IRELAND OF MY HEART
Saint Begnet of Ireland and her Holy Well
in Dalkey Island, Ireland (7th century)
Feast day: November 12
Saint Begnet (also Begneta, Begnete, Begnait or Becnait) is a patron saint of Dalkey, Ireland. The name Begnet is most likely a diminutive form of Beg or Bec. She is noted as a “virgin, not a martyr”. St Begnet was an Irish princess who lived in the 7th century. Her feast day is November 12. Two ruined churches in Dalkey are named for Begnet, one on Dalkey Island, and the other near the 15th-century stone townhouse now serving as Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre, in the area known as Kilbegnet. A holy well located near the martello tower on the island is also associated with her.
St Begnet’s father was Colman, the son of Aedh in the parish of Kilbegnatan (Kilbegnet or Cill Becnait). Like many other female virgin saints, she is described as beautiful and desirable, but she refused her numerous suitors in favor of religious devotion. Her social status is sometimes given as “Irish princess”, and thus she would have been a valuable bride. She is said variously to have lived as an anchorite or to have served as the first abbess of nuns on a small island off the coast of England.
She gave her name to the two churches in the area and Dalkey town and surrounding area was for many centuries known as Kilbegnet. Perhaps she came from Dalkey, or perhaps she sailed from here to pioneer her religious order. It may also be possible the churches were dedicated to her memory by missionaries, spreading the faith after her death.
As a child, St Begnet was visited by an angel who gave her a bracelet inscribed with a cross as a mark of her vocation.
St Begnet grew up to become a beautiful woman and had many suitors. Her parents arranged her marriage to the son of the King of Norway. But still dedicated to the vows she had taken, Begnet had no wish to take a husband. To avoid marriage, she left home, leaving everything but the bracelet given to her by the Angel. She found passage in a small boat and sailed to Northumbria on the West Coast of England. There she was received into the Church by Bishop Aidan and became the first abbess of nuns. Her convent was constantly plundered by pirates, so after several years Begnet moved inland towards Cumberland.
Her bracelet became an object of veneration after her death.
Saint Begnet’s Well
Dalkey Island, Ireland
Dalkey Village, Ireland
St Begnet’s Church, 9th century
St Begnet’s Church
The 9th century granite church named after the virgin Saint, St Begnet, probably replaced an earlier wooden church dating back to the Early Christian period. The Nave dates to the 10th century and later the Bellcote and Chancel were added in the 13th century. Inside the Nave on the eastern side of the doorway is a Stoup and there is an Ambry built into the southern wall of the chancel. Scattered throughout the graveyard are a number of decorated headstones and on the northern side of the church is a rare Tau Cross.
The ruin of the church of St. Begnet on Dalkey Island, Ireland
Goat Castle, Dalkey Village, Ireland
Dalkey heritage centre
In the Dalkey heritage centre there is the Rathdown Slab. The slab was found in the graveyard surrounding St Begnet’s Church in 1855. The Rathdown Slabs are usually linked to churches dated to the 11th and 12th century. The first slabs were recorded by Austin Cooper in 1781 and since then the number of viking slabs has risen to around 30. This particular slab is one of the finest examples and standing at about 5 ft tall one of the largest. It is thought the slab may have been decorated originally with viking art such as the cup marks, but that a number of christian symbols such as the large ring with a cross in the centre, may have been added later. Other examples have been recorded at Kilgobbin Church, Rathmichael Church, Whitechurch, Ballyman, Kiltiernan, Tully Church, Killegar and more recently in Dundrum.
St Begnat’s Church of 9th century
in Dalkey Village