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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

THIS is a question which Colgan, who had studied it very carefully, admits is a complex and difficult one. The difficulty arises not merely from errors of transcribers, but also from the discrepancy amongst our most ancient and venerable authorities. Yet it is an interesting inquiry to try and ascertain who were the foreign prelates associated with St. Patrick in the conversion of the Irish nation; how many were of his own blood; where were the churches over which he placed them; and what were the festival days on which they were venerated by the faithful.

To the cursory reader of the Lives of St. Patrick it will appear strange to find reference to so many sisters of the Saint, and to the great number of his nephews especially who became bishops in Ireland. Many persons are inclined to think such statements are highly improbable in themselves; and even learned men like Lanigan—who speaks of these stories as ‘stuff’—are disposed to believe that there must be much exaggeration in the current accounts of the family connections of St. Patrick in Ireland.

In our view such speculations are always misleading; and the only safe course is to examine carefully the ancient authorities, comparing, criticising, and, if need be, correcting them by comparison with each other, and with external authorities, but never rejecting them wholesale as unworthy of credence. The more carefully a man studies those ancient documents the more will he find them honest and trustworthy in substance, although by no means free from error in statement or exaggeration in language. It is in this spirit we shall deal with the ancient writers, who speak of the blood-relations of St. Patrick in Ireland.

Let us now examine the authorities. One of the earliest is the Scholiast on Fiacc. He says that Patrick had five sisters, namely Lupait, Tigris, Liamain, and Darerca, and the name of the fifth, Cinnenum; his (Patrick’s) brother was Deacon Sannan. Deacon Sannan is the only brother of St. Patrick to whom any reference is made by ancient writers, and it is commonly said that Patrick Junior was the son of Sannan, and was a member of Patrick’s household or religious family in Ireland. Of him and his namesake, Old Patrick, we shall speak in Appendix IV.

The same five sisters are noticed in the Book of Lecan, except that instead of Cinnenum we have Ricend—Liamain being omitted apparently by an oversight. But explicit reference is made to five. It would appear from his mode of expression that the Scholiast on Fiacc was rather doubtful as to the name Cinnenum; and it certainly does not seem to be appropriate as a woman’s name, but of that we shall presently say more.

Now, returning to the Lives of St. Patrick and the most ancient of our Calendars, we find the following references to the children of these five sisters of Patrick. Tirechan—an ancient authority surely—speaking of Loman of Trim, says that his family was of British origin, that he was the son of Gollit, whom Colgan thinks the same as Gallus, and that his mother was the sister of Patrick. He adds that the following brothers of Loman—brothers apparently by father and mother—were bishops:—

Munis of Forgney by the Cuircni; Broccaid of Imbliuch Ech in Ciarraige of Connaught; Broccan in Brechmag or Breaghwy, in Hy Dorthim; and Mugenoc of Cill Dumi Gluinn in South Bregia.

Here we have in all five brothers, four and Loman of Trim, who were apparently all sons of Gollit, the Briton, and nephews of St. Patrick. Their sees too were all in Meath or Bregia except the See of Broccaid, which was amongst the Ciarraige of Connaught.

The Tripartite, referring to the foundation of the church of Trim, which took place, it tells us, twenty-five years before Armagh was founded, likewise declares that Loman was of the Britons, that his father was Gollit, that his mother was own sister to Patrick, and that the four bishops named above were brothers of Loman. It also places them in the same sees respectively, so that we must accept as a well-established fact that Gollit had five sons who were bishops, and that their mother was a uterine sister of Patrick.

Neither, however, of these two authorities mentions Tigris as the mother of those five bishops, but Jocelyn expressly says that Tigris was the mother of four of them—Loman, Broccaid, Broccan, and Mugenoc. He omits, however, the name of Munis as a son of Gollit and Tigris, and apparently confounds her with another sister, namely Darerca. He says that Tigris had no less than seventeen sons and five daughters, as will be explained below. She certainly had the five sons, all bishops, named above, but no mention is made of any of her daughters in the older authorities.

Liamain, called in Latin, Liemania, had, it appears, a still more numerous family. No reference is made to her name in the Lives themselves, but from the Martyrologies we gather that she was, by Restitutus the Lombard, the mother of Sechnall of Dunshaughlin, of Nectan of Kill-unche, and of Fennor near Slane, of Auxilius of Killossey near Naas, and also of Dabonna, Mogornon, Darioc and Presbyter Lugnath. The Tripartite adds two other sons of Restitutus the Lombard—Diarmait, whom Patrick placed over the church of Druim Corcortri near Navan, and Coimid Maccu Baird (the Lombard), who became bishop of Cloonshanville near Frenchpark. We have therefore good authority for assuming that Liemania and Restitutus had nine sons, eight of whom were bishops whose names are given, and whose sees can be determined.

