Oran, Odhran

There are a number of Hebridean dedications to this saint. He is not the only saint of this name, and there was early confusion about who he was (see DoSH Odran of Iona). The Iona saint appears to belong exclusively to an anecdote which we see earliest in the 12th-century Life of Columba composed in Derry. There we are told that, having arrived in Iona;

DoSH - dedications to St Oran

At-bert Colum Cille ind sin rá muntir: “Is maith dún ar fréma do dul fó thalmain súnd”, ocus at-bert friu: “Is cet díb nech écin uaib do dul fo úir na hinnsi-se dia coisecrad.” Atracht suas Ódran erlattad ocus is ed at-bert, “Dianam-gabtha”, olse, “is erlom lem sin.” “A Odrain,” ol Colum Cille, “rot-bia a lóg sin .i. ni tiberthar a itghe do neoch icum ligesi mina fortsa shirfes ar thus.” Luid iarum Odran docum nime. (Herbert 1996, 237 §52)

Then Colum Cille said to his company: “It would benefit us if our roots were put down into the ground here”, and he said to them: “Someone among you should go down into the soil of the island to consecrate it.” The obedient Odrán rose up and said: “If I be taken, I am prepared for it”, he said. “Odrán,” said Colum Cille, “you will be rewarded for it. No one will be granted his request at my own grave, unless he first seek it of you.” Then Odrán went to heaven. (Herbert 1996, 237 §52)

This is clearly what underlies the name of Réilig Odhrain on Iona; or, rather, it is an explanation for the name. We do not otherwise know anything about Odhran. But this anecdote became embedded in Hebridean tradition, and there are modern versions of it, such as that given below by Fr Allan MacDonald of South Uist, and printed in The Celtic Review in 1905 (107-9; and see Macleod Banks 1931).

As discussed more fully in the entry on Teampull Orain, there is something of a conundrum when it comes to this saint. In a number of locations—as at Teampull Orain itself, or at Cill Orain on Oransay—a clear dedication to the saint coincides with a name of Old Norse derivation, Oransay / Orasay which should originally have been ON örfiris-ey, commonly used to denote islands ‘which, at low-water, are joined to the mainland by a reef which is covered at high-water’ (Cl.-Vig.), an exact description of many of these sites.

There is something peculiar happening here which this is not the place to fully explore. Did the Old Norse names for these islands prompt reinterpretation by Gaels, who rechristened them with the name of the saint, understanding him to be present in the name? (Note—at Orasaigh in North Uist and elsewhere, the saint is not absolutely obviously hinted at in the name). Did Oran already exist in some of these sites? Consider the nature of the key anecdote about Odhran as well, with all its liminal imagery of being submerged, and hesitating before making landfall. Is that half-land/half-water image also related to the character’s rechristening in modern Gaelic folklore as Dobhran (“otter”)?

CALUM-CILLE AGUS DOBHRAN A BHRATHAIR
From the MSS of the late Father Allan Macdonald
(for translation, see entry on Teampull Orain).

