Enda of Aran (d. 530)

The Irish annals tell us that Enda was a late 5th century prince from the royal house of Ulster. This was in the generation immediately after St. Patrick, so Enda, like many Irish, was still pagan at the time. When he succeeded to the throne he went off to make war on the enemies of his house but was dissuaded by his Christian sister, St. Fanchea, the abbess, who according to legend, was converted and received the veil from St. Patrick himself. Enda was moved by the entreaties of his sister and contemplated leaving off the war, but agreed to do so only if his sister promised to give him one of the girls from her convent to take to wife. St. Fanchea agreed and Enda called off the war.

However, when Enda came to claim his bride, it turned out that the woman promised by Fanchea had recently died. Fanchea forced Enda to view the girl's corpse, reminding him that earthly beauty all came to naught, and that he, too, would one day face death and judgment. This experience shook Enda, and his heart began to convert. Soon thereafter he left off ruling and began studying for the priesthood, first at St. Ailbe's in Emly and then at the famous Candida Casa monastery of St. Ninian in Galloway, in Scotland, where he eventually took monastic vows.

Enda's asceticism and holiness of life soon attracted several disciples, and eventually he returned to Ireland with a group of monks where he founded the church in Drogheda. There they imitated the examples of the Egyptian fathers, which Enda had become acquainted with through his time in Scotland.

Not long after, around the year 484, Enda's brother-in-law King Aengus of Munster gave him the Aran Islands, three rugged limestone islands spanning Galloway Bay. Enda relocated his monks to the isles, setting up a monastery on Inishmore, the largest of the three islands. This monastery, called Killeaney, became a heart of monastic observance on the islands. A second monastery at Boyne soon followed. The monastic observance at Killeaney - which predated the Benedictine Rule - consisted in prayer, study, and farming, sheep herding, and fishing. Monks lived in individual stone cells. St. Enda, like St. Benedict, divided the day into several parts devoted to prayer, work and study. Within a few years, the community had grown to such an extent that the monks of Killeaney and Boyne spread throughout the island founding numerous other smaller religious houses. Aran Mor became a holy island.

Killeaney flourished throughout the first half of the 6th century. Like St. Columba and other famous Gaelic saints, many stories about St. Enda's time on Aran Mor survive, their historical veracity being undetermined. Enda died in 530 at a ripe old age. Many Irish saints trace their missionary work to Aran in one way or another; St. Brendan came there to be blessed before his famous voyage, and both St. Finnian and St. Ciaran had labored there under St. Enda's tutelage. The famous St. Columba referred to Aran as "the Sun of the West."

Most of the churches of Aran Mor were destroyed during the wars of Cromwell; there is a well on the mainland outside Galway there is a well that since time immemorial has been known as Enda's Well (below); it is said the saint used to rest here on his way to Aran and that the well sprung up miraculously at the saint's prayer.

The Feast of St. Enda is March 21st. Enda is the patron saint of the Aran Islands and is considered one of the founders of Irish monasticism.