Early Irish Saints, written by Fr John Ó Ríordáin, is a collection of short essays on fourteen of Ireland’s best-known saints, from St Patrick to St Kevin. Ó Ríordáin was sure to make the collection accessible and readable, while also drawing on a wide range of knowledge from historical fact to folklore and legend. As many of the saints have multiple legends surrounding them, Ó Ríordáin provides short and concise summaries of these legends, leaving the reader with a well-rounded picture of the lives of the saints and their various stories. Each portrait focuses on the religiosity of the saint, “where Christ fits into the picture” and their place in the Christian tradition.
Many of these essays contain interesting or entertaining anecdotes about the saints’ lives. A story Ó Ríordáin includes about St Kevin from one of the early Lives is particularly humorous. He reports that Kevin as a young man was once “assaulted… with kisses” by a female friend besotted with him. The most holy Kevin responded by throwing himself into a bed of nettles to quell any fire that might have been lit within him, before thrusting a wad of nettles at his poor seductress to do the same to her. As a result, the woman repented of her sins and turned to the convent to carry out the rest of her days in celibacy!
Another interesting tale included in the book follows the adventures of St Brendan the Navigator. In the legends, Brendan was an avid explorer and spent many of his days travelling the seas. One day, the monks found themselves on an unusual island without grass, wood, sand or harbour. While they were preparing breakfast the earth began to shake and move. The monks, terrified, returned to their boat, where Brendan informed them that the island upon which they had landed had in fact been a large whale, the largest of all creatures in the sea!
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