Saint Donnan and Companions
Feast day: 17th April
ST. DONNAN, OF EGA, OR EGG ISLAND, ABBOT, AND FIFTY-TWO OF HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, IN SCOTLAND. [SIXTH AND SEVENTH CENTURIES.]
SOON after St. Columba had founded lona, the zealous Columban monks of his institute established many churches and cells in the Hebrides. In every one of these Islands, the churches and chapels were much more numerous, in former times, than they have been since the Reformation. Except some of those in Lewis and Harris, all the old churches were dedicated to the same patron saints, as those of Argyle, and other parts of Scotland, where the Scoto-Irish settled. Amongthe patrons may be noticed St. Columba, St. Brigid, St. Ciaran, St. Adamnan., St. Patrick, St. Barr, St. Brandan, St. Chattan, St. Martin, St. Caionach or Kenneth, &c. Even in Lewis and Harris, some of the churches were dedicated to Scoto-Irish saints, such as Columba, Brigid, Ciaran, Donan, or Adamnan. Towards the close of the last century, the ruins of twelve churches and chapels were standing, in Harris, besides several others, covered with moss and rubbish, although tradition carefully preserved their names. Their situation was likewise known to the people. In the Island of Taransay, there was a church, called Eaglais Tarain, but tradition was silent regarding it, in the last century. In the ancient Martyrology, there is a St. Tarnanus, called Tarananus, by Fordun, in his Scotichronicon. In the Island of Bemeray, likewise, there is a Cill Aisaim, supposed by Rev. John Macleod, to signify, a cell, or church, dedicated to St. Asaph.
That charity, which Christ came on earth to establish in the hearts and souls of men, receives no higher encomium, than when for his sake their lives are devoted to their own and to their fellow-mortals’ salvation, especially when those lives are laid down for their friends. Such were the conditions fulfilled, by the devoted Martyrs of Eigg, as their memories are recalled on this day, in the Scoto-Irish settlement among the Hebrides. On the 17th of April, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, we find entered, Donnan, of Egha, with fifty-two of his monks, whose names had been written, in a larger book, which appears to have been that, now known as the “Book of Leinster.” The Bollandists have some notices of these Martyrs, at this same date, with certain doubts expressed, that all their names had been clearly remembered and recorded by posterity, even if we could be assured, that all their names have been written down correctly, from the earliest records. St. Donnan’s name occurs, in the Calendar and Office, found in the Aberdeen Breviary, at the proper day. But, no special allusion to his history can there be discovered. Wherefore, the writer of his memoir, in the “Acta Sanctorum,” is obliged to depend exclusively upon Irish authorities. Especially does he quote the Martyrology of Tallagh, and a transcript, sent from Louvain, by the Irish Father Thomas O’Sheerin, and which he extracted, from an Appendix to that Tract. In Bishop Forbes’ work, as also in that of Rev. S. Baring-Gould there are notices of this holy Abbot, and of his companions.
The pedigree of St. Donnan, is not recorded ; so that, all we can know concerning him must be gleaned, from short notices in our Irish Annals or Calendars. That he was a native of Ireland seems to be pretty generally received; and, probably, his religious profession had been made at lona, under the great Abbot, St. Columkille. Like some of his countrymen, Donnan was induced to settle, with a company of followers, in the western part of Scotland. He desired to make St. Columkille his Anmchara, which means confessor, or soul’s friend; but, the holy Abbot of lona refused that office, for his community. Ega was the name of that Island, in which Donnan lived, after his coming from Erin. Here, it would seem, he planted a large community of religious. In after times, this Island home gave name to a parish, including Egg, Muck and Rum. These are found, among the group of Hebridean Isles. At Eigg, the community did not live unmolested, and Columba had foretold their approaching martyrdom. This, however, did not prevent Donnan with his people taking up their abode on that Island. Three sheep, belonging to a certain rich woman of that region, were kept. Some accounts have it, that she was a queen and, owing to her envy towards the monks, she moved a plot for their destruction. There came sea-robbers on a certain time, to this Island, and while St. Donnan was celebrating the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He requested of them not to kill him, until he shouldhave the Mass celebrated, and they gave him this respite. Then, St.Donnan, addressing his disciples, said, “Let us retire to the refectory, that the robbers may slaughter us, where we have carnally feasted ; for, we may not die, so long as we remain, where our souls were engaged, in praising the Lord. But, where we refreshed our bodies, let us pay the mortal penalty.” We are told, that these religious were martyred, in the refectory of the monastery, and on the night of Easter Sunday. The Martyrology of Donegal states, that St. Donnan was afterwards beheaded, with fifty-two of his monks. All their names, says the Calendarist, are in a certain old book, among the books of Erin. This particular record is mentioned, as having contained the names of fifty-two monks, who were beheaded along with St.Donnan of Egg. Unquestionably, this belonged to the Book of Leinster; for, in the loose leaves—now in the Franciscan Convent—all of those names are given at length, in the contained copy of the Tallagh Martyrology.
The malicious woman, to whom we have alluded, had brought a marauding party—possibly of Picts—from the neighbouring coast, to murder the saint and his companions. The following are said to have been the names of these disciples, Aedanus, larloga, Maricus, Congallius, Lonanus, Maclasrius, Joannes, Arnanes, Erninus, Baithinus, Rothanus, Andrelanus, Carellus, Rotanus, Fergussaiuis, Rectarius, Connidius, Endeus, Macloga, Guretius, Junetus, Coranus, Baithanus, Colmanus, Jernludus, Lugadius, Luda, Gruundus, Cucalinus, Cobranus, Conmundus, Cunminus, Balthianus, Senachus, Demanus, Cummenus, Fernlugus, Finanus, Finnchanus, Finnichus, Conanus, Modomma, Cronanus, Kieranus, Colmanus, Navinnus, Remannus, Erninus, Ailchuo, Donnanus. Here, however, we only find fifty different persons’ enumerated. We are also led to infer from the account, that these martyrs were burned to death. Possibly the murderers set fire to that chamber, where those brethren had assembled, slaying each one, as he endeavoured to escape. They are said to have died, on the 17th of April, A.D. 617, according to Tighernach. From this date, and from the evidences already adduced, it seems a great mistake to assert, that the paganism of Ireland and of Scotland had fallen peacefully, before the power of the Christian Faith, almost three centuries before the martyrdom of St. Donnan and of his companions, who suffered “red martyrdom,” in the Island of Eigg, by the hands of the Vikings. The Felire of St. Aengus, commemorates the martyrdom of this saint and of his clergy, at the 17th day of April. The Kalendar of Cashel and that of Maguire record, in like manner, his feast. This day was dedicated, according to the Martyrology of Donegall to honour Donnan, of Ega, Abbot. St. Donnan and his companions, who were martyred with him, are mentioned in the Martyrologies of Drummond, in the Kalendar of the Breviary of Aberdeen, in Adam King’s Kalendar, and in Thomas Dempster’s Menologium Scotorum. This St. Donnan was greatly venerated, in the north and west of Scotland; while various churches were built in his honour, and dedicated to him. The Island of Egg had a church, called Killdonain, and called after the present saint’s name. St. Donnan’s well is shown in Eigg. Until the Reformation, the Crozier of St. Donnan, was kept at the Church of Auchterless. There is a church, at Baldongan, in the county of Dublin. However, it cannot be safely asserted, that it had any connexion, with the present holy martyr, Donnan. The foregoing notices comprise nearly everything known, regarding this religious community of Martyrs. (more)