Saint Colman of Cloyne (also known as Saint Colman Mac Leinin) (522 – 600) was founder and patron of the See of Cloyne in County Cork.
Colman of Cloyne was born in Munster. His birthday is said to have been 15 October and the year is believed to have been 522. He was the son of Leinin, who according to the Book of Leinster was ninth in descent from Mogh Nuadat, King of Munster in 166. He was attached to the Cattraige, a people recorded in the earliest sources in several Irish provinces, who claimed exalted descent, but who appear as one among a group of peoples in a subservient role to the Kings of Cashel (Munster). Colman is associated with those resident in the area immediately north of Emly or, in the opinion of the editors of the Liturgical Calendar for Ireland 2006 (ISBN 1-85390-991-2), it is more probable that he came from west Cork.
He was endowed with extraordinary poetic powers, being styled by his contemporaries ‘Royal Bard of Munster’. Several of his Irish poems are still extant, notably a metrical panegyric on Saint Brendan. Colgan mentions a metrical life of Saint Senan by him.
It is unclear whether he was brought up as a Christian, but what is sure is that he was educated and became a bard or file, which required a special education – (in order to reach the highest level of file 12 years of study were required.) As a member of the class of filí, he became attached to the court of Cashel where he remained until about the age of 48 years. In 570 he and Saint Brendan of Clonfert were said to have settled a dispute between rivals to the throne of Cashel and Aodh Caomh was acknowledged as king – the first Christian king of Cashel. The King was installed by Saint Brendan. During the time of the coronation Colman and some others discovered the lost shrine of Ailbhe of Emly. Brendan said that it was not right that the hands which had held this sacred relic should be defiled henceforth, thus it was that the son of Leinin offered himself to God. Brendan blessed him and gave him the name Colmán, which is a diminutive of Colm. The Gaelic word colm corresponds to the Latin columba (dove).
Colman then went to the school of Saint Jarlath of Tuam and after his studies he is next mentioned as preaching to the heathen population in the east of County Cork. He is described as a ‘religious and holy presbyter, who afterwards became a famous bishop”. The Prince of Déise, in the present County of Waterford, presented his child to Colman for baptism. Colman baptized him Declan and urged his parents to educate him well in his faith. This child became Saint Declan.
Colman was given churches in Erry and Killenaule (4 and 10 miles from Cashel respectively) by Coirpre Cromm mac Crimthainn, King of Munster (Cashel), as well as lands in Cloyne, Co. Cork. It may well be that the lands in Cloyne (Cluain Uama, the lawn of the cave), were conquered lands and to prevent the possibility of reconquest were given to the church. The Cloyne estate was large and contained some of the best land in the area.
After the king’s death (c. 580) Colman somehow became involved in factional strife between Coirpre’s descendants in which some of them persecuted him while others, the ancestors of the later dominant line, protected him.
Cloyne appears to have been his earliest settlement. The cathedral and round tower are situated on a limestone eminence in the midst of the valley, surrounded by rich meadows. In the rock is the cave extending in various branches underground to a great distance, from which the town derives its name. Here it is supposed Colman took up his abode as a place of security and the remains of his primitive oratory, known as Colman’s Chapel were still to be seen in 1813.
Further details of his life are not documented in writing but the connection of many places in counties Cork and Limerick with his name to this day proves the reality of his labours. The tenth-century Triads describes Cloyne as an important law school.
He died on 24 November (his subsequent feastday), circa 600, and his probable place of burial is Cloyne, where he may have left a school of poetry in existence. The calendars are unanimous in dating his death on 24 November, now his feast day. Patron Saint of the Diocese of Cloyne and of its cathedral in Cóbh.
A different Saint Colman is also venerated on the same day, as recorded by Saint Aengus in his “Felire”: – Mac Lenine the most excellent With Colman of Duth-chuilleann. Saint Colman lived in a time for which we have very little written history. The received picture of Colman Mac Leinin comes to us from nineteenth and twentieth century Hagiographies.