Celts to the Crèche: Day 35
St. Canaire of Ireland
Died about 530 AD
On our 35th day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet a very strong-minded woman of prayer, St. Canaire. Toward the end of her life, she sensed that her day of resurrection would soon arrive. While in prayer she had a vision that this place of resurrection would be Inish Cathaig (Scattery Island) in the Shannon River in Ireland. After a long journey to this place, the Abbot Senan (also spelled Sennen, Sennan) would not allow a woman on his monastic island. Her response was: Christ came to redeem women no less than to redeem men. No less did he suffer for the sake of women than for the sake of men. No less than men, women enter into the heavenly kingdom.
You may desire to continue reading more about Canaire or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.
Early Life: St. Canaire was born in Bantry Bay, in modern day County Cork in Southern Ireland and she may have been the daughter of her father Cruthnechan and her mother Cummenia. She was a hermit or anchorite for many years.
St. Canaire’s Call to her Resurrection Place. One day, perhaps while in prayer, Canaire in her old age saw pillars of fire all over Ireland, but a pillar of fire on an island known then as Inish Cathaig in the Shannon River caught her attention. This particular pillar of fire was the tallest and straightest of all. Inish Cathaig, on the western side of Ireland in the Shannon River estuary was later renamed Scattery Island. It likely received it’s new name from the Vikings who plundered it. “Scatty” is a a derivation of the Norse word for “treasure.” It is also thought by some that the name for this island came from the name of the mythical monster who resided there.
St. Senan was the Abbot of this austere monastery he founded on Inish Cathaig (Scattery Island) and is one of the revered Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Interestingly, St. Aidan (see day 1 of Celts to the Creche) was once part of this monastery on Scattery Island before going to Lindisfarne as it’s first abbot. On this island there are the ruins of six churches and one of the tallest Round Towers in Ireland. This round tower is 120 ft. tall!
Aged St. Canaire Travels to Inish Cathaig. Canaire sensing that Inish Cathaig was to be her place of resurrection, she immediately began her 182 km arduous journey walking north towards Inish Cathaig. It is said that she completed this journey by walking across the water. Some say that she was carried by an angel to the river from Bantry Bay and that she then walked across the water to the island. Perhaps she even sailed part of the way from Bantry Bay to Inish Cathaig. After her long and treacherous journey, she was greeted on the shoreline by St. Senan himself, who may have been her brother, who informed her that only men were allowed on Inish Cathaig and that he would not allow her to be on the island. He tried to give her some consolation by saying that she could stay with a kinswoman of his in the area.
St. Canaire’s Reaction to St. Senan’s Not Allowing Her on His All Male Island: This strong-willed woman of faith who having lived as a hermit for many years, was not fearful of or put off by Senan. She boldly told him that Christ came to redeem women no less than to redeem men. No less did he suffer for the sake of women than for the sake of men. No less than men, women enter into the heavenly kingdom.
St. Senan, who later may have gone to Cornwall and started a church in 520AD (according to Medieval historian, Dr. Michelle P. Brown and may have been known there as St. Sennen), likely was taken aback at this forthrightness of this courageous woman. Realizing that she spoke scriptural truth, gave her Communion from his hand and a place for her to rest on the edge of the island, still not allowing her to go further inland. As soon as she received Communion, she crossed over to the other side of the thin veil, dying on the beach of this island. She was buried on the edge of Inish Cathaig and her grave is marked by a flag on Scattery Island.
St. Canaire is the patron saint of fisherman and seafarers and is greatly admired by feminists in Ireland. It is interesting that even today, ships will stop at Scattery Island to fetch a pebble to carry in honor of her on their journey as protection. The monastery on Scattery Island is still for men only, yet it is said that St. Senan shared Feenish Island with St. Bridget, he having a monastery for men and she having a monastery for women.
Note: There are several versions of St. Canaire’s life, some saying that she was a sister of St. Senan’s, so that is why she came to Inish Cathaig so she could be buried by her brother. There are also several versions of her name including: St. Cannera of Inis Cathaig, Cainder, Conaire, Canir, and Kinnera. They are likely all the same saint. She is listed in several Irish calendars and is venerated in Killcullane in County Limerick and in Kilcullen in County Kildare.
Feast Day, January 28
Have you ever been rejected by another religious person because of your race, your nation of birth, your sexual orientation, your gender, your ministry calling, or numerous other human-made rules or certain interpretations of Holy Scripture? If so, you are in good company with St. Canaire who was rejected because of her gender even though she sensed her call from the Spirit of God to her place of resurrection.
She would tell us today to be courageous and to stand up for what you believe from Holy Scripture, to stand up for what you sense is your personal calling. She would tell us, “do not be afraid.”
May St. Canaire’s words spoken 1500 years ago, be impressed upon our minds and hearts in the 21st century: Christ came to redeem women no less than to redeem men. No less did he suffer for the sake of women than for the sake of men. No less than men, women enter into the heavenly kingdom.
Darcy, M. R. The Saints of Ireland. St. Paul, MN: Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974.
Harrington, Christina. Women in a Celtic Church, Ireland 450-1150. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Low, Mary. “Canaire (?-530): 28 January,” in Celtic Daily Prayer, Book One. The Northumbria Community Trust, 2015, p. 228, also available online.
Lapa, Dimitry. “Saint Senan, Abbot of Scattery in Ireland.” (Inish Cathaigh) at Orthodox Christianity.com
Life of St. Senan, Bishop, Patron Saint of County Clare. County Clare Library. Ireland.
Matthews, John. “The Friend of Angels: Senan of Scattery” in Drinking From the Sacred Well: Personal Voyages of Discovery with the Celtic Saints. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
The Northumbria Community. “Canaire-in celebration of woman.” in Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two: Farther Up and Farther In. p. 1106. London: William Collins, 2015 with liturgy for womanhood.
Ryan, Gerrard. Pre-Reformation Church and Monastic Sites in in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, c. 550 A.D .to 1500 A.D., retrieved 012318.
St. Sennen’s Church. Cornwall. website with historical information.
Stokes, Margaret, ed. Christian Inscriptions in the Irish Language, Vol. 2.