We can probably never know the true facts of St.Finbarr's life, although there is some documentary evidence of his existence.  Many of the wondrous stories associated with him were most likely invented many years after his death in order to validate the territorial claims of the diocese of Cork.

However, for the sake of those less cynical I will tell the story in a reasonably conventional manner.

Finbarr was born, named Lochan, in the year 570 A.D., the son of Amergin the Chief Metalworker (that probably means jeweler) to the court of Tighernach at Rath Raithleann a ringfort, most likely, Gurranes Ringort, not far from Macroom.  Amergin, against the wishes of his lord, had entered into a liaison with an unnamed woman, variously a slave-girl or a visiting lady.  When she was found to be with child, the chief in grand christian manner, sentenced them both to death by burning.  Some versions tell us that the fire was extinguish by a very heavy storm, others that the saint called out from his mother's womb..  But for whatever reason the sentence was amended to banishment to a remote area of the chief's lands.

We next find Lochan at six or seven years old living happily in an area called Achadh Dorbichon, tentatively identified as the townland of Farranavarrigane, just south of Macroom. The area was a parish in its own right until it was incorporated into the parish of Kimichael. It is reputed to be the be baptismal site and early home of St Finbarr. His father, Amergin, owned land in this area and the townland of Farranavarrigane (the field of Amergin) still bears his name, also the ruined church there is dedicated to St.Finbarr. Finbarr later went on to study for the priesthood and returned to build a church in his home place.

Three peripatetic holy-men had detected an air of sanctity about him and bundled him away to study in Kilmacahil, in County Kilkenny. He was renamed "Fionnbarra" (Fairhead in Irish), reportedly when being tonsured, the presiding cleric remarked: "Is fionn barr Lochan", meaning, "Fair is the hair of Lochan").

After education and reportedly travelling to many parts of Ireland, and perhaps much further afield, he returned to Co.Cork to build a hermitage at Gougane Barra.  

Later he he is said to have founded a monastery, university and city at what is now Cork.  The monastery and university are certainly associated with his name in old documents.

St. Finbarr died at Ballineadig, near Ballincollig (not Cloyne as often stated) in 633 A.D. and his remains were taken to Cork to be enclosed in a silver shrine in what is now St. Finbarr’s Cathedral. 

If you want the romantic version of the story with dragons and magic, you can Google up a dozen versions.

Finbarr’s feast day is the 25th of September.

Statue of St. Finbarr at Ballingeary Church.



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