CELT document T201017

The Life of Saint Finan



The MS from which this life is edited is a fragment, now in the possession of F. A. MacCollum, Esq., the Honorary Secretary of the London branch of the Gaelic League, to whose kindness I am indebted for its loan, and for permission to prepare it for publication.

In the faint hope that the rest of the book to which the MS. originally belonged may some time be found, the following description is given that it may be identified. The fragment consists of eight leaves, obviously a single section or folio. There is no pagination, but the verso of the last leaf displays the catchword of the page that originally followed. The paper is coarse, without watermark, and of a lightish brown colour: the pages measure 9 1/2 inches by 6 inches. The writing is small, but very neat and clear; the ink is now of a dark brown colour; contractions are limited to the most ordinary. There are 22 lines in the majority of the pages: the lines and margins are ruled with pencil.

The contents of the MS. are twofold:
I. pp. 1–13. Beatha Naomh Fionáin Locha Laoi.
p. 14 is blank.
II. pp. 15–16. Fragment of the Betha Brenainn as contained in the Book of Lismore, in a different handwriting.
I. The life of Finan is similar in type to documents of the same class, being simply a collection of miracles strung together with very little connection between them. The present text has all the appearance of being a copy of an abstract of a larger  p.546 biography: the general style of the diction, and the survival of a few obsolete forms such as fa (paragraph 5), dobhear (paragraph 13) suggest the latter half of the seventeenth century as possibly the period to which to assign the preparation of the text in its present form. That it is an abstract is indicated by the absence of interspersed verses, possibly also by the absence of homiletic matter, and by the confused form in which some of the incidents are preserved: such as that in paragraph 11. Obviously in the original version the dumbness of the boy so suddenly introduced was transferred to the recalcitrant counsellor, as was Naaman's leprosy to Gehaiz. The abrupt introduction of the penitent robbers (paragraph 2), and of Nechtan points in the same direction.

The occurrence of such forms as uaibhrig, déinig, and several others, sufficiently attest the Munster origin of the present transcript: and what its owner knows of its previous history connects it with the same province. On the other hand we have áran twice at the end of paragraph 1; this (if not a mere blunder) has a distinctly northern sound.

The Text opens with the miraculous birth of Finan. This story has however been refined into a dream, and modified by the influence of legends of superhuman birth caused by swallowing (as in the Étáin and other myths). The tale of Finan's birth was originally much more savage, and is preserved in a quatrain cited by the Lebor Brecc glossator of the Félire Oengussa (see Félire Oengussa ed. Stokes p. lxxiii). We do not find mention in the present text of the name of Finan's mother (Becnat) or of the deformity that gave Finan the nickname Camm. The following is a catalogue of the subsequent incidents of the life, with such parallels as I have come across in other texts.

Paragraph 1. Healing by Becnat's saliva: no doubt suggested by John IX, 6.
Becnat miraculously divides food: obviously suggested by cognate Gospel miracles.
Becnat preserved from the rain: similar tale of Finan, paragraph 14.
Separation of Cows and Calves: a stock miracle of saints at the commencement of their career. Cf. the Lismore lives of Brigit and Senán and Mo Chua.
Finan's staff bent by the fire to a crozier.
Delay of death till the Sacrament be prepared.
 p.547 Miraculous fire of grace: cf. the Lismore Brigid and Senán.
Paragraph 2. Parting of Finan and Brendan.
The cursing of the ungrateful kernes. Apparently the tale at line 477 of the Lismore Patrick (ed. Stokes) is a worn-down version of a similar story.
Paragraph 3. The miraculous moving of the canoe: a curious incident; I have not come across anything exactly similar. But see the notes, post.
Paragraph 4. Lonán saves Finan from highwaymen: the same tale is told in the life of Ciaran of Saighir, but the result was not so satisfactory for Lonán as in the present case.
Restoration of the one calf of Finan's host: a similar miracle in the Lismore Brigit and Findian. Horse given miraculously instead of injured horse. 1 Paragraph 5. Tree moved out of way.
Soft bog crossed safely.
Paragraph 6. Paralysed boy healed.
Well formed by blow from crozier: also in the Lismore Senán.
Paragraphs. 6, 7. Nechtan 2 invades Corkaguiney; his degradation and repentance: no doubt a reminiscence of the story of Nebuchadnezzar.
Paragraph 8. Miraculous power of walking bestowed.
Paragraph 11. Price of ransom of land obtained miraculously.
Finan's crops preserved from rain: as were Brigit's; cf. Lismore life.
Paragraph 10. Murderers' hands stayed.
Paragraph 11. Transference of dumbness to an opponent of Finan.
Paragraph 12. Lame man healed; the miraculous trews.
Paragraph 13. Horse healed.
King's son struck dumb for opposing Finan.
Monk healed.
Paragraph 14. Finan preserved from rain.
Paragraph 15. Muichealloch's calf restored by the wolf: this tale has  p.548 come to us in a confused form, but an essentially similar story is told in the Lismore Patrick. Smith empowered to lift red hot iron.
Paragraph 16. Fish taken from meadow.
Finan's apotheosis deferred till a child he healed: I have come across nothing comparable with this graceful little incident.

