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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

After this we are told Patrick went back to Fir Roiss, and began to build a monastery, or dwelling, ‘in Druim Mor of Fir Roiss, over Cluain Cain.’ Ross, or Fir Roiss, was the name of ancient territory extending from near Castleblaney, southwards, to Ardee. Patrick had already passed through that territory, on his journey from Clogher to Meath, some ten years before. It was a fair and pleasant land of green swelling hills and fertile vales, with great abundance of wood and water. On its southern borders was the stream where Cuchullin, the bravest hero of the Gael, kept the ford against the invading hosts of Meave. Fir Roiss included also the north-east angle of Meath, as far probably as Siddan, where the Fir Cule dwelt, and we know that Patrick, at his departure from the place, left a special blessing to the men of Fir Cule and Fir Roiss, by whom he was, on the whole, kindly received. No doubt, on that visit the men of Fir Roiss promised to give Patrick welcome if he returned amongst them once more, and so he did.

Why Patrick preferred Fir Roiss to Lecale as the seat of his Primatial Chair is not quite clear, except it be that its central position—not far from Tara, too—would render it a more convenient place. No doubt also, he was attracted by the great natural beauty and fertility of the country. He had a keen appreciation of the beauties of nature, for, like all the saints, he saw in the fair face of nature a mirror, which reflected for him the power and wisdom and goodness of God. The quiet beauty of Aghagower, in the Co. Mayo, had attracted him long before, and he thought of building ‘his City’ there, but was forbidden by an angel. Later on, when he saw the various beauties of that sweet landscape, by the winding banks of Erne, he meditated building his City there, making it, as he said, the Rome of Ireland, with the Erne as its Tiber—but the malice of a rude prince drove him away. And now he had journeyed round all the provinces of Erin, and, doubtless, he felt again what he had said before:—

I would wish to remain here on

A little land. After faring round

Churches and waters I am weary,

And I fain would rest.

It was no wonder, indeed, that he was weary. He was now about eighty years of age. He had spent twenty-three years on his missionary journeys throughout Erin—where there were no roads, no bridges, but fords; no hotels, but a tent in the open; no rest from preaching, baptising, ordaining, and building. So once more he said, in his heart, “I would wish to remain here on a little land. I am old and weary, and fain would rest.”

The Tripartite tells us the place which he loved—it was in Dromore of Fir Roiss, over Cloonkeen. Dromore and Cloonkeen are there still—the Long Ridge, commanding a wide view of a rich and varied landscape, with the Beautiful Meadow at its feet, watered by many streams; fragrant of sweet flowers; vocal with the songs of birds. There he would build his cloister; and now that his long day’s work was nearly done, he would spend the remnant of his life in peace and in prayerful repose.

But it was not the will of God. The angel came to him and said, “Not here hath it been granted to thee to abide.” “Where then,” said Patrick, “am I destined to stay?” “Go to Armagh, in the North,” said the angel. “But see,” said Patrick, “how beautiful is the meadow down below,”—as if he said what a pity to leave it. “Let that be its name then,” said the angel, “even Cluain Cain, the Beautiful Meadow; and it will not be lost to the Church; a pilgrim of the Britons will come and set up there, and it will be thine afterwards”—that is, within his jurisdiction. Then the holy, much-enduring old man, bowing his head in submission to the Divine Will, said, “I give thanks to God—Deo gratias ago.” Through good and ill that word was always on his lips, and now that he was bidden to leave the Beautiful Meadow, on which he had set his heart, he still said “Deo gratias”—thanks be to God.

But though Patrick himself was bidden by God’s Angel to go north and establish his own See in Armagh, he was yet desirous to found a church near Louth. So he went eastward of Louth to the place that still bears his name, that is Ardpatrick, and there he desired to found a convent, or cloister. The Dal Runtir, amongst whom, as it appears, he first wished to settle, were sore grieved at his departure from amongst them, and followed Patrick eastward of Louth, still seeking to detain him amongst themselves; but, unable to do this, they gave him over, as it were, to a kindred tribe at Ardpatrick. Patrick was touched by their deep devotion to himself, and he blessed them with an abundant blessing—promising them famous laymen and great ecclesiastics, and home rule under their own chiefs, seeing that they had left their homes to follow Patrick.

