According to tradition, St Moling was descended from Catahair Már (a Prince of Leinster) and was born in Sliabh Luachra, County Kerry in 614AD. His mother was Eamhnaid (or Emnait) and she had been seduced by her sister’s husband Faelán the Fair (son of Feradach, son of Odran, son of Dega, son of Findlug from whom are the Hui Dega of Leinster and Ossory) whilst visiting them in Leinster. Ashamed that she was pregnant, Eamhnaid fled for home, arriving at Sliabh Luachra during a bad winter when the snow was said to be so deep that it reached men’s shoulders. She gave birth to Moling outside in the deep snow and a company of Angels arrived and melted the snow from around the child thirty feet on every side.
Eamhnaid was of a mind to kill the child and ‘put her forearms about him, to inflict upon him death and extinction and tragic fate’. God then sent a white dove to protect the baby. The bird spread its wings around Moling, keeping him warm and covering him from attack. All throughout the night, as Eamhnaid tried to reach around the dove to kill Moling, it would move to ensure she could not reach her sons skin.
The Angels were eventually seen by two monks, Brénainn (St Brendan) (son of Findlugh/Findlug) and Collanach. Brénainn said to Collanach his priest, “Go to look at yon place, for there is a service of angels there from heaven to earth.” Collanach then found the child with the dove preventing his mother from stoning him to death. Upon hearing this Brénainn gave Collanach further instructions, “Go and baptize the infant, and bestow a noble name upon him, for heavens angels are honouring and reverencing him. And bring the babe with thee, and his mother with him to maintain him until his time of study arrives.”
Collanach baptised the baby as instructed, naming him Taircell (Tairchell) (from the word for surrounding, which referred to how the dove protected him). Eamhnaid and her child lived under the protection of Brénainn for seven years in Uamh Brénainn (Brendan’s Cave).
Brénainn would take the sons of nobles and wise men as his students and would assign them to Collanach who would do the actual teaching. Taircell joined these students following his seventh year and entered a class that was said to have thirty sons of Kings and Princes and Taircell was the best of them.
Until he was sixteen, Taircell would attend classes and also collect alms for the church and his fellow students, a task he requested of Collanach so that he may serve the best he could. Whilst collecting alms he would travel with two wallets a cup and a staff. One wallet was for bread and grain whilst the second was for bacon and butter.
One day whilst making a circuit of Luachair collecting alms, he saw on the path before him an Evil Spectre described as being a misshapen, ugly monster . With him was his household which included his wife, gillie, hound and nine human followers.
The Evil Spectre approached Taircell and attempted to rob him whilst the young cleric defended himself with the staff he carried. Then Taircell asked that a boon be granted to him. “What boon dost thou ask?” enquired the spectre. “To let me have my three steps of pilgrimage towards the King of heaven and earth, and my three steps of folly also, so that death may be the further from me.” The spectre replied “Let it be granted, for thou wilt never get away from us; since we ourselves are as swift as wild deer, and our hound is as swift as the wind.”
Taircell made his first leap and he jumped that far that the Spectre and his followers could barely see him in the far distance. Taircell made his second leap, which took him beyond their sight. His third leap took him onto the wall of the church enclosure. The Spectre and his household gave chase but Taircell jumped safely to the church and sat before Collanach in prayer. Upon recounting his escape from the Evil Spectre to his teacher, Collanach told Taircell that he was the prophesied one whom the angel Victor had foretold would come and from that from that time onward Taircell was to be known as Moling.
Founding of St Mullins
Brénainn believed it was Moling’s destiny to found a dwelling at Rinn Ros Broic (Badgers Wood Point) by the River Barrow. Many years earlier Brénainn had decided to build a monastery here but was prevented by an Angel who said “Do not make an abode here now, for in prophecy it is not for thee to make an abode here; but the boy who will be born at the end of thirty years from to-day, he it is, Moling of Linn mor, that will make a dwelling there. And tis he that will settle at the Point of Ros Broic on the brink of the Barrow, and tis a multitude that he will bring to heaven. And there he will perform his miracles and his marvels, and his Lord will come to converse with him in the guise of a leper.” Brénainn had already built the hearth, but stopped building the rest of his church as advised by the Angel.
Collanach gave Moling a monks tonsure and sent him to further his studies as a pupil of Maedoc of Ferns. After seeing Maedoc, Moling visited King Fingin, son of Aed at Cashel and was granted permission from the King to build an abbey church. Then an Angel approached Moling saying “What business hast thou to be asking a place here, while there is a place ready for thee by the streampools of the Barrow, and a fire alive for thirty years there awaiting thee? (This referred to the hearth built by Brénainn and abandoned in favour of Moling) And build thy church and thy patron saints temple there and serve thy Lord therein.”
Fingin had overheard the conversation between Moling and the Angel and urged the young monk to seek out the location mentioned by the Angel and promised to give him all the help he required. Moling found the location of Brénainn’s hearth and though the location had a reputation for robbery and theft and outrage, he built his church. The site of this monastery is now known as St Mullins.