My object in preparing this edition has been to reproduce faithfully what the manuscript before me said, rather than to produce a standard text of the 'Life.' Lack of leisure compels me to leave to others the work of seeking out and collating any other copies of the text that may exist. 3 I have therefore abstained from emendation, even in the case of obvious errors, except in one or two places which are clearly marked. A life of Finan on vellum was in the possession of O'Reilly the lexicographer. I have found six quotations from it in his Dictionary: these shew that the text was older and much fuller than that before us:
do chonncatar an tech fa dhoighir (end of paragraph 1).
go ro bris feártás carbaid na hinghne (not in the present text: but this probably belongs to the life of Finnchua, cf. Lismore, ed. Stokes 3001).
feargaither iadsum fris an manach. (?)
ro shír cobhair ar Dhia. (?)
Aroile aimsir do cuaidh Fionan go Caisel mar a raibhe rí Mumhan .i. Failbhe Flann da iarraigh ar an rí anfhorlann cíosa baoi fora cineadh do leigean gan tabhach (beginning of paragraph 11).
agas iar ttoigheacht an laoigh ro imthigh an faolchu (a variant of the tale in paragraph 15).
The text contains two words not in O'R.: cám (paragraph 1) and cloidhbruth (paragraph 6).

II. The Brendan fragment presents some points of interest. As will be seen from the appended collation with Dr. Stokes' edition, it is transcribed from the Lismore text, literally preserving the errors, omissions, and for the most part the exact  p.549 contractions of that MS.: the variants tend to shew that the scribe of the MS. before us had only a hazy idea of the meaning of what he was writing. We must I think assume an intermediate exemplar between the Book of Lismore and the present MS., for several reasons. (I) We do not know when the Book of Lismore was hidden, but it was certainly before c. 1800, which is probably the approximate date of the present MS.; it was not found till 1814, which is later than I should be inclined to date the MS. The latter was therefore written at a time when the Book of Lismore was not available. (II) It will be noticed that the scribe commences in the middle of a sentence. I can explain this only by supposing that the assumed intermediate copy was damaged, and that the scribe left the preceding page blank in the hope that some day he might come across a more perfect copy from which to supply the missing matter.

The hand in which the Brendan is written is larger and rounder than the Finan.


Beatha Naomh Fionáin Locha Laoi

Edited by Stewart Macalister

Whole text


The Life of Holy Finan of Loch Lee

[1] The origin of Saint Finan is assigned to Corkaguiney. The night of his conception his mother had a vision that a golden fish came on wings from the sunrise and fell into her mouth, and that thence she became with child. She went to Saint Critan and told him her vision. Said Critan “A saint will he born to you, and Grod's graces will he with him.” That was clear: so long as he remained unborn, though the snow and storm of the universe were pouring, not a drop would touch his mother's vesture; and every sick person whom her saliva used to touch was healed; and all meat that her hands used to divide, however little it was and however many the divisions, would be sufficient for them: for from the birth of him, that is of Finan, and while he was yet a child, God's graces were with him. On a time when he went out with children, he told them everything, well or ill, that would come to them: and everything, small or great, happened to them. Of diseases that used to meet him he healed every one. One day when Finan was set to watch the calves, that they should not go for nourishment to the mother-kine, as they were a long way off he rose and drew the staff that was in his hand between the kine and the calves and said “May He who divided the sea asunder and suffered not the children of Israel to be drowned, suffer ye not to come together”: and neither of them crossed the boundary. Another day Finan went and fetched a rod from the wood without Brendan's leave. Brendan drew the rod from his hand and cast it on the fire; and though the rod was a long time on the fire it consumed it not; and seemingly the fire touched  p.553 it not, and crookedness as of a crozier came on it, though it was straight when it went on the fire. Another time after that one of the followers of Finan was in sickness unto death. That was told to Finan, and he said “Bid the soul not leave the body till the bread of the brethren be prepared.” And the soul stayed in the body till he came at five hours after midday, till he received the Sacrament of the church at Finan's hand. Another day when Finan was kneading bread for Brendan without his attendants the house wherein he was was seen by the monks on fire; and they all ran to save the house. Said Brendan “You need not hasten, yonder is no houseburning fire, but the fire of the Grace of the Holy Spirit coming to the humility of Finan.” Howbeit the brethren came to the house, and found no fire: they found Finan alone, kneading the bread as we have described.

