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Sunday, 4 May 2014

4 May 519 AD: Saint Connlaedh, Bishop of Kildare, Bridget's brazier, died on this day. He was a metalworker of some note and a hermit before he began his pastoral mission. He is better known today as Saint Conleth. A copyist and skilled illuminator of manuscripts, he is noted for the Crosier that he fashioned for St. Finbar of Termon Barry, Co Roscommon.

Where Conleth was born or who his parents were is unknown. His birth is traditionally given as about 450 AD. However in Cogitosus’s Life of Brigid (c. 650) it is related that he was a skilled metalworker in gold and silver that lived as a hermit at Old Connell on the Liffey near Newbridge. He had the reputation of being a very holy man who had the gift of prophecy.

Brigid invited him not only to make sacred vessels for her foundation but also to be pastor of the people nearby. Cogitosus says that they governed the church at Kildare "by means of a mutually happy alliance". And so Conleth is regarded as the first bishop of Kildare, being appointed about the year 490.

After about twenty years as Bishop Conleth set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. His pilgrimage was undertaken against the wishes of Brigid. Because he was now an old man Saint Brigid feared for him going on this journey. Somewhere on the journey in Ireland Conleth was attacked and killed by wolves. Some accounts say that he was buried on the left side of the altar in the Church of Ireland cathedral in Kildare town and Saint Brigid on the right. But as the current building is a much later construction it is now impossible to tell. Another relates that he was buried in the Old Connell graveyard. An alternative version is that his relics were transferred there in 835 to protect the inhabitants from Danish invaders. He is the patron saint of the parish of Droichead Nua (Newbridge), Co Kildare.

We don’t really know very much about this man but the curious thing about his rule is that he shared power with an Abbess (Saint Brigid) and that experiment in gender ‘power sharing’ was an unique experience in Ireland that continued there for many centuries afterwards.