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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

In our view St. Patrick returned from Wicklow to Naas, or, perhaps, to Killashee, about three miles south of Naas, where some of his family were erecting a church, whilst he was making his excursion into Wicklow. It is not said that Patrick founded a church at Naas, or placed a bishop there; but it is said that after his return from Hy Garrchon ‘he went into Magh Liffè—the Liffey Plain—and founded churches and cloisters therein; and he left Auxilius in Cell Usaili (Killashee) and Iserninus and Mac Tail in Cella Culind, or Kilcullen; and other saints he left in other churches.’

This is a highly interesting paragraph, because it once more introduces us to Auxilius and Iserninus, whose names are so often mentioned in Patrician history, especially in connection with the Synod in which they with Patrick were the chief legislators.

As we have seen, all the principal authorities are agreed that ‘Auxilius, Iserninus, and others of Patrick’s household were ordained on the same day’ on which he himself was consecrated bishop, but they did not, it appears, accompany him to Ireland after his consecration—at least Iserninus did not. There is no reason for doubting the truth of the statement made in the Book of Armagh regarding him—not by Tirechan himself, but in the ‘Annotations’ to Tirechan.

‘Patrick and Iserninus were with Germanus in the city of Olsiodra (Auxerre). Then Germanus said to Iserninus that he should come to Ireland to preach. And he was ready to go anywhere else except to Ireland. Then Germanus said to Patrick—‘Will you be obedient (and go).’ And Patrick said—‘Be it as you wish.’ Then Germanus said—‘Settle it between you, but Iserninus will not be able to avoid going to Ireland.’ Afterwards Patrick came to Ireland, and Iserninus was sent to another region (somewhere in Britain), but a contrary wind carried him to the right hand part of Ireland’—the south. So far the scribe writes in Latin; then he gives further details in Irish, for he feared to attempt to Latinise the Irish names.

‘Then he went (after landing) to his province—a small tribe in Cliu, named Catrige. He went thence and set up at Toicule. He left a saint of his family there. After this he went and set up at Rath Falascich. Therein he left another saint of his family. Thence he went to Lathrach Da Arad, in the two Plains. Therein went to him Cathbad’s seven sons; he preached to them; they believed and were baptised; and he went with them southwards to their abode. Whereupon Enna Cennselach banished them (the seven brothers), because they believed before everyone else there. Bishop Fith went with them into exile, each of them going apart. Then Patrick came into Leinster, and Dunling’s seven sons believed in him. After this he (Patrick) went to Crimthann, son of Enna Cennselach, and he himself believed at Rath Bilech. Patrick, after baptising him, besought him to let go (that is forgive) Cathbad’s seven sons and Iserninus together with them, and he obtained the boon.’

Shearman’s topographical notes on this passage are valuable, and with their aid we can here give a detailed narrative of the events referred to, which need considerable elucidation.

It has been said that Iserninus was a native of Gaul, but we rather think that he was a Briton; perhaps one of those who went over to Gaul about the year 429, in connection with the spread of Pelagianism in Britain. The fact that the Catrige of Cliu, near Mount Leinster, are spoken of as belonging ‘to his own province,’ seems to imply that he must at least have had friends or relatives residing there. We know that Gaelic families from the south-eastern coasts of Ireland had long been settled in Wales, and that frequent intermarriage took place between the Irish and the Welsh. We may fairly conclude, therefore, either that the family of Iserninus had come to Britain from Cliu, or that his mother had probably belonged to that territory before her marriage to a Welshman.

The reluctance of Iserninus to go to preach in Ireland arose at first most likely from his knowledge of the rude reception which Palladius and his associates had got in Wicklow. But when he found that St. Patrick was successful in Meath and in the West of Ireland, this reluctance disappeared; if his advent to the coast of Wexford were not, indeed, as is stated, the work of adverse winds rather than of his own purpose to preach in Ireland. It appears he landed somewhere in Wexford, most probably at the mouth of the Slaney, and he followed the course of that river till he came amongst his relatives, the Catrige of Cliu.

