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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

THE Tripartite does not mark intervals or interruptions in St. Patrick’s missionary work, but it states very distinctly, after giving an account of his mission in Kildare, that Patrick went from Tara, and that he and Dubthach Maccu Lugair met at ‘Domnach Mor Maige Criathar in Hy Cennselagh.’ Magh Criathar was a territory in the barony of Rathvilly, or rather in that part of it which lies between Hacketstown and Clonmore, a beautiful district surrounded on the north, south, and east by the Wicklow Hills. Shearman places, however, Donaghmore further east on the seashore in the present parish of that name, about three miles north of Cahore Point.

But Patrick did not go at once to visit Dubthach at Donaghmore. The real order of this visitation of South Leinster is given in the Book of Armagh, where it is stated that Patrick first went into North Leinster, and Dunling’s seven sons believed in him; then, it adds, ‘after this he went to Crimthann, son of Enna Cennselach, and Crimthann believed at Rathvilly; and Patrick, when baptising him, besought him to “let go” Cathbad’s sons and Iserninus, together with them, and he obtained the boon.’ This is a most interesting passage, and throws much light on Patrick’s journeys in South Leinster. He came from Tara, and, according to his custom, went direct to the king’s dun at Rathvilly. No doubt, wending southward, he visited the churches which he had already founded in Kildare, and perhaps it was on this occasion he baptised the rest on the seven sons of Dunling, for the baptism of two of them only is said to have taken place at Naas. His road to Rathvilly would lie through the beautiful valley of the Slaney over the fringes of the hills by Baltinglass. The ancient fort at Rathvilly, where the king dwelt, may still be seen over the modern village—on a fine commanding height overlooking the pleasant waters of the Slaney, which here comes out into the freedom of the plain to rest a little after its rugged and turbulent course through the hills.

Crimthann was soon won over to the Gospel by Patrick’s power in word and work. Doubtless he had heard how the kings of Naas and their brothers had given their adhesion to the new religion; he must have learned also of the many wonders wrought by Patrick in the plains of Kildare, and these things predisposed him to receive the new Gospel. An ancient poem, attributed to Dubthach, who was probably there at the time, tells us that:—

The King believed in Patrick without hard conditions.

He received him as a chaste, a holy soul’s friend,

At Rathvilly.

The blessings which Patrick gave there never decay

Upon beautiful Mel, upon Dathi, and upon Crimthann.

The beautiful Mel, a daughter of the King of the Deisi, was the wife of Crimthann, and Prince Dathi was his son and successor on the throne. They were all baptised at the same time, and in the same Blessed Well which is still shown close to the ancient fort. This was a great victory for Patrick. Having won over the king, he would have little difficulty with his sub-chiefs. Some of them were already Christians, and the others would not be slow to follow the example of the king and his family.

Patrick utilised these favourable dispositions to procure the restoration of the exiled sons of Cathbad, who had been driven out of the country by the King’s father. The phrase used in the Book of Armagh is that Patrick besought the king at his baptism ‘to let them go,’ and Bishop Fith (that is Iserninus) along with them. Perhaps he had some of them in bonds as hostages; but it is more likely that the meaning is that he let them go home to their own territories in the south of Carlow, and let Bishop Fith go there along with them. The context, too, implies as much, for it is immediately added that Cathbad’s sons went thereafter to their own abode. ‘They are the Fena of Fidh. And they came to meet Patrick and King Crimthann at Sci Patraic’—that is Patrick’s Thorn.

Shearman says that the place of this meeting was near Killaveny in the barony of Shillelagh, in the extreme south-west of Wicklow. Near it, he says, there is a Patrick’s Well, which gives name to a townland; and close to the well is Patrick’s Bush, which has long been a place of pious pilgrimage. The townland, however, that bears this name is not in the barony of Shillelagh, Co. Wicklow, but in the barony of Rathvilly, Co. Carlow, some few miles to the north. This was undoubtedly the scene of the interview, and marks the direction of Patrick’s missionary journey from Rathvilly, south-east towards Clonmore.

