Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Celtic Beginnings - Continued

I ended the blog on 9th January by saying that the meaning in Gaelic of 'McIlhagga' may be 'devotee or follower of (Saint) Mochuda'. John MacQueen in an article about Gaelic speakers of Galloway and Carrick, in the south west of Scotland, has pointed out that 'it is probably safe to assume that a surname that included the name of a saint originally belonged to a family in some way connected with the service of the saint's church. Names compounded with "gille" offer particularly good evidence of this relationship'. Well, we know that 'Il' in our name is the Gaelic 'gille'. Interestingly he goes on to say that 'the status of men with such surnames was frequently far above the servile'.

Well, Mochuda was the 'familiar', maybe the nickname of St. Carthage, as Mungo was the nick-name of St. Kentigern. Carthage became the Abbot and Bishop of Lismore in the south of Ireland in 635AD. He was one of the leading figures in the Celtic Church in Ireland, and there are probably some place names there which commemorate him, though I have yet to find them. There was always a strong link from Ireland to Scotland and the name Mochuda is thought to be part of the place names there: Kirkmahoe in Dumfriesshire, Kilmahoe in Kintyre and Kilmahow in Cardross, Dumbartonshire.

It is recorded that St. Carthage, Mochuda, was born 'of a good family' in what is now County Kerry about the year 555. He spent his youth as a swineherd near Castlemaine and became a monk in a neighbouring monastery under the guidance of St. Carthage the Elder. In 580 he became a hermit for a time and in about 590 founded the monastery of Rahan. He was consecrated Abbot-Bishop of the Fercal District. In 635 he was given a 'foundation' by the Prince of the Decies and thus was begun the episcopal city of Lismore in County Waterford. There he left a famous Abbey, Cathedral and infant University when he died on 14th May 637, after spending the last eighteen months of his life in contemplation in a cave near the present St. Carthage's Well.

Marion Kearney in a little book, Celtic Heritage Saints writes 'The main section of Lismore Monastery was situated in a dramatic position on a high crag. Today there is little trace of St. Carthage's famous monastery. Lismore Castle was built on the site and the monastic ruins were incorporated into the general construction'. There seems to be some dispute about which is the feast-day of 'our' saint, either on May 15th or August 19th.

2 Aug 2010: I have added the illustration above from an article on St. Carthage in Wikipedia. It is of the North side of the altar tomb of John and Catherine McGrathin in the nave of St. Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland. The tomb was carved in 1543. The carved saints are from the left to right, St. Carthage (Mochuda), St. Catherine and St. Patrick. Photographer: Andreas F. Borchert. Published under the GNU Free Documentation License, The Free Software License.

1 comment:

  1. Ronald Black in an article 'Personal names...' in a journal called 'West Highland Notes and Queries', Series 3, No.16, June 2011, page 16, has made the comment that 'Presumably the earliest origin of all names of the type "Gille + religious figure" lies in prayer or in the birth of a child on a particular feast-day'. If this is so for our clan, I wonder who that could have been, and in what year?