The name Diarmaid is found only in the name of one of the subsidiary chapels at the site of Howmore, Caibeal Dhiarmaid. There has been some confusion over this, since Martin Martin (1703, 88) refers to a St Jeremy’s Chapel (with Jeremy likely to represent the name Diarmaid), but implies it is elsewhere. The question has been whether Martin confused the names of two different churches, or whether there was in addition to Caibeal Diarmaid at Howmore, another church dedicated to Diarmaid/Jeremy (see Raven 2005, 161-2, 168; MacDonald 2010, 251). On the whole, it seems most likely that there was only Caibeal Diarmaid. As discussed in the entry for Howmore, this building may previously have been known as Teampull Chaluim Chille. The other names of subsidiary chapels (e.g., Caibeal Chlann ‘ic Ailein) do not show much sign of being ancient, and so the name Caibeal Dhiarmaid may be no older than the early modern period. John Raven (2005, 178) has noted the possibility that this refers to a Father Dermot Duggan, a 17th-century Irish missionary who worked on the island. In fact, this is very likely to be the case, and a strong argument can be made for it (see below).
However, sculpture from there shows that the site at Howmore clearly has early medieval origins. As such, we should explore what the possibilities are for an early saint to be commemorated here, on the basis that the name could be partially earlier. Martin Martin (1703, 88), after all, mentions St Jeremy’s Chapel in a context which perhaps suggests some age to it. There are probably two saints probably to the fore for who this might be, both of whom lived in the 9th century. One is Diarmaid the fosterson or pupil of Daigre, who was abbot of Iona, and head of the Columban federation of monasteries, from 814 until probably sometime in the 830s (he is one of the only abbots of Iona whose death-date we do not know). (Clancy 1996; 2003-4) Diarmaid’s significance lies in the fact that we know him to have been very active during his period in charge to-ing and fro-ing between Ireland and Scotland, bearing the relics of St Columba; and that we know him to have been closely involved with the monastic reform movement which was underway in Ireland during this time, known as the Céli Dé, the ‘clients of God’. He may have been responsible for importing the ideals of the Céli Dé to Scotland, and for the foundation of churches which, later on in the middle ages, housed Céli Dé communities (Clancy 1996).
John Raven has speculated from there to wondering if Howmore might have been a Céli Dé foundation (Raven 2005, 160-2, 175-9). This probably goes beyond what we can do with the evidence. We genuinely do not know what such a church would have looked like, so arguing from archaeology or layout is not really on offer. Equally, it is abundantly clear that the commemoration of a saint does not tell us they were personally active, so the Céli Dé connection, however interesting, is probably a red herring. There is also still far too much literature out there which seems to equate the term Céli Dé or ‘Culdee’ loosely with the post-Columban ‘Celtic church’. This is a serious misrepresentation of the reality. There is another saint, contemporary with Diarmaid of Iona, who should be mentioned. This is Diarmaid mac Aeda Róin (d.825). He is much more prevalent in Irish sources. He was connected to the monastery of Bangor; he seems to have founded the church of Díseart Diarmada, now Castledermot, in Co. Kildare; and he has also been connected with work on one of the earliest Gaelic manuscripts to have survived. (see Ó Riain 2011, 262-3) He, too, had Céli Dé connections. In addition, Bangor has some relationship with monasteries in the Hebrides and Argyll. Either of these men may lie behind the commemoration in Caibeal Dhiarmaid. That said, there are no other names in Scotland which reflect a commemoration of a saint called Diarmaid, and this probably is added evidence that the name is a much more recent one, and the Diarmaid in question not an early saint.