[2] When Brendan saw how many marvels God worked upon Finan, he took it ill that they should be hidden, and he said to Finan, “Beloved brother, it is meet for each of us to have a following and a church for the service of God. Let the choice be thine to stay here with part of the disciples, and for me to go to seek another place.” “Not so” said Finan, “for I am the younger: it is I who shall go to seek another place. Put thy blessing on me.” “Be it so”, said Brendan. “Go thy way till thou reachest Slieve Bloom, and the place where a herd of wild boars comes in thy path there build a church.” Finan went with the blessing of his tutor, that is, of Brendan, and a herd of wild boars met him as Brendan said, and he stayed there and founded a church in Kinnitty, as it is called today. On a day when he was there there came companies asking meat of him. The steward met them and bade them wait till Finan had said mass. They said that they would not wait and that they must get meat. The steward came to Finan and told him that. “Give them”, said Finan, “whatever thou hast.” Then a devout woman came to Finan with nine loaves and butter-sauce: the steward gave that to the kernes: they took their fill, and gave no thanks to God or to Finan, and destroyed what they left of the food. Said the steward “Not God but the devil it is who has made ye do this ill.” They were minded to slay the  p.555 steward, and he fled before them to the church. Said Finan “Ye shall all be slain before nightfall, save the twain who gave ye no aid in your ill.” And that was verified, for they all perished save those twain: and they fled to Finan what time the rest of them were perishing and told of their death.

[3] Another time a canoe was made for Finan beside Loch Luidheach in Kerry: and he sent word to the lord of the soil to bid him bring the canoe to the lake. The lord came with his followers, and could not in any wise move it. When Finan saw that they could do naught with the canoe he made prayers to God and an angel brought the canoe without delay to the water.

[4] Another time a company of robbers met Finan when he was walking and they lusted to slay the saint with his followers: when a gentle named Lonan met them on whom came God's direction to prevent them from slaying his people. Lonan did so. Said Finan, “Lonan, since thou hast saved us from our foes, and from the foes of the Faith, thy foes shall not prevail against thee till the time of thy death.” Another day when Finan was journeying to his own country he chanced on a house: and the man of the house slew the calf of his one cow for the saint and his company. It was revealed to Finan, and he prayed; and there came immediately a calf from God, and it went to the cow as its own calf had gone. The same day the foot of one of Finan's carriage-horses broke, and God gave him a very beautiful horse out of the lake, which took the place of that horse for him till the end of three years. At the end of three years Finan said to the horse “Go to Loch Luidheach whence thou camedst, and be as thou wast before.”

[5] Another day Finan, journeying in his carriage chanced on a great tree right across the way so that the carriage could  p.557 not proceed on the road. Said Fionan “Do obeisance to thy Creator, O Tree, and rise and stand that I may go my way.” The tree rose without delay at the word of Finan, and when he had passed it lay in its own place without loss of leaf or branch. Another day when Finan was journeying beside the sea in his carriage, as was his wont, he came on a very soft bog beside him; and the sea was on the other side; so that the carriage could not go on the road. Said Finan to his servant “Go through the middle of the bog”: and the servant did as Finan said, and went through the bog without hindrance, without wetting a horse-hoof — but as though a way were prepared for him to go.

[6] Another day a boy, paralysed in foot and hand and every limb was brought to Finan, and his help was besought. He took the child on the spot and said to him “Rise in God's name and be whole.” The boy rose at Finan's word and was whole. Another day thirst took Finan, and he asked his servant for a drink of water. “Far off is water from this place”, said the servant. “Raise the crozier and strike its foot into the earth and give me water” [said Finan]. The servant did so, and a spring of water sprang up after the point of the crozier, and the servant gave water from it to Finan. Another day very great fear took hold on Corkaguiney by reason of Nechtan who was coming to ravage and to harry it. They sent messengers to Finan and begged him to come to help and save them from their enemies. Nechtan heard that Finan was coming to seek peace for Corkaguiney from himself, and he sent messengers to meet him who should forbid him to seek it, and tell him that he should not obtain it. Yet Finan came where Nechtan was; and since he could not get peace he asked a month's respite for his native country. He did not obtain it, and that being so he went to his own country and made holy water and gave it them to drink and said “Rise [against] their ravaging of your land and defend your country strongly, and leave it not to give battle to another host. If ye gain the victory be not puffed up and give glory to God who hath portioned it thus.” Nechtan came with a mighty host to plunder and ravage the land. That great host were smitten [sword-pressed?] by a few men who were before the land; and six score of them were slain. The zeal of the proud king to waste the land waxed hotter. Said Finan “I  p.559 bid the king's horse go from him with the horses; and let him be without kingdom till seven years be completed; and let him be forced to draw firewood for others on his own back to the fire for them.” Now every prophecy that Finan made to Nechtan was fulfilled. His horse died that day, and he himself was driven from his land and country to Diarmuid mac Carroll king of Ireland and was in poverty for a season in his house.

