Findbarr (Finbarr) of Cork. There is scarcely a saint to rival Finbarr of Cork for the number of manuscript copies made of his Life, some thirty in total, not counting twenty-one copies of the same manuscript version made in the 1890s by Patrick Stanton of Cork. Ever since the original Life was composed in Latin at the end of the twelfth century, it has been held that the saint was a native of Cork, of Connacht ancestry, who, having received his education in Ossory, returned to found several churches in the Cork area, beginning with a church in or near Macroom, followed by a school at Gougane Barra, and culminating in a church and school on the site of the present Church of Ireland cathedral of St Fin Barre in the city of Cork. Examination of the Life, however, shows that all its salient features can be explained by reference to southern ecclesiastical affairs at the end of the twelfth century, when the bishop of Cork was concerned with bringing under his control the neighbouring sees of Cloyne and Ross. Both of these had been under the jurisdiction of Cork in part or in total previous to the synod of Kells–Mellifont (1152). Cork's first bishop, Gilla Áeda Ua Muigin – eponym of the present Gillabbey (Mainistir Ghiolla Aodha) – who was appointed c.1140, was a Connachtman, whence, very probably, the claim of a Connacht ancestry for his predecessor. It was deemed appropriate that a saint's successor should belong to his patron's wider family. Similarly, on somewhat obscure grounds, Ossory was thought to be closely connected with the area corresponding to the diocese of Ross, and this led to the location of Finbarr's schooling there, each of his teachers – all of whom can be shown to have been close relatives of Fachtna (qv), patron of Ross – being required to show the Cork saint due deference. Likewise, those named in the Life as having attended Finbarr's two famous schools, first at Gougane Barra, then at Cork, are almost invariably traceable to churches in the two neighbouring dioceses. Indeed, Finbarr's pupils are said to have included Fachtna, who is alleged to have granted his church to his teacher in perpetuity. Finally, Finbarr's mentor, Eolang (Olan) of Aghabulloge in the diocese of Cloyne, is likewise said to have surrendered his church to the Cork saint in perpetuity.
Since Finbarr's Life can thus be explained as a response to late twelfth-century issues, there is little to contradict the view that the Cork saint was ultimately identical with a much earlier attested namesake, Finbarr (Findbarr) alias Finnian. The original saint, whose localisations appear to have included (in addition to Finbarr of Cork) the celebrated Finnian (qv) of Clonard, was very probably Finnian (qv) of Movilla (in the Newtownards peninsula of Co. Down). Author of the earliest known Irish penitential, this Finnian is already cited in a letter to Gregory the Great written c.600 by Columbanus (qv), who called him Vennianus. Columbanus stated that the saint corresponded with Gildas (qv), the celebrated historian of Britain, on a point of monastic discipline. In composing his own penitential, Columbanus drew heavily on that of Finnian. Another claim to attention was the role as tutor of Colum Cille (qv) of Iona attributed to Finnian, alias Finbarr, by Adomnán (qv).
Clearly, the reputation gained by this notable cleric – who may have been born in one of the Irish settlements in Wales, whence his ‘British’ pet name – would have led to a wide diffusion of his cult. That his story also reached Cork is indicated by several attributes held by the saints of Movilla and Cork in common, in addition to a shared name and reputation for learning. One of these is the feast-day of the Cork saint, which fell on 25 September, contiguous to a cluster of feast-days commemorating Finnio/ Finniavus, one of which, at 28 September, is shared by Gildas.