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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

No doubt Patrick founded other churches also at this time in South Kildare. There is a Patrick’s Well at Belin near Narraghbeg. It was a ford on the river Greese anciently called Ath Biothlin, and was occupied by a tribe called the Hy Loscan. There is a Knockpatrick, too, in the parish of Graney, which seems to testify to the presence of the Saint in that district. But, as this was the extreme southern limit of the kingdom of North Leinster, it is probable he returned from that point to Tara before he ventured to penetrate into the hostile territory of the King of Hy Cennselagh.

The Tripartite certainly represents Patrick at this point as going from Tara to visit his friend Dubthach, the arch-poet, for he was long before this time a Christian. Our view, then, is that Patrick, having completed his mission in the eastern part of the kingdom of North Leinster, returned to Tara through its western borders, where, although we have no formal account of his journey, we find many traces of his presence.

There is a Kilpatrick on the left bank of the Barrow, about three miles south of Monasterevan, which was doubtless founded by our Saint; and close to the old castle of Ballyadams, on the right bank of the river, there are two wells of healing virtue, said to have been blessed by St. Patrick. This would go to show that St. Patrick crossed the river at Athy, and went first to Ballyadams, where there was an ancient fort.

From Ballyadams the Saint would go by Stradbally to a place which he certainly visited then, or later on, that is Domnach Mor Maige Reta, which still retains the ancient name Magh Reta in the modern name of Morett Castle, in the Heath, Maryborough. This place was then the seat of the local dynast, and Patrick, in accordance with his usual custom, went direct to the royal dun. ‘He abode there for a Sunday,’ we are told, ‘and founded the Great Church of Morett.’ Now, on that Sunday the gentiles were digging the foundation of Rath Baccain, in the immediate neighbourhood. It was to be the new royal stronghold in that place. Now, Patrick sent to forbid them to do this work on Sunday. But they heeded him not. Then Patrick said “the building will be unstable unless offering—that is Mass—is made there every day.” He further added that the dun would not be occupied or inhabited until the wind (Gaeth) should come out of the lower hill. This referred, they said, to Gaethine (little wind), who rebuilt and occupied the fort in the reign of Fedilmed and of Conchobar, of Tara. Patrick’s curse, it would seem, deterred anyone from occupying the fort after it was built, so it fell into decay, until some graceless fellow named Gaethine, heedless of the Saint’s malediction, rebuilt and occupied the stronghold sometime between 800 and 847, for Fedilmed died in the last-named year. But church and fort are now equally prostrate; a new church, however, has arisen near the place, but no O’Moore now rules at Morett or on the rock of Dunamase. For ages it belonged to the Fitzgeralds.

Then Patrick, if he were going northward to Tara, must recross the Barrow somewhere at Portarlington or Monasterevan, and then travel by Rathangan, a few miles to the north-west of which there was an ancient churchyard called the Relig, which Shearman thinks was a Patrician foundation. There is a Patrick’s Well on the road to Newbridge, and an old church and cemetery called Cross Patrick some two miles west of the Hill of Allen. A little further north is the parish of Kilpatrick. There can be no doubt that these were Patrician foundations, for the name Cross Patrick is often used, and always signifies the place where Patrick set up a cross to mark the site of a new church in strict accordance with both law and usage from the apostolic times. From this point to the old church west of Kilcock, which Shearman takes to be Druim Urchailli, his route to Tara was quite direct to the north and by a well known highway. ‘Patrick’s Stone,’ says Shearman, ‘is not far off at a place locally called Clochara.’ The old church occupies the summit or crest of a ridge, and its name, Kilglyn, in the modern parish of Balfeaghan, might refer to the Relig or Domus Martyrum over the highway in the valley or glen. It can make little difference whether Patrick was there when going to or when returning from Naas. But the circumstances clearly point to the fact that he founded a church there, and that the parish was sanctified by his holy footsteps.

There were several weighty reasons which might well bring Patrick to Tara at this time. First of all, having heard in South Kildare of the hostile attitude of the King of Hy Cennselagh, it was only natural that he should try to secure the support of Laeghaire in his missionary journey through that country, and although the authority of the High King was merely nominal in Leinster, still the kinglet of South Leinster would not wish to do anything to violate Laeghaire’s guarantee for Patrick’s personal safety. It would seem that Patrick wished also to communicate with his old friend Dubthach before going to South Leinster and, as a fact, he went there for the ostensible purpose of visiting him.

It may be, too, that the great Commission of Nine for the revision and purification of the Brehon Laws had not yet completed their labours at Tara, and of course they would need the guidance and counsel of Patrick at many important stages of their work. Though Laeghaire tolerated this revision, he cannot have been very zealous in forwarding it, so that all Patrick’s authority would be needed to push the work forward to completion.

This great work was begun, as the Four Masters tell us, in 438 or perhaps 439, but it must have taken a long time to accomplish, and it is probable that it was not completed until seven or eight years later. The entry in the Four Masters is significant: ‘A. D. 438—The tenth year of Laeghaire. The Seanchus and Feinechus of Ireland were purified and written, the writings and old books of Ireland having been collected in one place at the request of St. Patrick. These were the Nine supporting props by whom this was done: Laeghaire, King of Ireland, Core and Daire, three kings; Patrick, Benen and Cairneach, three saints; Ross, Dubthach and Fergus, three antiquaries.’ It is quite evident that this work could not be accomplished in a short time, and as the Nine came from all the provinces of Erin it is only natural they would meet at Tara. We shall have more to say of the constitution and labours of this Commission hereafter.

Then, as some say, St. Sechnall of Dunshaughlin died about this time—that is, 447 or 448. The Four Masters give the former date, but it is a year late. His death would certainly bring Patrick to Meath if it were at all possible for him to reach it in time, and he might easily do so from Kildare. For Sechnall was his nephew and dearest friend; he was with him, as some say, from the beginning in Ireland; he accompanied Patrick on most of his missionary journeys through the West and North; he had composed a famous Latin poem in honour of his sainted uncle; he was his coadjutor and destined successor in the primacy of Erin. So it must have been a hard blow to Patrick to lose him, whilst he was still comparatively young and vigorous. But Patrick was not the man to question the will of Providence or yield to vain regrets, yet surely he would go far to bury his beloved friend and companion; and, if Patrick did not sit by his sick bed, we may be sure he sought to bless him in the grave. It may be it was to see him or to bury him that Patrick went to Tara and thence to Dunshaughlin on this occasion.

But this date of 447 or 448, given by the Four Masters and the Chronicon Scotorum, is open to grave question. The Book of Leinster gives it under date of 457, the year in which Armagh was founded, when ‘Sechnall and old Patrick rested,’ and the two lists of Patrick’s successors in the Rolls Tripartite give an episcopacy of thirteen years to Secundinus in Armagh; thus dating his coadjutorship from the ‘first’ founding of the See of Armagh in 444 to his death in 457. But this merely means, as has been already stated, that so early as 444 Patrick had chosen Secundinus to be his assistant-bishop and destined successor in Armagh, or wherever else he might fix his primatial see. We shall return to the consideration of this question later on. In the same year, 457, the Annals in the Book of Leinster mark the death of old Patrick.






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