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School of Tuam

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(Irish, Tuaim da Ghualann , or the "Mound of the two Shoulders").

The School of Tuam was founded by St. Jarlath, and even during his life (d. c. 540) became a renowned school of piety and sacred learning, while in the eleventh century it rivalled Clonmacnoise as a centre of Celtic art. St. Jarlath was trained for his work by St. Benignus, the successor and coadjutor of St. Patrick, and under this gentle saint's guidance he founded his first monastery at Cluainfois, now Cloonfush, about two miles west from Tuam, and a still shorter distance across the fertile fields from Benignus's own foundation at Kilbannon. Here at Cluainfois, according to a widespread tradition, Saints Benignus and Jarlath and Caillin, another disciple of Benignus, frequently met together to discuss weighty questions in theology and Scripture. The fame of this holy retreat brought scholars from all parts of Ireland, amongst whom were St. Brendan, the great navigator, who came from Kerry, and St. Colman, the son of Lenin, who came from Cloyne. One day Brendan in prophetic spirit told his master that he was to leave Cluainfois and go eastward, and where the wheel of his chariot should break on the journey "there you shall build your oratory, for God wills that there shall be the place of your resurrection, and many shall arise in glory in the same place along with you". Jarlath did not long delay in obeying this inspired instruction. He departed from Cluainfois, and at the place now called Tuam his chariot broke down, and there on the site of the present Protestant, but formerly Catholic, cathedral he built his church and monastic school. And he bade good-bye to Brendan saying, "O holy youth, it is you should be master and I pupil, but go now with God's blessing elsewhere", whereupon Brendan returned to his native Kerry. After the death of St. Jarlath there is little in the national annals about the School of Tuam. There is reference in the "Four Masters", under date 776 ( recte 781), to the death of an Abbot of Tuam called Nuada O'Bolcan; and under the same date in the "Annals of Ulster" to the death of one "Ferdomnach of Tuaim da Ghualann", to whom no title is given. At the year 969 is set down the death of Eoghan O Cleirigh, " Bishop of Connacht", but more distinct reference to a Tuam prelate is found in 1085, when the death of Aedh O Hoisin is recorded. The "Four Masters" call him Comarb of Jarlath and High Bishop ( Ard-epscoip ) of Tuam.

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