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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

And there it was the swineherd of Dichu, son of Trichem, found them ‘in the stead wherein to-day stands Saball-Patraic,’ that is Patrick’s Barn. They had, it is said, advanced ‘a little distance,’ from the place where they landed, but not quite a mile, when the swineherd saw them. To him they were strangers, and sailors, who had come stealthily in; and perhaps he had seen them hide their boat in the estuary of the stream. No wonder he mistook ‘the sages and clerics’ for robbers and thieves, and that he returned quickly to his master, and told him about the lurking strangers he had seen. Then Dichu came with his dog—perhaps a fine wolf-dog—and he set his dog at the strangers, whereupon Patrick, full of the words and spirit of the Scriptures, chanted the prophet’s verse—‘Ne tradas Domine bestiis animas confitentes tibi,’ ‘Leave not the souls that confess to thee, O Lord, a prey to the beasts,’—surely a most appropriate and mighty prayer at the moment, and thereupon ‘the dog became silent.’ He barked no more in anger at the strangers. At the same moment his master’s heart was touched too, and by the same divine power When Dichu saw Patrick ‘grief of heart seized him;’ he believed, and Patrick baptised him. We are not told how long it took for his instruction and his preparation. But the very sight of the clerics had changed his heart and filled it with remorse. They were not robbers or pirates, those white-robed, mild-eyed men. Their message was a message of peace and love. He believed—this bold chieftain—the first of all the men of the North who believed in Patrick’s God, and was baptised by the Saint—perhaps in the fountain Slan, now in truth the Healer. And his was not a faith of words, but of deeds, for we are told that at once he gave his Barn to Patrick, and that Saball or Saul, whose name will never be forgotten in Ireland, became, so far as we know, the first Christian church in Ireland, at least it was the first consecrated edifice of all the land of Ireland, in which Patrick offered the Holy Sacrifice, whereupon the grateful Saint blessed Dichu for his generous gift to the Church of God, and it was a bountiful blessing to himself, to his posterity, to his flocks and to his herds.

God’s blessing on Dichu,

Who gave me the Barn.

May he have hereafter

A heavenly home, bright, pure and great,

God’s blessing on Dichu—

On Dichu and his children;

No child of his or grandchild

Whose life will not be long.

And in some sort that blessing is still fulfilled in Lecale. Dichu’s offspring, in spite of John De Curci and Cromwell and the rest, are there still. Old Lecale has still nearly two-thirds of its population Catholic—Catholic of the Catholic, men who have made every sacrifice for the faith. Even the invaders there have kept the faith, and some of the followers of John De Curci in Lecale have fought as noble a battle for the Church, as the ancient Celtic race who held that fair land before the Norman built his castles in Dundrum or Downpatrick.

Lecale itself is a very interesting district for many reasons, but chiefly because it was the cradle of the faith in Ireland.

Lecale consists of the two baronies that bear the name, Upper and Lower Lecale, on the southern coast of the Co. Down, between the Bay of Dundrum and Strangford Lough, anciently known as Lough Cuan. It is nearly an island surrounded by the sea on all sides except for about three miles, where the railway now runs from the head of Dundrum Bay to the Head of Strangford Lough, at its south-western corner. It is a fertile, undulating plain, anciently called, with great propriety, Magh Inis, the Island Plain, of high fertility, but, from its exposure to the sea, nearly destitute of trees. Its ancient rulers were the chieftains of the Dal Fiatach race, who, although Ulidians, did not belong to the Clanna Rury, but to the Heremonian race, and gave many kings to the Southern Picts of Dalaradia. Dichu, son of Trichem, belonged to the same royal line of the Dal Fiatach, and he appears to have had his residence at Durlas, the Strong Dun, afterwards known as Downpatrick.

When John de Curci invaded Ulster in 1177, with a soldier’s eye he saw the strength of the position and the fertility of the soil. So he drove out the natives, but not without difficulty, and occupied their lands, in which he built two strong castles to defend his conquests on the site of the ancient forts of the native chieftains—one at Dundrum and the other at Downpatrick. He then divided most of the fertile peninsula between his chief followers—the Savages, Russells, Fitzsimonses, Audleys, Jordans, and Bensons—some of whom have kept their lands and their faith down to our own times. We are told also that when the Catholics were expelled from other parts of the County Down in Cromwell’s time many of them found refuge in Lecale with the Norman settlers; and hence it has continued to be the most Catholic part of the County Down up to the present, for out of a population of about 20,000, in round numbers, probably 13,000 are Catholics. The whole barony is filled with the sites of ancient churches, holy wells, strong castles, and Celtic duns, so that there is, perhaps, no part of Ireland of the same size more interesting than Lecale. Some of these ancient sites we shall treat of more fully hereafter in this present work.

Saul is about two miles from Downpatrick to the east, and about one mile to the south-west of the place where St. Patrick landed.

The name certainly means a ‘barn’ in Gaelic; and the church most probably got the name, not from the fact that it was one of a special set of churches that ran north and south, but rather from the fact that it was a barn, which was consecrated as a church, and retained the ancient name in memory of its ancient use.

There is no evidence that St. Patrick founded a church at Downpatrick on the occasion of this, his first visit, to Lecale. Dichu dwelt there, and at the time his dun was called Rath Celtair; but at a later period it came to be called Dun-da-leth-glass—the Rath of the Two Broken Fetters. When it became famous as the burial-place of St. Patrick a great church was built there, and it was made the cathedral of the diocese. But even in St. Patrick’s time it must be regarded as the chief cathair or city of the kingdom, not only of Lecale, but of South Dalaradia; and it has maintained its position of county town and cathedral church, at least to some extent, ever since.

It was the invariable custom of St. Patrick, so far as we can judge, when coming into any new tribe or territory, to go first to the Rath or Dun of the ‘King,’ for his subjects dare not become Christians without his sanction, or, at least, his toleration. We may assume, too, that St. Patrick in making his way through Strangford Lough to Saul, simply sought, not merely a secure haven, but also the easiest way to reach the dun of the King of South Ulidia. Perhaps he acquired some knowledge of the place during the six years he spent as a slave in the County Antrim; and, in any case, he could readily have obtained information enough at the Boyne Mouth to enable him to reach Downpatrick. It was not by chance, but of fixed purpose, that he and his companions found themselves on the territory of Dichu, son of Trichem. It is probable that Patrick lived in Lecale during the winter months of 432. For he must have come there late in the season, and now had a church for himself and his companions, as well as a friendly Christian prince, to supply them with the necessaries of life. So we may fairly conclude that he did not make his way to Milcho in the far north until the early spring. It was a long road to travel, especially if he went on foot, and we are expressly told by Probus that it was a journey on foot—pedestri itinere. Yet, as the Apostle was certainly anxious to visit his old master, he may have taken the earliest opportunity that presented itself in the closing weeks of 432 to accomplish the journey, and, old as he then was, winter travelling had no terrors for him.

But Milcho was by no means anxious to meet his ancient slave. One account tells us that Patrick sought to reach him first directly by sea, landing somewhere about Larne or Glenarm, the nearest seaports in the kingdom of Milcho, but he repelled Patrick and his companions by violence, and would not suffer him to effect a landing in his territory. But this story is improbable, and inconsistent with the simple narratives in the Lives.






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