St Fethlimidh’s Cathedral, Kilmore, opened in 1860, close to the original cathedral.

Who was the real St Felim?

This week's Times Past column by historian Jonathan Smyth looks at St. Felim whose feast day is on August 9...

When the summer of 2022 finally arrived, I set out on a mini quest to learn more about the patron saint of the diocese, that is, St Felim of Kilmore. Firstly, I could not help but observe how the name Felim, a figure from the early Christian church, had survived as the name of local churches, schools, football clubs and as a name for many people throughout the Breifne region.

For his name to have survived so long, he must, I thought, have been an outstanding figure who did something worthwhile. Then, there were so many variations of the holy man’s name, like me, you may have become confused. I had seen everything from Felim, to Phelim, Fethlimidh, Fedlimid and Feidhlimidh.

Added to this, just a few years ago, I was speaking to a Greek scholar (she actually was from Greece) who had a theory that Kilmore’s St Felim may have been the one and the same St Philemon, a heavyweight preacher of the early church whose book appears in the New Testament. The critical issue remained, who was St Felim?

Philip O’Connell, one of the twentieth century Cavan stalwarts of local historic scholarship, was bound to have investigated St Felim, and thankfully I was to learn that he did. In his book on the Diocese of Kilmore, he devotes a full chapter to our man. From O’Connell, I discovered that Felim, aka Feidhlimidh, had a brother and sister. This must have been one holy family, for his brother was St Diarmait and his sister St Femia. The same Diarmait would one day establish a monastery at Loch Ree. Felim’s father was named Carvill and his mother, had the dramatic sounding name of ‘Dediva’; she was the granddaughter of Dubhtach Ui Lugair, Ireland’s chief poet whom it was said St Patrick converted from the old religion.

Felim’s father, Carvill, sometimes spelled Carill, was from a prominent clan who were rulers of a territory called Cairbre Gabhra that stretched from Northeast Longford to ‘Loch Uaichtair’ in Cavan and essentially of great interest was the fact that their property included lands around the old cathedral at Kilmore. The Carvills were an important family who transformed, changing their name to what is perhaps the best-known Cavan name in the world when during the thirteenth century they became the MacBrady clan.


Felim was born shortly after 500 AD. A sixth century man, he most likely founded a monastery at Kilmore sometime in the middle decades of that century. Having set up his ecclesiastical house, he was to become the first Bishop of Kilmore. In his later years, Felim chose to become a recluse, retreating to a hermit’s life, he prayed alone for a better world. The townland of Kilmore where Felim began his mission, then lent its name to the parish and eventually to the Diocese itself. A hermit’s place of abode is commonly known as a hermitage, and it would be fascinating to discover the exact location of St Felim’s dwelling. Could it have been the townland of Gortnashangan Upper which is also known as Hermitage?

Philemon theory

Philemon is the shortest of the biblical books and it is basically a prison letter from Paul with Timothy written to Philemon which talks about themes of forgiveness and reconciliation. However, I could find no connection to Felim, and in the context of the era when Philemon lived, the document appeared too early, composed in the years 57 to 62 AD which was centuries before Felim’s time.

In Lives of the Irish Saints, Volume 8, by John O’Hanlon, we are told of a St Feidlimid the fifth bishop of Clogger who apart from having a similar name, is unlikely to have been the same person. According to a ‘supposition’ of Sir James Ware, the remains of this St Feidlimid rest in the grounds of the church at Clunes near Tigernach in 548 AD.

The Saints feast day occurs on 9 August each year and O’Hanlon adds, that according to the ‘martyrologies’, his name also appears in the martyrology of Donegal on that date and that there was most likely an earlier church in Kilmore named in his honour. Explaining further, he stated, ‘it would appear that a parish church, dedicated to St Fedlimid, or Felimy’ were built at Kilmore, prior to 1454. Later, with the permission of Pope Nicholas V, this church was redeveloped as a cathedral by Bishop Andrew McBrady, and when the building was finished, he installed thirteen canons. St Felim’s feast day is remembered on the liturgical calendar each August by both the Catholic church and church of Ireland.

With further reading there is potentially always more to learn about St Felim. However, having made a start it will now mean that a drive through Kilmore will bring images to mind of a former world recorded on the mists of time.

In the end, there is still not a great deal more known about St Felim’s work, other than what took place locally around Cavan. This I found to be in contrast to other Cavan born Saints, such as St Mogue a.k.a. St Aidan of Templeport, or St Killian of Mullagh, whose work brought them further afield. However, the religious solitude of the hermit, it may be argued, is of a greater spiritual example to a community than it is given credit for. For further reading, I would recommend Philip O’Connell’s, ‘The Diocese of Kilmore: Its History and Antiquities.’


Wilde excited about Lord Farnham’s Crannóg