In fact, as already mentioned, it is likely that Caibeal Dhiarmaid is named for Fr Dermot Duggan or Duiguin (for Irish Diarmuid Ó Dubhagáin) (see Raven 2005, 178). He was an Irish missionary, from Emly in Co. Tipperary, an early member of the Congregation of the Mission in France, founded by St Vincent de Paul, and the two corresponded. His story is well known from popular accounts of the Hebrides, and histories of Scottish Catholicism (Blundell 1917; Mackenzie 1936, 8-12). For the most recent treatment of his work in context, see Fiona MacDonald’s account in her book Missions to the Gaels (MacDonald 2006, esp. 142-49). References to Fr Dermot Duggan, and translations of some of the correspondence relating to him, have recently been collected by Alison Forrestal (Forrestal 2009, 115-22). He seems to have arrived in the Hebrides in 1651, and letters mention his recent death in the Hebrides in 1657. It may be worth here quoting a few excerpts from his letters as edited by Forrestal (much of this is also quoted in Mackenzie 1936). He described his mission in some detail in a letter to St Vincent de Paul, 28th October 1652:
‘I left my companion [Fr Francis White] in that mountainous region of Scotland because there were great spiritual needs there and much good to be accomplished, and I went over to the Hebrides. There, God in His all-powerful mercy has performed miracles beyond all hope. He disposed hearts so well that Clanranald, laird of a large part of the island of Uist, was converted, along with his wife, the young laird his son, and their whole family. All their subjects and their families did the same.’ (Forrestal 2009, 117)
Another letter to St Vincent de Paul, from April 1654, gives further details of his time on Uist:
‘The island of Uist belongs to two chieftains: one is named Captain Clanranald and the other MacDonald. The area belonging to the former is completely converted, with the exception of only two men, who want nothing to do with any religion in order to have greater freedom to sin. About a thousand or twelve hundred souls have been brought back to the fold of the Church. I have not yet been to the other end of the island, which belongs to MacDonald, although I have been asked to go.’ (Forrestal 2009, 117-18)
St Vincent de Paul wrote a number of letters mentioning the death of Fr Dermot Duggan; perhaps the most poignant is this, from 2 November 1657:
‘We just received a piece of news from elsewhere that grieves us deeply: God has taken M. Duiguin to Himself. He died last May 17 at his mission in the Hebrides, where it can be said he worked wonders. The poor islanders – both adults and children – wept for him as if he were their father. I have not been given any details of the good work he accomplished because people dare not write about religious matters except in general terms and in veiled language.’ (Forrestal 2009, 121)
If Fr Dermot Duggan / Diarmaid Ó Dubhagáin was indeed buried near to his patrons, the chiefs of Clanranald, in Howmore, it might be no surprise that one of the chapels was named for him, or even if there had been local devotion to this stalwart Catholic missionary. In fact, Dom. Odo Blundell, quoting an unnamed (contemporary?) document seems to imply this is precisely what happened.
‘The people amongst whom he ministered long mourned his loss; they revered him as a Saint, and gave his name to the chapel where his remains were laid to rest.’ (Blundell 1917, 26)
That this is not hyperbole is suggested by stories told about miracles associated with him (see Nilsen 1996-97, 173-4). And, indeed, local tradition held that he was buried at Howmore. According to Dòmhnall Iain MacDhòmhnaill, ‘B’e am fear a b’iomraitiche dhiubh sin Maighstr Diarmad Duggan, ‘s tha àitichean ainmichte air-san an Uibhist fhathast, mar a tha Caibeal Dhiarmaid ann an seann chladh Hoghmóir, far a bheil e tiodhlaichte.’ (MacDhòmhnaill 1981, 25).
There are two factors which perhaps demand caution. First, another account says that Fr Duggan was buried elsewhere. Michael Barret OSB, said in 1918 that ‘[h]is tomb in the ancient church at Kilvanan was held in reverence as that of a saint, and his memory cherished there’ (Barrett 1918, 169fn.1). Second, there are a number of other accounts of place-names named after him. These, however, all employ his surname rather than his first name, for example, Glac Dhùgain on Barra (Mackinnon 1964; see MacDonald 2006, 315n.78 for further names, including a Cladh a’ Ghugain on South Uist).
Despite these worries, the evidence does seem to indicate that Caibeal Dhiarmaid was associated with Fr Dermot Duggan, perhaps his place of burial, and may reflect local devotion to him. If Martin Martin were already referring to this chapel as St Jeremy’s Chapel in 1703, that would be evidence that he had swiftly come to be regarded as a saint.