St Ita and her donkey featured in my last post on The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints. There is another great story about St Ita and a beetle which I really want to share with you. As well as running a monastery for nuns Ita was also the foster mother to many Irish saints including St Brendan and St Mochaomhóg, who was her nephew. They along with other saints came to study at the school attached to Kileedy (Gwynn & Hadcock 1988, 392; Ó’Riain 2011, 377).
Ita followed a very strict and devote lifestyle and the ninth century Martyrology of Oengus tells that Ita engaged in sever fasting and ‘she succoured great grievous disease’.
The Martyrology also depicts Ita as a very kind and caring person. It was said she once let a stag beetle as ‘big as a lap-dog’ suckle at her side. The beetle caused much damage eating ‘the whole of one of her sides’ which the saint endured without letting anyone know (Stokes 1984, 44–45).
One day the nuns at Kileedy saw the beetle . You can only imagine the scene of horror when the nuns were confronted with this mutant beetle strolling the monastery and its not surprising they killed the creature.
Ita soon missed the beetle and having searched in vain for it asked her nuns ‘Where has my fosterling gone?’ (Stokes 1984, 44–45). The nuns told Ita what they had done but upon hearing the news of the beetle’s death the saint became very sad. According to the Martyrology of Oengus she then asked God to send her the Christ child to foster and he was sent to her as an infant and she composed a poem which begins ‘Jesus, who is nursed by me in my little hermitage’ (ibid).
Killanin , L. & Duignan, M. 1967. The Shell Guide to Ireland. London: Ebury Press.
O’Riain, P. 2011. The dictionary of Early Irish Saints. Dublin : Four Courts Press.
Stokes, W. 1905. The Martrology of Oengus the Culdee. London: Printed for the Henry Bradshaw Society.