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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

THE ancient kingdom of Ossory, in its widest sense, extended from the Suir, at Waterford, to the slopes of Slieve Bloom—that is, about sixty miles north and south; but its average breadth from the Slieve Margy hills over the Barrow, to the confines of Munster, was not more than sixteen miles. It was nearly conterminous with the modern diocese of Ossory, but not with the modern county of Kilkenny, for the Barrow bounds the county on the east for many miles; but it was not the river, but the long range of the Slieve Margy mountains, and their continuation south of Gowran, under the name of the Slieve Grian, or Coppenagh Hills, that separated ancient Ossory from Hy Cennselagh. On the north, too, Ossory included the three baronies of Clarmallagh, Clandonagh, and Upper Woods, which now form the south-western part of Queen’s County. That portion of the kingdom was called Upper Ossory, and sometimes Leath Osraige—that is, Half-Ossory.

The river Nore for the most part flowed through the centre of this fertile and extensive territory; but on the north-east for some distance it separated Ossory from Leix. The central portion of Ossory consists of a rich and picturesque undulating plain, extending from Bealach Gabhrain on the east, across the country, to Bealach Urlaidhe on the west; and from Kilkenny southward to Thomastown and Killamery on the border of Munster. It was the royal territory, and was known under the name of Magh Raighne; and hence the King of Ossory was sometimes called the King of Magh Raighne.

Now, the Tripartite has only two short paragraphs regarding St. Patrick’s journey through Ossory, but though brief they are significant:—‘He then went (from Hy Cennselagh) by Bealach Gabhrain into the land of Osraige, and founded churches and cloisters there. And he said that of them there would be most distinguished laymen and clerics, and that no province should prevail over chem so long as they were obedient to him. After this Patrick bade them farewell, and he left with them relics of sainted men; and a party of his household in the place where the relic-house (Martarthech) stands to-day in Magh Raighne.” Then two incidents only of this journey are recorded:—“At Druim Conchinn in Mairg, the cross-beam (domain) of Patrick’s chariot broke as he was going to Munster. Another was made of the wood of that ridge. This broke, too, at once. Then a third was made; that broke also. Patrick declared that never would any building be made of the wood of that grove, which thing is fulfilled; even a skewer is not made of it Patrick’s hermitage (disert) stands there, but it is waste.’ So far the Irish Tripartite.

Tirechan gives only three lines to this Ossorian mission:—‘He ascended by Bealach Gabrain, and founded in Raighne the church of the Relic House.’ And then he goes straightway to Cashel.

Taking the Tripartite text as it stands, it appears to us clear that Patrick entered Ossory by the road that led from the Barrow through the pass of Gowran, which was indeed the only way of entering Ossory from the east. He then followed the line of the present railway from Gowran to Kilkenny, making his way as usual to the royal residence of the principal chieftain of the district. The best local authorities assure us that the royal dun of Magh Raighne stood on that noble eminence over the Nore at Kilkenny, which is now occupied by the great castle of the Butlers; and Patrick, according to his usual custom, would found his church not far from the royal dun. We are not informed who the King of Ossory was at the time, or how he received Patrick and his associates; but we must infer from the narrative that he gave Patrick a site for his church, in which the Saint left so many relics that it came to be known as the ‘Martarthech,’ or Relic House. The ancient name has disappeared; but there can hardly be any doubt that this was the church known as Donaghmore, about two miles south of Kilkenny. Reference is made to this church in the Life of St. Canice of Kilkenny, who then dwelt at Aghaboe, and that reference seems to imply that it was an important church in the neighbourhood of Kilkenny, although its glory was afterwards eclipsed by the younger foundation of St. Canice himself.

We are told also that ‘Patrick left a party of his household there’ to minister in the church, and, doubtless, also to make it a missionary centre for the whole of Ossory, just as he had left several companions with Fiacc in Domnach Fiacc, east of the Barrow; but their names are not recorded, and it is best perhaps not to indulge in speculation. There was an old church and a holy well a little to the west of Kilkenny, called ‘St. Rock’s Well,’ where a ‘patron’ used to be celebrated on the first Sunday of August. The first of August was the natalis of St. Patrick’s nephew Rioc, of Inishboffin in Lough Ree, and this would seem to point to him as founder of this church, and one of Patrick’s companions on this journey.

There are other traces of Patrick near Kilkenny. There is a Glun Patraic ‘on the Kells road about two miles from Kilkenny’ and his knee-marks in the rock show where he prayed. In the demesne of Sheestown was a rock which was called Ciscaem-Patraic, because the marks of his footsteps were traced on the rock. There was another place near Kilkenny, but different from this, called ‘St. Patrick’s Steppes,’ which belonged to St. John’s monastery, and doubtless marked the course of the Apostle’s journey. All these ancient memorials of the Saint near Kilkenny show that Donaghmore Maigh Raighne was undoubtedly the Martarthech referred to in the Tripartite.






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