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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

To this period of Patrick’s life the Tripartite refers the wonderful conversion of Maccuil, who afterwards became Bishop of the Isle of Man. The narrative, as given in the Tripartite, is brief, but Muirchu, in the Book of Armagh, gives a much fuller and, apparently, an earlier account, which we reproduce here.

This Maccuil Maccu Greccae, as he is called, dwelt in Uladh, and was an impious and cruel tyrant, so that he got the nick-name of the Cyclops. He is described in a series of Latin epithets as evil-minded, violent in speech, wicked in his deeds, wrathful in purpose, cruel of heart, unclean in body; a pagan, without conscience or remorse. He lived at a place called Druim Maccu Echach, a mountainous and remote stronghold, from which he preyed like a wild beast on all the strangers who happened to pass that way, robbing and slaughtering them without mercy.

Just at this time it was that Patrick, glorious in the light of faith, and strong in his confidence in the divine goodness, happened to pass that way, near the stronghold of the tyrant. Whereupon the wicked chief, purposing to destroy the Saint, said to his followers, “Look here, that deceiver and beguiler of men, who has deceived and seduced so many by his magical acts, is now coming this way. Let us go, then, and try if he has indeed any power from that God in whom he glories.” So these wicked men resolved to tempt Patrick in this fashion—one of the party, Garvan by name, pretended to be dangerously ill, and they covered him with a cloak or mantle, intending to ask Patrick to heal him, in order that he might thus show a specimen of his alleged miraculous cures. Hence, when Patrick, with his household, came up, they said:—“Lo, one of us has just now got grievously sick—come and chant thy incantations over him, and perchance he may be healed.” But Patrick, knowing their guile, at once replied, without flinching, “It would not be strange if he were sick indeed.” The word alarmed them. So raising the cloak from the face of the pretended sick man they found him dead. Whereupon all cried out at once, “Surely this is a man of God. We have done evil in tempting him.”

Then Patrick, turning to Maccuil, said, “Why have you sought to tempt me?” The wicked tyrant, terror-stricken, replied, “I am sorry for this evil deed. Whatever you bid me I shall do, and I surrender myself into the hands of that great God whom you preach.” It was a conversion like St. Paul’s, complete and instantaneous. Then Patrick replied, “Believe thou in my God, even the Lord Jesus Christ; confess thy sins, and be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”—Thereupon he believed, repented, and was baptized; he confessed, too, that he had intended to slay Patrick, and asked the Saint to award him penance for that great crime. “No,” said Patrick, “I will not judge you, but God will judge you. Go now from this place, unarmed, to the sea-shore, and leave this land of Ireland, taking nothing with you but one poor garment to cover your body; neither eating nor drinking of the produce of the island (of Inch), and bearing this mark of your penance on your head. When you come to the sea-shore lock your feet in iron fetters—as the hostages were locked—fling the key into the sea, and set out in a currach of one hide—the smallest made—without helm or oar, leaving the wind and sea to bear you wherever it is God’s will that they should carry you. There dwell, doing God’s high will.” At once Maccuil replied, “I will do as you have said—but, what of this poor dead man.” “He will rise up without pain,” said Patrick; whereupon the Saint, in that same hour, restored Garvan to life.

Then Maccuil set out straight for the seaside, going to the right hand; that is to the south or south-east of Magh Inis, now called Lecale. There he entered his skiff, locking his feet in fetters, and flinging the key into the sea, without food or companion, or helm or oar, he committed his little boat to the great deep, to be borne whither God willed. A north wind springing up carried him southward, toward the island called Euonia, or Eubonia, that is, the Isle of Man, where he was found by the two holy men, who at that time were preaching the Word of God in the island, namely, Conindri and Rumili. They had converted the islanders to the Christian faith by their preaching, and had baptised almost all the people, being the first, it is said, to preach the Gospel in the island. And now seeing this poor man of one garment, with feet bound, in the boat, they pitied him, and taking him out, they brought him home with joy. He lighting thus on the holy fathers, as God willed, formed himself, body and soul, according to the rule of these holy bishops, until at length he became their successor, in their high office in the island—where he is called Maccuil di Mane, or Maccuil of Man, Bishop and Prelate of (the church of) Arddae Huimnonn—which seems to signify the Hill of Man—‘whose prayers we pray may help us,’ the Tripartite piously adds.

