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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

IT would appear that St. Patrick, on this occasion of his first visit, merely touched at the Boyne mouth, and then continued his voyage to Ulster. From the Boyne it was plain sailing to Uladh, for, from the Boyne mouth, he clearly saw Slieve Donard and all the noble peaks around rising in stern grandeur from the sea. He sailed past Connaille, the ancient name of Louth, where Cuchullin once ruled in pride, and kept inviolate against all the West the passes through his own Northern hills. But Patrick did not touch the low-lying shores, with their long stretches of sandy flats on which, in broken weather, the waves are always dashing in white ridges of foam. Onward he swept under the very shadow of the great peaks frowning over the sea, ‘past the coast of Uladh,’ until he anchored in Inver Brenea,’ as the Irish Tripartite has it, ‘thence he went to Inver Slan, and the clerics hid their vessel in that stead, and went on shore to put their weariness from them, and to rest.’ And truly they needed some repose after the long inhospitable coasting voyage, probably in October, from Inver Dea to Inver Brenea. It will be observed that there are two Invers mentioned—one Inver Brenea, in which they cast anchor; the second was clearly an inner estuary—Inver Slan, where they hid their boat, and went ashore.

Colgan, in the Latin Tripartite, only mentions Inver Slainge, but the Fourth Life, with great accuracy, describes Patrick as passing through a certain strait called Brenasse, and coming to the mouth of the Slan, and there hiding his ship. This confirms the Irish Tripartite, and describes the course of the Saint exactly. The fretum, or strait, is the long, narrow, rocky waterway now called the Strang-ford River, through which the tide rushes to fill up the vast basin of Strangford Lough. This was called, it appears, of old, the Inver Brenea, and at the head of this ocean river, turning to the left out of the rushing tide, the Saint cast anchor somewhere near Audley Castle, or perhaps a little further inward. The name, it appears, was long retained in that of the townland of Ballibrene, which was an alias for the modern Ballintogher. The inner estuary of the Slan was admirably sheltered both from wind and sea, and its green banks, clothed then, as now, with shady groves, wooed the sea-worn mariners to rest their wearied limbs on shore. Waiting there, perhaps, for high water, they took careful note of the low coast of the Lough, and then getting up their anchor they glided with the tide into a sheltered nook at the mouth of the Slan River, which appears to have been the stream that flows from Raholp, between the townland of Ballintogher and Kingban, and there the tired crew hid their boat beneath the branches, and went ashore ‘to put off their weariness, and rest themselves on the bank of the stream.’ This incident serves to explain one of the stanzas in Fiacc’s Life of St. Patrick, which otherwise would not be easily understood:

In (the fountain) Slan, in the region of Benna Boirche, which neither drought nor flood affected,

He sang a hundred psalms every night; to the angels’ King he was a servant.

He slept on a bare flagstone there, with a wet mantle round him,

A pillar-stone was his bolster;

He left not his body in warmth.

The fountain Slan (the healer) is now known as the Wells of Struell, near Saul, ‘where is—or used to be—a great station and a drinking well, and a bathing well, blessed by the Saint.’ He slept, tradition says, in the rocky caves whence the waters flow, the mantle around him was surely cold and wet, for the spray and the damp air would make it so. His ‘bolster’ is there, a pillar-stone, still pointed out, but it is outside the cave. There he sang his psalms and chastised his body, and there his spiritual children have done penance for over 1,200 years. It was a cold perennial fountain, unaffected, apparently, by drought or flood: so tradition verifies every incident of the ancient Life.






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