At this time there were five sacred trees in Ireland, the bileda, each having grown from three natured berries from a branch born by the Irish God, Trefuilngid Tre-ochair (Triple Bearer of the Triple Key, Master of All Wisdom and consort of Macha, the triple goddess.) They were old trees and subjects of pre-Christian worship. One of these sacred trees of the old religion, the Eo Rossa (Yew of Ross) grew at Leighlenbridge on the River Barrow in County Carlow and had been recently felled. (Another of the bileda was the Eo Munga (Yew of Mugna) and bore as fruit apples, acorns and hazel nuts). St Molaisse distributed this wood amongst the Irish Saints and Moling approached him seeking some of the limbs of the tree for the roof of his oratory. Moling employed Gobban the Wright to construct his oratory. Gobban came with eight wrights, eight boys and eight women, including his wife Ruadsech the Red
Moling & The Leper
One day whilst coming from the wood, Moling encountered a leper who begged to be taken to his church, however, he could not travel unless he was comfortable. Moling offered to carry the leper upon his back, but seeing the monks raiment the leper feared that it may rub off his skin, so Moling removed it and he climbed on the monks back so their skin was touching. The leper then needed his nose blowing and asked Moling to assist. The monk offered the leper his hand to blow into, but the leper feared that his fingers would damage his nose, so he asked Moling to put his nose in his mouth and suck the mucus out, which he did.
As the Angel had told Brénainn over thirty years earlier, the leper was actually the Lord in disguise and after testing Moling he vanished. Moling said “If my Lord came to deceive me. I will neither sleep nor eat until my Lord comes to me clearly and evidently,” then he sat and waited. At midnight an Angel came to him enquiring in what guise the Lord should come to him in and Moling replied “In the guise of a boy of seven years, so that I may make transports of fondness around Him.” Christ came to him as a small boy and Moling held him in his arms until dawn.
That evening a large salmon was caught by a local fisherman and was given to Moling, who upon cutting the fish open discovered a gold ingot. Moling took the gold and divided it into three. One third he put toward enshrining his relics, the second portion he gave to the poor and the third set aside for doing his labour.
Moling and Ruadsech the Red
Moling was approached by the wife of Gobban the Wright, a woman known as Ruadsech the Red who asked the cleric for some cattle for herself and the wives of his workforce. Moling gave her two cows as she was the wife of his chief Wright and each of the other women received a single cow. One of the cows gifted to Ruadsech the Red was then stolen one evening by Grac the Marauder, though she blamed Moling, thinking that he had reconsidered his gift and decided to take one of the cows back.
Moling gathered his people and proclaimed that the cow would be found and Grac killed for his crime. Ruadsech the Red did not believe him and said that it was more likely that Moling wished him a long life. So the cleric told her that if she wished Grac to be burned to death he would be, but Ruadsech replied it was more likely that Moling would have a fire lit to keep Grac warm if he was cold. So Moling offered to have Grac drowned, but still believing that the thief was working for the cleric, she said it was more likely that he would give Grac a nice drink of water to quench his thirst. Finally Moling told her, “Go ye in pursuit of the cattle, Grac the marauder, tis he that has done yon deed, and he is by the streampools of the Barrow, with his wife and his child. And he has killed the cow, and is taking her flesh out of the cauldron. And catch ye him, and let him be killed by you, but let not the wife or the child be killed.”
They found Grac’s encampment and the cow was already dead and being cooked. The cattle thief was caught by surprise and wounded as the Moling’s people arrive. Trying to escape, Grac climbed a tree, only to fall out of it into the fire on which he was cooking the cow. On fire he ran again, but then fell into the River Barrow, where he eventually drowned. The cows body parts were collected and wrapped in the skin. It was then carried back to Moling who brought the animal back to life. However the animals colour had changed, the half where the meat had been cooked was now brown and the other half white. The resurrected cow which then produced enough milk for twelve men each day was not however returned to Ruadsech the Red and she was furious.
Ruadsech demanded that her husband make Moling pay for not giving her the cow and refused to sleep with him unless he asked the cleric for enough grain to fill oratory as his wage now that the building was finished. So Gobban agreed and asked Moling for the large amount of rye-grain. Moling told Gobban to invert the oratory, so that it stood on it’s roof and told the Wright that he would fill it with grain for him. So Gobban took block and tackle and turned the wooden oratory on it’s roof.
Moling sent messages to the Hui Degda in the East and West who came in their droves to assist the cleric. “If we had that much rye” they say, “it would be given to thee, but all the corn in Hui Dega is not more than the full of that oratory.”
Moling sent them home, requesting that they return the next day with all the food stuffs they could bring, including corn, nuts, apples and even green rushes. The Hui Degda returned and filled the oratory with all they had gathered and the Lord changed it all into rye-grain, thus fulfilling Gobban’s request. Gobban took his grain and left Moling, though the following day he found his wages had turned into a pile of maggots.
There are many other stories about St Moling such as how he stopped an annual cattle tax and his dealings with some local foxes. I hope to look more closely at these tales in later articles.
St Moling (also known as Dairchilla, Molignus or Myllin) succeeded St Aidan as the Bishop of Ferns. He died aged 82 in 696AD and was buried on 13th May at his monastery, St Mullins.
St Molings Feast Day is 17 June.