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Clan MacLea - Livingstone

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The Coarbs of St Moluag

The Coarb (Successor) of St Moluag was the Abbot of Lismore and the abbots of the 100 monasteries which emanated from St Moluag followed the rule of the Coarb.

The Annals of Ulster show that Moluag died in 592 and that he was succeeded by St Neman who was in turn succeeded by St. Eochaidh who died on the 17th of April 634 . From this point there is potential for confusion as the Annals of the Four Masters now have this entry: M636.2 St. Mochuda, Bishop of Lis Mor and Abbot of Raithin Rahen, died on the 14th of May. This is Lismore in Eire and there is a degree of uncertainty in a few cases as to which Lismore is talked about thereafter. However, the annalists have made great efforts to minimise any confusion, generally referring to Lismore in Ireland as Lis Mor Mochuda, whenever there may be doubt. The Annals note the deaths of the abbots until about 957 when the records peter out due to the depredations of the Vikings.

“ The church of this period must be viewed as consisting rather of different groups of monasteries, founded by the respective saints, either bishops or presbyters, of the second order, each group recognising the monastery over which the founder of the group personally presided, or which possessed his relics, as having jurisdiction over those which emanated from him and. followed his rule's. It was thus not one great ecclesiastical corporation, but an aggregate of separate communities in federal union. Secondly, that the abbots of each monastery, whether bishops or presbyters, were not elected by the brethren forming the community, but succeeded one another by a kind of inheritance assimilated to that of the tribe.”

In 1098 Malcolm (Canmore) III of Albany ceded to Norway all the land to the west of Scotland around which Magnus Barefoot of Norway could sail his ship – this included the Mull of Kintyre. In the early 1100’s Somerled drove out the Vikings and acquired the Kingdom of Argyll (technically a regulus or sub-kingdom under the very nominal paramountcy of the Kings of Scots) and took the Kingdom of the Isles (under the nominal paramountcy of the King of Norway). The Argyll kingdom included Lorn together with Lismore and Appin (its Abbey Lands).

Somerled was a supporter of the Celtic Church (Malcolm’s Queen Margaret was an opponent, introducing Roman clergy) and did his best to persuade the Coarb of St Columba to return to Iona.

“ Select members of the Community of Ia, namely, the arch-priest, Augustin and the lector (that is, Dubsidhe) and the Eremite, Mac Gilla-duib and the Head of the Celi-De, namely, Mac Forcellaigh and select members of the Community of Ia besides came on behalf of the successor [Coarb] of Colum-cille, namely, Flaithbertach Ua Brolchain's acceptance of the abbacy of Ia, by advice of Somharlidh [Somerled] and of the Men of Airthir-Gaedhel and of Insi-Gall; but the successor of Patrick and the king of Ireland, that is, Ua Lochlainn and the nobles of Cenel-Eogain prevented him.”

The law of Tanistic succession, the right of hereditary succession was hereditary in the family but elective in the individual. When a Saint founded a Monastery the two tribes involved were in the Brehon Laws termed respectively the Fine Grin, or Tribe of the Land and the Fine Erluma, or Tribe of the Saint.

‘ The tribe of the Saint shall succeed in the Church as long as there shall be a person fit to be an abbot of the tribe of the saint, even though there should be but a psalm-singer of these, it is he that will obtain the abbacy. Where this is not the case it is to be given to the tribe of the land until a person fit to be an abbot, of the tribe of the saint, shall be found; and when he is, it is to be given to him if he be better than the abbot of the tribe of the land who has taken it. If he be not better, he shall take it only in his turn. If a person fit to be an abbot has not come of the tribe of the saint or of the tribe of the land, the abbacy is to 'be given to the tribe of the monks (Fine Manach), until a person fit to be an abbot, of the tribe of the saint or of the tribe of the land, shall be found; and where there is such, he is preferable.”

In the History of the Men of Alba, amongst the Clans supposed to be descended from the Kings of Dal Riada in Scotland, are listed the Macleans whose pedigree includes “Gilleeoin mic Mecraith mic Maoilsruthain mic Neill mic Cuduilig, Abbot of Lismore, (Conduilig i. Ab Leasamoir ) mic Raingee”. Raingee was supposedly descended from Lorn, the brother of Fergus MacErc. Cuduilig was probably brought in by Somerled in 1150 on the basis that he was a suitable man of the Fine Grin, or Tribe of the Land.

Notwithstanding St Columba’s fame, it was the Coarbs of St Moluag that provided the authority of the church to the Kings of Dalriada and the Lords of Lorn. From the 1544 charter it can be seen that The Earl of Argyll, having inherited the McDougall Lordship of Lorn refers to Moluag as their patron saint “in honour of God Omnipotent, the blessed Virgin, and Saint Moloc, our patron”.

It is notable that Cuduilig, the progenitor of the Macleans, was able to appanage his heirs in Morvern on part of the Abbey Lands.

It is around this time that our ancestor An Gorm Mor, the big blue, lived at Achnadun, in the North of Lismore. He was a man of immense stature and was said to have possessed the strength of five men. Across the loch, on the wooded slopes of Morvern, there roamed a great, fierce, black bull that was preventing the people attending church. An Gorm Mor decided to match his strength against the creature and the din of the conflict could be heard by those waiting on Lismore. It is said that the struggle lasted from sunrise to midday. The gravestone of this Baron, Leac a'Ghuirm Mhoir, is of great interest. The carving on it is that of the Middle Ages, and in high relief but greatly weathered and defaced, and in some places worn out. On the upper half of the stone is the figure of a man in the kilt-much as the dress is worn now-and holding a long staff in his right hand, probably the staff of Saint Moluag.
This picture shows a rubbing of the gravestone.

Last updated 20 April, 2013