Pagan Prophecies concerning St. Patrick

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter IX. ...continued

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It is said that the pagan Irish were not without some intimation of the coming of their great apostle. Whether these prophecies were true or false is a question we cannot pretend to determine; but their existence and undoubted antiquity demand that they should have at least a passing notice. Might not the Gaedhilic druid, as well as the Pythian priestess, have received even from the powers of darkness, though despite their will, an oracle [8] which prophesied truth?

There is a strange, wild old legend preserved in the Book of Leinster, which indicates that even in ancient Erinn the awful throes of nature were felt which were manifested in so many places, and in such various ways, during those dark hours when the Son of God hung upon the accursed tree for the redemption of His guilty creatures.

This tale or legend is called the Aideadh Chonchobair. It is one of that class of narratives known under the generic title of Historical Tragedies, or Deaths. The hero, Conor Mac Nessa, was King of Ulster at the period of the Incarnation of our Lord. His succession to the throne was rather a fortuity than the result of hereditary claim. Fergus Mac Nessa was rightfully king at the time; but Conor's father having died while he was yet an infant, Fergus, then the reigning monarch, proposed marriage to his mother when the youth was about fifteen, and only obtained the consent of the celebrated beauty on the strange condition that he should hand over the sovereignty of Ulster to her son for a year. The monarch complied, glad to secure the object of his affections on any terms. Conor, young as he was, governed with such wisdom and discretion as to win all hearts; and when the assigned period had arrived, the Ulster men positively refused to permit Fergus to resume his rightful dignity. After much contention the matter was settled definitely in favour of the young monarch, and Fergus satisfied himself with still retaining the wife for whose sake he had willingly made such sacrifices. Conor continued to give ample proofs of the wisdom of his people's decision. Under his government the noble Knights of the Royal Branch sprang up in Ulster, and made themselves famous both in field and court.

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[8] Oracle.—It is said that, three years before St. Patrick's apostolic visit to Ireland, the druids of King Laeghairé predicted the event to their master as an impending calamity. The names of the druids were Lochia and Luchat Mael; their prophecy runs thus:—

"A Tailcenn will come over the raging sea,
With his perforated garment, his crook-headed staff,
With his table at the cast end of his house,
And all his people will answer 'Amen, Amen.'"

The allusions to the priestly vestments, the altar at the east end of the church, and the pastoral staff, are sufficiently obvious, and easily explained. The prophecy is quoted by Macutenius, and quoted again from him by Probus; but the original is in one of the most ancient and authentic Irish MSS., the Book of Armagh.


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