The first building that came to my attention at St. Mullins was this rather modern looking church. It’s not necessarily a ruin, but I won’t hold that against it as I reckon it deserves a mention in the context of the complex in its entirety. It’s a former Church of Ireland church, which dates back to 1811 making it the youngest structure in the area. It is now home to the Muintir Na Tíre Heritage Centre which houses many aspects of local history including publications, church records, maps, old photographs and artefacts. All are housed here and provide a fascinating account of village and rural life over the centuries. Sadly on my visit as can happen, it was closed. Between January and May 2010, the fourth year students from the School of Architecture at UCD designed and built a new exhibition to tell the History of St. Mullin’s and display the Centre’s collection of artefacts. The Heritage Centre was officially re-opened on May 22nd, 2010. You can find out more about this and their opening times by clicking the link to their Website.
I was not quite sure where to add this story regarding St. Mullin’s but I guess here is as good a place as any. It concerns a certain King of Ulster from the Dáil nAraidi. Known as ‘Buile Shuibhne’, or ‘The Madness of Sweeney’, the story was told using a mixture of poetry and prose taken from manuscripts in the 1670’s. Whilst some say these works are taken from the 13th to 15th centuries, It is likely, from references in works going back to the tenth century, that some form of the tale of the mad king goes back to the first millennium. So what has this got to do with a Christian monastic settlement I hear you say. Well here it goes, Suibhne was the pagan king of Dáil nAraidi in Ireland. He was said to be an unruly King with a rather nasty temper. As the story goes, Suibhne becomes enraged when he learns of plans to establish a church in his lands by St. Ronan. During a scuffle with his wife Eorann his cloak is torn away and he leaves his home naked? He confronts Ronan on the site of the planned church and throws Ronan’s Psalter into a nearby lake. He then proceeds to assault Ronan when he is disturbed by a messenger whom informs Suibhne of a battle which is about to commence at Mag Rath. Suibhne leaves Ronan unharmed and makes preparations for the oncoming battle. The Psalter was said to have been returned to Ronan by an otter of the lake.
The next day Ronan was said to have been blessing the troops before the start of the battle. In an effort to taunt Ronan, Suibhne takes a sprinkle of holy water and kills one of Ronan’s monks with a spear. He then throws another spear, this time at Ronan, but misses himand breaks the holy man’s bell. This is the last straw for Ronan whom curses Suibhne to walk the world as naked as he had the previous day, For breaking his bell, any sharp sound would send the King into a fit of madness and finally for the murder of one of his monks, so too would the king die at the end of a spear. Now here is where the tale becomes difficult to interpret. The story tells that during the battle, Suibhne drops his weapons and flee’s like a bird, his feet rarely touching the ground. He settles on a faraway yew tree. Does this suggest some form of transmutation due to the curse, similar to the fate of the ‘Children of Lir’. The story goes on, after being discovered by one of his clan, Aongus; he again flees to Tir Canaill. This goes on and on for a number of years. Until he is found by another clan member Loingsechan, whom helps him return to his wife, but by this time she is now living with another man. Suibhne leaves and settles in Ros Ercain. Loingsechan eventually finds Suibhne here and tricks him out of the tree by saying that his entire family had died. Loingsechan tries to help cure Suibhne but, while recuperating, a mill hag taunts him into a contest of leaping. As Suibhne leapt along after the hag, he again took flight and returned to madness. Eventually, after many years traveling around Ireland and Western England, Suibhne is found by St. Moling, whom takes him into his care. Suibhne is cared for by a parish woman, but her husband a local herder becomes jealous of the attention she gives Suibhne and kills him with a spear, thus fulfilling the curse of St. Ronan.