Saint Fiachra (died c.670)
Clontubrid was once a parish, though the parish church has long since disappeared, its site being just south of the present chapel. The patron of this parish was St. Fiachra, whose feast was celebrated locally on February 8th. His holy well, which gives Clontubrid it’s name, is a few yards from the sacristy of the present chapel.
Over the wall is a small, and very ancient, stone roofed house. The walls were once faced with smooth-surfaced stones but most of these were taken away about 1800 by Caulfied Best, of Clone House. The only opening is a doorway in the East Side. The floor was formed by three flagstones and underneath these was the well.
Carrigan gives the name of the well as Tobar a “dhithreabhaigh” (pronounced Thubberararoo) – “The Well of the Hermit”, confirming a local tradition that the well house had been the cell of a hermit. There are several saints named Fiachra but only one was known as Dhithreabhaigh (Hermit), the Fiachra of Meaux, France. The Fiachra of Clontubrid and the Fiachra of Meaux must, therefore be the same person.
This St. Fiachra was a native of northwest Connaght and also spent some time as a hermit at Kilfera, near Kilkenny, where a pattern of St. Fiachra was held annually on the first Sunday of August. There was a life-size stone statue at Kilfera, called “St. Fiacre’s Statue” and, up to the middle of the nineteenth century, a small stone cell similar to, but larger than, that at Clontubrid.
The remains of this cell were destroyed in 1869 to erect a Purcell monument in the graveyard. It is, however, through his work in France that the greatest cult of St. Fiachra has developed. He arrived at the Diocese of Meaux, (east of Paris), about 626 and was given a hermitage by the local bishop. Fiachra became famous throughout France for this work with the poor and the sick, for this holiness, and for his remarkable cures.
Two later French saints, St. John of Matha and St. Vincent de Paul regarded Fiachra as their inspiration and patron while two famous French churchmen – Bossnet, Bishop of Meaux and Cardinal Richelieu – were also devoted to the cult of Fiacre. These latter two had great influence with the French Royal Family and pilgrimages were often made by the Kings of France to the shrine of St. Fiachra.
Louis XI renovated the shrine, placing on it the Royal Coat of Arms of France. Louis XIII and his Queen, Anne prayed to Fiachra for an heir. When their son was born, they regarded him as the answer to their prayers. This son was to become King Louis XIV. Tradition says that Louis XIII died holding a St. Fiachra medallion in his hand.
Louis XIV and Louis XV were both cured of fistulae, (a type of ulcer), after praying to St. Fiachra. So many people were thus cured of this ailment that it is known in France as “La maladie de St. Fiacre”, (St. Fiacre’s ailment). King Henry V of England, after the Battle of Agincourt (1415), allowed his soldiers to vandalise the shrine of St. Fiachra at Meaux and carry off the relics of the saint, *************beyond the boundary of the monastery and the relics were returned.
By a strange coincidence, Henry died later of haemorrhoids, a condition which was traditionally cured by praying to St. Fiacre. By an even stranger coincidence, Henry died on August 30th, the feast day of St. Fiachra.
Not surprisingly, these events added to the reputation of St. Fiachra. Such is the extent of his cult in France that three French towns bear his name and thirty churches are dedicated to him. In Paris gifts of flowers are brought annually to the Church of St. Ferdinand on his feast day.
The first public transport in Paris, horse – drawn cabs, used the Hotel St. Fiacre as their terminus. They became known as “fiacres” and taxis in France have been so-called ever since. Just for good measure, Fiachra is also the patron saint of French gardeners. Certainly a man who made good, in the best tradition of the Irish emigrant!