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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Colgan and Manus O’Donnell speak of a Carraig Eolairg as bordering on the estuary of the Foyle. It is not unlikely that the great cairn west of the road to Mill town was the grave of some ancient warrior, who gave his name to the hill, the plain, and the rock of Eolairg. In that case Ard Eolorg of Tirechan would mean the high lands from Coleraine to Magilligan, and thence round to the mouth of the Roe. In this territory Patrick founded several churches, but the names of only three are given, namely, ‘Dun Cruithne, where he left Bishop Beo-aed after reconciling him to Eoghan (son of Niall), Domnach Brechmaige, and Domnach Airthir Arda. Patrick’s Well is there.’

The learned Reeves identifies Dun Cruithne, not with Dun Ceithern—that is, the Giants’ Sconce—but with Duncrun, a townland in Magilligan parish, through which the railway now passes. On the top of the hill, called the Canon’s Brae, was the ancient dun, and within it were the foundations of a small building thirty-five feet by nineteen. ‘There is also a long rude stone, having the figure of a cross in relief. The cemetery has been disused, but was undoubtedly very ancient and much frequented.’ We may take it as certain that this represents the site of St. Patrick’s church, and marks his course eastwards towards Coleraine. The mountain’s brow may be taken as part of that Ard Eolorg already referred to; but the Carn Eolairg itself was further inland.

Domnach Brechmaige has not been identified with certainty. Perhaps it is the church certainly founded by St. Patrick which is described as that ‘of Achadh Dubthaigh, in Magh Li, on the banks of the Bann, on the west side between Lough Neagh and the sea.’ Tirechan brings Patrick to Li, which was certainly on the west of the Bann, but he does not mention any church he founded there. It is stated in the Tripartite that Setna, son of Drona, son of Tighernach, came to some one of these churches in Cianacht—most likely Domnach Airthir Arda—and there Patrick baptised him, and blessed his pregnant wife, and the child in her womb—that is, Cianan, of Duleek (in the Co. Meath); and he read with Patrick, and there Patrick prophesied of Cainnech, and said that the land should be his.

The third church, Domnach Airthir Arda, of the Eastern Height, has been identified with the church of Magilligan, the situation of which on the slopes of Binevenagh, would justify the epithet, but the point is by no means clearly ascertained. It was anciently called Tamlacht-Ard, and got its name of Magilligan from the hereditary erenachs who bore that appellation. The ruins of the old church were in the townland of Tamlacht, and it appears that Patrick placed Catan, ‘a priest of his family,’ over it; for the Book of Lecan describes him as the Priest Cadan, of Tamlacht-Ard. His tomb is there, and the well near it once blessed by Patrick, hence called Patrick’s Well. One of the churches mentioned before as founded near the Faughan river was Domnach Cati; but it appears to be a different foundation. In this church was preserved a famous scrinium, or shrine of Columba, ‘but really dating from the time of St. Patrick. It was made by Conla, the wright, and was at first kept in Dun-Cruithne, but was afterwards transferred to Ballynascreen in Moyola, and finally to Ard-Magilligan.

It would appear that Patrick located several of his household by the Faughan river. In the list of his familia we find Presbyter Mescan, of Domnach Mescan at Fochain, his brewer; and Presbyter Bescna, of Domnach Dula, or as Colgan has it, Domnach Dola, his chaplain or sacristan; and finally we have Presbyter Catan, and Presbyter Acan, his waiters or table-ministers. These appear to be British rather than Irish names, and doubtless these good men wished to be settled near each other. It would be interesting to identify their ‘places’ with certainty. We have seen that Catan ‘is in Tamlacht-Ard,’ over the rushing Foyle. Presbyter Bescna was probably settled at Ballynascreen, in the Moyola Plain, and Domnach Mescain was certainly in the Faughan valley, perhaps at the place called Tamnymore, in Lower Cumber, which seems to be a corruption of Domnachmore. Then we hear of a Saint Aithcen, seventh in descent from Colla Meann, as patron saint of Badoney, in Glenelly. The name is very like that of Presbyter Acan, one of the waiters of Patrick, and indeed, if the other ‘waiter’ were established near Limavady, it is only natural that this one should find a place in the neighbourhood. This helps us then to another identification; for we may conclude, with a fair amount of probability, that the old church of Badoney in Glenelly was indeed the veritable church of St. Acan, the personal attendant of St. Patrick for at least nine or ten years of his missionary labours in Ireland. This parish of Upper Badoney, or Glenelly, has a special interest of its own; for it was the native place of the great St. Colman Ela, whose relations with the saints of the North we shall have to refer to again.

There is also an entry in the Four Masters, A.D. 992, which would seem to imply that during the unhappy period when lay usurpers reigned in Armagh, the true successors of Patrick for a time found a refuge in the deep recesses of Glenelly; for we are told that Muireagan, of Both-domnagh—that is Badoney of Glenelly—successor of Patrick, went on his visitation in Tirowen, and he conferred the degree of King upon Aedh, son of Domnhall, in the presence of ‘Patrick’s congregation,’ and afterwards he made a great visitation of the men of the North of Ireland.

There can be no doubt, therefore, of the Patrician origin of the church. It is in the north-east angle of Tyrone, too, but still in the diocese of Derry, which goes to show that it was a Patrician church, but founded in that territory which the Derry-men claimed as their own.

Thereafter, that is from Ard-Eolorg or Magilligan, Patrick went to Lee, which is on the west of the Bann, ‘where up to that time men used to catch fish only at night.’ But thenceforward Patrick blessed the place, and ordered that they should catch them by day; ‘and thus it shall be until the end of the world.’ They surely catch them there still, and in great abundance, both in the estuary of the Bann and at the Cutts. The Cutts is a pool beneath the waterfall, where the Bann pours his abounding flood over a ledge twelve feet deep; but when the river is shallow the fish cannot leap up the cataract, and hence are taken in great numbers at the Cutts.

The territory called Lei, Lee, or Li, is erroneously stated to be east of the Bann in the Irish text of the Tripartite; the tribe-land is, and always was, west of the Bann, but at a later period the Fir Li, or men of that territory, were driven over the river by the O’Neills; and most likely they were there on its eastern or right bank at the time when the Tripartite was written, which accounts for this mistake. They certainly were not there in the time of St. Patrick, for a host of authorities could be cited to prove that the territory known as the Lei or Lee extended from the Bior or Moyola water, near Lough Neagh, on the west bank of the lake and river, to Camus, at Coleraine.






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