St. Patrick (continued) - Irish Pictures (1888)

From Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil (1888) by Richard Lovett

Chapter III: The Valley of the Boyne … continued

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'The current tradition is that after a second captivity, which lasted only two months, he betook himself to the best schools of the West of Europe, and first came to Ireland to preach the Gospel in the sixtieth year of his age. But against this four objections may be urged. First, if Patrick had been absent from Ireland in Gaulish schools from the age of twenty-three to the age of sixty, he would certainly have forgotten Irish, which language he seems to have known well on returning to that country. Secondly, he would have learned to write better Latin than that of his Confession and the Letter to Coroticus, and he would not have complained by implication that he had not been in sermonibus instructus et eruditus. Thirdly, it is improbable that an ardent nature like his, spurred by visions and eager to annex a new territory to the kingdom of Christ, would have postponed his attempt for thirty-seven years. And, fourthly, this alleged long absence from Ireland is plainly inconsistent with Patrick's own words, "Ye know and God knows how I have lived among you from my youth up, both faithful in truth and sincere in heart."'

'It therefore seems probable that Patrick, after his escape from his second captivity, studied in Gaul until he was fit for ordination as a priest. That he was ordained by a Gaulish bishop, and that he then, moved, it may be, by one of the visions which he had so often, returned to Ireland and commenced his work as a missionary.'[9]

'The kernel of fact in the story told by Probus about his ordination seems to be that Patrick returned to Ireland on or soon after his ordination as priest (say in A.D. 397), and without any commission from Rome; that he laboured for thirty years in converting the pagan Irish, but met with little or no success; that he attributed this failure to the want of episcopal ordination and Roman authority; that in order to have these defects supplied he went back to Gaul (say in A.D. 427), intending ultimately to proceed to Rome; that he spent some time in study with Germanus of Auxerre; that hearing of the failure and death of Palladius, who had been sent on a mission to Ireland by Pope Celestinus, in A.D. 431, he was directed by Germanus to take at once the place of the deceased missionary; that Patrick thereupon relinquished his journey to Rome, received episcopal consecration from a Gaulish bishop, Matorix, and returned a second time to Ireland about the year 432, when he was sixty years old, as a missionary from the Gaulish Church, and supplied with Gaulish assistants and funds for his mission. In this there is no improbability, no necessity to alter dates to assume a plurality of Patricks, a duality of Paladii, and so transfer the acts of one to another.

'There is nothing improbable in the tradition that Patrick landed at the mouth of the River Vartry, where the town of Wicklow now stands, and where about a year before Palladius had landed. Thence Patrick sailed northward along the coast, touching at Inis Patrick, stopping at the mouth of the Boyne and landing at Strangford Lough. There he converted the chieftain Dichu, and received from him the site of the church called Sabhall Patraic, a name still in existence as Saul. Thence Patrick went to the valley of his captivity, to visit his old master Miliuc, and offer him a double ransom; and there occurred the event which is commonly called a legend, but which seems to be an instance either of dharna [10] or of propitiatory self-sacrifice. Miliuc, seeking to prevent the triumphant approach of his former slave, burnt himself along with his substance and his house.

'Patrick then returned to Dichu's residence in Maghinis, and there he remained many days, and the faith began to grow in that place.

'After leaving Dichu he sailed to the mouth of the Boyne, and leaving his boats proceeded on foot to Slane, where he lighted his paschal fire, and the next day went on to Tara, chanting the hymn called The Deer's Cry. There he preached Christ before the Irish over-king Loiquire, and converted his chief bard, Dubthach Maccu-Lugair.

'From Tara Patrick went to Telltown, where Cabre, the king's brother, sought to slay him, and caused his attendants to be scourged into the River Blackwater. Conall Gultan, however, the king's youngest brother, received Patrick hospitably, and gave him the site of a church. Patrick then proceeded actively in the conversion of Bregia and other parts of the territory of the Southern Hui Neill. He then travelled to Tirawley under a safe-conduct from the nobles of that country, for which he seems to have paid in gold and silver "the price of fifteen souls of men"; and in Tirawley, near the present town of Killala, he converted the local king and a great multitude of his subjects.

'After spending some years in Connaught, Patrick revisited Ulster, where he erected many churches, especially in Tirconnell. He then visited Meath, passed on to Leinster, and baptized at Naas the two sons of the king of that province. He next visited Magh-life, and entering Seix, now Queen's County, again met the converted bard Dubthach Maccu-Lugair, and made Dubthach's disciple, Frace, Bishop of Sletty. Thence he proceeded to Ossory, and thence to Munster, where he baptized the king.

'According to the Tripartite Life, St. Patrick then founded Armagh, the site of which he obtained from a chieftain named Daire. After having spent sixty years in missionary work, partly as priest, partly as bishop, he died at an advanced age (perhaps ninety years), on the 17th March, probably in or about the year 463, and was buried in Downpatrick.

'These are all, or almost all, the facts relating to Patrick which are either certain or reasonably probable. He seems, as Dr. Todd says, to have always addressed himself in the first instance to kings or chieftains, the baptism of the chieftain being immediately followed by the outward adherence of the clan; but it is certain that the whole of Ireland did not submit to Patrick's influence.

'Even when he wrote his Confession he tells us that he looked daily for a violent death (internecio), or to be brought back to slavery (redigi in servitutem), and there is some evidence that a partial apostacy took place during the two centuries following his death.'[11]

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[9] The Tripartite Life of St, Patrick, vol. i., pp. cxxxvii. cxxxviii.

[10] A Hindi word meaning primarily the act of sitting in restraint at the door of a debtor by a creditor or his agent to enforce payment. Then it came to mean fasting at a Temple door to extort favours from the idol, and later to indicate the Brahmanic practice of voluntarily sitting down to die by hunger.

[11] The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, vol. i., pp. cxli.-cxliii.