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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

So once more Patrick stepped his mast and put to sea, sailing by the eastern coast towards the, north of Ireland. Speeding quickly past Bray Head, and then making for Howth, they left the ‘Ford of Hurdles’ on their left, and rounding Ireland’s Eye soon cast anchor in Inver Domnann. It does not appear that Patrick landed there, but he sought to get some fish, and finding none, ‘he inflicted a curse upon it,’ says the Tripartite. The run from Wicklow to Malahide is something like forty miles, so that if Patrick and his companions started early they might easily drop anchor in the Bay of Malahide, for the double purpose of procuring some food, and riding safely at anchor during the night. As they got no fish, their supper must have been very scanty, consisting probably of the monk’s usual meal of bread and water. So we can understand how Patrick would not be in very good humour, and would naturally say something harsh of the fishless bay, which his companions afterwards, telling the story, construed into a ‘curse.’

Inver Domnann of the Tripartite is certainly the Bay of Malahide, but no traditions of St. Patrick linger round it, and, as we have said, the Saint most probably did not leave his vessel during his brief sojourn in the estuary.

He then went, we are told, to Patrick’s Island, whence he sent (messengers) to ‘Inver Ainge.’ Patrick’s Island has ever since borne that name—in the Irish, Inis-Patraic. It is the largest and most important of three rocky islets lying off the coast of the Co. Dublin, about ten miles north of the bay of Malahide. They give their own name, the Skerries, or rocky islands, to the neighbouring village on the shore, of which they are, indeed, merely isolated projections. The nearest to the shore was called Red Island, and is now connected with the village by a stone causeway. The second, half-a-mile to the east, is called Colt Island. The third and largest, a half-a-mile still further out to sea to the east of Colt Island, is St. Patrick’s Island, a grassy islet, rising well from the waves, and having still a ruined church and graveyard at its south-western angle called after St. Patrick. The graveyard is still much used for burials, yet no one lives on the island, though its size is considerable, and the land is regarded as very good for pasture. In mediæval times there was an important religious establishment on the island, and a Synod was held therein 1148, most probably because it was a place of security in boisterous times. It is sometimes called Holmpatrick, and as such gives its name to the parish, and a title in the peerage to one of the Hamilton family.

The island, although not more than two miles from the shore, stands well out to sea, and was a conspicuous and inviting landing-place for St. Patrick and his companions coasting northwards. Leaving Malahide in the morning, a fair wind would, in two hours, bring them to Skerries. Their supper the night before, and probably breakfast, too, were light. So they landed to try if they could find anything on the island in the way of food or refreshment. The search appears to have been unsatisfactory, for in the brief entry of the Tripartite, we are told that Patrick ‘sent’ from the island to Inver Ainge. Inver Ainge, now called the Nanny Water, can be distinctly seen from Skerries as the most inviting landing place on the shore of the mainland. The coast here, from the point of Skerries, trends away to the north-west—a low, sandy beach, broken only at Balbriggan by a small stream, but showing a more promising opening just three miles to the north at Lay town. This little estuary is Inver Ainge, for the modern name, the Nanny Water, is simply the ancient Ainge in sound with the article prefixed. There is not, we believe, much of anything to be had there even now; and it would seem there was nothing at all for the hungry messengers of St. Patrick. The brief entry is expressive—‘nothing was found for him there.’ So they came back again to Patrick with this unwelcome message for the half-famished Apostle and his crew, which included at least a score of Gauls and Britons—bishops, priests, and deacons, too, amongst them. Then Patrick once more grew angry, and he inflicted a ‘curse’ upon it—the mouth of the Nanny Water—and ‘both’—that is, apparently, the Bay of Malahide and the Nanny Water—‘are barren’ in consequence.

This brief record incidentally shows us what Patrick and his companions had to endure at the very outset of his great task. They land in Wicklow, are received with a shower of stones, and forced to re-embark; they come to Malahide after a day’s sailing in an open boat, but they could get no fish there. They land at Inispatrick—no food there either. They send across to the Nanny Water, on the coast of the fertile plain of Bregia—still no supplies. Surely, it was enough to try the patience even of saints, until, at length, they found the hospitable home of Sescnen, which was a paradise for the weary travellers.

But one remarkable event took place on that fertile Bregian shore, which renders it an interesting spot. It is the beautiful and touching story of young Benen, or Benignus, the first Irish boy whom St. Patrick tonsured for the service of the Irish Church.

‘There,’ says the Tripartite, ‘came Benen into his service.’ It seems his father, Sescnen, dwelt near at hand—in the valley of the Delvin River, so far as we can judge—who hospitably received the Saint and his companions. But Patrick, weary of his toil by land and sea, fell asleep ‘among his household,’ apparently on the green sward. Then the youthful Benen, pitying the wearied Saint, came and gathered up all the odorous flowers that grew around, and put them gently and tenderly in ‘the cleric’s bosom’ as he slept. Thereupon some of Patrick’s household said to Benen—“Do not that,” said they, “lest Patrick should awake.” Whereupon the Saint, perhaps overhearing the words, woke up, and seeing the gracious boy with his hands full of flowers, with which his own bosom was also filled, he said—“Trouble him not; he will be the Heir of my Kingdom,” which was afterwards verified when Benignus became Coadjutor Bishop of Armagh, and the destined successor of Patrick himself, if God had spared him to survive his holy and beloved master. But Providence willed otherwise.

There, too, ‘in Sescnen’s Valley,’ Patrick built his first church in Ireland, and left in charge of it two of the foreign youths whom he had ordained. From the Delvin River, according to the Tripartite, Patrick sailed to Inver Boinde—the Mouth of the Boyne—where he appears to have rested for some time, for we are told that ‘he found fish therein, and he bestowed a blessing upon it (the estuary), and the estuary is fruitful’—and we may add that it is so down to the present day. We are also told that at the same place, Inver Boinde, he met a wizard or Druid who mocked at Mary’s virginity. Patrick then sained the earth—made the sign of the cross over it—and ‘it swallowed up the wizard.’ The explanation seems to be that Patrick after landing took occasion to explain the mysteries of the new Gospel which he preached, dwelling, of course, on the Incarnation and the Virginity of the Mother of God, of which the whole Church was full at the time, after the great Council of Ephesus, two years before. The Druid mocked at this new doctrine of a Virgin giving birth to the Son of God, and then Patrick, if we may credit the Tripartite, taught the blasphemer of Mary that lesson which has never since been forgotten in Ireland. Nowhere else has the tender, passionate devotion of the people at all times to the Virgin Mother of God been more conspicuously displayed.






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