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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

WE are now told that ‘Patrick went out of the province of the Dalaraide by Fertais Tuamma into Hy Tuirtri,’ or, in other words, he came from Antrim into Derry by the ‘crossing’ over the Bann at Toome. This crossing at Toome is near the point where the great river issues from Lough Neagh, bearing all its wealth of waters northward to the sea at Coleraine. The name Tuamm simply means a burial mound, but nothing is known of the ancient hero or warriors who sleep at this point on the banks of the Bann.

Crossing the river, Patrick came into the territory of the Hy Tuirtre, who at this time dwelt on the west of the Bann, between Slieve Gallion and Lough Neagh. At a later period they were driven across the river by the Hy Niall, and occupied on its eastern bank the modern baronies of Upper and Lower Toome, which ecclesiastically formed the deanery of Hy Tuirtre.

This tribe took their name from Fiachra Tort, a grandson of Colla Uais, and were, therefore, of the wide-spread Oriel race. The Fer Li, who dwelt further north on the same bank of the river, were of the same race as their kinsmen the Hy Tuirtre, and, like them, were driven eastward of the great river, as we have already explained.

The Hy Tuirtre occupied the fertile, wide-spreading plain between the lake and the mountains, of which Magherafelt may be regarded as the modern capital. It abounds in wood and water, and the skill and enterprise of its industrious population have made it one of the most well-cultivated and productive districts in all the north. Although it is in the modern Co. Derry, as a part of the ancient kingdom of East Oriel it rightly belongs to the Archdiocese of Armagh.

When Patrick came into this fair and fertile district, with his keen sense of natural beauty he was anxious to erect a monastic church therein, ‘because it seemed to him convenient, with Lough Neagh on one side and Slieve Gallion on the other’; and we are told he was so pleased with the place that he abode forty nights in Findabur, as the Tripartite has it, but which Jocelyn and Colgan give as Finn-abhair, and the former says it means ‘albus campus,’ that is the ‘white plain.’ The word in the Rolls Tripartite might, we think, be more correctly rendered as the ‘crystal well.’

But Cairthenn Mor, king of the country, went to Patrick and told him to clear out with all his family, whereupon Patrick took away the kingship from him and from his children likewise. Moreover, he bestowed the kingdom on Cairthenn Beg, who was in exile at the time, for he was driven out by his brother. He was probably not far off in the territory of some friendly chief, for it is added that Patrick either then or afterwards baptised him and blessed his wife and the child that lay in her womb with a special blessing. Patrick, in the spirit of prophecy, declared at the same time, “By my troth, the child that is in thy womb will be full of the grace of God, and it is I that will bless the veil on her head.” This lady, the wife of Cairthenn, was Morgan, daughter of Fergus Mor, son of Nesse of the Dalriada, and the child of grace whom she then bore in her womb was the virgin Trea, who has left her name to the old church and parish of Ardtrea, on the north-western shore of Lough Neagh. ‘It is Patrick who afterwards blessed the veil of virginity for her head, as he foretold.’ It was the angels brought down that veil from heaven and set it on her head, low down over her eyes. Patrick began to lift it up. “Why,” said she, “is it not good that it should remain as it was placed (by the angels)?” “Good, indeed, it is,” said Patrick, “be it so.” During her life the holy virgin saw nothing except what she beheld through that veil. There are graceful maidens still in Magherafelt and Ardtrea who have learned from the example of St. Trea to prize modesty like hers as the fairest gem an Irish maiden can wear.

In this fertile and populous territory of Hy Tuirtre Patrick founded no less than seven churches, which afterwards belonged to him and his successors, namely, Domnach Fainre, Domnach Riascad, Domnach Fothirbe, Domnach Rigduinn, Domnach Brain, Domnach Maelain, Domnach Libuir. The first is now known as Donaghenry, which touches Lough Neagh on the west. Stewartstown is near its centre. The second, now called Donaghrisk, lay to the west of Donaghenry. Reeves could not identify the site of the other churches, except that Donnabaran, in the deanery of Tullahoge, seems to resemble Domnach Brain. The rest are uncertain.

Thereafter we are told Patrick went to the men of Gabrae, and they were obedient to him. Patrick foretold that they would come thereafter ‘with tribute to his church in winter time, and that foreign tribes would take their lands afterwards.’ The men of Gabrae dwelt in the district between Stewartstown and Dungannon; but it is not easy to ascertain the locality of their ancient church. It was somewhere near Coal Island. The stranger tribes referred to were doubtless the Hy Niall, who seized this territory at a later period, and made Dungannon their chief stronghold. It was probably in process of accomplishment to some extent when the Tripartite was written. Reeves, however, shows that the Hy Tuirtre, who crossed the Bann to the east, maintained their tribal independence down to the fourteenth century, and were governed by their own chiefs, whose family name was O’Flinn, Lords of Hy Tuirtre.

Patrick passed from the men of Gabrae to the men of Imchlar, whom he baptised and blessed, and for whom, we may add, he founded the church of Donaghmore. Therein he left Presbyter Columb, who got from Patrick his own bell and book of ritual, here meaning his Mass-book.






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