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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Cashel was the chief royal residence of Munster in the time of St. Patrick, and for many centuries afterwards. The name simply means the Stone fort by excellence, with special reference, no doubt, to the rock on which it was built. But the Book of Rights suggests that it meant the Stone of the tribute—Cais-il, because the Munster tribes paid their tribute on the Rock. Long before it became a royal residence it was called Sid-Druim, or Fairy Hill, a picturesque and appropriate name.

Cashel was the capital city of Munster (the ancient Mumha), and next to Tara, and, perhaps, to Armagh, was the most celebrated of the provincial courts. Munster itself was divided at this time into two chief divisions—North Munster, or Thomond, and South Munster, or Desmond. Cashel would be in East Munster, called Ormond at a later date; but in the time of St. Patrick it was recognised as the royal city of Desmond, or South Munster, with supremacy, however, over all other royal duns in the whole province.

Its relations to Ossory were peculiar. Ossory, properly speaking, belonged to Leinster, but it became a portion of the Munster kingdom in consequence of the murder of Fergus Scannal by the Leinster men. The forfeiture of Ossory was decreed as an eric for that crime, with nominal subjection to the King of Cashel. Yet it is expressly declared in the Book of Rights that Ossory owes no tribute to the King of Cashel. In this respect it was placed on an equality with the royal tribes of Munster, who owed no tribute, but merely subjection and military service, to the King of Cashel, for which in return they were entitled to receive certain stipends and gifts from that potentate.

We thus find in Munster, as elsewhere, that some of the tribes were tributary to the ruling house of the province; but the chieftains of the royal family, who might in their turn become kings, and were eligible as such, paid no tribute, yielding only military service and entertainment of the king on his royal visitation. It is expressly stated that besides the Dalcais of Thomond, who were themselves of the royal race, there were several kings in Munster who paid no tribute, namely, the King of Hy Fidgente, the King of the noble Aine, and of Gleann Amhain. Neither did the chief of North Ossory, nor of South Ossory (that is, the King of Gabhran), nor the King of Loch Lein, a branch of the ruling family, nor the King of Raithleann, near Bandon, who belonged to the same race.

Besides these we find ten tributary tribes are specially mentioned, to whom we shall have occasion to refer during the progress of St. Patrick amongst them, so that in all there are enumerated no less than eighteen sub-kings, both tributary and non-tributary, who were subject to the King of Cashel.

Oilioll Olum was the great father of all the kings of Munster. He had several sons, but the two most celebrated were Eoghan Mor and Cormac Cas. From the former sprang the Eoghanachts, or Eugenian line; from the latter the Dal Cais, or Dalcassian princes. Their father willed that they should take the sovereignty alternately in each line; but this arrangement was by no means regularly carried out.

When St. Patrick arrived in Munster, about the year A.D. 450, Ængus Mac Natfraich was King of Cashel, with supremacy over the entire province. His own immediate territory consisted of the vast undulating plain now comprising the baronies of Slieveardagh and Middlethird—a part of that golden vale the fertility of which is still renowned throughout Ireland. He was sixth in descent from Eoghan Mor, and his family were recognised as the head of all the Eoghanachts of Munster. His wife was Eithne, daughter of that Crimthann, King of the Hy Cennselagh, who received Patrick with such kindness in Leinster, so that the Saint might fairly expect to receive a warm welcome in Cashel also, at least from the queen of the royal Rock.

Ængus was a just and generous prince, famed throughout the land, and he had a long family of sons and daughters, who afterwards became the parents of many kings and saints in various parts of Ireland.

Patrick’s road from Callan to Cashel lay due west from Mullinahone, with a bend to the south at Fethard, but we find no reference in the Tripartite to his founding churches on this journey. His invariable custom was to go straight to the royal dun and procure the conversion, or at least the toleration, of the chief before preaching to the tribesmen. It would appear that Patrick and his household arrived in the neighbourhood of the royal city in the evening and encamped there, waiting to seek an interview with the King in the morning. But when Ængus arose with the sun he found his palace in terror and confusion, for all the idols were overthrown during the night and were found lying flat on their faces. This would show that there were Druids at Cashel as well as at Tara, and that they had a temple of some kind with idols, probably of stone, on the royal Rock. Just then, it would appear, the King heard of the arrival of the strangers, and he came down from the Rock to receive them, for ‘Patrick with his household found him beside the fort. Whereupon he gives the strangers welcome, and brings them into the fort to the place where Patrick’s flagstone is to-day.’ The flagstone often means the altar stone on which the Saint said Mass or erected his altar. It is not used in that sense here; it rather means the great stone on which he sat within the fort during his interview with the King. The Book of Armagh, however, seems to imply that it was the flag over which he baptised the King and his brothers, the sons of Natfraich, so we may fairly assume it was there also he erected his altar and offered the Holy Sacrifice. ‘He also left blessing and prosperity on the sons of Natfraich, and he blessed the fort, namely, Cashel, and he said that until Doom only one slaughter should take place there. And he abode seven years in Munster.’ And the learned count that he celebrated Mass on every seventh ridge which he traversed in Munster. The word ridge here probably means something like the modern ‘townland.’ These were likely separated from each other by fences or ridges, which gave their name to the whole townland. The townland was held in rundale, and hence the necessity of marking off its boundaries by a fence.

The Tripartite then tells the famous story of Patrick’s crozier piercing the foot of the King: ‘while Patrick was baptising Ængus the spike of the crozier went through his foot.’ When Patrick perceived this after the baptism he exclaimed, “Why didst thou not tell this to me?” “It seemed to me,” said Ængus, “that it was a rite of the faith”—that is, a portion of the ceremony. “Thou shalt have its reward,” saith Patrick. “Thy successor (comarba) (that is, of the race of Ængus and of Aillil, sons of Natfraich) shall not die of a wound from to-day for ever.” And then the Tripartite adds:—‘No one is King of Cashel until Patrick’s successor instals him and confers rank (grad) upon him.’ The word ‘grad’ here means kingly unction, a kind of ordination, such as bishops give to kings, ordaining them for their high office.

