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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Now this alleged meeting of Patrick, Ailbe, and Ibar on this occasion close to Emly and in the midst of what appears to be a pagan population, gives rise to some very interesting questions. Ailbe and Ibar are two of the four prelates who are called pre-Patrician bishops, and have been recognised as such by eminent authorities like Usher and Colgan. Yet the death of Ibar is marked in the Annals of Ulster A.D. 500, and the rest of St. Ailbe is marked in the same Annals at 526, and again, but with hesitation, at 533 and 541, showing that the real date was rather uncertain. Still, it is clear that he lived into the sixth century, for St. Ibar is recognised as his senior, and he died first of them all.

The fact seems to be that both Ailbe and Ibar, as well as Declan of Ardmore and Ciaran of Saigher, were not disciples of Patrick in the ordinary sense. They did not belong to his familia, they were not ordained or consecrated by him, and, in all probability, they were preaching in the south of Ireland before his arrival there. But their authority was somewhat doubtful, and their success was only partial. When Patrick came to preach in Munster they were induced to recognise his apostolic authority and supreme jurisdiction in Ireland. The evidence of facts, too, was in his favour, for his apostolic mission was already successful throughout the greater part of Ireland, whilst they had made little or no impression even in their own province, as the facts here narrated go to show. It was Patrick converted and baptised the King of Cashel, and that of itself gave him a claim to pre-eminence in the southern province. Now we find him preaching in the tribe-land of Ailbe himself, which afterwards became his diocese of Emly; yet it is Patrick who takes the lead, and it is through his prayers that the half-devoured child was resuscitated. We are told also that Patrick and King Ængus, with all the people, ordained that the archbishopric of Munster should be in the city and see of St. Ailbe, who was then by them ordained archbishop for ever. This savours of a later date, and is a very suspicious-looking statement, written apparently at a time when efforts were being made in the twelfth century to secure the recognition of Cashel as the archiepiscopal See of Munster. There was, it appears, more reluctance on the part of Ibar to consent to the recognition of the primatial authority of Patrick, for ‘he was unwilling to receive a patron for Ireland from any foreign nation;’ and one can hardly blame him when they had so many saints of their own at home. He belonged to a northern tribe and was apparently educated in Wales, with which the saints of the north had at a very early period frequent intercourse. Hence he gets credit for saying, in consequence of his disagreement with Patrick, that, no doubt through his influence in the North—he was of the Hy Eochach of Ulad—“he would leave the roads full and the kitchens empty, in Armagh.” Whereupon Patrick replied, “Thou shalt not be in Ireland at all.” “It is in Ireland (Eri) I shall be,” replied Ibar; and so it came to pass that word of both saints was verified, for Ibar set up in Beg Erin in Wexford Harbour, and there, about the year 485, he built his little cell and oratory, around which grew up in a few years a great school of saints and scholars. These tales go to show that these four saints were in Munster before St. Patrick, and that there was some jealousy of the British saint who came amongst them claiming pre-eminence and exercising apostolic authority over the whole Church of Ireland.

Then the Tripartite tells us, in connection with Patrick’s stay in Cullen, that four persons stole his horses ‘in the north,’ but Patrick forgave them. The leader of the four was Cainchomrac, a leech, another was an artisan, a third was a servant, and the fourth a groom of the attendant or servant, whose name was Aedh. Patrick called this Aedh and blessed his hands, and said that from that day his name should be Lamh-Aedh, or Hugh of the (blessed) Hand; and it is from him that the Lamhraige descend, who, apparently, give their name to the parish of Killamery, on the borders of Cashel and Ossory. There is a story told in the Life of St. Ciaran, which seems to refer to this stealing of the horses of Patrick, and conveys a striking moral lesson. After the conversion and baptism of Ængus at Cashel, a certain Mac Erc, of the Hy Duach of Ossory (stole and) killed a horse belonging to Patrick. When Ængus heard this he was wrathful, and seized the man with the intention of putting him to death. Whereupon Ciaran, at the request of the culprit’s friends, came to the king to intercede for the criminal, offering at the same time to pay his eric in gold. The gold was paid, but when the prisoner was liberated it disappeared. Then the king, in great anger, said to Ciaran—“not gold but the shadow of it you have given me for this man.” “All these precious metals,” replied the saint, “are not realities, only shadows made of nothing.” Whereupon the king threatened the saint, but forthwith he became blind, and was glad to have his sight restored by Ciaran’s prayer, and thought no more of his gold.

It seems a complete reconciliation was afterwards effected, for we are told that both Patrick and Ængus, with a great host of chiefs and followers, went to visit Ciaran at his monastery, and Ciaran had eight oxen killed for their refection; but, as the host was very large, it needed a miracle to multiply the food so as to feed them all. Ciaran, too, by his prayer, changed the water of his well, even Fuaran, into wine to refresh his guests. As this was the well that Patrick had told Ciaran of some fifty years before, it was only fitting that its waters should now give gladness to the heart of the Saint and his companions. This is the only personal interview between Patrick and Ciaran recorded in the life of either. It may be that when the king went north to arrest and punish the horse-stealers of Upper Ossory both he and Patrick, with the king’s retainers, went on to Seir Ciaran to visit the monastery of that saint before they returned to Cashel.

It is said that Patrick performed another miracle before he left Cullen. Aillil’s wife was pregnant, and sore sickness overtook her. “What is wrong?”—said Patrick. The woman answered, “I saw an herb in the air, and on earth I never saw its like;” and, she added, except she got that herb to eat and thus gratify her longing—“I shall die, and my child in my womb will die.” “What was the herb like?”—said Patrick. “Like rushes,” said the woman. Then Patrick blessed some rushes, and they became a leek. The woman ate thereof, and became well: and she brought forth a son, and Patrick declared that women who eat the leek in similar circumstances will find their longing gratified. The blessing might cure the longing without any miracle at all.

The Tripartite here tells us that Patrick desired to remain beside Clar at the Rath of Cairbre and Broccan, but a certain Colman, the owner, doubtless, would not allow him to remain there; wherefore Patrick foretold that neither king nor bishop would ever come of his race. He added also that the place would yet be his, which was verified; and there he left a man of his household, namely, Coeman, of Cella Rath.

Clar, or Slieve-Claire, is a conspicuous flat-topped hill—whence its name—west of Galbally, and south of the little parish of Cullen. There is, as we have said, a Kilpatrick, which gives name to a townland in the parish of Lattin, south of Cullen, and this most likely marks the site of the church in question; if not, it certainly marks the route of the Saint westward towards Slieve-Claire, which is now called, we believe, Slieve Reagh.

If we are right in this identification of the locality described in the Tripartite, it would bring St. Patrick very near the place that St. Ailbe had chosen to be his own. It is probable, however, that although St. Ailbe was then preaching in his native territory of Arada Cliach he had not yet selected the seat of his episcopal See. The Tripartite tells us that he came in contact with St. Patrick at Cullen, but there is no reference to his See, which was not yet, so far as we can judge, definitely established at Emly. The relation of the two saints, however, needs further elucidation, which we are not at present able to furnish.

It would not be right to assume that Colman’s refusal to allow Patrick to found a church at the Rath of Cairbre was in any way instigated by Ailbe, although the circumstances are suspicious.






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