Moreover, at this interview King Crimthann made liberal provision both for the exiles and their bishop, giving them some of the finest land in Carlow. He gave them ‘all the land under Grian Fothart, from Gabor Liphi as far as Suide Laigen’—that is to say, the present barony of Forth in Carlow, extending from the Wicklow Hills at Rathglass on the north, to Mount Leinster in the south. Iserninus also got a place for his church at a ford on the Slaney, called Aghade, where the green meadows by the banks of that fair river might well console him for the loss of a wider prospect from his church on the summit of the hill at Kilcullen. It is hard to find a sweeter scene than that which the banks of the Slaney disclose at Aghade Bridge, which is built on the site of the ancient ford. Rich foliage of many hues, sparkling waters, flowery meads, and one lone ruin of the past, all combine to lend their charms to a landscape of harmonious beauty and repose.

Iserninus had previously set up in the barony of Forth, without any express authority from Patrick; yet, without Patrick’s help, his apostolic work in that district would have turned out to be a failure. But now he recognised in the most formal and canonical way the primacy and authority of Patrick over him and the Leinster churches. ‘He knelt to Patrick,’ and on his own behalf, and that of his monastic family, he received his church and his church lands from Patrick, to whom the king had given them; whereupon Patrick in his turn ‘gave them to Bishop Fith, and to the sons of Cathbad, to be the See lands of their church.’ The saint afterwards lived and died there with his first converts in Carlow. The year of his death is not recorded, but the date of his festival is marked in the Martyrology of Donegal at July 14th as that of the ‘Bishop of Aghade (Ath Fithot), in Leinster.’ What a singular commentary on the statement in the Book of Armagh:—“Patrick and Iserninus, that is Bishop Fith, were with Germanus in the city of Auxerre (Olsiodra). Germanus asked Iserninus to come to preach in Ireland; but he would not, although willing to go anywhere else to preach except Ireland. Then said Germanus to Patrick, ‘Will you be obedient, and go to preach in Ireland?’ Patrick said, ‘Yes, if you wish it.’ Then Germanus said, ‘Let the task be upon you both, for Iserninus too will have to go to Ireland.’ ” And so it came to pass. The winds drove him hither; but Patrick had the reward of his obedience, whereas Iserninus, who set up for himself, and came first to Cliu, then to Toicule, and afterwards to Rath Falascich, and finally to Lathrach Da Arad, did not find success until he got Patrick’s approbation and blessing.

We now come to the meeting between Patrick and Dubthach at Donaghmore Maige Criathar, in Hy Cennselagh. As we have already stated, Shearman identifies it with Donaghmore on the sea shore north of Cahore Point. He holds that Magh Criathar was the plain extending northwards from Cahore Point, and now forming the parish of Donaghmore. The word means the Plain of the Marsh, and would be perfectly applicable to that low-lying sandy sea-board so often flooded by the high tide. Dubthach was, it is true, of the Hy Lugair tribe, who originally dwelt in the south of the Co. Kildare; but his family had lost their possessions there, and the arch-poet has left a poem in which he tells us how the King of South Leinster gave him a new domain, ‘sea-bound, slow-waved; eastward it was by the fishful sea.’ He also calls it Formael, a district which Shearman identifies with Limbrick, in the parish of Kilcavan, Co. Wexford, and which it appears extended eastwards as far as Donaghmore by the sea.

If these identifications be true, of which we have little doubt, Patrick’s course from the scene of his interview with the king at ‘Patrick’s Bush’ lay south-east by Tinahely through the parish of Crosspatrick, which is in both counties, and touched the ancient territory of Formael or Limbrick at its western extremity. There can be no doubt the Saint passed this way, for the name of the old church implies that Patrick founded it and set up the cross to mark the sacred site. It was situated close to the mearing of the Co. Wicklow on the road to Gorey. From this point he passed by Limbrick to Dubthach’s fort at Donaghmore by the sea. Traces of an ancient rath may still be observed near the ruined church, and it was usual for Patrick to build his church for safety sake near the rath or dun of the chieftain, as we know from many examples.






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