Patrick does not promise immunity from a mortal wound to Ængus himself, and we know that both the King and his wife Eithne were slain at the battle of Cellosnadh, or Kellstown, in the Co. Carlow, in 489. It was in Magh Fea, about four miles east of Leithlin. The Life of St. Ciaran points out that their untimely end was a divine chastisement on the queen for the crime of adultery, which she meditated but did not commit, and on the King for aiding the King of Hy Cennselagh in his unjust aggressions on the chiefs of northern Leinster. But it appears the queen did penance and confessed her sin to St. Ciaran; and, although the temporal penalty remained, she and her husband found mercy with God, and remission both of her sin and of the eternal punishment due to it.

A very widespread, living tradition tells another well-known story of Patrick’s preaching, either on the Rock of Cashel or on Tara Hill. When trying to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity to his hearers, he saw the trefoil growing on the green sod beneath his feet, and taking it up in his hand, he pointed out how the triple leaf sprang from the single stem, even as the Three Divine Persons, really distinct from each other, were yet One in the unity of the Godhead. It was, of course, an imperfect, but yet, for a simple people, a very apt illustration of the great Mystery he was trying to explain. We can find no trace of this story in the ancient Lives of the Saint; still it has caught the popular imagination, and made St. Patrick’s Shamrock the immortal symbol of Ireland’s faith and nationality.

Ængus, ‘the praiseworthy,’ is called by an old poet, quoted by the Four Masters ‘a tree of spreading gold,’ so many were the saints and kings and chieftains of his race. Even at this day there are no other Irish families so widely diffused both at home and abroad as the McCarthys, O’Keefes, O’Callaghans, and O’Sullivans; and they are all off-shoots of that spreading tree of gold. The Tripartite tells us that twenty-seven kings of the race of Ængus, and of his brother Ailill, ruled in Cashel ‘under a crozier,’—which seems to imply that they were duly anointed kings—until the time of Cenn-gecan, who was slain in 897, as the Four Masters tell us, by his own tribe. His death, as well as that of Cormac MacCullinan, at Ballaghmoon, in 907—and they were both Kings of Cashel of the race of Ængus—would seem to show that Patrick’s prophecy, promising immunity for ever to the kings of his blood from mortal wounds, cannot have been fulfilled, except we understand it to mean that ‘the wounds received in battle would not prove fatal after their return home.’ Being a fighting race they must have got many a broken head, and even that partial immunity from the consequences of their wounds would be a very great privilege for them.

It is not stated in the Tripartite that St. Patrick founded any church at or near Cashel or appointed any ‘Bishop of Cashel.’ The real reason cannot be that Ængus would not gladly have given him a site for a church near the royal Rock, and land to support the church. Rather we must assume that St. Ailbe had already set up his See not far off at Emly and within the territory of the King of Cashel. Hence Patrick would be loath to set up a new jurisdiction, which might possibly give rise to serious troubles in the district. Patrick visited the King, who was still a catechumen, or perhaps half a pagan, and was well received by him and his sub-chiefs, from whom he got full authority to preach the gospel over the whole of Munster, which was what he chiefly sought.

As a fact Cashel continued to be the chief royal residence of the Kings of Munster down to the year 1100, that is, for some 640 years later. During all these centuries we have no mention in our native Annals of any bishop or archbishop of Cashel. Cormac Mac Cullinan is indeed sometimes described as archbishop or bishop of Cashel, but only by inaccurate later writers. He was a bishop, it is true, and for some years King of Cashel, but he is never called Bishop of Cashel. Cashel was still the seat not of the spiritual but of the temporal kingdom. In 1101, however, all was changed. The King of Cashel, Murtagh O’Brien, made a formal grant of the Royal Rock and the territory around it, in presence of all the nobles and clergy of Leath Mogha, to O’Dunan, ‘noble bishop and chief senior of Munster.’ Thenceforward Cashel became the seat of the Archbishops of Munster, of whom O’Dunan was the first, so far as the primate St. Celsus could make him an archbishop. Afterwards, at the Synod of Kells, in 1152, the Archbishop of Cashel received the pallium, and his successors have ever since been recognised as metropolitans of the ecclesiastical province of Cashel, which comprises practically the whole of Munster.

Cashel is a great limestone rock rising to the height of nearly a hundred feet above the surrounding plain. Its summit was barely large enough to contain the royal fort, and, at a later period, the ecclesiastical buildings, with an open courtyard of richest green in front. On this green stood, and still stands, ‘St. Patrick’s Stone’ now surmounted by an ancient cross. But the stone stood here for ages before St. Patrick, and was, without doubt, the stone on which the ancient Kings of Cashel were inaugurated. At the same sacred spot Ængus received his own inauguration as a Christian king by receiving the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, through which he was ‘ordained’ a king in the new kingdom of Christ.

As St. Patrick stood by that great stone surrounded by the kings and sub-kings of Munster, and cast his eyes towards the South and West, he saw spread out before him the most fertile plain in Ireland, stretching far away to the distant hills from Slievefelim in the north to the Galty Mountains in the south. It was a glorious land, which he had already well-nigh won for Christ, when he had baptised the King and his family. But he resolved to complete the work and visit in person every part of that fertile, far-reaching plain, well-wooded and well-watered, for he could see from where he stood the noble Suir, sweeping southwards through the woods, its waters here and there gleaming bright in the sunshine.






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