Founder and abbot of the great Irish monastery at Bangor, flourished in the sixth century
Comgall, Saint, founder and abbot of the great Irish monastery at Bangor, flourished in the sixth century. The year of his birth is uncertain, but according to the testimony of the Irish annals it must be placed between 510 and 520; his death is said to have occurred in 602 (“Annals of Tighernach” and “Chronicon Scotorum”), or 597 (Annals of Innisfallen). He was born in Dalaradia in Ulster near the place now known as Magheramorne in the present County Antrim. He seems to have served first as a soldier, and on his release from military service he is said to have studied at Clonard with St. Finnian, and at Clonmaenoise with St. Ciaran, who died in 549. We next find him in Ulster in an island on Lough Erne accompanied by a few friends following a very severe form of monastic life. He intended to go to Britain, but was dissuaded from this step by Lugidius, the bishop who ordained him, at whose advice he remained in Ireland and set himself to spread the monastic life throughout the country. The most famous of the many monasteries said to have been founded by St. Comgall is Bangor, situated in the present County Down, on the southern shore of Belfast Lough and directly opposite to Carrickfergus. According to the Irish annals Bangor was founded not later than 552, though Ussher and most of the later writers on the subject assign the foundation to the year 555. According to Adamnan’s “Life of Columba”, there was a very close connection between Comgall and Columba, though there does not appear to be sufficient authority for stating that Comgall was the disciple of Columba in any strict sense. He is also said to have been the friend of St. Brendan, St. Cormac, St. Cainnech, and Finbarr of Moville. After intense suffering he received the Eucharist from St. Fiacra and expired in the monastery at Bangor.
Comgall belonged to what is known as the Second Order of Irish Saints. These flourished in the Irish Church during the sixth century. They were for the most part educated in Britain, or received their training from those who had grown up under the influence of the British schools. They were the founders of the great Irish monastic schools, and contributed much to the spread of monasticism in the Irish Church. It is an interesting question how far Comgall, or men like him, had advanced in their establishments at Bangor and elsewhere in introducing the last stages of monasticism then developed on the Continent by St. Benedict. In other words, did St. Comgall give his monks at Bangor a strict monastic rule resembling the Rule of St. Benedict? There has come down to us a Rule of St. Comgall in Irish, but the evidence would not warrant us in saying that as it stands at present it could be attributed to him. The fact, however, that Columbanus, a disciple of Comgall and himself a monk of Bangor, drew up for his Continental monasteries a “Regula Monachorum” would lead us to believe that there had been a similar organization in Bangor in his time. This, however, is not conclusive, since Columbanus might have derived inspiration from the Benedictine Rule then widely spread over South-Western Europe. St. Comgall is mentioned in the “Life of Columbanus” by Jonas, as the superior of Bangor, under whom St. Columbanus had studied. He is also mentioned under May 10, his feast-day in the “Felire” of Oengus the Culdee published by Whitley Stokes for the Henry Bradshaw Society (2nd ed.), and his name is commemorated in the Stowe Missal (MacCarthy), and in the Martyrology of Tallaght.