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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The next incident referred to in our Apostle’s life clearly took place somewhere near Downpatrick, and most probably on the occasion of this visit to Lecale. It is narrated, both by Muirchu and the Tripartite, in immediate sequence to the history of Maccuil’s conversion.

Patrick, we are told, was once resting or sleeping, of a Sunday afternoon, we may presume, over the sea near the saltwater marsh, which is north of Drumbo, but not far from it. In Latin the ridge is called Collum Bovis or Ox-Neck, doubtless from a real or fancied resemblance between the neck of the beast and of the landscape.

The Apostle, weary with his labours and vigils, was disturbed during his brief slumber by the clamours of a number of men working close at hand, where they were building a rath on the day of rest. Patrick sent for them and requested them to observe the Sunday’s rest, as God and His Church commanded. But they refused, and even mocked the Saint in their folly. “Then,” said Patrick, “by my word, you may labour if you will, but it will profit you nothing.” His word was soon fulfilled. On the following night a great wind raised the sea, whose swelling tide utterly destroyed the work which the gentiles had raised on the sabbath.

There is considerable difference of opinion as to the exact scene of this interesting incident. It cannot, of course, be Drumbo in the north of County Down, which is far from the sea. Reeves and some others are inclined to think it was the inner Bay of Dundrum, which is only about five miles west of Downpatrick. But to us it appears that this Drumbo, or Ox-Neck, as it is called in Latin, must be near Quoile Bridge, which is only a short mile north of Saul. It was the place where St. Patrick first landed in Ulster, at that little islet now crossed by the road to Strangford, where the stream from the well near Saul church falls into the sea. It is a ‘Salsugo’ or Salt-marsh, in which the waters of the Quoile River mingle with the sea, and at times still flood all the meadows up to Downpatrick. At this point there was a fearsad, or ford, where the bridge now stands, which was the usual crossing place from Lecale to the northern districts. It was there, at that same Drumbo, that the strife took place for the body of St. Patrick, when the men of Oriel wished to bring it to Armagh, and the men of Lecale refused to allow them. Great floods at spring tides do still rise high in the estuary; and, if a strong wind blew in from Strangford Lough with a high tide, the swelling waves might well overwhelm a work hurriedly raised on the shore. It is most likely this rath was being built to guard the ford against the men of the north, and hence would be built near the sea. It is likely, too, that the rath was built close to the pier, which now stands on the estuary near the Bridge of Quoile, that the high ground over the shores was the Collum Bovis of the text, and that Patrick was then lodging somewhere near at hand ‘over the sea,’ which at this point, as we have said, is only a very short distance from his Church of Saul.

The Salt-marsh here referred to seems to have been a kind of proper name, which is explained by another incident related in the Book of Armagh. There was in Magh Inis or Lecale a harsh and greedy man, whose avarice led him to wrong Patrick. For when the two oxen that Patrick drove in his chariot were resting one day after a journey in Patrick’s meadow and under his own eyes, this wicked man drove them away from the field as if it were his own. “By my troth,” said Patrick in anger, “that field will never profit thee aught;” which was fulfilled, for the sea came over it, and it became a ‘Salsugo,’ or Salt-marsh, and so remains to the present day. It is not unlikely that this was the same Salt-marsh already referred to, nigh to which Patrick was resting when the Gentiles began to erect on Sunday that rath which was overthrown by the waves.






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