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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The Hill of Croghan—Cruachan Bri Eile—is situated on the northern verge of Offaley, but within that ancient territory. It is a very conspicuous hill, rising from the vast plain around it; and from its summit the King of Offaley could easily see every part of his wide domain. The northern road passed near it, and that road, or causeway, leading through the bog near the hill was the battle-ground of many a hard fight, and still gives name to a townland near the ruins of the ancient castle that commanded the pass.

We may then regard the ‘green smooth Hill of Croghan’ as the chief stronghold of that cattle-abounding land. It was probably the place where the Kings of Offaley were inaugurated, although O’Donovan says he could find no trace of the Inauguration Stone on the summit of the hill. The ruins of the ancient church founded by St. Macaille, a nephew of St. Patrick, are still to be seen on its south-eastern shoulder, and a small mound. though now much defaced, once occupied its summit. It was probably the grave-mound of the famous warrior, Congal, whose remains are said to rest on Bri Eile; or else it may be the monument of Eile, daughter of Eochaidh Fedlech, who gave her name to this beautiful hill. At the foot of the hill is St. Patrick’s Well, which shows that the Saint was there, and that he used its waters to baptise the men of Offaley. The good people of the neighbourhood point out the place where the Saint’s horse, running down the hill, leaped on the rock, and left the mark of his knee and of his shoes. The water of the holy well cannot, it is said, be boiled or even warmed.

But Queen Eile’s Hill is sacred to the memory of a still more famous Irish maiden, the great St. Brigid of Kildare. We believe it to be almost quite certain that it was in St. Maccaille’s church, on the south-eastern slope of the hill, that the Virgin Saint of Kildare received the veil from Bishop Maccaile. As we have already pointed out, St. Brigid was born about the year A.D. 436. The Irish Life in the Book of Lismore says she received the veil from Bishops Mel and Maccaile in her eighteenth year in ‘Telcha Mide.’ Now this ‘tulach’ of Meath, which has given its name to the barony of Fartullagh, was at that time considered a part of Meath, but afterwards it became a part of the sub-territory of Offaley. It was just on the boundary line between the two territories, and the fortune of war transferred it from one kingdom to the other. We are, therefore, justified in concluding that it was there St. Brigid received the veil from St. Maccaile, and there, too, in the little church that once stood on the brow of the hill, the virgin saint’s touch, as she took her vows, made the dry wood of the altar green again in all the freshness of its vernal bloom.

At this point, near the head waters of the Boyne, Patrick had completed the entire circuit of all the land of Erin. Some twenty-one years before he had landed at the mouth of the Boyne on his way to Tara, friendless and unknown, except to his own immediate companions. Now he returned to the sources of the same historic river, having successfully carried the Gospel message through all the provinces of Erin. He had preached not only in the plains of royal Meath, east and west, but he had crossed the Shannon, and from the centre of the idolatry of the west at Magh Slecht, he had triumphantly carried the Cross of Christ to the very summit of Cruachan Aigle, over the western sea. He had penetrated to the farthest valleys of Inishowen, where the northern surges break on Malin Head. He had gone round through Antrim and Tyrone with the same message of peace; he had met the unrelenting Kings of Laigen at their own doors, and baptised them; he had stood on the Rock of Cashel, and won its sovereign to the service of Christ; at the peril of his life he had passed through Offaley; and now, triumphant in the might of the Cross of Christ, he stood on the summit of Croghan Hill, and was able to see the fountains of the infant Boyne, at whose mouth he had landed so many years ago, and look northward over the fertile plains of Meath and Bregia, where the prelates whom he had appointed over the churches of the royal kingdom could now point to a young and fervent generation of youths and maidens growing up around them in all the ardent fervour of the infant Church of Ireland. We may be sure that on that day he murmured a fervent ‘Deo Gratias’ to the good God who had made his ministry so marvellously successful through all the land of Erin—and surely the children of Ireland to the end of our nation’s life have good cause to join in that fervent prayer of their spiritual father.

The Annals of Ulster, and the Four Masters also, state that the Feis of Tara was celebrated by King Laeghaire in A.D. 454; and Petrie adds that it was the only Feis celebrated by Laeghaire during the whole of his reign. If so, it was a national event of supreme importance; and we may fairly assume that Patrick, the spiritual Head of all Erin, would make an effort to be present at that great National assembly.

It is not without solid reasons, therefore, that we may assign to 454 the completion of Patrick’s missionary circuit of the whole island. He would thus appear before the King and his nobles clothed with all the authority of his marvellously successful apostolate. He would have powerful friends from all parts of Ireland at the Convention, and hardly anyone, not even the unbelieving King himself, would venture to dispute his authority.

No doubt most of the bishops whom he had appointed to various sees throughout the island would also be present at the national parliament; and it is not unlikely that it is to this period we should refer the formal promulgation of the great Code of Laws known as the Senchus Mor. The Commission appointed by Patrick for the purification of the ancient Code had, it is true, been appointed as early as 438; and it is said they had completed their labours in 441. Still, the new Christian Code could not have received a formal national approval except in the Feis of Tara before the Kings and Chiefs of all Christian Ireland; and hence it is not unreasonable to suppose that this was one of the purposes for which the great assembly was convoked, at which for the first time the Apostle of Erin and many of the prelates whom he had ordained would take a part in the great council of the nation.

This will be then the most suitable place to give a short account of that great reform of the Brehon Laws which was accomplished under the guidance of St. Patrick. The Brehon Code is no longer, it is true, in force in Ireland; but almost the whole body of the Laws has been recently published in five volumes quarto, with a glossary, and these volumes serve to throw great light on our national history and ancient institutions. The Introduction to the first volume of this great compilation, called the Senchus Mor, gives an excellent summary of the history of that great work. We can only afford a brief sketch of it here, but long enough to occupy the next chapter, which will show the manifold wisdom and indefatigable zeal of Patrick in providing for the urgent needs of his own time and the future development of the Irish Church and the Irish people with a view to their best temporal interests, but, above all, in accordance with the unchangeable maxims of the Gospel.






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