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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

From Cashel Patrick came unto Muscraige Thire, which comprised the modern baronies of Upper and Lower Ormond, along the eastern shore of Lough Derg. His purpose was to baptise and preach, and establish the faith therein, probably about the year 454. He met there—it is not stated where—three brothers, the dynasts of that region, namely, Fuirc, Munnech and Mechar, sons of Fora, son of Connla. Munnech believed at once—before all the rest. Mechar also believed, yet not so promptly, but the furious Fuirc opposed Patrick, and hence, though a hoary man, and apparently the eldest of the three, he was postponed to the others, ‘and his race was nowhere in the kingdom;’ a thing, adds the bardic historian, not lamentable.

Now Munnech had twelve sons, who all came to visit Patrick, but they all came late except Muscan. Wherefore Patrick, the man of God, destined his father’s kingdom for him in preference to all the others, ‘and that rule still remains unaltered,’ that is, the succession of his family, as the reward of his promptness in the service of God. It is a striking lesson for all time.

Now Coninn, one of the brothers, excused himself on the ground that he was building a fence; whereupon Patrick said his family would never effectively secure their homes or their fields with walls or fences. ‘If they dig the earth and make a fosse it gapes; if they put up a fence it soon falls; if they build crannogs in a bog they never stand firmly.’ Another of the twelve, Cellachan, said he came late because of his debts—‘whether due to him or due by him I know not’—says the writer. It was probably the former, and he was collecting them. Then Patrick said “when my amnesty in Munster is over, if thou shalt do harm, even though others may escape, you and your family will not escape, but must either give up the delinquent or pay his eric—seven cumals.” That is, the penalties of the law would be rigorously exacted in their case, as he himself exacted them in the case of his debtors. The amnesty shows that Patrick insisted on a truce to the incessant tribal wars during his presence in any territory—a most necessary and excellent lesson of Christian charity. Carthach, another brother, said he would come and believe at once, but he was awaiting to know whether his foster-father would forbid him to do so or not. The excuse was an ingenious and plausible one, for it was difficult to blame the youth for waiting to ascertain the wishes of his foster-father. Wherefore Patrick said his descendants would be expert and subtle in worldly questions, but they would be separated from this kingdom—of Muskerry apparently—that is, have no share in its government. So to each he ‘said a word,’ meting out suitable temporal penalties for their negligence, ‘and that word has been fulfilled,’ adds the writer.

It is clear from the foregoing passage that when Patrick was preaching in Munster he required the kings of the province to keep peace with each other—an inestimable blessing, if it could be effectually carried out. Reference is made in an old poem, quoted in the Tripartite, to another rule of Patrick, imposed by him on Munster, as well as on all the rest of Ireland. This ‘rule’ seems to be the payment of some tribute to the church of Armagh, in recognition of its Primacy as the See of Patrick and the Mother Church of all Ireland.

When Cothraige, that is Patrick, imposed a rule upon Virginal Ireland, on the host of the isle he conferred a lasting blessing:—

This is the blessing, he gave it up to seven times,

On everyone who shall keep his rule and his law,

Whoever breaks the rule—awful example—

He said they would not see him in the land of the Saints,

And that his race would not be in esteem ever after,

And his race would never have its reprisal.

Patrick’s rule in great Munster was imposed on every clan,

Until Dungalach of the race of Failbe Flann broke it,

Dungalach, son of Faelgus, the grandson of true Natfraich,

It is he who first transgressed Patrick’s rule in the beginning.

It is told in old tales, every multitude knows it,

His successorship is not in Cashel of the Kings,

Though he won battles, of his offspring there is not

A high bishop, nor an erenagh, nor a prince, nor a sage,

There is no illustrious man of his strange race,

If there is none now, neither will there be any found till the Day of Doom.

The rivalry between Conn’s Half and Mogh’s Half of Erin made it very difficult for Patrick and his successors in Armagh to secure at all times a recognition of their spiritual primacy in Munster. The princes of the South feared that this recognition might involve a recognition of the claim to temporal supremacy also, as a right of the northern kings. Hence the tribute to Armagh was not paid with regularity, and the primates were rarely in a position to enforce their claims, either by the spiritual or temporal sword. We are told, indeed, that Ængus formally recognised this obligation when he was baptised by Patrick in Cashel, and that on behalf of himself and the Kings of Munster for ever he promised to fulfil it faithfully. But we see that at a later period Dungalach, grandson of another Natfraich, who was himself a grandson of Failbe Flann, repudiated this supremacy of Armagh, and refused to pay the tribute. He appears to be the King of Hy Liathain, whose death is recorded A.D. 760, by the Four Masters. But in the twelfth century, as we shall see, the primacy of St. Celsus was recognised throughout the South, and he levied the tax of Patrick in all the churches that were recognised as Patrician churches founded by the Saint—of these Ardpatrick appears to have been the chief, and Celsus for some time made it his home.

The subsequent work of Patrick during his stay in Munster is then summed up—‘He founded churches and cloisters; he ordained folk of every grade; he healed all manner of sick people; and he raised the dead to life. Then he bade the Munstermen farewell, and left his blessing with them,’ when he came to Brosnacha river, which was practically the northern limit of their territory. The story of the parting is very touching.

Patrick went to the Brosnacha, and the men of Munster went after him ‘as if each of them would outstrip the other,’ when they heard he was going to leave them. Nay, whole households—men, women and children—fared after Patrick to the river; and when they overtook him at the stream, they uttered a great shout and a cry of joy, because they saw him once more before he left them; and it was from that great cheering, so full of joy, that the river got its name. And then, in presence of all the people, Patrick brought to life one Fot, son of Derach, a youth of the age of twenty-seven. And he fed the whole multitude at the Craibecha, by blessing a bushel of corn which was given to him by Bishop Trian, a pilgrim of the Romans, whence it was called the Feast of the Bushel. After that he blessed them once more, saying:—

A blessing on the Men of Munster,

On men, boys, and women.

A blessing on the land

That gives them fruit;

A blessing on every treasure

That shall grow on their plains,

So that no one shall want help;

God’s blessing be on Munster;

A blessing on their hills,

On their hearth stones,

A blessing on their glens,

A blessing on their highlands,

Like sand of the sea under ships

Be the number of their homes,

On slopes, on plains,

On mountains, on peaks.

There can hardly be any doubt that the scene of this touching farewell was the place now called Riverstown, which was then a ford on the Brosna river, less than a mile to the south of the modern Birr. It was the great pass from Munster to the north, and to this day the diocese of Meath comes close to the town of Birr, which is itself in the diocese of Killaloe, whose boundary at the present day represents the ancient limits of the kingdom of Thomond.

But the barony of Ballybritt, which extends eastwards from Birr to the northern extremity of Slieve Bloom, was certainly in the ancient Munster, and is still, with the exception of Seirkieran, in the diocese of Killaloe. Now, it is expressly stated that Patrick went from Munster, not into Meath, but into Offaley. Hence we must conclude that he crossed the river either at Riverstown, or, what is more likely, further south at the village of Brosna, seeing that he passed not into Meath, but through Ely O’Carroll, along the western slopes of the mountain, until he came to its northern extremity, where he passed into Offaley.






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