Birthplace of St. Patrick

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter VIII

The birthplace of the great Apostle of Ireland has long been, and still continues, a subject of controversy.

St. Fiacc states that he was born at Nemthur,[9] and the Scholiast on St. Fiacc’s Hymn identifies this with Alcuith, now Dumbarton, on the Firth of Clyde.

The most reliable authority unquestionably is St. Patrick’s own statements, in his Confessio. He there says (1) that his father had a farm or villa at Bonavem Taberniae, from whence he was taken captive. It does not follow necessarily from this, that St. Patrick was born there; but it would appear probable that this was a paternal estate. (2) The saint speaks of Britannia as his country.

The difficulty lies in the identification of these places. In the Vita Secunda, Nemthur and Campus Taberniae are identified. Probus writes, that he had ascertained as a matter of certainty, that the Vicus Bannave Taburniae regionis was situated in Neustria.

The Life supposed to be by St. Eleran, states that the parents of the saint were of Strats-Cludi (Strath-Clyde), but that he was born in Nemthur—“Quod oppidum in Campo Taburniae est;” thus indicating an early belief that France was the land of his nativity.

St. Patrick’s mention of Britanniae, however, appears to be conclusive.

There was a tribe called Brittani in northern France, mentioned by Pliny, and the Welsh Triads distinctly declare that the Britons of Great Britain came from thence.

There can be no doubt, however, that St. Patrick was intimately connected with Gaul.

His mother, Conchessa, was either a sister or niece of the great St. Martin of Tours; and it was undoubtedly from Gaul that the saint was carried captive to Ireland.

Patrick was not the baptismal name of the saint; it was given him by St. Celestine[1] as indicative of rank, or it may be with some prophetic intimation of his future greatness. He was baptized by the no less significant appellation of Succat—“brave in battle.” But his warfare was not with a material foe.

Erinn received the faith at his hands, with noble and unexampled generosity; and one martyr, and only one, was sacrificed in preference of ancient pagan rites; while we know that thousands have shed their blood, and it may be hundreds even in our own times have sacrificed their lives, to preserve the treasure so gladly accepted, so faithfully preserved.[2]

Moore, in his History of Ireland, exclaims, with the force of truth, and the eloquence of poetry:

“While in all other countries the introduction of Christianity has been the slow work of time, has been resisted by either government or people, and seldom effected without lavish effusion of blood, in Ireland, on the contrary, by the influence of one zealous missionary, and with but little previous preparation of the soil by other hands, Christianity burst forth at the first ray of apostolic light, and, with the sudden ripeness of a northern summer, at once covered the whole land. Kings and princes, when not themselves amongst the ranks of the converted, saw their sons and daughters joining in the train without a murmur. Chiefs, at variance in all else, agreed in meeting beneath the Christian banner; and the proud druid and bard laid their superstitions meekly at the foot of the cross; nor, by a singular blessing of Providence—unexampled, indeed, in the whole history of the Church—was there a single drop of blood shed on account of religion through the entire course of this mild Christian revolution, by which, in the space of a few years, all Ireland was brought tranquilly under the dominion of the Gospel.”


[9] Nemthur.—The n is merely a prefix; it should read Em-tur.

[1] Celestine.—See the Scholiast on Fiacc’s Hymn.

[2] Preserved.—It is much to be regretted that almost every circumstance in the life of St. Patrick has been made a field for polemics. Dr. Todd, of whom one might have hoped better things, has almost destroyed the interest of his otherwise valuable work by this fault. He cannot allow that St. Patrick’s mother was a relative of St. Martin of Tours, obviously because St. Martin’s Catholicity is incontrovertible. He wastes pages in a vain attempt to disprove St. Patrick’s Roman mission, for similar reasons; and he cannot even admit that the Irish received the faith as a nation, all despite the clearest evidence; yet so strong is the power of prejudice, that he accepts far less proof for other questions.