Saint Finnian was born in the fifth century to Rudraigh, a nobleman and Ulsterman at Myshall in County Carlow. He was baptized
by Saint Abban and began his instruction and care under the Bishop of Trim (Bishop Fortchern). Wanting to increase his study and holiness, he left Ireland and (as tradition holds) traveled to then Gaul. At the monastic center of Martin of Tours he entered an extremely rigid and austere life with the monks, sacrificing physical comforts for greater spiritual gain.
A few years later he left Tours and travelled to Wales and began studying at the monastery of Cadoc the Wise (Llancarfan, Wales). While there, he was in contact and wrote with the three early British Saints - Cadog, David, and Gildas. He would eventually spend nearly 30 years at the monastery there, making copies of Vatican classics and other important documents such as Saint Jerome's Vulgate.
At the end of his thirty years in Wales, Saint Finnian left and traveled back to native Ireland. In Ireland, King Oengus of Leinster gave him land to build a site - he would form the monastic community on Skellig Michael there (and which is now a UNESCO world heritage site - also known as a filming location for the newer Star Wars films). Afterwards, he traveled to Kildare, studying and teaching but also gaining the respect and love from Saint Brigid. So respected was he by Saint Brigid that upon his departure from the town, Saint Brigid gave him a golden ring.
Tradition holds that he was then led by an angel to Cluain Eraird (Clonard, County Meath) where he was told it would be the place of his resurrection. On this site he built a small cell and church out of clay and wattle. Life there was filled with study and prayer, but the his fame spread rapidly and quickly the small monastery was filled with scholars from across Ireland. He established a full monastery based upon not only the Welsh monasteries but also the traditions of the Desert Fathers. Nearly 3,000 monks would eventually come, famously including the so called "twelve Apostles of Ireland" including:
Saint Brendan of Birr
Saint Brendan of Clonfert
Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise
Saint Ciaran of Saighir
Saint Colman of Terryglass
Saint Colmcille of Iona
Saint Mobhi of Glasnevin
Saint Molaise of Devenish
Saint Ruan of Lorrha
Due to Saint Finnian's reputation of a man of learning, Clonard Monastery became a center of Biblical study.Out of love for those under his care, he would often become sick with those who were sick and spend his time sharing in his fellow monk's despairs. In the continued tradition of the Welsh monasteries, he famously ate bread and herbs only and slept with a rock for a pillow upon the ground. Saint Finnian would be called home by our Lord during the great plague of 549-550. Visitors today can tour the Clonard grounds that were heavily damaged in Viking and Norman raids.