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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

This Magh gCedne then extended from the Duff River to Grange, beyond which stretched the plain of Euoi away to Knocklane, which still bears its ancient name in the form Magherow. This enables us to explain Tirechan’s language clearly when he describes Patrick as turning from Rossinver of Magh Ene towards Magherow and Magh gCedne. The Saint did not wish to leave that great district unvisited, and probably founded the Church of Ballintemple, near Knocklane. No doubt, being there, he would cross the narrow estuary and visit Bishop Bron at Cashel Irre (Coolerra). Returning thence to the North, he would cross the strand at the Rosses, for it was the shortest as well as the usual course, and so leaving Drumcliff on his right, as the Tripartite says, he passed eastward by the old road at Cashelgarron down to Magh Ene.

To get into Magh Ene he had to cross the Duff River down near the sea shore, and he ‘cursed’ that river because of the refusal the fishermen gave him; but he blessed the Drowes, two miles further on, owing to the kindness which ‘the little boys who were fishing there did to him.’ Even small boys can catch fish there still; ‘and a salmon of the Drowes is the finest of Ireland’s salmon,’ so that when a particularly fine salmon was taken at the Erne ‘the fishermen say it is a salmon of Drowes, because peculiar to the Drowes is the beautiful salmon there through Patrick’s blessing.’ So says the Tripartite.

This river Drowes has a short course of about two miles from Lough Melvin to the sea near Bundoran, but it is still famous for the number and excellence of its salmon. The Duff, too, has some salmon still, but it is far inferior to the Drowes both in the quantity and quality of its fish.

The Drowes has been for ages the boundary at that point between Connaught and Ulster. The stream, just before entering the sea, bifurcates, forming a small green island. On this island stood the ancient fortress of Dun Cairbre, which commanded the pass. It was built by O’Conor Sligo on the site of an old dun, and for the most part was held by the O’Connors as the northern bulwark against the O’Donnells. The island fortress was itself the scene of a hundred bloody conflicts between the North and the West. Not a stone of the Castle now remains in view, but its site can still be noticed just inside the wall on the left of the road from Tullaghan to Bundoran, between the two arms of the river, where the salmon may be frequently seen rushing up the shallow streams from the sea. Dun and castle are gone; but the river and the fish remain as they were in the time of St. Patrick.

There is an entry in the Annotations to Tirechan which appears to refer to Patrick’s preaching in Carbury and most probably at Magherow. It is said that Mari (or Marii) offered three half-indli of his land, and Mac Rime offered his son, and Patrick baptised them and built a church in their heritage. And ‘Cairbre offered the kingdom with them to Patrick,’—that is, we presume, placed both it and the chiefs under his protection. This Cairbre, son of Niall, was the same that ill-treated Patrick at Telltown, and later on ill-treated him again on the banks of the Erne. His kingdom included not only the modern barony of North Carbury, extending from Sligo to the Duff river, but also the coast-line thence even beyond the Erne.

Who Mac Rime was is not clear, if he were not that Mac Rime for whose son Patrick wrote the alphabet at Muirisc in Tireragh, leaving him at that time in charge of Bishop Bron. The youth is there called a bishop by ‘anticipation.’ It is not unlikely that Patrick consecrated him now for this new church which he founded in the territory of Carbury, and which we take to be at Ballintemple near Ard Tarmon, where there certainly was an ancient church. The land belonged to Mari, of the Hy Fiachrach, who gave it for the new church. Mac Rime gave it to his son, and Cairbre, as head chief, confirmed the grant. It would be interesting to know for certain the identity of this ancient church. There is some reason to think that Magherow at that time belonged to the chieftains of Tireragh; but no doubt Cairbre was chief lord over all the swordland which still bears his name, and which would certainly include the district yet known as Magherow, that is Machaire Euoi, as Tirechan has the last part of the word.

We think this passage lends great countenance to our view, that Patrick, coming out of the valley of Glenade into Magh Ene, turned westward to Magherow, as Tirechan has it, and having founded a church there, over which he placed Mac Rime, crossed the narrow estuary to visit Bishop Bron, and then returned northwards by the Rosses, leaving Drumcliff on his right hand, and such we know was the usual route in after times.

Having brought Patrick through all the West to the mearing of the Province at the Drowes river, the Tripartite sums up his labours in Connaught: ‘Thrice did Patrick cross the Shannon into the land of Connaught. Fifty bells and fifty chalices and fifty altars with their altar cloths he left in the land of Connaught, each set in its own church.’ So we must conclude that he also founded fifty churches in Connaught. He left them a blessing then, as he was about to depart from them; ‘he blessed their duns, and their rivers, or estuaries, and their churches,’ as he did those of the Cenel Conail later on.

Tirechan says that Patrick crossed the Shannon three times and spent seven years in the west country. He could not, indeed, in less time, convert the whole province and establish so many churches throughout its wide area. We may fairly assume that he spent a year in Roscommon, that is in the modern Diocese of Elphin. Another year would be necessary to go through East Mayo and North Galway. Then the great region of Carra and the Owles, including his stay on Croaghpatrick, would take another year. Tirawley, with its numerous churches, and his journey along the seaboard of Tireragh, would require a fourth year. Tirerrill would need a fifth, and his prolonged stay in Leitrim and Carbury, including Kilasbugbrone, would require the remainder of the time. The text of the Tripartite seems to imply that he crossed the Shannon three times coming into Connaught; he certainly crossed it three times—twice coming and once leaving, which is perhaps all that the writer meant.

As to the fifty churches with their equipment which he founded in the West, we cannot rely on the numerals, but the number must have been at least fifty. Of these we find from the record that he founded not less than twelve in the County Roscommon, belonging to the diocese of Elphin. In Mayo he founded eleven or twelve more in the diocese of Tuam, to which express reference is made. In Tirawley he founded seven on the left bank of the Moy. In Tireragh he founded at least five, including Kilasbugbrone. In Tirerrill, he certainly founded four, and two in the diocese of Achonry, also in County Sligo. In Leitrim he founded three, and in Carbury three more, giving close on fifty in all. Of all these express mention is made, so that if we add the few cases in which churches seem to have been founded, as far as we can judge, although express reference is not made to them, we shall find that the Tripartite is quite exact in giving the number of churches as fifty or thereabouts founded by Patrick in the Western province. It shows also how careful he was in giving to each church a complete equipment, not perhaps in our modern sense of the word, but still in providing it with the essentials of Divine worship—the altar, the chalice, the bell, and the books, which he copied frequently with his own hand. The Province of Connaught is blessed in having had our great Apostle the founder of so many of its churches, on which he spent such loving zeal in procuring the necessary utensils. Nor has St. Patrick down to the present day any more loving and loyal disciples than his faithful children of the West.






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