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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Patrick now crossed the fishful Bann and came into the district between that river and the Bush, which was then called Magh Elne, and sometimes Elniu. It was a part of Dalaradia, and is described as such both in the Tripartite and in the Notes to the Calendar of Ængus. No doubt, the Saint crossed by the ancient ford known as Fearsad Camsa, the Ford of the Bend, because at that point the river takes a sharp turn from the north-west to the north. It was the scene of many a bloody conflict, and gave the Latin name of Camus both to the town and, at a later period, to the great Dominican Monastery of Coleraine.

When Patrick crossed the noble river which bears the surplus waters of Lough Neagh and all its feeders to the sea, we are told that ‘men used to catch fish there only at night,’ but he blessed the stream ‘and ordered that they should catch them by day, and thus it shall be till the end of the world.’ And so in truth it has been. The Bann abounds in salmon at all seasonable times. In the year 1843, 21,660 of these fish were taken at Coleraine, and the average would probably amount to 15,000 every year. At times, when the river is low, the hole known as the Cutts, below the fall, is literally filled with fish ‘riding on the backs of one another, and with great ease and pleasant divertisements they are taken up in loops.’

The ancient fortress of Dun Da Bheann—the Two-topped—now called Mount Sandell, commanded the ford, and from the days of the Red Branch Knights was regarded as the border stronghold of the Clanna Rudhraidh in the north. It was famed, too, in the romantic tales of the bards, who told many a thrilling story of Niall of the Shining Deeds and his son Fintan, and of the other brave heroes who kept the ford and sometimes drank so deep at night that their warrior guests were wholly unable to find the right way home in the small hours of the morning.

Now, when Patrick came to Elniu, the province of the Dal Araide was governed by the twelve sons of Caelbad, who had parcelled out the country amongst themselves. This Caelbad of the Rudrician race was King of Uladh, and having slain the King of Ireland, became himself high-king for one year, at the end of which he in turn was slain by the son of his predecessor, who succeeded him in the sovereignty. He was the celebrated Eochy Moyvane, the great ancestor of all the kings of the North and North-west of Ireland, whose reign began in A. D. 357, that is about eighty-five years before Patrick crossed the Bann. It is more likely therefore that Saran, Connla, and Natsluaig, who are mentioned in connection with St. Patrick, were grandsons of Caelbad, whose death is recorded in A. D. 357. If they were his sons they must have then been very old men, between eighty and a hundred years of age, which is out of the question.

It was the usual practice of the Saint, as we know, when he came to preach in any territory, to go straight to the fortress of the chief of the district. Saran Mac Caelbad, as he is called, seems to have been the eldest of the descendants of Caelbad, but he probably dwelt, at the time, in Southern Dalaradia. It is clear, however, that he refused Patrick the site of a church at Cell Glass, and rudely drove him away from the place. Patrick thereupon was full of wrath and, in the language of the Tripartite, ‘deprived Saran of heaven and earth,’ that is, as we now say, excommunicated him. It is a strong phrase, as must be admitted; still the language of the Tripartite is hardly stronger than that of St. Paul ‘who delivered over to Satan the incestuous Corinthian for the destruction of his flesh, but for the salvation of his spirit’ in case he repented, as he afterwards did.

Saran’s brother, however, Natsluaig, ‘was humble to Patrick’; but was in bondage when Patrick arrived at the great Northern fortress of the Dal Araide. No doubt he had heard much of Patrick, and was anxious to secure his influence with a view to his own liberation, if not from higher motives. “Thou shalt have from me,” he said to Patrick, “the site of thy cell.” “Where do you grant it to me?” said the Saint. “On the brink of the Bann to the west (of the fortress),” said Natsluaig, “in the place where the children are burning the fern.” Patrick at once accepted the gift, saying—“it shall be mine; moreover a descendant of mine and thine shall be there”—to wit, Bishop Coirbre, son of Deggell, son of Natsluaig. It is he ‘who is in Coleraine (Cuil Raithin, i.e., the ferny meadow), on the brink of the Bann in the east.’ Coirbre was consecrated by Bishop Brucach of Rath Maige Oenaich, now Oenach, near Ballymoney; and as Bishop Brucach had been himself consecrated by Patrick, Coirbre of Coleraine, the grandson of Natsluaig, was also the spiritual grandson of Patrick. He and his immediate successor Conal are the only two bishops of Coleraine mentioned in our annals. Coirbre died about the year 560; and we know that St. Conall entertained Columcille after the synod of Druimceat about 590.

Judging from the Notes of Tirechan the ‘little church’ of Coleraine built in the ferny meadow that overlooked the swelling waters of the Bann was the first founded by St. Patrick in Magh Elniu. It probably occupied the site of the Protestant church, and though small at first it afterwards became the nucleus of a great monastery, which flourished for many ages. In the 13th century, however, the ancient Celtic monastery disappeared to make room for an Anglo-Norman castle which was built there in 1213 to guard the passage of Bann against the fierce inroads of the Hy Niall tribes. Some thirty years later a Dominican convent was founded, most probably by Walter de Burgo, which flourished down to the time of James I., when its broad acres and fishing rights were granted to Sir James Hamilton, who conveyed them for cash to Sir Thomas Phillips, an enterprising but rapacious Undertaker of that day. His family, too have completely disappeared.

We are also told by Tirechan that Patrick founded many other churches in Elniu, but he does not give their names. He insinuates, however, that the ‘Connor folk’ took possession of these churches, which, more properly, in his opinion, should belong to Armagh. The ancient See lands of Coleraine were certainly granted, not to Connor, but to the primatial See, most likely on the ground that Coleraine was a foundation of St. Patrick. There was much ecclesiastical litigation about these churches in later times, but it would rather be out of place to give an account of it here.






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