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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Of the other inferior members of Patrick’s household we know comparatively little.

His chamberlain was Coeman of Cill Riada, which is apparently Kilroot, an ancient church that stood on the northern shore of Belfast Lough, a little beyond Carrickfergus. His special relations with Patrick are otherwise unknown.

Sinell of Cell da Reis is described as bell-ringer to the Saint. It was an important office, because in those days the bell was the symbol of jurisdiction, and the man who carried it represented the authority of Patrick himself, and doubtless enforced obedience to his orders, and maintained due decorum in all the ecclesiastical assemblies. There were two Sinells—one the elder, who appears to have been the person here referred to. His feast day was the 26th March, and his church was Killeigh, near Geashill in the Queen’s County. Its founder was certainly a disciple of St. Patrick, and had a celebrated monastery and school at Killeigh, to which scholars and even bishops came on pilgrimage from foreign lands.

There was another Sinell, who was an anchorite in one of the islands of Lough Melvin, in the Co. Leitrim. The island is still called Inishtemple, and the ruins of an ancient church and churchyard still remain, and are much venerated by the people. Colgan thinks that he may have been the bell-ringer of Patrick, and retired there after the death of his beloved master, to spend the remnant of his days in prayer and penance. No doubt the bell used by Sinell was the famous ‘Bell of the Will’ which is now in the National Museum in Dublin—‘a rude, quadrangular bell, with rounded angles, made of rivetted plates of hammered iron, about 6¼ inches high, with the handle at the top. It was covered with a beautiful shrine, made in the beginning of the twelfth century by order of Domnall O’Loghlin, King of Ireland.

His ‘cook’ was Athcen of Both Domnaig, The name of this church now is Badony, the same in sound as the ancient name. It was an old church in the diocese of Derry, and Co. Tyrone, where St. Athcen, who is called also by the name of Cormac, has been long venerated as its holy founder. His festival was the 3rd of May. He was of the race of Colla Menn. Of course a cook would be an indispensable official for the household of Patrick, which was large and migratory for the most part. It is likely, too, that the ‘cook’ had not only to superintend the cooking of food, but also to provide it, which at times must have been a rather difficult task, although, no doubt, the chiefs and people, as a rule, gave generous supplies for the maintenance of the Saint and his family. Still we know that, especially in the beginning, the cook was often hard up for provisions, and the family he had to feed was large. His office was practically the same as bursar or œconomus in more modern times. His assistants used spits, gridirons, and hot stones for roasting; and had great cauldrons for boiling joints of meat and other provisions. A similar official was, at a later period, to be found in all the great monasteries.

Presbyter Mescan, of Domnach Mescain, at Fohain, was ‘his brewer.’ It does not appear from this that either Patrick or the members of his household were total abstainers; and if they were to have beer at all, they could only have it by brewing it themselves. There were no great breweries and no beer-shops in those days, and there was no excise duty. Every chief and farmer brewed what was necessary for himself and his retainers. The corn was ground with the quem or hand mill, and the malting and fermentation would be a comparatively easy process. Colgan thinks that Mescan is merely Mo-Escan, that is Escan with the prefix of endearment. The name of Escan is mentioned, on the 20th of November, by the martyrologists in connection with Both-chluain, which is described as in Leix, to the east of Clonenagh, or in Inis Mac Earca.

Presbyter Bescna, of Domnach Dola, was ‘his chaplain,’ or rather sacristan. This, too, was an important office, for it would be the duty of the Sacristan to provide all necessaries for the Holy Sacrifice, and make due provision, for the proper celebration of Divine worship on all Sundays and other festivals of the Church. Magh Dola, now Moyola, was the name of a plain and river in the Co. Derry, which flows into Lough Neagh; so, doubtless, the church (Domnach) of Dola, or Dula, was in the same plain. Colgan thinks that this Bescna is the Presbyter of Domnach Mor (of Magh Dola), whom the Martyrologies mention under date of November 11th. The church itself is in the diocese of Armagh, which goes far to confirm this conjecture, as it is not unlikely that Patrick located those officials of his family in churches near himself after the foundation of Armagh, when his missionary journeys were over, and he was in a position to make provision for his old and faithful servants.

Presbyter Catan and Presbyter Acan were ‘his two guest ministers.’ Their duty was to attend on Patrick and his guests, and see that they wanted nothing. The Irish saints were, as we know, very hospitable to strangers; and every monastery had its own guest minister specially deputed to look after their needs. It is the case still in all large religious houses. Colgan conjectures that the second name should be ‘Cadoc,’ and that the two saints in question were the son and nephew of Brecan, who are described as disciples of St. Patrick. The Book of Lecan describes Catan, or Cadan, as being of Tamlachtain Ardda; but nothing more is known of them or of their locality,

Odran, of Disert Odrain in Offaley, was ‘his charioteer.’ This was the great-souled saint, who gave his own life to save his master when he was waylaid on his journey through Offaley, as has been already described. There is a town-land called Dysert in the north-west of Offaley, in the parish of Dunfierth, which may, perhaps, mark the ancient Disert Odrain. The old churchyard very probably contains the martyr’s grave. At an earlier period of his missionary career in Meath and Connaught, Patrick had another charioteer who died, we are told, at the foot of Croaghpatrick, and was buried by the sea at Murrisk. The cairn, which in Irish fashion was raised over his grave, is still shown, as we noted above. It would appear that in all his journeys Patrick used the ancient two-wheeled chariot—carbaid—to which sometimes one and sometimes two horses were yoked in difficult ground. The body, of wicker-work, with a frame of wood, was fixed to a tough holly axle-tree, shod with iron or bronze, and generally proved equal to the rough work on the ancient roads or tracks.

Presbyter Manach was ‘his woodman.’ Fuel, of course, would be wanted for Patrick’s family; and that could only be had by cutting wood, which, however, was very abundant at the time. So this priest had charge of the woodcutters—a highly useful, if not honourable, occupation, for otherwise they could neither cook their food or warm their tents.

Rottan was Patrick’s ‘cowherd,’ for even saints need milk and butter and beef, when it can be had. St. Brigid of Kildare was a famous dairymaid, and we know that the chief wealth of every family, whether secular or religious, consisted in their cattle. On a journey Patrick’s familia drove the cattle with them; but when stationary the cattle would, of course, be fed in the neighbourhood, and would need to be carefully looked after. No doubt the cowherd also looked after Patrick’s horses, without which he could not possibly make his numerous missionary journeys through the remotest parts of the country. We know the horses were stolen once or twice by evil men, and no doubt robbers would sometimes lift the cattle also if the cowherd and his assistants did not do their duty with vigilance.






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