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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

But where was Carn Setnai? or Carn Sedna, as Colgan has it. We know that Olcan became Bishop of Armoy—Airthir-Maige—and hence both Colgan and Reeves think that the place must be somewhere in that neighbourhood. O’Laverty, however, seems inclined to identify it with a place called Drumbulcon, in the parish of Rasharkin, which is some ten miles south-east of Armoy, and belonged, not to Dalriada, but to the Dal Araide. The evidence of this identification is not satisfactory, and we think that the identity of Carn Setnai is yet an open question. We should be inclined to look for it somewhere to the north of Armoy, on the sea coast, for that appears to be implied in the Tripartite.

Another interesting question is—When did Olcan become Bishop of Armoy? Patrick baptised him—that we know for certain, and we may safely say he did so about the year 443, when he first came into Dalriada. We are also told that Olcan belonged to Patrick’s household; so we may fairly assume that he was educated by the Saint, and prepared for his episcopal duties under his guidance. Usher thinks he was not consecrated Bishop until some thirty years later, about 474, when Patrick himself had been long established in Armagh; and perhaps this is the safest opinion. But the Tripartite speaks of his baptism and episcopacy in the same context, as if he became bishop very shortly after his baptism. In certain cases, as, for instance, St. Fiacc’s, such was the fact; but we can hardly assume it as probable in the case of St. Olcan. Our opinion is he became Bishop before St. Patrick finally left Dalaradia.

By anticipation, no doubt, another singular fact is related regarding Olcan. Saran was, as we have seen, Prince of Dalaradia when St. Patrick crossed the Bann. He was very justly excommunicated by Patrick, not only because he refused him the site of a church, but also because he drove him and his followers with contumely out of his territory. In that state of excommunication Saran must have lived for several years.

But, ‘after a certain time,’ this very Saran made a raid into Dalriada, and carried off many captives from that territory. Bishop Olcan met him carrying off his prey. The wretched captives, bewailing their hard fate, besought the bishop to help them. He implored the fierce chief to liberate them; but Saran rudely refused, except on condition that Bishop Olcan would procure him ‘admission to heaven, from which Patrick had excluded him.’ “Verily,” said Olcan, “I cannot do that since Patrick hath taken it from thee.” Then said Saran, “I will slay not alone these captives but all your people, sparing only yourself. And wherever I find a shaveling—that is, a tonsured man—I will put him under the edge of the sword.”

Saran was a decided anti-clerical of the worst type, so thereupon, the affrighted bishop ‘promised heaven to Saran,’ or, in other words, released him from Patrick’s terrible excommunication, and, no doubt, got off his own followers, as well as the captives, scot free from the vengeance of the fierce warrior.

Now, Patrick soon after heard all this, and when Olcan went from the North—doubtless to Armagh—to do his will, that is at Patrick’s command, Patrick happened to meet him on the road, at a place called Cluain Fiacnae. Olcan was sore afraid at this rencontre, for he had heard that Patrick was wrathful against him, ‘because he promised a blessing and baptism, and heaven to the man from whom Patrick had taken them away.’ It seems the road was narrow, and that Olcan threw himself on his knees to implore forgiveness. “Over him with the chariot,” said Patrick. “I dare not drive over a bishop,” said the charioteer. Then Patrick, still angry, foretold how Olcan’s cloister would not be high on earth, and he added that three great evils would overtake it—poverty (midgla), decay, and blood-defilement. “Your land, too,” said Patrick, “shall belong to that little boy carrying your vestment-box, who is one of your own household”—namely, Mac Nissi of Condere—‘and to one not yet born’—namely, Senan of Inis-altich.

These predictions, if ever uttered, were certainly fulfilled. Armoy now belongs to the diocese of Connor, to which in far distant times all its See lands were annexed. It was burned by Echaid, son of Bresal. And its pavements reeked of blood in the slaughter made by Scandal, King of the Dal Araide, and also by Cu Curain, another chief of the same territory. So the successors of Saran, by a kind of poetic justice, were the instruments of the chastisement inflicted on the successors of Olcan. He was, no doubt, guilty of a grave violation of ecclesiastical law by absolving a man outside his jurisdiction, who had made no satisfaction for his crimes; still, as he meant well and was, morally speaking, coerced to do it, Patrick inflicted no penalties on himself, but foretold these temporal penalties that would overtake his church and his flock as the chastisement of his disobedience. That chastisement, however, took place many years after the death of Olcan. Saran appears to have been contumacious for a good while, since a considerable period must have elapsed between the baptism of Olcan and his absolution of Saran.

Armoy, Olcan’s episcopal See, is described in the Tripartite as ‘a noble city of the Dal Riada.’ The word ‘cathair’ implies that it was a place of strength; and we know that it belonged to Fergus Mor, son of Erc, who devoutly made an offering to Patrick, in return for his blessing, of the best part of his patrimony, that is, the town of Armoy with its adjacent territory. The holy Patrick then blessed Fergus, and said to him—“Though thy brother hath not much esteem for thee to-day, it is thou that shalt be king. The kings in this country and over Fortrenn shall be from thee for ever.” And the Tripartite adds—‘this was fulfilled in Aedan, son of Gabran, who took Scotland by force.’ It is true still, for the blood of Fergus, though greatly diluted by foreign admixtures, still flows in the veins of King Edward VII.

There are no remnants of the primitive church at Armoy, but the stump of a round tower shows that the episcopal See of Dalriada was once a place of ecclesiastical importance. It is now a small parish near Ballymoney.

St. Olcan’s festival is celebrated on the 20th of February; and Colgan gives a sketch of his life at that date. He adds nothing, however, to what the Tripartite tells us, except the doubtful statement that St. Patrick sent him to study in Gaul, about the year 460; that he returned home after completing his studies, and opened a great school in his native territory, in which he trained up many disciples in sacred learning, the most celebrated of whom was St. Mac Nissi, the first Bishop of Connor. Usher thinks St. Olcan became Bishop of Armoy in 474, which is not unlikely. A strange, but unsupported, statement is made in the Martyrology of Salisbury that Olcan’s mother was a sister of St. Patrick. We are told, it is true, that she was a woman ‘who came over the sea,’ perhaps from Scotland, the nearest land to Dalriada; but no other ancient authority makes her a sister of our Apostle.

The Tripartite says that Mac Nissi of Connor (Condere) read his psalms with Patrick; and, according to Colgan’s version, misbehaved in a way that brought him under the grave censure of his master, who prayed that the offending hand of the pupil might be cut off. Thereupon it fell off of itself, and was buried at a place called from the fact Carn Lamha, that is, the Cairn of the Hand. But this, if it ever occurred, must have taken place at a later period, though referred to by anticipation at this place in the Tripartite. The fragment of St. Mac Nissi’s Life in the Salamanca MS. states that Patrick baptised the child, and then gave him over to be educated by St. Olcan. When, however, the latter offended Patrick by absolving the excommunicated Saran, Patrick foretold that his land would belong ‘to the little boy who was carrying his box,’ namely, Mac Nissi of Condere—a prediction which, as we already observed, has been literally fulfilled.






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