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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

From Moville Patrick crossed the estuary of the Foyle, but at what point we know not, and came into the modern County Derry. ‘He goes into Daigurt (thence) into Magh Dula, and founded there seven churches at the River Fochaine’—that is the modern Faughan River, which flows down from the highlands of Derry, and falls into the Foyle opposite the Fort of Culmore.

Colgan says that even in his own time the names of these ancient churches in Faughan Vale were lost, and although we have sought to get information from the best local authorities, we fear they are still lost. Their names as given in the Tripartite are:—Domnach Dola, Domnach Senliss, Domnach Dari, Domnach Senchue, Domnach Min-cluane, Domnach Cati, and Both-Domnach.

Now these seven churches ‘are on the River Fochaine’—the Faughan River; and it is remarkable that even yet there are just seven parishes on the Faughan River from its mouth to Sawel Mountain—namely, Faughan Vale, Clondermot, Lower Comber, Upper Comber, Learmount, Boveagh, and Banagher.

Tirechan here is our safest guide in determining the order of events. He is very brief, merely naming the localities in the order in which Patrick visited them. He says—‘Patrick came from Magh Tochair (in Inishowen) into Dulo Ocheni, and founded seven churches there. Thence he came to Ardstraw and ordained Mac Ercae as bishop. Then he went out—exiit—into Ard Eolorg, and Ailgi, and Lee Bendrigi,’—after which he crossed the Bann. In this brief paragraph he sums up all Patrick’s work in the Co. Derry, fixing his route, however, exactly, and in this we must follow his guidance.

That part of the present Co. Derry into which Patrick came when he crossed the Foyle is the modern barony of Tirkeeran—anciently Hy Mic Caerthainn—which is really the same name. They were not of Hy Niall race, but were sprung from Colla Uais, and hence paid tribute to the King of Ailech. They were a different race altogether from the Cianachta of Glengiven, who occupied the modern barony of Keenacht, to the east and north-east of Tirkeeran. Now it would appear that Patrick first preached the Gospel to the people of Tirkeeran, going through their entire district from Daigurt through Magh Dula to the very sources of the Faughan River. And in this district he founded seven churches. Patrick’s course will be clear if we notice the physical features of the Co. Derry.

The habitable portions of Derry, besides the coast land on the north and the river banks of the Foyle and Bann, consist of three fertile valleys which pierce the central mountain range, that is the valley of the Faughan and of the Roe on the west, with the Moyola valley on the east, reaching down to Lough Neagh. These great vales are fertile and picturesque, exhibiting every variety of scenic beauty. It seems from the brief account given in the Tripartite that Patrick first penetrated the valley of the Faughan River to its very sources in the mountains, founding as he went the seven churches whose names are given above.

Our opinion, then, is that Patrick crossed the Foyle at Culmore—its narrowest point—and came into Daigurt, near the modern railway station of Ballynagard, where the high banks were dry and accessible. Thence he went to Magh Dula, where he founded the first of the seven churches described in the Tripartite, and continuing his journey up the beautiful Vale of Faughan, he founded the other six churches referred to on either bank of the river. Having come to the heart of the hills, he passed through the deep glen between Sawel and Meenard, and so came out into Magh Dola, west of Draperstown. The name is still preserved in that of the River Moyola, one of whose sources in the plain is a small lake, still called Patrick’s Lough. His purpose in coming there was in all probability to destroy the druidical worship of which it was a seat; and a Druids’ circle still remains to mark the spot. Then, turning to the west from Moyola, he went towards the modern Newtownstewart, and passing through Glenelly, he founded the church called Both Domnach, or Upper Badoney, which shows the route Patrick followed to Ardstraw. Here he founded, according to Tirechan, the ancient and famous church of Ardstraw, over which he placed Mac Ercae as Bishop. Patrick, as we have seen, had left a youth of that name to study his theology under Bishop Bron in Tireragh, but as he promised his father at the same time that he would not take the youth from his own country, it is difficult to suppose that this is the Mac Ercae from Tirawley. Ardstraw was for many centuries an episcopal Church, with jurisdiction over the surrounding territory, but after the foundation of the see of Derry in the twelfth century it was united to that See.

From Ardstraw Tirechan tells us Patrick went to Ard-Eolorg. Leckpatrick, some two miles north of Ardstraw, doubtless marks the Apostle’s route so far. Then trending to the north-east through the hills towards Dungiven, he passed most likely by the place since called Patrick’s Lodge, in the parish of Donaghedy, which was probably itself a Patrician Church, as its name implies. As the king of Cianachta had his chief fort at Dungiven, Patrick would surely visit the place, and no doubt he founded a church there.

From Dungiven his route would lie through the picturesque Valley of the Roe, as far as Limavady, which nestles beneath the shelter of the Keady Mountains. Patrick, going thence to the north-east, would go around the flank of these hills, and so reach ‘Ard Eolorg and Ailgi, and Lee Bendrigi.’ These places can be all identified with tolerable certainty, as we now purpose to show.

The Four Masters, A.D. 557, describe the battle of Moin-doire-lothair, which took place between the Hy Neill and the Picts of Dalaradia. The latter were defeated, and lost the territories which they had held west of the Bann from the time of the battle of Ocha. These territories then were given as a reward to the Hy Fiachragh of Dalaradia, for their services in enabling the clanna Neill to overthrow the monarch Oilioll Molt, who belonged to a different family. The two territories are called Lee and Carn-Eolairg by the Four Masters. Lee, or Lei, as it is often called, extended from Bior to Camus on the western bank of the Bann; and there can be no doubt that the other territory extended from Camus, a little south of Coleraine, as far as Magilligan point—that is, it comprehended the north and north-west of the Co. Derry. An ancient poem attributed to Columcille makes reference to this Magh n-Eolairg, that is, the plain beneath the height.






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