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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Just as they were speaking of Fiacc they saw the young poet and his company returning from their visitation in Connaught. It seemed to both quite providential, but neither Patrick nor Dubthach wished to ask the youthful bard directly to abandon the glorious prospect of becoming Chief Poet of Erin. Dubthach, however, suggested a means of getting Fiacc to volunteer for the service of the Church. “Proceed,” he said, “as if to tonsure me—the first step to make him a bishop—for the young man is very dutiful to me and he will be ready to be tonsured on my behalf”—that is, instead of Dubthach. So it came to pass. When Fiacc saw Patrick going to tonsure the king-bard he said, “What is being done?” They replied, “Dubthach is going to be tonsured.” “And that is a foolish thing to do,” he said, “for Erin has no poet like him, and of he were to become a bishop he must give up his profession and all its privileges.” “You will be taken in his stead,” said Patrick. “Very well,” said Fiacc, “I shall be a much smaller loss to Erin and the Bardic Order.” So Patrick tonsured him, shearing off his hair and beard, and giving him the peculiar monastic tonsure of the time, from ear to ear, which raised such a quarrel afterwards.

‘Then great grace came on Fiacc after his ordination,’ and no wonder, for he had made a generous sacrifice of himself for the sake of the Church and of his beloved master; ‘and he read all the ecclesiastical Ordo—that is, the Mass—in one night; but others say—what is much more likely—in fifteen days. And a bishop’s rank was (afterwards) conferred upon him, and he thenceforward became the chief bishop of the men of Leinster, and his successors after him.’

If he learned to read the Ordo of the Mass in fifteen days, except he had some knowledge of Latin before, he must have been a remarkably clever man. But, in any case, the young poet must have been a scholar and would have little difficulty after some time in learning to read the liturgy of the Church. Patrick then gave him a case, or vestment box, with the usual ecclesiastical equipment; but particular reference is made to its containing a bell, a chalice a crozier, and what we now call altar-charts or tablets, containing the invariable portions of the liturgy of the Mass.

This account of the ordination of St. Fiacc is undoubtedly authentic, for Muirchu, who narrates it in the Book of Armagh, expressly states that he transcribed it from the dictation of Aedh, bishop and anchorite of Sletty, who died in 698. This Bishop Aedh was of the same race as Fiacc—that is, of the Hy Bairrche, and succeeded him, though not immediately, in his church of Sletty, so that he got this account from men who were themselves disciples of St. Fiacc, and who would, no doubt, most carefully preserve the statements and traditions of their spiritual father and founder of their church of Sletty.

Then Fiacc established his See at Domnach Fiacc in Hy Cennselagh, at a place which King Crimthann gave him at the request of Patrick. It was situated between Clonmore and Aghold, now Aghowle, but within the latter parish, which is in Wicklow. The Book of Armagh further tells us that Patrick left there with St. Fiacc seven of his own household to assist him in preaching the Gospel in South Leinster. Their names are given, and they were doubtless well known to the informants of Bishop Aedh of Sletty. They are—Mo Catoc of Inis Fail; Augustin of Inis Beg; Tecan, Diarmaid, Nainnid, Paul, and Fedilmid. They lived together in community life with Fiacc in his monastery at the foot of the hills, but went on missionary journeys to preach the Gospel throughout all South Leinster, and afterwards they established churches and monasteries of their own. We can get, however, only partial and uncertain glimpses of their history.

Mo Catoc is, perhaps, the same person as Presbyter Catan, who is described as one of Patrick’s two waiters, or guest ministers of his family. The Book of Lecan speaks of this Catan as of Tamlacht Ard, and so does the Book of Leinster. Here, however, Mo Catoc, St. Fiacc’s disciple, is described as of Inisfail, which was undoubtedly the small island (now joined with the mainland), called Beg Erin, or Begery in Wexford Harbour. From this we may infer that Catoc preached in the south-east part of Wexford, and afterwards retired to the little island oratory to end his days in peace and solitude, communing with God alone. His remains were enshrined there, and held in great veneration, until the appearance of the Danes on the coast, when they were removed for greater security to the kindred monastery founded by St. Fiacc at Sletty on the Barrow, near Carlow.

There is every reason to think that the Augustin here referred to is the same as Augustine, who accompanied Palladius to preach in Ireland, and afterwards returned with Benedict to the Pope to announce the death of their master in North Britain. They met Patrick, as we have seen, at Ivrea or Evreux—no matter where—and they would then naturally associate themselves with Patrick in the new attempt to preach the Gospel in Ireland. Augustin was probably a Briton, like St. Patrick himself, with a Roman name, and would naturally desire to be in that part of the country which was nearest to Britain, and maintained most frequent intercourse with its shores. So we find him also sent to preach in Wexford and establishing himself in Inisbeg, which is apparently another island in Wexford Harbour, but smaller than Inisfail. His relics, too, were enshrined there by the loving care of his followers, and were likewise translated to Sletty at a later period.

Tecan is perhaps the Tecce whom the Martyrology of Donegal merely names on the 9th of September. There is a Kiltegan east of Baltinglass in Wicklow, which gives title to a parish. The old churchyard is situated in a secluded spot in a deep mountain valley almost encompassed by hills. Its proximity to Domnach Fiacc makes it highly probable that it was Tecan who gave his name to this church rather than to Kiltegan, near Clonmel; but he may have founded both. Diarmaid, who was a relative of St. Fiacc, was probably only a boy at this time, but like his associates he preached in Hy Cennselagh, and most likely founded the ancient church which still bears his name—‘Kildiermit, situated on the east of Tara Hill over Courtown Harbour, in the north of Wexford.’ The ruins of the ancient church are marked on the Ordnance map. It is improbable that this Diarmaid is the same as Diarmaid, son of Restitutus, the Lombard, and nephew of St. Patrick, who retired to Inisclorann in Lough Ree. There is no evidence of their identity, and the circumstances make it improbable. All St. Patrick’s nephews were located in the ancient kingdom of Meath or on its confines, because they were his earliest associates in preaching the Gospel in Erin.

Of the Nainnid or Naindid, here named, nothing can be ascertained with certainty. Shearman speculated much about identifying him with Manchen the Master, and even with Gildas the Wise; but the speculations are baseless, and seem to be purely imaginary.

Neither do we know anything with certainty of Paul or Paulinus, disciple of Fiacc. His name implies that he was of foreign origin, probably a disciple of St. Germanus, who accompanied St. Patrick to Ireland, but, not being familiar with the language, was not placed over any of the earlier Patrician foundations. Kilpool, near the town of Wicklow, perhaps bears his name and holds his relics, for we do not think that the early Celts in Ireland dedicated their churches to the saints of Scripture, but rather to the founders of the churches. They simply called them, as a general rule, by the name of their holy founders—a very natural thing for a simple people to do.

Shearman makes Fedilmid (Felimy), like Diarmaid, a great grandson of Dubthach. This is not unlikely, for when Fiacc set up his monastery and monastic school at the foot of the Wicklow Hills, nothing would be more natural than for the chieftains of his family to send their children there to be educated for the service of the Church. No church bearing his name is found in Hy Cennselagh, but Shearman holds that he went from his monastic school to visit his relatives in the North of Ireland, and that he is the founder and patron of the church of Kilmore, which has given title to the diocese of that name in Leitrim and Cavan. This is not improbable; but the question is a large one and cannot be discussed here.






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