Cóemgen (Kevin) (d. 618/22), founder and first abbot of Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, and saint in the Irish tradition, is linked genealogically with the proto-historic Laigin dynasty of Dál Messin Corb. Although there is nothing inherently improbable about this link (the tradition that places his birth near Tipperkevin, Co. Kildare, seems to lend substance to such claims), his immediate pedigree appears suspect: both parents and several alleged siblings are assigned personal names that incorporate the element cóem (gentle or beautiful). His father Cóemlug is traced to Fergus Láebderg and ultimately to Eochu Lámderg, a son of Mes Corb, while his mother, according to the tract ‘De matris’, was Cóemell, daughter of Cenfinnan. His brothers are said to have included Mo-Chóem of Terryglass and Cóemán of Airdne (or of Annatrim) and a sister is named as Cóemóc. Repetition of this name-element suggests cult fragmentation. Other genealogical traditions allege that Mella, mother of St Abbán (qv), and Caeltigern, mother of the sons of Colmad, were his sisters. Five Latin and Irish versions of the Life of Cóemgen (produced from about 800 onwards) are extant, none of which provide much biographical data. His education is ascribed to Bishop Éogan (qv) (fl. c.570) and to the priests Lochán and Énnae at Kilnamanagh, Co. Dublin; his ordination is ascribed to a Bishop Lugáed, whose identity is uncertain.
Prior to the foundation of his principal church at Glendalough, Cóemgen is credited with having established a cell at Cluain Duach (perhaps Dunboyke, near Holywood, Co. Wicklow). His Lives bring him into contact with several other church founders, including Mo-Bí (qv) (d. c.545) of Glasnevin, Mo-Chua (qv) (d. 573) of Clondalkin, and Mo-Chonóc (qv) (7th cent.) of Kilmacanogue. Some of the ecclesiastical figures associated with Cóemgen are accorded Dál Messin Corb pedigrees (often spurious), implying kinship with him, while others are expressly stated to have surrendered their foundations to him. Still more are included in the familia of the Glendalough patron as charted in the ‘Litany of Irish saints’; this source, which clearly contains a substantial stratum of Glendalough data, may well be in part derived from a lost liber confraternitatis Coemgeni. The alleged relationship between these ecclesiastical figures and Cóemgen probably reflects the later position of their foundations within the paruchia of Glendalough. Similarly, episodes in which Cóemgen encounters other major founders including Fintan (qv) of Taghmon, Colum Cille (qv) of Iona, Comgall (qv) of Bangor, Cainnech (qv) of Aghaboe, and Ciarán (qv) of Clonmacnoise represent inter-paruchial agreements at the time of composition or at a time of later redaction.
By comparison, Cóemgen is brought into contact with few secular figures. Dímma son of Fiachnae, an early Uí Máil dynast, helps him move to the lower valley of Glendalough, while Colmán Már of Uí Dúnlainge has his young son Fáelán (qv) (d. c.645) fostered by Cóemgen; again, these episodes need to be viewed in the context of later relationships between Glendalough and the lineages concerned. The few references in the Lives of Cóemgen to Uí Chennselaig present that dynasty in a decidedly bad light. Cóemgen features in the Lives of several other saints: his birth is prophesied in the Vita of Abbán; the tradition of his education is reiterated in that of Bishop Éogan and in a medieval Life of Petroc son of Glywys. The Life of Berach (qv) represents him as a disciple of Cóemgen and accords him a prominent role in fostering the young Fáelán son of Colmán. The medieval Life of Darerca (qv) has Cóemgen reacting angrily to the abbess's grant of Sliab Fuait (in the Fews, Co. Armagh) to Glúnsalach. There is the significant claim in the Life of Mo-Ling (qv) that this saint from the Barrow valley succeeded ‘ad sedem . . . Sancti Coemgeni’, reflecting, perhaps, intrusive west-Leinster interests at Glendalough in the tenth century. This may in turn provide the context for the apparent óentad (solemn agreement) between Cóemgen and Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, reflected in their respective Lives.
The obit of Cóemgen is entered at 618 and at 622; presumably he died on 3 June, at which date he is commemorated in all the Irish martyrologies, the ‘Martiloge in Englysshe’, the Drummond Missal, and in the calendar of the Carlsruhe Bede. His immediate successor in the abbacy at Glendalough is not certain; conflicting local oral traditions point to Liber (qv) and to the above-mentioned Mo-Chonóc. The cult of Cóemgen had become established certainly within a century following his death; in addition to the ‘Litany of Irish saints’, he is invoked in the Stowe Missal. The hymn of Broccán (qv) in honour of St Brigit (qv) compares the hardship of her life with that of the ascetic Cóemgen (lines 36–40). He is listed in the tracts ‘De sacerdotibus’ and ‘Sancti qui erant bini unius moris’; he is also included among the saints of the second order. His relics were taken on circuit in 790 (AU 789) along with those of Mo-Chua of Clondalkin.