Kylian Mbappé’s (yes, okay, somewhat tenuous) links to a Cavan saint

In a Word: St Kilian was a seventh-century Cavan man who lost his head in what is now Germany

Kylian Mbappé of Paris Saint-Germain. Photograph: Octavio Passos/Getty

I would not be the world’s No I soccer fan. The theatrics of the players, and those long awning gaps between scores that make Waiting for Godot seem like a thriller, are a turn-off. Give me a decent Gaelic football game (without the hand pass), any Six Nations or Ireland rugby match, or – the greatest, fastest, must stunning game of them all – hurling, any day.

I faltered last December. It was the second half of the World Cup final between France and Argentina what dun it. Okay, Messi is God but what of Mbappé, the young French international who turned that game on its head, scoring two goals within 90 seconds?

What of his first name, Kilian – sometimes spelled Kylian by himself? How did he, born in Paris of a father from Cameroon and an Algerian mother, end up with such an Irish name? (I also discovered we have at least one thing in common. He is described as renowned for his dribbling skills. So was I, aged two.)

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Cillian, Kilian, Killian, and now Kylian are names derived from a seventh-century Cavan man who became a saint – which must be a first – but who lost his head in what is now Germany. I 689 he was martyred at Wurzburg, at the northern end of Bavaria, and is the city’s patron saint. A small compensation.


He converted the local duke to Christianity and then told him his marriage to his brother’s wife was unlawful and he should separate. Geliana (said wife) was not pleased and had him beheaded. For good measure, she included Kilian’s fellow Irish men Kolonat and Totnan.

Kilian’s name is everywhere in Wurzburg, as I saw on a visit in 2008, with a huge statue of him on a bridge over the river Main. There’s even a fast-food restaurant named after him, while his much-treasured gospel in the local university is believed to be the oldest surviving text in Irish.

St Kilian’s Cathedral in Wurzburg is one of the main Romanesque churches in Germany, which was almost destroyed in a March 1945 vengeful bombing raid. It was the first of 387 churches to be named after Kilian throughout Europe.

Not bad for a man from Cloughballybeg.

But his greatest legacy in this more superficial age could yet be Kylian Mbappé. Salut.

Kilian, for “little church”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times