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St Moluag

Saint Lughaidh, better known by his pet name of Moluag, was an Irish noble of the Dál nAraide who, having trained with St Comgall at Bangor (co. Down), founded his first great community in 562 on the Isle of Lismore, the sacred island of the Western Picts. He became the patron saint of the Royal House of Lorn and the Earls (now Dukes) of Argyll.

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.

There are various Irish forms of the name, such as Lughaidh, Luoc and Lua. Latinized they become Lugidus, Lugadius 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.

From Lismore St Moluag went on to found two other great centres in the land of the Picts at Rosemarkie and Mortlach. These were his three centres of teaching and it is significant that all three were to become the seats of the Roman Catholic Sees of the Isles, Ross and Aberdeen. Not content with these three colleges Moluag is also credited with founding one hundred monasteries, over which he had absolute jurisdiction. Many of these were in Pict territory, such as Clova and Alyth.

Moluag was a noble of the Dál nAraide (Irish Picts), a tribe closely allied to the Dál Riada in the Ulster Kingdom of Ulaid. The Annals tell us that Saint Comgall of the Dál nAraide, another Irish Pict, presented St Moluag to King Brude of the Northern Picts to obtain his authority for the mission. This authority was to operate in Brude’s northern kingdom. It is doubtful whether Brude could have actually granted Moluag land in the kingdom of the Western Picts that had also recently been partially occupied by the Dalriads (until he 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 own kingdom.

Moluag would have been on friendly terms with both the Dalriads (as a noble allied to the Dál Riada) and the Picts (as a noble of the Irish Picts). He was therefore in an excellent position to act as an ambassador and both sides would have seen the advantage of having Moluag act as a buffer between the two nations.

On the other hand, under Brehon law the foundation of a monastery usually commenced by a grant of a royal Rath or fort and there is one such fort called Tirefour on Lismore. In those cases where the monastery was said to have consisted of 3,000 monks, the tribe itself merged in the Church, i.e. to become independent of the King. Moluag, the founder of a hundred monasteries, would have had absolute jurisdiction over these monasteries ‘acknowledging no earthly authority or hierarchy’ and ranked as a ri, his monks and their dependents answering to him alone.

Last updated 22 May, 2008