Few of the Irish males called Cahal realise that their patron saint is much better known in Italy than in his native Ireland. An exception is Cardinal Cahal Daly, who launched San Cataldo, an account of the saint's fame and history in Italy, a few days ago, writes Joe Carroll
St Cahal's life links Lismore in Co Waterford, where he studied, with Taranto on the heel of Italy, where he is buried in the cathedral. Cahal is venerated in some 200 churches in Italy, and on the islands of Sicily and Malta.
But in his native land he is something of a mystery man. When the Archbishop of Taranto, Monsignor Luigi Papa, and a cluster of dignitaries travelled to Ireland two years ago for the saint's celebrations at his reputed birthplace of Ballinameela, Canty, Co Waterford, a local bard was moved to write:
"St Cathaldus was my
But for years I never knew.
It was the best kept secret
Known to very few."
If we are beginning to know more about Cahal/Cataldo, it is thanks to a Sicilian, Enzo Farinella, who has been living in Ireland for many years. He combined journalism for the Italian news agency, Ansa, with work for the Cultural Institute of the Italian Embassy. More recently he has set up his own Casa Italia to teach the Italian language and culture.
The history and legends of the mysterious St Cahal are set out in the Casa's second annual, which the cardinal launched. The first annual described the many links between Ireland and Italy in history, culture and economic affairs.
Enzo has brought about some fascinating twinnings of Irish and Italian towns. Drogheda, for example, is twinned with Bronte, a village on the slopes of ever-active Mount Etna in Sicily. How this came about is like a plot in a Brontë novel.
The grandfather of the literary sisters Emily, Charlotte and Anne was born in Drogheda. He changed his name from Prunty to Brontë because he was a great admirer of Horatio Nelson. The admiral had been given lands in Italy and the title Duke of Brontë for saving the Italian Bourbons from Napoleon. Hence the Pruntys became the Brontës.
Another intriguing twinning is between another town on the slopes of Mount Etna, called Castiglione, and Killarney. Enzo calls them "two towns with volcanic characteristics". This seems rather odd until you learn from Geology and Scenery in Ireland that the spectacular mountain scenery around Killarney is in part due to the "lavas and ashes" of an early volcanic period.
Still living in Castiglione is a man who has greatly influenced the shape of the Catholic Church in Ireland today. Archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi was the papal nuncio to Ireland for almost 20 years until the late 1980s, when he retired to his native town dominated by the smoking volcano. On a recent visit there in the company of Enzo Farinella, an Irish group was entertained by the archbishop playing the theme from The Godfather on the organ in his period house.
Speaking of his days in Ireland, he confided: "I appointed 40 Irish bishops." "Cá bhfhuil siad anois?" murmured one of the group.
But we have strayed from St Cahal and how he made it big in 7th-century Italy. After studying under St Carthage in Lismore, he became abbot of a monastery at Shanrahan, known today as the village of Clogheen in the Glen of Aherlow.
In 666, the legend goes, he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land - there is a painting of him in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He was shipwrecked off the coast of Italy on the way home. He made it ashore near Taranto and stayed to minister to the natives who had relapsed into paganism after being converted by St Mark the Evangelist.
When a new cathedral was being built in 1071, the workers uncovered a marble tomb in which lay an incorrupt body in archbishop's robes with a gold cross inscribed "Cathaldus of Rahan". His feast day on May 10th is celebrated across Italy.
Scholars believe "Rahan" refers to Shanrahan. Others are doubtful about the amazing 7th-century journey from Clogheen to Taranto via Jerusalem. Not the bard of Canty who rhymed:
"Few there were who heard
Before this special day.
Now his name is on all lips.
To St Cathaldus we will pray."