It would seem that when the Saint first thought of setting up at Cloonkeen, St. Mochta, ‘the pilgrim of the Britons,’ was not yet there. But he must have come shortly after, for Patrick used to come every day from the east, that is from Ardpatrick, whilst Mochta used to go from the west beyond Louth—where the old Abbey was—and so they met every day for conversation at Lecc Mochtai, that is Mochta’s Flagstone, which was nearly mid-way between them. In this sweet companionship of his fellow-countryman Patrick was well pleased, so that it seems he put off his journey to the north for a time. There one day, as the two saints sat together in holy converse, the Angel came and laid a letter on the flagstone between them. Patrick, taking up the letter, read out its contents:—

Mochta, pious and faithful,

Let him remain where he has set up,

Patrick goes north at the King’s word,

To rest in smooth Armagh.

The divine message touched the conscience of both the saints. At once they resolved to part, and Patrick gave up to Mochta the twelve lepers whom he left at Ardpatrick; and Mochta, faithful to his master’s trust, used himself in person to carry to them every day from Louth the rations assigned to them. It was a dangerous thing to visit so often the stricken lepers; but Mochta resolved at all cost to keep the promise made to Patrick.

This is a fitting place to say a word of Mochta himself. Adamnan gives us a brief, but pregnant description of the saint, which corroborates the language of the Tripartite. He describes Mochta as ‘a British pilgrim or stranger, a holy man, the disciple of St. Patrick the Bishop.’ How far he was a disciple of St. Patrick is rather uncertain. The ancient but anonymous Life of St. Mochta describes him as of British origin, born in the household of a certain British Druid named Hoam, with whom the child and his parents came to Ireland, where the Druid found himself a home in Co. Louth; that is, the ancient Hy Connail territory. Either in Britain or Ireland the boy got some knowledge of Christianity—perhaps from his parents—and by the advice of an angel went to Rome, where the Pope made him Bishop and sent him back to Ireland to preach the Gospel.

Whether he went to Rome or not, he certainly built himself a monastery in the woods of Hy Meith, in the Co. Monaghan, which was known as Kilmore, or the great church, and appears to have been situated somewhere near Castleblaney in the Co. Monaghan. But his neighbours there, jealous of the stranger, treated the saint badly, forcing him, in fact, to leave the country. He distributed his wordly goods to his monks, telling them that God would take care of them. “As for myself,” he said, “I shall keep nothing but the fountain at our door; it will follow me and my monks wherever we shall go.” He went straight to the place called Louth, whither the fountain followed him, and, gathering strength in its progress, it became the beautiful river Fane, which, starting from its humble fountain at Kilmore, followed the saint through Monaghan and Louth, so that it was, as he said, a boon and a blessing to himself and his monks for future ages.

This curious story is not without a value of its own, for it clearly implies that if we patiently follow back the course of the Fane river from the plain of Louth, we shall come to the site of Mochta’s primitive monastery in the woods of Hy Meith, where the beautiful river has its source. It tells us, too, what happened to the saint. When the rude natives drove him and his monks away, he gave them all the earthly goods he had, keeping nothing for himself. Only he followed the stream—or, as the Life phrases it, the stream followed him—until both arrived in a more plenteous and hospitable country, in those beautiful meadows around the present town of Louth, which Patrick so reluctantly abandoned.

It is evident, then, that for a short time both Mochta and Patrick were near neighbours, until the latter was directed by God’s Angel to go to Armagh. St. Patrick was, however, the elder of the two; and, no doubt, gave much goodly counsel to his fellow-countryman at Louth. There was, it seems, an understanding between them, that whoever died first should assign the care of his monastic family and their possessions to the survivor. Mochta lived longest; but still at his death he recognised the primacy and jurisdiction of Patrick’s successor, who from that day to this has always exercised his jurisdiction over the beautiful plains of Louth southward to the Boyne.

Mochta’s monastery, too, grew to be a great school; and its monastic annals were of high authority amongst the scholars of Erin. The chieftains of Oriel endowed it with lavish generosity; and when the evil day came and the last abbot of Louth was forced to surrender his possessions to the Crown, there were few richer monasteries in the kingdom than the ancient house of St. Mochta, and few, we may add, had made a better use of their wealth.






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