Thoisich Calum-cille air togal na h-I. Chruinnich e moran sluagh. Ach na thogadh e air an latha leagte air an oidhche e. Bhuail e sin air daoine a chur a dh'fhaire na h-I. H-uile maduinn bhitheadh iad sin marbh aig bonn na h-I. Cha do lean e fad air daoine a chur ann, ach bho'n a bha e fhein na dhuine naomh chaidh e agus dh’fhan e 'g fhaire na h-I fiach am faiceadh e no am faigheadh e ciod e a bha tighinn cearr oirre. Bha e a coimhead h-uige agus bhuaithe — agus bha iad ag radh gur ann air sgurr na creige faisge air a mhuir a bha i — cha'n fhaca mise i. Chunnaic e biast a tighinn bharr a chladaich 's an dala leth dhi na h-iasg agus an leth eile an coltas boireannaich. Bha i sean le slignich. 'Nuair a chrath i i-fein chuir i crith air an I 's air an talamh. Leig i glig dhith fhein mar gu'm biodh pigeachan 'g an crathadh. Chaidh Calum-cille sios na coinneamh agus bhruidhinn e rithe agus dh' fhaighneachd e dhith am b'f hiosrach i gu de bha marbhadh na daoine bha esan a cur a dh'fhaire na h-I as an oidhche. Thuirt i ris gu'm b'fhiosrach. ‘Ciod a bha 'g eiridh dhaibh?’ ars' e. Thuirt ise nach robh sian ach an t-eagal a bha iad a gabhail roimpe, nuair a bha i tighinn gu tir gu robh an cridhe leum as a chochull aca. ‘An fhiosrach dhuit’, ars' e, ‘ciod e a tha leagail na h-I a tha mise togail?’ ‘Is fhiosrach,’ ars ise. ‘Bithidh an I a tuitim mar sin gu brath, a Chaluim-chille naoimh. Cha mhise a tha ga leigeil ach na dheighidh sin thathar ga leagadh.’ ‘An aithne dhuit a nise an aon doigh air an cuir mi air aghaidh an I?’ ‘ 'S aithne,’ ars' ise. ‘A Chaluim-chille naoimhe, am maireach cuiridh tusa ceisd air na bheil a dhaoine 's an obair agad fiach co fear a dheonaicheas e fhein a thiodhlacadh beo fo'n talamh, agus bithidh anam sabhailte ma dheonaicheas e sin a dheanamh, agus cha'n fhaic iad mise so gu brath na dheigh. Theid an I air aghart gun umhail sam bith.’ An la-r-na mhaireach chuir e ceisd air an t-sluagh mhor an robh a h-aon sam bith dhiubh a dheo-naicheadh a thiodhlacadh beo air chumhnanta gu'm biodh anam sabhailte ann am flathanas. Cha robh gin sam bith deonach gabhail dha 'n t-sloc ged a bha e air innis gu'm bitheadh anam sabhailte le ordadh Dhia. (Dh'innis ise dha cuideachd gu’m feumadh sheachd fhaid dhoimhneachd a bhi 's an t-sloc). Bha Dobhran bochd a bhrathair ann an iomall an t-sluaigh. Thain' e nail agus sheas e air culaibh Chaluim-chille a bhrathair agus thuirt e gun robh esan uile dheonach a bhi air a thiodhlacadh uile bheo fo'n talamh air chumhnanta gu'n gabhadh an I togail do Chaluim-chille a bhrathair naomh, agus e toirt creideas do Chaluim-chille gu'm biodh anam sabhailte le ordadh Dhia.

Arsa Calum-cille, ‘ged nach'eil brathair agam ach Dobhran bochd tha mi toilichte gur e a dheonaich a dhol dha'n t-sloc.’ Agus nach motha na sin a chite a bhiast a tighinn thun a chladaich gu brath.

Rinneadh an sloc seachd airdead duine. Nuair a chunnaic Dobhran an t-sloc thionndaidh e ri Calum-cille, ’s dh'iarr e mar fhabhar ceann a chuir air an t-sloc agus esan fhagail na sheasamh cho fada 's a thogradh Dia fhagail beo.

Fhuair e iarrtas, a chuir sios beo dha'n t-sloc. Dh'fhagadh an so e.

Thainig Calum-cille is thoisich e air an I 's bha e fichead la ag obair 's bha an I a dol air aghaidh uamhasach. Bha e toilichte an ghnothach a bhi dol leis.

Ann an ceann an fhichead latha 'nuair a bha h-uile ni air thuairim a bhi dol air aghart gu math, thuirt e gu'm bu choir sealltain de chrioch a chaidh air Dobhran bochd, agus an sloc fhosgladh.

Bha Dobhran a coiseachd air urlar an t-sluic. 'Nuair a chunnaic Dobhran gu'n do dh'fhosgladh an t-sloc 's a mhuthaich e 'n saoghal gu leir mu choinneamh thug e cruinn leum as gu bial an t-sluic s' chuir e dha bhois air bial an t-sluic gu h-ard. Chroch e e-fhein ris an t-sloc. Bha lianadh mhor reidh suas 'o 'n I agus moran luachrach oirre. Na chunnaic Dobhran dhe'n luachar dh'fhas e ruadh agus tha am barr beag ruadh sin air an luachar riamh.

Dh'eubh Calum-cille 's e thall — ‘Uir, uir, air suil Dhobhran mu'n faic e'n corr dhe'n t- saoghal 's dhe 'n pheacadh.’ Chuir iad an uir air agus thill iad a dh'ionnsaidh an cuid obrach. 'S cha deachaidh car an aghaidh Calum-cille tuilleadh gus an d'fhuair e crioch air an I.