Sunday, September 06, 2020

"Ninian and Nendrum – Whithorn and the Early Church in east Ulster"

I picked up a booklet recently of this title, being the content of the Tenth Whithorn Lecture given on 15 September 2001 by the late Dr Ann Hamlin O.B.E. (1940–2003), edited by Malcolm Fry, and published by The Friends of Whithorn Trust. Dr Hamlin worked for the Archaeological Survey of Northern Ireland, which was then part of the Department of the Environment.

Nendrum is one of Ireland's most important early monastic sites - it was 'lost' for centuries except for ancient manuscript records. It was finally located by the meticulous antiquarian and historian Bishop William Reeves in 1844, and then was literally uncovered by a team of local archaeologists, farmers and contractors almost 100 years ago, in June 1922. You can read a report of the "repair and preservation" of Nendrum online here, including an interesting list of all of those who donated funds to the project. 

The early Christian communities' connections across the North Channel and Irish Sea were many, thanks to the ancient kingdoms, such as Dal Fiatach, which also had connections on each side. (The sites of Whithorn and Nendrum are marked on the map above).

St Ninian (Wikipedia here) was Scotland's first saint; he began his missionary work at Whithorn in AD397. He died in AD432 (according to some sources he died in Ireland) – which is traditionally given as the year that St Patrick began his work in Ireland. A passing of the baton if you will. Around a century later, St Finnian, who was of the 'royal' family of Dal Fiatach, is best known for his work at Movilla near Newtownards – he studied at both Nendrum and Whithorn. St Columba was one of Finnian's pupils, who of course founded the world famous monastery on the western Scottish island of Iona.