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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

is a mere rock, rising only a few feet above the water, and apparently not much more than half an Irish acre in extent. It is a hundred and twenty yards long, and varies in breadth from twenty to forty yards. There are now two neat churches, St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s, St. Patrick’s being the ‘prison chapel;’ a commodious dwelling-house for the three or four priests who reside on the island during ‘station time;’ an excellent hospice for the pilgrims, and also five or six lodging-houses, where they get some rest and refreshment during their stay—but many never dream of going regularly to bed. These houses are untenanted, but not now uncared for, during the greater part of the year. Their owners only make a small charge per day for such accommodation as they afford. The prison chapel has now taken the place of the original cave called St. Patrick’s Purgatory. There are also seven ‘penitential beds’ of stone between the church and the ‘prison.’ Their position is marked with much accuracy on Ware’s map of the island, drawn more than 200 years ago, and they are dedicated respectively to Saints Patrick, Brigid, Columcille, Brendan, Molaise, Catherine and Dabeog or Fintan; the two latter are the patron saints of the island. The Four Masters invariably call Lough Derg ‘Termon Dabeog,’ or the Abbey-land of St. Dabeog. These stone beds were originally little penitential cells, where the saints of old spent many a weary vigil in prayer and penance. Now they are merely circular spaces paved with stone, or the naked rock, and surrounded by a low wall, about a foot and a half high. The ‘station’ begins at ‘St. Patrick’s Bed,’ in the centre of which there is an upright circular stone shaft, about four feet high, and eight inches in diameter, with spiral flutings and a plain iron cross fixed on the top. This stone shaft is said to be the genuine ‘clogh-oir,’ or golden-stone, from which the diocese of Clogher has derived its name. It was originally a pagan idol, and, like Apollo Pythius, seems to have delivered oracular responses, until it was exorcised and blessed by our Apostle. Two circular iron bands, nearly eaten away by rust, lend some colour to the idea that this stone was originally covered with metal plates, which were secured by these iron clamps. This seems to be the only ancient relic in Station Island. There are four inscribed stones in the south wall of the prison chapel; two of them were headstones over the graves of Friar Doherty and Friar M‘Grath, whose names are written in English characters of the last century. The third stone contains the names of four of the saints (the remaining names are now undecipherable) to whom the ‘beds’ are dedicated; but they are written in characters by no means archaic. The ‘cave’ of Station Island was long ago filled up, and a neat belfry of cut stone is now erected on the spot. Peter Lombard describes from hearsay what that ‘cave’ or ‘prison’ was in his time (1620): “A few paces to the north of the church is the cave—a narrow building roofed with stone which could contain twelve, or at most fourteen, persons kneeling two-and-two. There was a small window, near which those were placed who were bound to read the Breviary.” Ware marks the spot on his map and gives the dimensions of the cave, 16½ feet long by 2 feet 1 inch wide. “The walls,” he says, “were of freestone, the roof of large flags covered over with green turf.” It must be borne in mind that this was only an artificial ‘cave,’ constructed, when the ‘station’ was transferred to this island, in imitation of the genuine cave on Saints’ Island, which was the real St. Patrick’s Purgatory.

The boatmen also pointed out the rock on the margin of the lake, and within a few paces of the cave, bearing the mark of St. Patrick’s knee where he prayed (and where the penitents always conclude the station), when he killed the great serpent who, my informant added, had followed him all the way from Croaghpatrick. Here is the story taken from an old Irish MS. of the O’Clerighs, and given by O’Connellan in the notes to his translation of the Four Masters:—

“An extraordinary, monstrous serpent, called the ‘Caol,’ was in the habit of thus passing its time. It came to Finnlough (Lough Derg) every morning, where it remained until night, and then proceeded to Gleann-na-Caoile near Lough Erne, and there during the night it consumed a great deal of the produce of that locality until the religious champion of God, St. Patrick, came to Ireland, and, hearing of this monster, he went straight to Finnlough, where the serpent then was on an island in the lake, and immediately it took to the water and with its devouring mouth open it set all the lake in commotion.… and finally directed its course to the shore (of the island) and, opening its mouth, it cast forth its internal poisonous matter, like a shower of hailstones, over the lake, but chiefly towards the place where the Saint and his clergy stood. The Saint, however, having prayed to God, cast his crozier at the serpent, which pierced its breast, so that it turned its back at him, and its blood flowed so profusely that it turned all the water of the lake red. After that St. Patrick said that Finnlough (the fair lake) would be called Lough Dearg (the red lake) thenceforth until the Day of Judgment.”

The Bollandist writer calls the Irish a ‘natio poetarum fabulis facilis credere,’ and we confess we plead guilty to the soft impeachment so far as to profess our belief that this fanciful legend is founded on a substratum of truth.

Unfortunately, the wind blew so briskly that we tried in vain to reach the Saints’ Island, which is two miles to the north-west of Station Island. It is considerably larger than the latter, and was anciently connected with the shore by a wooden bridge. The boatmen pointed out distinctly the site of the old monastery, whose foundations can scarcely now be traced, and on the highest point of the island they showed me where a few trees marked the ancient cemetery in which was the cave called St. Patrick’s Purgatory, ‘quæ est in cæmeterio extra frontem ecclesiæ,’ says Henry of Saltrey. The ‘cave,’ however, was long ago filled up and its site quite forgotten. Wright tells us in his work on St. Patrick’s Purgatory (London, 1824), that a certain Frenchman from Bretagne employed workmen during two summers to discover the original cave, but without success.






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