There are some things worthy of note regarding this wonderful story of the conversion of Maccuil. The Isle of Man had in ancient times a much closer connection with Ireland, and especially with Ulster, than with any part of Great Britain. Sixty per cent of its place names are of Celtic origin. The Irish Sea God Manannan Mac Lir was, according to the oldest tales, King of Man. The Firbolgs fled for refuge to Man and other islands of the sea when they were driven out of Ireland. At a later period, A.D. 322, when the Ultonians were driven into Down and Antrim by the three Collas, many of them crossed the sea and took refuge in Man; sometimes, also, intermarriages took place between the Picts of Ulster and the Picts of Man. These facts would help to explain why Maccuil, a prince of Uladh, would be so well received and so kindly treated in the island.

The Book of Armagh states that Conindri and Rumili were the first who preached the Word of God in Man, and baptised the people. We may accept the statement as true, for although Jocelyn says that a certain Germanus, a disciple of St. Patrick, was left there by our national Apostle to preach the Gospel, his statement is not confirmed by any of our native authorities, nor do we find any disciple of St. Patrick bearing that name, although of course, as is well known, his great master, the illustrious Bishop of Auxerre, was called Germanus. A writer in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record is inclined to identify the Germanus mentioned by Jocelyn with St. Coeman, son of Brecan of Wales, who was, it seems, a disciple of St. Patrick. But the identification is at best only a conjecture unsustained by evidence. With more probability he seeks to identify Conindri of the Book of Armagh with Coindre of Domnachcoindre, whose feast is assigned to the 17th of September; and Rumili is supposed to be identical with Romulus or Romarius, whom some ancient authorities mention on the 18th of November. But these, too, are only conjectures, although it is extremely probable that the two holy bishops whom Muirchu declares were the first to preach in the Isle of Man were Irish saints from some part of the north of Ireland, trained, perhaps, in some monastery of Wales, or it may be at Candida Casa.

The whole course of the narrative in the Book of Armagh seems to imply that Maccuil dwelt in Lecale, although we cannot now identify the site of his lofty dun. It was probably somewhere on the hills near Killard, if that be not itself the locality referred to. The fact of St. Patrick sending the penitent chief straight to the sea-shore without food or drink, and bidding him to embark in a currach at the right hand of Magh Inis, would seem to imply that he dwelt somewhere near the shore, at the mouth of Strangford Lough, where the ebbing tide would soon carry his light craft out to sea towards the Isle of Man, whither she was borne; although it can hardly be described as to the south of Magh Inis. But his course at first was certainly to the south, and that is all that is implied.

Tradition still connects this south-eastern angle of Lecale with St. Patrick and the Isle of Man. There is in the parish of Dunsfort, west of Killard Point, a townland called Sheepland, by the sea-shore. Here we find a Patrick’s Well, which was greatly venerated in the past, as the many votive rags on its margin testified. A few perches from the well, overhanging the sea, is a road-shaped rock, which people say St. Patrick made for his own accommodation when coming from the Isle of Man, and they even show the part of the rock, now covered with white lichen, on which he hung his casula or cloak after his long journey. The tradition is chiefly valuable as connecting this point of the coast with St. Patrick and the Isle of Man. We are then fairly warranted in assuming that Dunsfort represents the strong abode of the wicked chief Maccuil, and that ‘Patrick’s Road’ marks the spot whence he started as a penitent to the Isle of Man; nor is it improbable that the Saint afterwards paid a visit to the island, setting out from the same holy spot.






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