaded to accept when it was agreed that all the properties would be committed to St Patrick and to God. He assumed authority as Abbot and Bishop over all St Loman’s responsibilities but almost immediately handed authority over to a visiting pilgrim Cathald or Cathlaca. St Fortchearn then left and founded another monastery and school in Hy-Felimy near Tullow, Co Carlow which was called Tulach (=Hill of) Fortchearn or Cill Fortcheirn Uí-Drona. Tradition says that St Finian of Clonard was Baptised by St Fortchearn and that he received a most excellent education in his school at Tullow in Psalms, Canticles and Church Offices. When Finian reached 30 years of age he left to found his own monastery and famous school at Clonard.
St Fortchearn is listed in a number of Calendars. He was venerated in the various places where he laboured. We do not have specific details about his growth in holiness and his Acts nor concerning dates for either his birth at Trim or his death at Cill-Fortcheirn but his lifespan is likely to have been somewhere between about 450 and 550.”
“Patrician hagiography records that Loman was a Briton, and his royal convert, Fortchern, son of an Irish king and a British mother. The monastery of Trim produced a number of Irish saints, a fact alluded to in the entry for the day in the Martyrology of Tallaght: “Lomman i nAth Truim cum suis omnibus et Fortchern.”
The accompanying notes record of Fortchern: “epscop, deiscipul Patraic, 7 ó Ath truim il-Laeghaire dó, ocus ó Chill Fortceirn i n-Uibh Drónna i Laighnibh”, “a bishop, a disciple of Patrick, and from Áth Truim in Loeguire was he, and from Cell Fortcheirn in Huí Dróna in Leinster”…
The Martyrology of Donegal records the Patrician associations of both saints and the royal background of Forthchern: “FOIRTCHERN, son of Feidhlimidh, son of Laoghaire, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. He was a bishop, and a disciple of Patrick, and he was of Ath-Truim in Laoghaire, and of Cill Foirtcheirn in Ui-Dróna, in Leinster. LOMMAN, Bishop, another disciple of Patrick, and he was of Ath-Truim also; and Darerca, sister of Patrick, was his mother.”
Against the backdrop of the Blackstairs Mountains stand the remains of St. Fortiarnán’s church, diminutive rectangular church which dates back to the tenth or eleventh century.
It is testament to the building skills of these early stone masons that all four walls are still intact almost one thousand years after they were first built. Known as the ‘white church’, it is associated with St. Fortiarnán (Fortchern) who was a disciple of St. Loman of Trim, one of the companions of St. Patrick. Fortiarnán left his native Meath andtravelled down to the kingdom of Uí Dróna where he founded a monastic community at Killoughternane.
St. Fortiarnán’s Holy Well in the field across the road from the church. The well, which has been recently restored, has been visited through the centuries. According to local history, “there was more than a newspaper could hold of cures of people who came from county Wexford across the mountains”. In the nineteenth century a local woman cleaning the well found a chalice and paten. These artefacts date to the late sixteenth century and may have been hidden in penal times by a priest who was celebrating open-air masses nearby.