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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The Tripartite says that Patrick went from Telagh Maine, that is, the Hill of Maine, son of Conlaed, into the district of the Hy Cremthainn, that is, by Ballygawley and Augher to Clogher, which was the royal seat of the men of West Oriel. It was his usual custom to go straight to the king’s dun when he entered any new territory, preaching, however, and baptising by the way. The stream at Ballygawley was probably the boundary between the two territories. It is a fertile and beautiful country, well-wooded and well-watered, nestling under the shelter of Slievemore, which screens it from the bitter winds of the north. At Augher the track crossed the Tyrone Blackwater, and, no doubt, it was at the ford there that St. Mac Cartan complained for the first time of failing strength and toilsome years. He was Patrick’s ‘strong man,’ his helper and protector during the weary journeys of some fourteen long years in Meath, in Connaught, and in Ulster. He stood beside the Saint before many an angry warrior, and he bore him in his strong arms over many a swelling flood. He saw his companions of Patrick’s ‘family’ settled in their churches at many pleasant places by the Shannon, the Moy, and the Erne, and it was no wonder he thought it time that he, too, should be allowed to rest. He remembered, no doubt, his fault at Tir Enda Airtech, but he trusted to his master’s kindness to forgive it. Lifting Patrick over the stepping-stones or, perhaps, wading through the river, he murmured “Oh, oh!” as he laid down his burden. It was a painful sigh of relief. “By my troth,” said Patrick, “it was not usual for thee to utter that word.” Whereupon Mac Cartan replied, “I am an old man now, and infirm, and thou hast left my comrades in churches whilst I am still on the road.” Patrick, though not yet thinking of rest for himself, felt this complaint was not unreasonable, so he said, “I will leave thee then in a church, and it shall not be too near for good neighbourhoood nor yet too far to pay a friendly visit.” And so, shortly afterwards, when Patrick founded the See of Clogher, he made Mac Cartan its Bishop, and, moreover, gave him the Domnach Airgid, which had been sent to Patrick from heaven when he was coming over the sea to Ireland. According to the fragment of St. Mac Cartan’s Life in the Salamanca MS., Patrick said to him, upon hearing his complaint, “Go in peace, my son, and build yourself a monastery in the green before the royal seat of the men of Oriel, whence you will rise in glory hereafter. The abode of those who merely seek earthly goods will be laid desolate, but thine will daily be enlarged, and from its sacred cemetery very many will rise to the blessed life hereafter.” He added, moreover, “Take this staff that I have so long carried to support my limbs, and this shrine which contains relics of the holy Apostles, and of the hair of the blessed Mary, and of the holy Cross of the Lord, and of His sepulchre, and of other Saints also.”

The Domnach Airgid is the most famous of our early shrines, and is, fortunately, still in existence. It has been fully described by Petrie and also by O’Curry, who declares that in his opinion no reasonable doubt can exist that it was actually sanctified by the hand of our great Apostle. Its construction strongly confirms that opinion, for the inner oblong box, apparently of yew, was evidently constructed to contain what it still contains—a very ancient MS. of the Four Gospels, written in Irish Uncials, still quite legible, though portions of the leaves are greatly decayed from damp, and adhere closely together in one mass. The box was, therefore, originally a cumdach, or book-cover, made to contain that precious volume which St. Patrick carried about with him in his missionary journeys. This inner box was afterwards enclosed in another cover of copper, plated with silver, and adorned with interlaced ornament in the peculiar Celtic style. Finally, in the 14th century, this second box was placed in another still more elaborate receptacle made of silver, but plated with gold, and richly ornamented with precious stones and various figures of Our Saviour, the Blessed Virgin, and other saints. This cover served also the purpose of a reliquary, and has a small compartment specially constructed for that purpose. It is evident that this was the ‘scrinium,’ which the author of the Life of St. Mac Cartan describes, for he knew nothing apparently of the precious volume within. Inscriptions on this outer cover record that it was made by a native artist, John O’Barrdan, at the suggestion and expense of John O’Karbri, comarb of St. Tighernach of Clones, who died in the year 1353. St. Tighernach was second Bishop of Clogher, but dwelt in the monastery of Clones, where he died in 548, that is, forty-two years after St. Mac Cartan himself. This shrine is now in possession of the Royal Irish Academy, and may be seen in the National Museum, at Kildare Place, Dublin. A fuller account of this most ancient and interesting shrine will, if space allows, be given elsewhere.

The Life of Mac Cartan in the Salamanca MS., imperfect though it be, helps us to understand more fully the statements in the Tripartite.

It is clear enough that when Patrick and Mac Cartan came with their companions to the royal fort of Oriel they found its ruler by no means friendly. That fort is, beyond doubt, Rathmore, the Great Palace, the site of which still exists within what was once the episcopal demesne of Clogher. It is a curious commentary on the words attributed to St. Patrick—that the abode of the earthly ruler would be desolate, whilst the power of the spiritual prince would be increased as the ages passed. The successor of St. Mac Cartan is still powerful in Oriel, and his power has been increasing; but where are the rulers of Rathmore, and where are the successors of those who seized it by violence, and held it by force? Time will tell, for the old order changeth giving place to the new—to the ever ancient yet the ever new royal line founded by St. Patrick, and established in the green—the ‘platea’—before the royal palace. This expression very happily describes the situation of the ancient church and monastery founded by the Saint—it was ‘before’ the royal fort of Clogher. The name Clogher itself has been variously but not quite satisfactorily explained. In Irish it is Clochar, not clogh-oir, which makes a very great difference, as we shall presently see.






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