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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

St Finbarr's Monastery, Gougane Barra

St Finnbarr was a saint very much associated with Cork, and the wider Munster area. He was born in Cork and set up his primary monasteries in the county.

Finbarr was the son of the chief smith of the King of Munster. His parents had been sentenced to be burnt at the stake by the king who had disapproved of their marriage, but when a heavy downpour of rain quenched the fire, the king perceived it as a sign from God and granted them clemency.

St Finnbarr's Monastery, Gougane Barra
June 1954
Finbarr was sent for a religious education after some visiting Munster clerics felt that they could see the grace of Gad shining from his face and asked his parents to let them educate him. Finbarr was given his name when he was being tonsured in preparation for being a monk. The cleric shaving him said “Is fionn barr Lócháin”, meaning “Fair is the crown of Lócháin”, and he was called Finbarr ever after.

After his education, Finbarr returned to Gougane, where his parents lived, and set up a hermitage on a small island in the middle of the lake there. This is the building you can see in the photos from the Irish Photo Archive. It has since become a site of pilgrimage, and a tradition developed where pilgrims would hammer coins into a wooden cross on the site. This cross fell down in the mid-1990s due to the weight of the coins. It was placed leaning against a tree, but when visitors started hammering coins into the tree instead and damaging the foliage, the cross was removed.

The wooden cross at St Finbarr's Monastery, Gougane Barra
June 1954

Finbarr also set up a school in what would eventually become Cork city. He remained at this site for the remainder of his life, and is buried in the grounds of the cathedral named after him. His school became one of the main five scholastic sites in Ireland in the mediaeval times.

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