[7] On a certain day while he was there the king's steward came to him and bade him and the fuel-servants bring each man his load of firewood to the king's fire. Nechtan and his followers rose and went after the firewood: and they went astray in the wood, and found no place for sleeping, he nor his people, that night but the hollow of a tree: and he took the fuel on his back in the morning to the king's house. When Nechtan perceived that everything Finan had prophesied to him was come to pass, he returned to his own land and country and came into Finan's presence, and knelt down and besought pardon for the wrong he had done of God and of Finan: and when Finan saw Nechtan's repentance and abasement, he prayed for him and his kingdom was given back again to him.

[8] Another day an honest man who was in the land came to Finan and prayed him for his help for a great walk that it was necessary for him to accomplish in a short time. Finan lifted his hand and blessed the man so that he walked in three hours of the day another man's three days' journey.

[9] Another day the lord of his country came to Kinnitty to Finan, and complained to him that he would lose his land and country unless he obtained eight serving women for the king as tribute, or unless the king got the price of them. “Stay in my house” said Finan “till I find what God would do in that case.” When he arose from his sleep in the morning he found the price of the eight serving women in treasure near him, and he told that to Finan. “Go” said Finan, “and give that for thy land.” He did so, and he proceeded with Finan's blessing, and he reached Corkaguiney that night — which was three or four days' distance from Kinnitty — and paid his debt at the right time. Another day Finan's followers were reaping in the autumn, and there came a great rain so that not a man in the country  p.561 could reap: yet not a drop fell on the reapers of Finan, nor inside his field, though it was about the other fields on every side.

[10] Another day Finan when walking came upon a man bound, with people above him about to slay him. “For the love of God do not so” said Finan: now they could not strike one blow at him on the prayer of Finan, and when the people who were there saw that, they let him away from them to God and to Finan.

[11] Another day Finan went to Falvey king of Corkaguiney and prayed him to remit the heavy tax that he had on the land. “Though thou fastedst seven times for that”, said some of the king's counsellors, “thou shouldst not get the thing thou hast requested.” “If I get it not”, said Finan, “a misfortune will be sent from heaven on its account.” There came fire from heaven without delay and burnt the king's city and everyone who agreed with him. They brought a dumb boy to Finan and the king, and they prayed Finan to give him speech. He gave it him without loss of one word. The man of the king's followers who refused Finan with evil words repented, and gave everything that Finan asked of him. Finan blessed him and restored speech to his counsellor at the prayer of the king and those who were about.

[12] Another day a cripple who was one year and a half lying was brought to Finan [who healed him] with a word, so that he was three days and three nights in one sleep. Finan gave trews to him, and bade him wear them every day; and that they would last him all his life, and the day he put them not on death would be near to him.

[13] Another day when Finan was crossing a mountain the foot of his horse broke. He blessed it so that the bones fitted together and the horse was put into its place in the carriage, never so whole before! And he gave praise and thanks to God. Finan prayed the king for the release of a captive he had; the king's son was unwilling to release the captive. His speech was taken from him on the spot. Finan said to the king “If the captive be given to me, I will give speech to thy son.” The king let the captive from him, and speech came without delay to the son, and he gave thanks to God. Great sickness took a monk of Finan's followers, so that he was a whole year  p.563 without walking. Finan came to visit him, and put the sign of the Holy Cross on him, and blessed him, and said to him “Arise without the help of anyone.” When Finan said that, the sick man arose and was whole, and did as Finan commanded.

[14] Another day when Finan was in the midst of a great multitude, there came a great rain to them that wet excessively the clothes of the people that were around. Not a drop touched the dress of Finan, and when those who were about him saw that, they gave praise and glory to God and to Finan.

