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St Moluag

Saint Lughaidh, better known by his pet name of Moluag, was an Irish noble of the Dál nAraide (one of the main tribes of the Ulaid in what we now call Ulster).

There are various Irish forms of the name, such as Lughaidh (or Lugaid), Luoc and Lua. Latinized they become Lugidus, Lugidius, Lugadius, Lugacius and Luanus. The name, as it has come down the centuries, Moluag or Moluoc, is made up of the honorific mo, plus the original name Lughaidh, pronounced Lua, plus the endearing suffix –oc. Other variants include Lugdach, Malew, Molonachus, Moloc or Molucus.

St. Moluag, the founder of over a hundred monasteries, was a bishop active during the period of the First Order of Celtic Saints and known as ‘The Clear and Brilliant, The Sun of Lismore in Alba’ . The First Order were ‘most holy: shining like the sun’. This is a clear reference to his membership of the First Order.

MacDonald (Iain G MacDonald, Clerics and Clansmen, The Diocese of Argyll between the Twelfth and Sixteenth Centuries, Brill, 2013, p. 35) suggests that there must have been a Vitae of St. Moluag that is lost because of his prominent appearance in St. Bernard’s Life of Malachy. He writes ‘Further support for this occurs in the Life of Patrick by the Cistercian monk Jocelin of Furness written in circa 1185, where Mo-Luóc (“Lugacius”) is described as one of the six Irish priest whom Patrick prophesied would become bishops’. In a footnote he adds that the five other priests were Columbanus (Cólman), Meldanus (Mellán), Lugadius (Mo Lua), Cassanus (Cassán) and Creanus (Ciarán).

St. Moluag was born between 500 and 520. We know that he was a bishop in about 552 and that he ordained St. Comgal, his close kinsman, initially as a deacon then as a priest. Moluag persuaded St. Comgal to found Bangor Abbey, in modern day Ulster.

Having helped St. Comgal set up this abbey, perhaps the greatest of all abbeys of its time, he took the road of red martyrdom and left with twelve followers to lead the life of a missionary. In 562 he founded his great community on the large island of the Lyn of Lorn in Argyll now called the Isle of Lismore (Lios mor is ancient Gaelic for ‘great monastery’).

This had been the sacred island of the Western Picts whose capital was at Beregonium, across the water at Benderloch. Their kings were cremated on the ancient man made ‘burial mound’ of Cnoc Aingeil (Gaelic for ‘Hill of Fire’) at Bachuil, about three miles from the north of the island, near to the site that St. Moluag chose for his first centre.

Lismore was the most important religious spot to the pagan kings of the area. It was therefore the most desirable site for a missionary. Irish missionaries had learnt to focus heavily on the similarity and continuity between early Christianity and Paganism rather than the differences between them. The conversion process was therefore one of gradual education rather than outright confrontation and there were remarkably few martyrs in the area.

Moluag’s ancestry has been given as follows -
Fiacha Araidhe a quo Dalaraidhe
Moluoc or Molucus

Fiacha Araidhe was 37th King of Ulidia (Ulster). When Moluag died in 592 he was described as an old man. His birth may have occurred somewhere between 500 and 520.

The Irish Annals also tell us that Saint Comgall of Bangor accompanied St. Moluag to King Brude of the Northern Picts, whose capitol was at Inverness, to obtain authority for Moluag’s mission within Brude’s kingdom. It is doubtful, however, that Brude could have actually granted St. Moluag land in the kingdom of the Western Picts as not only was it outwith his domain but it had been partially occupied by the Dalriads until Brude evicted them in 560. Nevertheless, as a Pict, Brude welcomed Moluag (who spoke the same language) and he was given considerable freedom to operate in Brude’s kingdom.

St. Moluag truly evangelised the Picts. From Lismore, St. Moluag went on to found two other great centres in the land of the Picts at Rosemarkie and Mortlach (now known as Dufftown). These were his three centres of teaching (we would now call them universities), and it is significant that all three were to become the seats of the Roman Catholic Sees of the Isles, Ross and Aberdeen.

St. Moluag died on the 25 June 592 at Rosemarkie and his body was brought back to Lismore.

St. Moluag became the patron saint of the Royal House of Lorne and was acknowledged as such by, Somerled, King of Argyll and the Isles, and the later Lords of Lorn and the Earls (now Dukes) of Argyll. From a 1544 charter it can be seen that The Earl of Argyll, having inherited the MacDougall Lordship of Lorn, refers to St. Moluag as his family’s patron saint ‘in honour of God Omnipotent, the blessed Virgin, and Saint Moloc, our patron’.
The House of Lorne became the Kings of Dalriada and eventually united with the Picts to become the Kings of Scots. Moluag was Patron Saint of the Kings of Dalriada, was the Apostle of the Picts so is highly likely to have been the first Patron Saint of Scotland.

Last updated 7 April, 2016