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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The old Lives tell us a very beautiful story, that at the moment ‘the Orders were read out,’ that is, when the solemn words of episcopal consecration were being pronounced, three choirs were heard to join in tuneful response—the choir of the angelsin heaven, the choir of the Romans in the church, and the choir of the children from the ‘wood of Focluth by the far-off western sea.’ We are told they responded to each other, giving glory to God in sweet strains on that great day which made Patrick the Bishop of the Gael—a day that brought joy to heaven and to Erin and to Rome. And the burden of the song of them all was, we are told, the ancient strain which Patrick knew so well:—‘We, the children of Erin, beseech thee, holy Patrick, to come and walk once more amongst us, and to make us free.’ Now the long-deferred hope was about to be realized; their pitiful yearning was soon to be gratified; he was coming quick as the winds could bear him over the Ictian waves, coming with power from Heaven and from Rome to break their bonds and set them free.

The story of Patrick’s leper, which is omitted in the Tripartite, is given in several of the Lives, even in the Second and Third, which are certainly very ancient. We are told that when Patrick came to the sea-shore to embark for Ireland he found a leper sitting on a rock by the sea, and the leper seeing Patrick and his companions about to embark asked to be taken along with them. But Patrick had twenty-four pilgrims with him, and having apparently but one ship they naturally objected to take a leper into their crowded little vessel. Then Patrick, commiserating the leper, threw the portable altar-stone on which he used to celebrate Mass into the sea. The flag floated on the waves, and Patrick told the leper to sit upon the stone. He did so, and the stone bearing the leper floated near the ship until it came to their destined port in Ireland! We are not told the place of debarkation for Ireland. They may have first landed at some place in Wales opposite the Irish shore; but it is more likely, from the narrative, that the party sailed direct from Gaul to Ireland, which was not an unusual thing in those days. We know, however, for certain where Patrick landed in Ireland. It was the same ‘well-known and opportune port’ at which Palladius had landed the year before; that is, Inver Dea, in the territory of Hy Cualann (of which Hy Garachon was a sub-denomination), extending from Wicklow Head to Bray Head, or perhaps to Dalkey.

Wicklow Head is the most conspicuous point on the coast, and, moreover, shelters the low shore to the north from the prevailing winds. It was in the Inver, however, which at present is close to the town of Wicklow, that Patrick landed (but at that time the Inver was probably more to the north) at the place now called the Broad Lough. It was just such a beach as suited the large flat-bottomed boats of the time, for they were not moored in our modern fashion, but hauled up on the strand beyond the reach of the tides. When the party landed they were hungry, and sought to procure fish from the fishermen who were netting the Inver. But the churlish natives refused to give them any, and their ungracious refusal so annoyed the Saint that as a punishment for their inhospitality he declared that the river would be barren of fish for ever after, and so, we are told, it came to pass.

Then the Saint ‘going up’ from the sea-shore, came to the place, called in the Third Life, Anat-Cailtrin, but elsewhere it is called Rath Inver, which was probably the chieftain’s fort on the higher ground over the town of Wicklow. He was the same Nathi mac Garrchon who had already refused to allow Palladius to preach in his territory, and now we are told that he ‘came against Patrick’; and the Third Life adds that all his people gathered together and drove away the Saint and his followers with violence—most likely with a shower of stones. Whereupon Patrick ‘cursed’ him as an enemy of the Gospel, and we are told that the sea, in consequence of that curse, covered all the ground by the river from which they had driven off the Saint and his companions, and ‘men will never inhabit it.’ This curse and prophecy seem to have been fulfilled. It is highly probable that in Patrick’s time the Vartry flowed straight into the sea some three miles north of Wicklow. But a great sand-bar has since formed at the mouth of the river, choking the passage and inundating all the low ground southwards to the town, where the stream with difficulty forces its way into the sea. A local tradition tells that the Saint, on the same occasion, declared they would never have a native priest or bishop at Wicklow—and, says Shearman, ‘the oldest inhabitants have never heard of a priest who was born in Wicklow; the spell, they maintain, has yet to be broken.’

But even amongst these rude men there were children of grace, for we are told that, ‘Sinell, son of Finchad, was the first who believed in God in Ireland through Patrick’s preaching, wherefore Patrick bestowed a blessing on him and on his offspring.’ He must have been quite a child at the time, if, as Lanigan conjectures, he be the St. Sinell the Elder, whose death is marked A.D. 548. But there is no proof of identity between St. Patrick’s first convert and the St. Sinell who died in that year, except the name, and the interval is too great to suppose that he could have been an adult convert in 432, which was certainly the year that St. Patrick landed in Wicklow. We are told that St. Celestine authorised the mission and consecration of St. Patrick just one week before his own death, which took place towards the end of July (about the 26th), 432. St. Patrick, as the narrative indicates, made no delay in setting out for Ireland immediately after his consecration, so that we may fairly assume that he arrived in Ireland some time during the month of September of the same year, that is 432.

It appears that he also made provision for the few converts whom he had made at Inver Dea during his brief stay, by leaving his disciple Mantan amongst them to minister to their spiritual wants. But he himself shook off the dust of his feet against them, and resolved to go northward, and preach first of all to his old master, Milcho. ‘This seemed to him fitting, since he had once done service to Milcho’s body that he should now do service to his soul.’






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