Shearman says that this ‘small tribe of Cliu’ dwelt on the northern slopes of Mount Leinster, and therefore in the modern barony of Idrone East, not far from Clonmore, in the Co. Carlow. Thence he moved to a place in the neighbourhood called Toicule, perhaps the cuil or corner of the chief named Toica, who was the ancestor both of St. Ailbe of Emly and of St. Scuthin of Tascoffin. We find him now called by the Irish, Bishop Fith, the equivalent doubtless of his Roman name, and having left a saint of his ‘family’ there at Toicule to minister to his converts, he himself proceeded further west to a place called Rath Falascich, if that be the true reading, and there he left another saint of his ‘family,’ which goes to show that the preaching of Bishop Fith in South Carlow was fruitful. Thence he went to a place called Latrach da Arad, ‘in the two Plains.’ Shearman holds that the village of Lara, between Clonmore and Aghold, in the parish of Mullinacuff, is the place referred to as the abode of the Two Charioteers, and that the two plains are Magh Fea, on the north, and Moyacomb (Magh da Con), on the south of Lara. This identification is important, because it was there at Lara that Bishop Fith met Cathbad’s seven sons. ‘He preached to them; they believed and were baptised, and he went with them to their abode,’ which appears to have been somewhere near Old Leighlin, in Idrone.

But they were not allowed to remain there long in peace. At that time (438 or 439) Enna Cennselach was king of South Leinster. When he heard that these seven sons of one of his sub-kings believed in the new religion, ‘before everyone else,’ he was wrathful, and drove them from their native territories, so that they were compelled to take refuge with their kinsmen in different parts of the South, and we are told that Bishop Fith went into exile with them; that is to say, he, too, was driven out of Carlow by the king, and accompanied the exiled chieftains, or some of them, to the new abodes in South Kildare.

After some time Bishop Fith made his way to Patrick, and joined his ‘family’ about the time that the Saint was setting out on his mission through Leinster. His help in that province would be particularly valuable, as he was connected with it by family ties of some kind, and had already laboured successfully therein. One great obstacle also to the spread of the Gospel was now removed by the death of Enna Cennselach about the year 445. He was succeeded by his son Crimthann, who, as we shall presently see, mainly by the influence of Dubthach, the arch-poet of Tara, became himself a Christian, and at the instance of Patrick, revoked his father’s decree and recalled the exiled sons of Cathbad to their own territory. So it came to pass that when Patrick was coming south through Kildare with Iserninus in his ‘family,’ as the latter had no place of his own, Patrick set him up as Bishop with Mac Tail in Old Kilcullen, but from the fact that two bishops were left there, we may gather that it was Patrick’s intention at a later period to re-establish, if he could, Iserninus in his old territory in Carlow. Meanwhile, he gave him regular jurisdiction in the place of his exile, that is South Kildare.

Now Patrick first set up his nephew Auxilius at the place now called Killashee, which is the form that best represents the pronunciation of the ancient Cell-Usaili—the Church of Auxilius. Auxilius was the son of Restitutus the Lombard and Liemania, sister of St. Patrick, of whom more will be found in an Appendix. He was, as we have seen, with St. Patrick when word was brought to them of the death of Palladius in North Britain, and he was one of those ‘ordained’ along with St. Patrick—the common account being that Auxilius was ordained a priest on that occasion and Iserninus a deacon. We may fairly infer from the fact of his not being placed in Meath, but in Leinster, that he did not accompany St. Patrick to Ireland, but came, most likely, with Iserninus at a later date, that is about 438, as stated in the Chronicon Scotorum. It is probable, too, that he joined St. Patrick soon after, and doubtless accompanied him during part of his missionary journeys in the North, or perhaps he may have remained all through with Iserninus, although there is no special reference to the fact. As it is highly probable that St. Patrick did not enter on the Leinster mission for some years after the death of Enna Cennselach, which took place about 445, we may fairly date his first visit to Leinster about 448, which will also mark the date of the appointment of Auxilius and Iserninus to their churches in Magh Liffè. The Scholiast on the Martyrology of Tallaght describes Auxilius, or Auxilinus, as he writes it, as ‘Coepiscopus et frater Patricii Episcopi;’ and he adds that he was son of Patrick’s sister, as well as the friend, spiritual father, and comarb of Patrick. ‘Comarb’ could only mean his destined successor in Armagh, that is after the death of Secundinus, which is given under date of 448. The word meant in both cases assistant bishop and destined successor to St. Patrick.

