Celtic and Old English Saints          28 September

* St. Conwall of Scotland
* St. Machan of Scotland
* St. Lioba of Bischoffsheim
* St. Tetta of Wimborne
* St. Sinach Mac Dara

St. Sinach Mac Dara

September 28 is the feastday of an island hermit saint of the west, Sinach Mac 
Dara. Mac Dara is still used today as a Christian name for Irish males in the 
Connemara Gaeltacht area. Below is an account of Saint Mac Dara's life and some 
interesting folk traditions associated with him, from O'Hanlon's Lives of the 
Irish Saints.


OF this holy anchorite little is positively known, and yet his name and 
veneration have survived for many ages. He is much venerated by inhabitants on 
the western shores of Galway. He must have flourished at a very early period, 
however, and most probably at a time, when his remote position secluded him 
from cognizance of our ancient chroniclers. Tradition asserts, that the name of 
our Saint's father was Dara ; and Sinach, his own peculiar name, was placed 
before Mac Dara, that by which he is now popularly known. However, the St. Mac 
Dara of the western coasts should be called Sionnach, which was his real name. 
At the 28th of September, Marianus O'Gorman sets down Sinach in his Festilogy. 
His commentator has a note appended to his name which states, that he was from 
Cruach mac Daro. From other Irish Martyrologies regarding this saint, we can 
glean no particulars. 

On the south-western shore of a peninsula, anciently called Iorrasainteach, 
lies a small Island, presenting to the sea on all sides rocks which are high 
and precipitous, except towards the eastern part, where boats can safely touch. 
The appearance of this Island from a distance, coupled with its relation to our 
saint, gave it the name of Cruach Mac Dara, which when anglicised means, "The 
Rick of Mac Dara," or ''The Island of Mac Dara." Near the landing place on this 
Island, St. Sinach Mac Dara is supposed to have built a small stone church, the 
ruins of which yet remain, and are in a good state of preservation. Besides 
this ruin, a circular or rather oval stone-house, twenty-four feet by eighteen, 
with walls seven feet in thickness, is yet to be seen, although in a very 
dilapidated condition. This was probably our saint's usual habitation, and the 
church might have been chiefly in use, as an oratory. At the distance of 300 
feet from this church, and on its northern side, a square altar, surmounted by 
a cross, and a holy well near it, are pointed out to strangers. Both are 
dedicated to St. Mac Dara. He seems to have led a secluded life on the Island 
bearing his name, and one devoted to the practice of most austere religious 
rules and duties. According to a custom, usual in our old Irish churches, the 
wooden statue of this saint was preserved in his chapel for many centuries 
subsequent to his death-this image being commemorative of the founder and 
patron, whose intercession was invoked. However, for special weighty reasons, 
the Archbishop of Tuam, Malachy Queely, caused its removal during the time of 
his incumbency, and had it buried under the ground. Besides the veneration paid 
our saint on this Island, the inhabitants of Moyrus Parish, on the shore of the 
opposite mainland, point out the ruins of an old parish church, which is 
dedicated to him. There, in the time of Roderick O'Flaherty, [i.e. the 17th 
century] "his altar stone, by the name of Leac Sinach," was kept as a venerable 
relic... Here, the coast inhabitants, who are principally fishermen, assemble 
on the 16th of July each year, to celebrate the festival of their patron of 
Moyrus parish. At this date, however, we find no mention of Sinach Mac Dara, in 
our Martyrologies. The principal festival of our saint is noted in the Irish 
Calendar, as occurring on the 28th day of September. This day may probably be 
assigned, as that for his departure. 

Many miraculous occurrences are recorded, and some superstitious observances 
are said to have been practised in connection with this saint's memory by 
recurring to local tradition. One of the latter practices was the collection of 
Dunleasg or salt sea-leaf, at low water, by women, in order to obtain the 
release of some friend in captivity : this reprieve, however, they expected 
should be obtained chiefly through the intercession of our saint. This practice 
of gathering Dunleasg has been disused for many years past ; although old 
people are yet living, who remember its frequent observance.

In the time of Roderick O' Flaherty, it was customary for all boats, passing 
between Mason-head and the Island, to lower their sails three times, in honour 
of Mac Dara. In the year 1672, a certain captain of Galway garrison, passing 
without the usual mark of reverence, experienced such a violent gale, that he 
made a vow of never again sailing by without a proper obeisance; he was 
shipwrecked shortly afterwards, and never reached his destination. One Gill, a 
fisherman of Galway, during the prevalence of fair weather before and after the 
occurrence, was struck dead almost instantaneously, by a stroke from the mast 
of his own boat, when it fell on his head. This accident, like the former, was 
attributed to that contempt shown towards our saint by a departure from the 
time-honoured custom. His altar-stone, called " Leac Shinac," was said to have 
been preserved to the middle of the present century ; but its whereabouts is 
not now known. The name Mac Dara is a very common prefix to surnames of many 
Islanders and borderers, on the Galway coast, and even boats and hookers 
belonging to its fishermen are inscribed with the name, in token of veneration 
for our saint. 


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