HOME CHAT NAB PRAYERS FORUMS COMMUNITY RCIA MAGAZINE CATECHISM LINKS CONTACT
 CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
 CATHOLIC DICTIONARY  A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Home
 
Bible
 
Catechism
 
Chat
 
Catholic Encyclopedia
 
Church Fathers
 
Classics Library
 
Church Documents
 
Discussion
 
Mysticism
 
Prayer
 
Prayer Requests
 
RCIA
 
Vocations
 
Ray of Hope
 
Saints
 
Social Doctrine
 
Links
 
Contact
 







The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

THE Irish Hymn of St. Fiacc is the first of the seven Lives of St. Patrick given by Colgan, and, if we except the hymn of St. Sechnall in praise of St. Patrick, seems to have been also the earliest of those now extant. It is contained in the two ancient MSS. of the Liber Hymnorum, one of which is preserved in Trinity College; the other is at present in the Franciscan Monastery, Merchants’ Quay, Dublin. Colgan published the Irish text of this latter MS. in his own great work, with a Latin version for the benefit of scholars ignorant of the ancient Gaelic. But more accurate versions have been given recently in English by competent scholars, especially that published in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record for March, 1868, and also Stokes’ version in the Rolls Tripartite.

The Irish Preface to the Hymn gives a very clear account of the time, place, and purpose of its composition, as well as the name and station of the writer. “Fiacc of Sletty,” it tells us, “made this eulogy for Patrick.” This would seem to imply that Patrick was alive at the time; for it was, as a rule, only living men the poets praised. Now, Fiacc was the son of Erc, son of Bregan, son of Barraig (from whom are the Hy Barrche), son of Cathair Mor. So he was of royal ancestry, being fourth in descent from the great ancestor of the Leinster kings. He was a pupil of Dubthach Mac Hy Lugair, who was in the time of King Laeghaire the chief poet of Ireland. It was Dubthach who rose up to do honour to Patrick at Tara, although the king had forbidden any of his nobles to rise up before the stranger. Thenceforward he became a friend of Patrick, for Patrick had baptised him then, or shortly afterwards at Tara.

Now, it was ‘in the time of this Laeghaire, son of Niall, and of Patrick that the poem was made’—that is, it described events that took place in their time, for the phrase does not usually refer to the time a poem was composed.

Patrick going through Leinster on his missionary journey called, as might be expected, to see his friend Dubthach at his house in Leinster. This house was, we are told elsewhere, at Domnach Mor, ‘beside the fishful sea.’ Dubthach, on his part, ‘made a great welcome for Patrick,’ and amongst other things Patrick said to his host—“Seek for me a man of rank, of good family, moral, of one wife only, and of one child.” “Why seek you such a man,” said Dubthach. “To give him Orders,” said Patrick. “Fiacc is the very man you want,” replied Dubthach, “but he has gone on a circuit to Connaught”—that is on a poet’s visitation, to collect the bardic dues for the Archpoet and his school. Just then it came to pass that Fiacc ‘and his circle,’ or school, were returning home, and Dubthach at once said—“There is he of whom we have been speaking.” “But,” said Patrick, “he might not like to take Orders.” “Proceed, then, to tonsure me,” said Dubthach, who knew that tonsure was the first step to Orders, and marked the man chosen for the clerical state. Patrick set about it. “What are you going to do,” said Fiacc. “To tonsure Dubthach.” “Oh! that would be a pity; Ireland has no other poet like him,” replied young Fiacc. “I will take you in his stead,” said Patrick. “My loss to poetry will be less than his,” said Fiacc. So Patrick tonsured the young poet, shearing off the flowing hair and beard which he wore in bardic fashion. “And great grace was given him,” we are told—and no wonder—in return for his generous self-denial. “He read all the ecclesiastical Ordo”—that is the Mass and Ritual—“in one night,” but some say—and it is more likely—“in fifteen days.” And “the grade of Bishop was conferred upon him, and he became High-Bishop of Leinster, and his successors after him.” So far the Scholiast.

Fiacc, being a professional poet, had a trained memory, and must have been an educated man when ordained, if he was able to learn to read his Missal, or even his Ritual, in fifteen days. But his poem proves he was an accomplished scholar in his native tongue, and it is not unlikely that he already knew something of the Latin language, for he was a ‘tender youth’ in the retinue of Dubthach at Tara, when Patrick appeared there some fifteen years before; and he must have often afterwards witnessed the clergy performing their sacred functions—for there can hardly be any doubt that after the conversion of his master he, too, became a Christian. His poem also proves that the Bards of Erin could read and write their own language even before Patrick came to Erin, for it would have been utterly impossible that a hitherto unwritten tongue could, in one or two generations, become, as it did in the poet’s hands, a perfect written language, of great vigour and flexibility, with fixed inflections and definite grammatical rules. If the Hymn of Fiacc is authentic, then there was certainly a written language in Ireland before St. Patrick, of much grace, strength, and beauty.

We do not think that any really valid argument has been brought forward against the authenticity of this most interesting memorial of our ancient Irish Church. The ‘Stories’ declaring that Patrick was born in Nemthor merely refer to the current traditions at the time of the writer, and have no necessary reference to a far-distant past. Again, when Fiacc says that the ‘Tuatha’ or tribes of Erin were prophesying that ‘Tara’s land would be silent and waste,’ he merely tells us, what the Druids had frequently declared, that the new religion would cause the overthrow of the paganism, of which Tara was at once the centre and the symbol, for its kings continued to be pagans during the whole lifetime of St. Patrick. It is by no means necessary to suppose that, when the poet wrote, Tara had already become waste and silent, as it certainly did after A.D. 565, when it was cursed by the Saints. So also when Fiacc, like a patriotic Irishman, says “it is not pleasant to me that Tara should be a desert,” the expression does not mean that it was then a desert, rather the contrary: it appears to mean that the poet, whilst rejoicing in the glory of Down and Armagh, would not wish that royal Tara should become a desert. This question is further discussed in the account of St. Fiacc’s meeting with St. Patrick.






This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Attribution: Sicarr




Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com