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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The exact date of Patrick’s founding his Primatial City of Armagh has given rise to considerable discussion, owing to the apparently contradictory statements in some of our most venerable authorities.

In the Additions to Tirechan it is expressly stated that Trim was founded in the twenty-fifth year before the Church of Armagh was founded. Now the former was founded in 433, therefore Armagh was founded in 457, for the twenty-five years were not complete, and that is the date commonly accepted as the true one. But that date marks the foundation of the Great Church on Macha’s Hill, and we are told in the Tripartite that Patrick and his family remained ‘a long time’ in the Church of Na Ferta in the valley before he founded Armagh itself on the Ridge of the Willows. When, then, was Na Ferta itself founded? The Annals of Ulster say Ard-macha was founded in A.D. 444, 1,194 years from the founding of Rome. On the other hand, the Four Masters corroborate the author of the Additions to Tirechan, for they distinctly assert that Ard Macha was founded by St. Patrick in 457, it having been granted to him by Daire. We think these statements can be reconciled by taking the Ulster Annals to refer to the Church of Na Ferta, Patrick’s first foundation in Armagh, and understanding the Four Masters to refer to the Great Church on the Hill, as is quite manifest from their words.

This view is corroborated by Tirechan’s phrase that Patrick, after baptising the Hy Tuirtre, having left Macha, came into Cremorne (Maugdornu), and he ordained Victoricus Bishop of Macha, and founded there a great church. No doubt ‘Machia’ seems to mean the territory of Hy Meith Macha, but that certainly bordered on Armagh, if it did not include it. It is very likely, then, that Patrick paid a passing visit to Armagh on that occasion. The date also corresponds, for 444, as far as we can judge, would be the year in which Patrick passed through Hy Meith Macha, after preaching and baptising in the Hy Tuirtre territory west of Lough Neagh. We think it most likely, therefore, that the Church of Na Ferta was founded in 444, but that the great primatial church on the Hill of Macha was not founded until 457.

There is an incident regarding St. Patrick which is narrated in the Life of St. Colman of Dromore, and as it took place about this time, may be fittingly inserted here. Our version is taken from the Life of St. Colman in the Salamanca Manuscript:—“It came to pass that as St. Patrick was on a certain occasion journeying from Armagh to Saul, he received hospitality on the way from a bishop, who in honour of so great a guest, resigned to Patrick at his departure next day both himself and his monastery. But Patrick, always despising mere worldly goods, said—‘Not for me you and your territory are destined by God, but for one who sixty years to come will found his monastery in that neighbouring valley which I saw this morning before I celebrated Mass a multitude of angels frequenting as I looked out through the window of this church of yours.’ And Patrick said the same to another bishop of that neighbourhood who wished to give up to him his church and his territory.”

From this we may infer that Patrick claimed no immediate spiritual jurisdiction over the territory of Iveagh, and that he willed that territory to be reserved for a bishop of the native race—that is, St. Colman of Dromore, who founded his See there about the year 514—that is, some sixty years after the time St. Patrick founded the See of Armagh. St. Colman, who was nephew of the elder St. Colman of Kilroot, belonged to the great tribe of the Dal-Araide, whose cradle was the southern portion of the Co. Antrim between Larne and Lough Neagh; and a small portion of their original territory still belongs to the diocese of Dromore. Seapatrick, which is merely a modern form of the ancient Suide Patraic, that is Patrick’s Seat, is another memorial of the Saint’s visit to that territory. There is good reason to think that by Dromore was his usual route from Saul to Armagh, and from Armagh to Saul, and there can be hardly any doubt that Patrick frequently passed that way during the thirty years which he spent in Armagh. But Iveagh was in the territory of the Uladh, and therefore outside the temporal jurisdiction of the chief of Armagh; hence Patrick did not wish to complicate matters by claiming immediate spiritual jurisdiction in a territory where the jealous chiefs of the Dal-Araide, the Picts of Erin, might be disposed to question his authority, so long as he was located at Armagh.

There is some evidence to show that the chiefs of that race were inclined to set up for themselves in matters spiritual as well as temporal, and hence we find reference to St. Colman of Kilroot, disciple of St. Ailbe, to St. Colman of Dromore, nephew of the first Colman, and to other local saints as the spiritual authority amongst the Dal-Araide, even at the time when St. Patrick dwelt in his old age at Armagh; for the elder Colman at least must have belonged to that period. Hence, we find, too, that the diocese of Dromore, though rather small, has its own independent jurisdiction ever since.






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