We now come to Darerca. Recurring again to the Tripartite, we find that ‘when Patrick went on the sea from the land of Britain to journey to Ireland, Bishop Muinis came after him and after his brothers, Bishop Mel of Ardagh, and Rioc of Inis-bo-finne, and they are sons of Conis and Darerca, Patrick’s sister, as the households of their churches say, and that is not to be denied.’ There are moreover sisters of those bishops, namely, Eiche of Cell Glass (Kilglass), to the south of Ardagh in Teffia, and Lalloc of Senlis in Connaught, and it is thought that she (Darerca) is also the mother of Bard’s sons, so that she has seven (or in Colgan’s version seventeen) sons and two daughters.

Here it is distinctly stated that Conis and Darerca had four sons—Muinis, Mel—Melchu, ‘his brother,’ is mentioned further on—and Rioc of Inisboffin in Lough Ree. The Bishop Muinis here referred to certainly seems from the context to be Munis of Forgney, whom Tirechan distinctly states to have been a son of Gollit. Colgan, however, thinks the Tripartite is here right, and that Munis, son of Gollit, must be sought for elsewhere, most likely, he thinks, at Tedel in Ara Cliach, where Patrick certainly left one of ‘his family,’ called in Irish Muin and in Latin, Munis. With that opinion we are inclined to agree.

But Darerca had other sons besides these four. The Martyrologies, especially the Opuscula of Ængus, give the names of four more who can be distinctly traced. These are: Crummine of Lecna, Midnu or Midgnu, Carantoc, and Bishop Maccaille, who gave the veil to St. Brigid. Colgan objects to some more of the names, but admits the above.

Now here a grave difficulty arises. From the lists already given we gather that Tigris was mother of nine saints, bishops all, it would seem; Liemania was the mother of nine, all bishops except Presbyter Lugnath; and Darerca apparently of eight bishops at least. But many ancient authorities assert explicitly that Darerca was the mother of seventeen holy bishops; and those who by some authorities are described as sons of Liemania are by others called sons of Darerca. Whence Colgan infers that Liemania and Darerca were merely two names of the same person—that the proper name was Liamain or Liemania—who was first married to Restitutus the Lombard, and after his death was married to Conis the Briton, and thenceforward was generally known as Darerca, which is an epithet or cognomen rather than a proper name. This view would also seem to have been adopted by the author of the Tripartite, for he says “it is thought—putatur—that she was also the mother of the sons of ‘Bard,’ that is the ‘Lombard.’ ” In that case Darerca would indeed be the mother of no less than seventeen holy bishops, if not of one or two priests in addition, besides the two holy nuns Eiche and Lalloc, who are admitted by all to have been her daughters.

Of course in that case, although the sisters of St. Patrick went under five names, there would be only four different persons, or, leaving out Cinnenum, about whom there is some doubt, there would be really only three, Lupait, Tigris, and Darerca, and this is expressly asserted by Jocelyn.

We now come to Lupait. Her name is once or twice put by mistake for Liemania, as for instance in the Book of Leinster, where the family of Liemania are set down as children of Lupait. It is, however, clearly an error of transcription.

Lupait was never married. She was taken captive with St. Patrick in his boyhood, carried over to Ireland, and sold as a slave in Conaille Muirthemni, that is in the Co. Louth. Of her subsequent history up to the time of the return of St. Patrick to Ireland we know nothing. She appears, however, in Longford with her nephew, St. Mel, whom St. Patrick had placed over the church of Ardagh. At that time she must have been at the lowest calculation over fifty years of age. Nevertheless calumny did not spare her, and some evil tongues accused her of undue intimacy with her own nephew. The newly converted Pagan population were as yet unable to understand the chastity of priests and nuns, who lived near to each other, just as there are Protestants who do not understand it to-day. The rumour reached the ears of St. Patrick, and he went to ascertain if there were any grounds for ‘this error of the rabble.’ As Patrick approached Ardagh, Bishop Mel went fishing in the furrows of his field after rain, and apparently caught salmon, for that ‘dry’ fishing came to be regarded as a proof of his innocence and passed into a proverb. Lupita carried fire in her mantle or ‘chasuble,’ and the fire harmed it not, so that this ‘fatuus ignis,’ or harmless fire, also passed into a proverb as a proof of innocence.