[15] Another day Finan came to visit Saint Muichealloch. He had two cows with one calf — the wolves had slain the calf of the other cow before — and Muichealloch gave orders to watch the surviving calf sharply for fear of the wolves. Said one of Finan's attendants “It will do it no hurt all the time Finan is in the town.” The wolves came that night and killed the calf. One of his attendants told that to Finan. Finan went to the place of prayer and besought God. The wolf who killed the calf came on the spot to the cows as though he were a tame calf there, and the cows licked him as though it were their own calf that was there. “That will not be accepted from thee” said Finan; “but bring a calf in the place of my calf which thou devouredst.” The wolf departed and came in the morning with a pure white very beautiful calf to the cows, and stayed himself guarding the calf, and neither did himself, or suffered other beasts to do injury to the cows or to the calf. This Finan healed five men of paralysis, and gave speech to five dumb men after that. One day Finan came to a smith's forge, and the smith's pincers broke with the red-hot iron in its jaws. The smith asked Finan what he should do. “Take the iron” said Finan, “and strike it.” The smith did as Finan said, and the red-hot iron did him no hurt.

[16] Another day Finan sent one of his attendants to fish in the lake that was in the meadow where his cows were, and said “A stranger is coming to us to-night.” The messenger went and took three fish out of the meadow where the cows were,  p.564 and close to them. Another day when Finan was in the midst of his monks he said to them “I am going from you now: howbeit the soul will not leave my body till I have healed the little girl who is being brought to me from far, and when she is healed I shall depart with the angels of Heaven.” And all that was verified.


Document details

The TEI Header

File description

Title statement

Title (uniform): The Life of Saint Finan

Title (original, Irish): Beatha Naomh Fionáin Locha Laoi

Author: unknown

Editor: Stewart Macalister

Responsibility statement

translated by: Stewart Macalister

Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

Funded by: University College, Cork, School of History

Edition statement

1. First draft.

Extent: 4912 words

Publication statement

Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2015

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T201017

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Source description

Manuscript Source

  • For details see Introduction.

Further Reading

  • Pádraig Ó Riain, A dictionary of Irish Saints (Dublin 2011), 327–330 (with bibliography).

The edition used in the digital edition

‘The Life of Saint Finan’ (1899). In: Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie‍ 2. Ed. by Stewart Macalister, pp. 545–564.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  editor 	 = {Stewart Macalister},
  title 	 = {The Life of Saint Finan},
  journal 	 = {Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie},
  number 	 = {2},
  address 	 = {Halle a. S.},
  publisher 	 = {Max Niemeyer},
  date 	 = {1899},
  pages 	 = {545–564}


Encoding description

Project description: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts

Sampling declarations

The present text covers pages 545–564 of the published edition.

Editorial declarations

Correction: Text has been proof-read twice.

Normalization: The electronic text represents the edited text. Expansions are marked ex. Names are capitalized in line with CELT practice. Hyphenation was introduced. Footnotes are marked note type="auth" and numbered.

Quotation: Direct speech is marked q.

Hyphenation: Soft hyphens are silently removed. When a hyphenated word (hard or soft) crosses a page-break, this break is marked after completion of the hyphenated word.

Segmentation: div0=the saint's life; p= the editor's paragraph. Page-breaks are marked pb n="".

Interpretation: Names are not tagged, nor are terms for cultural and social roles.

Profile description

Creation: Translation by Stewart Macalister

Date: 1899

Language usage

  • The text is in English. (en)
  • Some words in the Introduction are in Irish. (ga)
  • One word is in Latin. (la)

Keywords: religious; prose; medieval; Saint's Life; Saint Fionan; Saint Finan; Translation

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2019-06-05: Changes made to div0 type. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2015-07-23: File proofed (1, 2), markup applied; TEI header created; file parsed and validated. SGML and HTML versions created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2015-07-22: Text scanned in. (file capture Beatrix Färber)

Index to all documents

CELT Project Contacts



For details of the markup, see the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)

page of the print edition

folio of the manuscript

numbered division

 999 line number of the print edition (in grey: interpolated)

underlining: text supplied, added, or expanded editorially

italics: foreign words; corrections (hover to view); document titles

bold: lemmata (hover for readings)

wavy underlining: scribal additions in another hand; hand shifts flagged with (hover to view)

TEI markup for which a representation has not yet been decided is shown in red: comments and suggestions are welcome.

Other languages

G201017: The Life of Saint Finan (in Irish)

Source document


Search CELT

  1. Probably the original Life gave the reason, not stated in the abstract, why the miraculous horse was restored after three years. 🢀

  2. We are not told in the abstract anything about this Nechtan. Is he Nechtain Cennfhada who figures in the Lismore Senán? 🢀

  3. The Latin Life of St. Finan is in the Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae ex codice Salmanticensi, ed. C. de Smedt et J. de Backer, Edinburgi 1888, col. 305 to 318. (The Ed.). 🢀


2 Carrigside, College Road, Cork