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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Here we must pause to consider the question whether or not Patrick really visited the place called in his time Ath Cliath, but known as Dublin to the Danes or Ostmen. We have already referred to the brief and suspicious reference in the Homily on St. Patrick in the Lebar Brecc to this alleged visit of the Saint to Ath Cliath. But Jocelyn gives a much fuller account of this visit which, in substance, is as follows:—

Patrick, in his journey from Meath to Leinster, having crossed a certain stream called Finglass, came to a hill about one mile distant from Ath Cliath, which is now called Dublin (Dublinia). Looking towards it, he blessed the place, and foretold that though now a small village, it would one day become the capital city of the kingdom, a prophecy which has been manifestly fulfilled. He then came to the Ford of Hurdles. On his entry into the town (villa), the people, who had heard of his wondrous miracles, received him with great joy. The Saint then healed the only son of the ruler of the place, who was on the point of death, and restored him to his father; whereupon all the people believed and were baptised by Patrick. Moreover, as the tide made the river water brackish, the matron in whose house the Saint lodged complained of the want of sweet water; upon which Patrick, striking the earth twice with the Staff of Jesus, caused a most abundant spring to gush forth from the earth, whose waters are not only sweet, but powerful to heal diseases. Seeing this, all the people greatly rejoiced; and the fountain has ever since been fitly called St. Patrick’s Well.

Here we have at least a simple narrative; but immediately follows another chapter which gives an entirely different and wholly inconsistent account of Patrick’s reception in Dublin. We are told in chapter seventy-one that Patrick came on his missionary journey to a famous city called Dublin, inhabited by Norwegians and natives of the Isles, who, however, recognised the King of Ireland, in an uncertain fashion, as their Suzerain. It was a city steeped in the filth of idolatry and wholly ignorant of the true God. Just then, however, it came to pass that the son of the King died suddenly in his marriage bed, and his sister was drowned in the river Liffey; but Patrick, the miracle-working prelate of Armagh, restored both to life, to the great joy of King Alphinus and all his people. The maiden, who was brought to life by Patrick, was called Dublinia, and gave her own name to the city. Both King and people, too, were baptised by Patrick in a well on the south of the city, which issued from the soil where Patrick struck the earth with his crozier. Moreover, the whole city agreed to pay large offerings to Patrick’s church of Armagh for ever, and built a church in his honour near the well, which was outside the city, and another within the walls in honour of the Holy Trinity, close to which they also assigned a mansion, or residence, to Patrick and his successors for all time.

This ridiculous story seems to be an interpolation in the original text of Jocelyn, and is, of course, utterly worthless.

But the first account seems to have been really written by Jocelyn, and must be taken as his version of a living tradition in the time of the writer. Yet we cannot attach much historical importance to the narrative. It is not corroborated by any of our annalists, nor is anything like it found in any of the ancient Lives of our Saints. There is no reference to Patrick’s visit to Ath Cliath, or to Dubh-linn, in either the Tripartite or the Book of Armagh, nor in any of the other Lives published by Colgan. We know, indeed, that at a later period a monastery was founded by St. Mobhi on the banks of the Tolka, near Glasnevin, which is not far from Finglas. Dubious references are also made at a much later period to St. Livinus and St. Rumoldus as Bishops of Dublin; but these Lives were written on the Continent by scribes who knew little or nothing of our domestic history, and it would seem, after the Danish occupation of Dublin.

The Ford of Hurdles, which gave its Irish name to Dublin, was a rude bridge over the Liffey, somewhere at the head of the tide near Kingsbridge. The Black Pool, from which the city got its Danish appellation, was a deep hole at the junction of the Liffey and the Poddle, which was used as a harbour by the Danes. To protect their shipping they built a dun or castle on the high ground just over the pool, and thenceforward—that is from about the year 835, when the Danes made their first permanent settlement there—the place came to be called Dublin.

Yet the presence of St. Patrick’s Well, and the dedication even by John Comyn of his great church outside the walls in honour of St. Patrick, as well as the narrative of Jocelyn in chapter 69, go to show that Patrick did visit the place, coming through Bregia to Finglas, and crossing the river at the Black Pool.

Such a visit, though not explicitly referred to, either in the Tripartite or the Book of Armagh, is not excluded, and is expressly referred to in the Irish Homily from the Lebar Brecc already quoted. We know, too, that Patrick on his journey southward passed, not through Meath (Midhe), but through Bregia, which included north Dublin to the Liffey; and if he were, suppose at Dunshaughlin, it would be very easy for him to turn aside for a little, and visit Finglas on the north, or even the pagus or village between the Poddle and the south bank of the river.

It is true we have no account of any royal dun near the Hurdle-Ford; but still ancient authorities represent the place as one of considerable trade from the earliest times. Our annals tell us that the fact of the northern shore of the Liffey being more frequented by ships than the southern shore, was one of the causes that gave rise to the great strife between Conn the Hundred Fighter and Eoghan Mor. The ancient Life of St. Kevin of Glendaloch describes the place, which is called in Irish Dubhlinn, as a powerful and warlike city. We think, however, although Colgan seems to differ from us, that this description was written by one who knew it after Dublin was occupied by the Danes. St. Sedulius also is described as abbot of Dublin; but here, too, the writer uses a term that was not in use, so far as we can judge, in the time of St. Kevin, and being a foreign writer, he was probably unacquainted with the true history of the city. We can only say, therefore, that the story of St. Patrick’s visit to the ancient Ath-cliath is very uncertain, although the presence of his well there and the ancient church dedicated to him, go far to prove that Ath Cliath was visited by our Apostle.






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