Still St. Patrick judged it well to remove all cause even for suspicion of evil, and laid down an excellent maxim not only for religious but for all unmarried persons. “Let men and women be apart, so that we may not give opportunity to the weak, and so that by us the Lord’s name be not blasphemed, which thing be far from us.” So he put Bri Leith, now Slieve Golry, between Mel and his aunt, leaving him at Ardagh on the east, and putting her at Druim Chea on the west side of the mountain, where, as we have elsewhere explained, she ruled over a holy community of nuns for many years.

When St. Patrick in his old age went to dwell at Armagh Lupita lived there also in a convent near the church. She and her sister Tigris with another holy maiden, Erc, daughter of Daire, devoted all their time to the holy and appropriate work of making vestments for the use of the clergy. Hence she is described as one of the three embroideresses of the family of Patrick—the other two being Erc, daughter of Daire, and Cruimtheris of Cengoba near Armagh. There is a strange story told in the Tripartite, apparently of some one of the nuns of Armagh, who is described as a ‘sister’ of Patrick, and is by the scribe strangely called ‘Lupait.’

We have elsewhere given the curious story of this ‘Lupait,’ but the guilty maid cannot have been Lupait, sister of St. Patrick, for at that time she could not have been less than seventy-five years of age, if she were alive at all at the time. There may have been another relation of Patrick at Armagh who bore the same name, and might be called by Irish usage a siur, for the term is applicable to any near relation, or it might mean a religious sister, in the same sense as we use it still to express a nun, and then there would be no difficulty, for she too might bear the name of Lupait—if this be indeed the true name of the penitent in question, whose sin was great and whose penitence was also great. The unhappy woman might have thrown herself in shame and sorrow before the car of the Saint, and a ‘drive on’ might easily be exaggerated into a ‘drive over her;’ but the story as it stands cannot be admitted, for it would make Patrick responsible for her death. Patrick in his anger may have refused at first to forgive her, but her pitiful prayer for Colman and her child show that she did not die at once, but probably died soon after of grief and shame for her own misconduct.

With regard to Cinnenum, the so-called fifth sister of St. Patrick, there is more difficulty as to herself and her children. The Book of Lecan, as we have seen, calls her Ricend, and the Lebar Brecc Homily calls her Richell, which is probably the true name. Colgan seems to think she is the patroness of the church of Kilricill, four miles east of Loughrea, in the diocese of Clonfert. It is apparently the same name, and although we have no written account of St. Patrick going so far south in the Co. Galway, we find a Patrick’s Well at Bullaun, three miles to the west of Kilricill, on the line of route which the apostle might be supposed to take on his journey to Headford, near to which he undoubtedly founded a church.

In the Additions to Tirechan we find reference to ‘Rigell mater duLuae Chroibige,’ and in the Tripartite itself we find the latter described as Do-Lue of Croibech, who with Lugaid, son of Oengus, son of Natfraech, is said to be of Patrick’s household, and ‘both are in Druim-Inesclaind in Delbna.’ Rigell is also described in the same place as mother of Lonan, son of Senach, who is in Caill-Mallech, now Killolagh in the Co. Westmeath. There is some ground therefore for thinking that Richell, the fifth sister of Patrick, is identical with Rigell, mother of Lonan and Do-Lue, two saints of Meath. The father of both was ‘Senach de genere Comgil,’ as he is described in the Notes to Tirechan. Then, it is furthermore expressly stated that Patrick found in Bretach (in Inishowen) ‘three Dechnans, that is Deacons, sister’s sons of Patrick,’ who likely accompanied Eoghan, son of Niall, from Tara to the North. It is not unlikely, though by no means certain, that these also were sons of Rigell. So the fifth sister would have five sons, all given to the service of the Irish church. We know also that Patrick set over the church of Domnach Maige Slecht near Fenagh, Co. Leitrim, a relative of his own—cognatus—who was called Mabran, otherwise known as Barbarus Patricii—Patrick’s Boor, if we may so translate that rather uncomplimentary epithet for a bishop and a prophet. It is not stated, however, that he was a nephew of Patrick. This may be said to exhaust the list of St. Patrick’s episcopal relatives, although there are two or three others who may be regarded as doubtful cases, so that in all it seems there were between twenty-eight and thirty of his nephews amongst the prelates of the early Irish Church, and at least two nieces who were nuns.

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