Saint Patrick in Connaught

Patrick Weston Joyce
Ireland has no venomous reptiles | start of section

The Saint, after having visited Ulster, Leinster, and Munster, was now journeying through Connaught, preaching and baptising multitudes; and on the approach of Lent he retired to the wilderness of Crochan Acla.

On this mountain he spent the whole forty days of Lent, after the manner of Moses on Mount Sinai; and his bed was a flat stone with four flags placed round him for shelter.

When now it was coming nigh to Easter Sunday, vast numbers of demons in the shape of great black birds, loathsome and fierce-looking, came to the mountain from the four quarters of the sky to assail him; and they flew round him in clouds so as to hide both the heavens and the earth from his view.

He prayed fervently and sang hymns to curse and banish them; but they heeded neither prayer nor curse, and for many days and nights they kept flapping their hateful sooty wings around him nearer and nearer, giving him no rest.

Then at last becoming alarmed and exasperated, he rang his bell so that it was heard throughout all Erin; and in the end flung it among them with such violence that he broke a gap in its side, on which the whole hellish brood flew away and left the mountain clear.

And now that he was freed from their attacks the Saint sank down, overcome in mind and body after his long and fearful struggle; and he wept, wept so much that his outer vestment[3] was wet with his tears.

But presently an angel came to comfort him, bringing a number of beautiful white birds.

And when he had spoken words of consolation and dried the vestment, the birds sang music so sweet and joyous that Patrick quite forgot all the agony he had suffered from the demons, and became again cheerful and happy.

And after that day no demon came into Erin for seven years, seven months, seven days, and seven nights. (See below, Memoir of St. Patrick.)

On this simple and ancient legend, as I have said, the tradition recorded by Jocelin is evidently founded; and on it too the people have built up in the course of ages a version of their own, very vivid and very circumstantial, which you may hear even at the present day among the peasantry of Connaught.

Now for this popular version:—It appears that St. Patrick first collected all the snakes and other reptiles of Ireland into one place in the west of Connaught.

And here it must be remarked that the mere natural reptiles were in very bad company indeed; for we can gather that among them were many real demons who had taken on themselves the shapes of serpents.

Indeed according to some versions of the popular legend they were all more or less demoniacal.

The Saint having brought them together, drove them before him towards Crochan Acla, and commanded them to go forward to the summit.

Now the reptiles did not at all relish this.

They knew very well that at the other side the mountain hangs right over the sea; and they naturally enough suspected that the next move would be into the Atlantic Ocean.

So they went forward very unwillingly.

Sometimes they got tired and had to rest; sometimes they turned and twisted and pretended to lose their way.

They made a hundred excuses for delay; and altogether they looked as if they were about to rise in open mutiny against the Saint.


[3] Irish cassula, i.e., the chasuble.