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What do we know about St. Cronan?

10th  February is the feast of St Cronan, the patron of our parish.
St Cronan’s life spanned the late 6th  and early 7th century. He died in the early 7th century.  The Martyrology of Donegal tells us that:  “Glassmore is a church near Swords whither came the Northmen from Inbhear Dombhainn and slew both Cronan and his entire fraternity in one night. They did not let one escape, and there the entire company was crowned with martyrdom”   (Source; Camden’s Britania,vol.iii, p.561)
(Inbhear Doimhainn was the old Gaelic name for Malahide)

What do we know about St Cronan, and why was he chosen to be the  patron of our parish?

Cronan would have been the saint’s Clann or Family name.  His first name might have been a traditional Gaelic name, or he might have been named after one of the apostles. In the early 600s,  names of European saints would not have been familiar to the Irish people. (It took about 100 years to change this situation)

Cronan’s monastic settlement co-existed alongside St Colmcille’s monastery, and was known as Glassmore. (The big green field.)

Glassmore monastery would have been a hive of activity. Here they were accomplished farmers; their agricultural implements would have been sturdy, well maintained and up-to-the-minute. Almost certainly, the monks would have invented new ways of doing routine tasks, and improved existing agricultural tools.   

The monks of Glassmore farmed prime agricultural land. Once their daily prayer time was over, their time was devoted to agricultural activities.  We can imagine them hard at work, wearing stout sensible footwear, their habits hitched up to their knees, their sleeves rolled up. At mid-day, the bell tolled for prayers, and they answered it by going into their chapel, and reciting their office. Prayers were followed by mid-day meal, after which they returned to the land and resumed their various tasks.

They produced plenty of food for themselves, and for their fellow monks in the neighbouring monastery. They would have been generous to their less fortunate neighbours. Nobody in the locality would have gone hungry.  Surplus produce was probably bartered for extra commodities which they were not producing themselves, such as turf for their cooking fires.

Glassmore would have been a steady source of food for the entire Swords area.


The Glassmore community were accomplished farmers, while the community of Colmcille were accomplished scribes. At this period of time, handmade copies of the  scriptures were in great demand.  In St Colmcille’s monastery the monks were trained as scribes, some were highly accomplished. Once their daily prayer time was over, their main occupation would have been making copies of the scripture.


In both both Glassmore and Colmcilles, the monks would have lived in dwellings made of “wattle and daub”  Walls were basically woven from sally rods, a type of

strong basket work (wattle) The wattle enclosed layers of mud, (daub) .

In the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries, people either lived in caves, or else they lived in wattle and daub dwellings. The roofs were a continuation of this wattle and daub, but these roofs were not very high. Their purpose was to keep out the rain, and, the snow in wintertime. But as regards providing resistance against fierce and brutal invaders, these wattle and daub dwellings were useless. Within the monastic settlement there were many families, as was the custom of the times. 


The good lands of the monastery and the skills and industry of the settlement made it a popular source of supplies. This monastic settlement was healthy, but not wealthy, not as we understand the term ‘wealthy’ today.  Coinage had not yet been invented. Besides, the monks of Glassmore were not interested in accumulating wealth.

The Viking invaders may not have understood this. Or else, they were just naturally brutal. When they invaded and attacked Glassmore, they were merciless.


We can try to imagine the tragedy and devastation which took place in Glassmore. Nobody was left alive. Since this was an agricultural farming community, they had no fighting skills, and no weapons to defend themselves with.  Men, women and children all perished. Their little wattle and daub habitations were burnt, their stores of grain and winter fodder seized, their cattle herded hastily down to the Malahide estuary, and shipped off to the Northern countries Their closest neighbours in St Colmcille’s monastery could not come to their aid, since they had no defence skills either at this time


However this situation was soon to change. By the 7th century, the monks had learned the skills of building with stone. In Colmcille’s they built stone buildings, for shelter and security. As soon as the necessary building skills were acquired, the Round Tower was constructed. Now, when threatened by invasion, the monks hurried to gather their valuable church silver and manuscripts and flee  up the stairs into the Round Tower. Of course, there were casualties; not all of the monks made it into the tower in time. But total annihilation, such as happened in Glassmore, does not seem to have happened again. 


Farming must have continued on the lands of Glassmore, following the massacre of  the saintly Cronan and his fraternity.  We have no direct evidence of where they ate, slept and lived, but common sense would tell us that they lived near where they worked. Because the quality of their dwellings was not durable, we are left with no ruins to excavate or study.


At a later stage, a religious community was settled in the Glassmore area.

Their habitation was constructed of solid stone, and the design was of the conventual type used by religious communities in the 17th and 18th centuries . The ruins of this building are situated on western boundary of the modern Lios Cian residential estate.

When I first came to live in Brackenstown parish, these ruins were referred to by all the old natives as “The Nunnery” The original principal of Brackenstown School, Siobhan Garvey, (R.I.P.) incorporated a small section of the ruins into the school crest, which is still being used. Despite extensive enquiries, the only information I can glean about the Nunnery is that it used to be sponsored by the residents of Rathbeale Hall, when Rathbeale Hall was called Catherine’s Court. This is an area calling for further research.

Áine Shields

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