Saint Molaise lived from 566 until 640. He was an Irish monk and bishop who a number of years as a hermit living on Holy Island, off the east coast of the Isle of Arran. During his life he also visited Rome, and he is credited with bringing to Ireland the Roman Church's method of calculating the date of Easter. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Molaise was the son of Cairell, the king of Ulster, and the Scottish princess Gemma. On his father's death he declined the chance to succeed him as king, and instead turned to the life of a hermit in a cave on what became known after him as Eilean Molaise, and is now called Holy Island, off the east coast of the Isle of Arran. It is thought that Molaise chose this location because the island already had a reputation as a spiritual place, which in his day may have been known as Inis Shroin, or "Island of the Water Spirit".
The cave where St Molaise lived can still be seen today, complete with Viking runic graffiti carved into the walls. A nearby well is said to have healing properties, and it seems likely that a monastery was established on the island in the 1200s or 1300s. Little trace of it now remains. Today the spiritual nature of the island is carried on in the shape of the Centre for World Peace and Health, a Buddhist retreat centre.
In about 600, Molaise left Holy Island and travelled to Rome, where he was ordained as a priest by Pope Gregory the Great. On his return to Ireland he became a monk at the monastery in Leighlin, and later became its abbot. While there, Molaise played a leading role in introducing into Ireland the Roman church's method of dating Easter, a highly contentious issue at the time. In around 620, Molaise travelled again to Rome, where he was made the first Bishop of Leighlin by Pope Honorius I. An extremely odd legend has it that Molaise died as a result of having pulled out a hair from the eyebrow of St Sillán, an act that apparently saved others from the fatal consequences of seeing that saint's eyebrow-hair during the morning. St Molaise's feast day is celebrated on 18 April. St Molios Church on Arran is named after him, and there is a local tradition that on his death he was buried on Arran, and a stone that is said to be his grave marker (but looks far too late in date) can still be seen at St Molios Church.