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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

From Magh Elne Patrick crossed the river Bush, and came into the ancient and famous territory of Dalriada, afterwards known as the Route. The Bush is an impetuous stream coming down from the central highlands of North Antrim, and hence furnishes great water-power to the mills on its banks. It is not fishful like the Bann, but it affords, we believe, excellent material for making whiskey, which is distilled in large quantities in the town. The famous Giants’ Causeway rises magnificently over the waves about two miles further on to the north.

Dalriada, though of limited area and rather barren soil, was fruitful of brave men, who not only held their own against all their foes in this isolated corner of Antrim, but also sent more than one colony to Scotland, who founded a great kingdom there, the rulers of which afterwards mounted the throne of Scotland, and gave their name to the whole kingdom of the Scots.

At this period the Dalriad kingdom was bounded on the west by the Bush, on the south by the Ravel Water, and on the north and east by the sea as far south on the eastern coast as Glenarm or Red Bay. The precipices, caves, and castles of its northern rock-bound shores are unequalled, perhaps, in the British Islands for scenic grandeur, and yearly attract thousands of tourists from all parts of Europe and America. It is a wildly beautiful region, teeming with romantic legends, and well worthy of a visit both from the tourist and the antiquarian.

The first incident recorded in connection with the Saint’s missionary journey into Dalriada is of a very striking character. The following is the narrative as given in the Rolls Tripartite:—

Then Patrick went (from the Bann) into Dal-Araide, and afterwards (by crossing the Bush) into Dal Riada. Then came to him Doro, King of Carn Setnai, in the North. ‘He heard the crying of the infant out of the earth. The carn is broken up, the grave is opened. A smell of wine comes round them out of the grave. They see the live son with the dead mother, a woman who had died of ague. She was taken by them oversea to Ireland, and after her death brought forth the infant, who lived, they say, seven days in the carn. “Olc (bad) is that,” said the King (Doro). “Let Olcan be his name,” said the Druid. Patrick baptised him. He is Bishop Olcan, of Patrick’s household in Airthir Maige, a noble city of the Dal Riatai.

Such is Dr. Stokes’ version of this important passage; and it appears to us to be an accurate rendering of his Irish text. Colgan’s Latin version of the Tripartite is substantially the same except in two points. He makes St. Patrick baptise the infant; and the odour exhaling from the open tomb he describes as a ‘sweet’ odour instead of an odour of wine. As he knew the Irish idiom perfectly from the days of his childhood in Inishowen, we may fairly assume that he has rendered the Irish expression accurately in his own figurative language. But we are fully justified in concluding that there are some inaccuracies in Hennessy’s version as given in Miss Cusack’s Tripartite. It is not said, as that version has it, that Patrick proceeded to Carn-Sedna, southwards, or that it was Patrick who heard the screams of an infant from out of the ground. So far as we can judge, the incident here must have happened long before St. Patrick came to Dalriada. Doubtless he baptised St. Olcan; but the Irish text does not say that Olcan was then an infant. It was the Druid of King Daire, or Doro, that gave him his name, not St. Patrick, although the incident is narrated as if the baptism took place immediately after the finding of the child. That may be so, but it is not stated in the Irish Tripartite; and it seems on the whole more probable that Olcan, at the time of his baptism, was not a child, but a youth arrived at least at the years of discretion. The whole story is strange and improbable; but, allowing for the exaggerations of the Celtic imagination, it is not by any means an incredible one. The sepulchral chambers within the cairns were roomy enough to allow a woman to live for some days if she were interred in a swoon or a trance; and a living child might be delivered in such circumstances, and so scream as to attract the attention of the passers by. The story was certainly very widely believed in Dalriada, and left its impress on the traditions of the country.






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