It was thoughtful of St. Patrick to place the two old friends and fellow-students so near each other in the plains of Kildare. Killashee is not more than five miles north of Kilcullen. There is an ancient church there still—but not the Patrician church. A rather ancient Round Tower curiously erected on a square base has been utilised as the tower of a comparatively modern church. It is finely situated on a rising ground surrounded by fertile woodlands, and overlooking the valley in which Patrick so long ago baptised his converts in the Blessed Well, which still flows from beneath a hawthorn tree, as full and clear as on the day that Patrick and Auxilius blessed its waters and poured them on the heads of the kneeling throngs around them. Auxilius, after many labours and miracles, finished his holy life in his church at Killashee, about the year 455. It is not unlikely that the famous Synod, of which more shall be said hereafter, was held at this church of Killashee, for it was convenient to Kilcullen, and would also be a convenient place for Patrick to remain during his journeys through Leinster.

The name of Auxilius is also connected with the church of Cill O mBaird in Donegal; and the compilers of the Martyrology of Donegal who had special knowledge of the country attribute its foundation to him. It may be that when Auxilius first came to Ireland he joined Patrick at the opening of his mission in Donegal, which took place shortly after the arrival of Auxilius in Ireland, and so the Apostle placed him for a time in charge of that far-off church in Tirconnell. His ‘day’ is not fixed with certainty. By some it is given as March 19th; by others as July 30th, and the Martyrology of Donegal gives it at August the 27th, which is, most probably, the true date.

Kilcullen, where Patrick placed Iserninus, is a still more conspicuous site than that of Killashee. New Kilcullen is a modern village with a fine new church at the ancient pass across the Liffey, but Old Kilcullen is situated on the top of a high hill over the ancient road some two miles to the south. It commands a wide view of the fertile Plain of Kildare, and the windings of the Liffey from the point where it breaks through the Wicklow Hills at Ballymore all along its tortuous course to New-bridge, which can be distinctly seen about ten miles away to the north-west. The ruins of a very ancient church and some fine old crosses remain in the cemetery, which is crowded with graves, but not so much with weeds as some cemeteries are in other parts of the country.

Just one mile to the west of the church-yard rises the still higher hill of Dun Aillinne, crowned by what is beyond doubt one of the finest raths in Ireland. It must cover an area of not less than fifteen or twenty acres, and the earthen rampart around the brow of the hill is still almost perfect, so that a regiment of soldiers with quick-firing guns could hold it against an army. This hill, which rises up in perfect symmetry to the height of 600 feet, overlooks the whole country, and affords one of the finest prospects we have ever seen over as fertile, well-wooded, and well-watered a landscape as any part of Ireland can show. This beyond doubt is the Hill of Almhan, on which Finn and his famed warriors kept their court just two hundred years before Patrick built his church of Kilcullen on the twin summit to the east. The great road to the south ran between them; and no doubt Patrick there, as elsewhere, built his church near the king’s dun for protection in troublesome times. The other Hill of Allen, beyond Newbridge to the north-west, has not now a single trace of any ancient mound or rampart on its summit; and, so far as we can judge, was never used as a stronghold at any period in the far distant past.

The Tripartite says that besides Killashee and Kilcullen, Patrick founded other churches and cloisters in Magh Liffè. No doubt Donaghmore, on the south bank of the Liffey opposite Harristown, is one of these, although now it is little more than a name giving title to the parish. Still further east, as we have seen, there is a Kilpatrick, near Baltinglass, which if not founded on the return journey from Wicklow was, in all probability, founded at this period, or, perhaps, a little later on during a subsequent visit of Patrick to Killashee.

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