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How Did the Irish Saints Lives Picture the Early Irish Monastery?

Brian Ó Broin

As one reads the early lives, it can seem that there was a distinct monastic hierarchy amongst monasteries. There were the giant foundations, like Clonmacnoise, Kildare, and Iona, and there were medium-sized satellite monasteries which seem to have been founded out of these centers, like Birr andDurrow. Lower on the pecking order (perhaps) were specialized monasteries suchas that of Mag Luinge (frequently mentioned in the Life of Colm Cille), which served as places of penitence and perhaps functioned according to severe rules.Could Sceilg Mhichíl have been something like this? Finally, there were places founded by ascetics who had left the organized life of the larger, more comfortable monasteries. These might be as small as a single cell in some forestscrub several kilometers from a monastery, or big enough to house five or six determined anchorites who had sailed or walked away as far as they could.

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