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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

St. Patrick, by his victory over the Druids at Tara and his alliance with the King, had gained two great advantages. He was now free to preach the Gospel, not only in Meath, but throughout Ireland generally, and Laeghaire also pledged his royal word to secure his personal safety, which, so far as we can judge, he faithfully kept. He was at heart a stern old pagan, and though he yielded ‘obedience and submission’ to Patrick, he would not believe ‘from his heart’ and become a true Christian. “Niall,” he said, “my father, when he heard the Druids’ prophecy regarding the coming of the faith, enjoined me not to believe, but that I should live a pagan and should be buried in the topmost part of Tara like warlike men;” for it was a not unfrequent custom of the heathen warriors to be buried standing up and clothed in their armour with their face to the foe. And so it came to pass. Laeghaire was buried, like his sires, in the ridge of his own royal rath, standing up, with sword and spear, facing the men of Leinster, whom he hated, until the day of doom. One cannot but feel some admiration for the stern old warrior, ‘whose honour rooted in dishonour stood.’ He would not accept the new faith; he would keep the faith he pledged to his great father Niall; and he would also keep his word to Patrick. He said in effect: ‘I cannot believe without breaking my word and forgiving the Leinster men, and I am not prepared to do either.’ Yet he knelt to Patrick, we are told, and believed in God, ‘but not with a pure heart.’ It was merely an external profession of faith; still his subjects believed, and on that day, we are told, many thousands of them accepted the new faith and were baptised. Laeghaire, too, was allowed to retain his throne because of his submission; but in punishment of his unbelief no King or Crown Prince of his seed, save only Lugaid his son, was destined thereafter to rule over Royal Tara.

Before giving an account of Patrick’s preaching in Meath, it may be useful to say a few words of the Royal Province.

The history of Tara itself goes back to immemorial time. We find it mentioned by the Bards as a royal residence under all the High Kings of Erin. Slainge, the first king of the Firbolgs, is said to have built his royal rath on the ‘hill of Temur,’ as it is called in Irish, and from his time onward, under the kings of the Firbolg, De Danaan, and Milesian race, it continued to be a royal residence. To Ollamh Fodla is attributed the establishment of the Feis of Tara, but his reign only glimmers through the shadowy cloudland of bardic tradition. When we come, however, to the second century of the Christian Era we find ourselves on firmer ground. Tuathal Teachtmar reigned for thirty years (130–160), and must be regarded as the real founder of Tara. When he came to the throne of Erin he convoked a Feis, or National Assembly, of his nobles and chiefs on the Royal Hill, and bound them, under a most solemn oath, by all the gods and elements, to maintain him and his posterity against all rivals of any other race in the supreme sovereignty of the kingdom at Tara, ‘so long as Erin was surrounded by the sea.’ Then to maintain the dignity and power of the King of Tara he took a portion from each of the four provincial kings to form a fifth province, of which Tara was made the capital, and the chief stronghold of the High Kings of his race. From Munster he took Tlachtga, the rich territory south of the Hill of Ward, near Athboy, which was then the northern limit of the Munster kingdom. From Connaught he took the famous Hill of Uisneach and all the territory westward to the Shannon. From Ulster he took Tailteann, with the fertile plains north of the Boyne and Blackwater to the very roots of the Ulster hills; and from Leinster he took the great Bregian Plain—Magh Breagh—between the Boyne and the Liffey—of which Tara itself was the capital and stronghold.

In this way the great principality of Meath was formed, which extended from the Shannon to the sea, and from Slieve Bloom to Dundalk, or, at least, to the Fane River, beyond the town of Louth.

In later times this great principality was divided into eleven sub-kingdoms, each of considerable extent, as set forth in the Book of Rights, which was originally composed by Benignus, the disciple of St. Patrick. We shall have occasion to refer to several of these sub-kingdoms in recording the missionary journeys of our Saint.

Tara, being the capital of the kingdom, was in direct communication with all the provincial kingdoms. Five great roads led from Tara to all parts of Ireland; and it may be said that they followed to some extent the direction of the great railway lines which now radiate from Dublin throughout the country. We shall find, as might be expected, that Patrick, who had a numerous retinue, followed in his missionary journeys the line of these roads, diverting from them, however, as occasion required.

On entering a new territory or sub-kingdom, Patrick always went, if he could, straight to the residence of the king or chief, to secure his protection, and, if possible, his conversion. If the chief and his friends accepted the faith, and received baptism, there would be little difficulty in dealing with the tribesmen. Frequently, however, some members of the Royal family would readily accept the faith; while others remained hostile and intractable. In dealing with those refractory chiefs Patrick showed at once great courage and great prudence. Sometimes, as he tells us, he even made presents to them and to their sons, in order to win their good-will for the propagation of the Gospel.

His first request was always for permission to build a church, which was seldom refused, for the refusal was nearly always visibly punished by some Divine chastisement.

In founding his churches it was Patrick’s custom, as a rule, to build them near the dun or rath of the chief, in order that the clergy might thus be protected from the hostility of marauders or other foes; and frequently the chief gave one of his own duns for the purpose. These considerations will help to guide us in trying to trace out the missionary journeys of the Saint, not only in Meath, but throughout the country generally. We must remember, too, that on these journeys the Saint was attended by a number of clerics—bishops, priests, and others of inferior grade—who had come with him from abroad, or afterwards joined him when his success was known to be assured. He also took with him several young clerics like Guasacht and Benignus, whom he wished to be trained up for the service of the Church under his own guidance. Similar itinerant schools of bards and brehons were quite usual in Erin; and, in truth, Patrick had for a time no resource except to follow their example.

When the strife with the Druids was over on that memorable Easter Sunday, the 2nd of April, A.D. 433, according to Lanigan, Patrick heard of the arrival of the boat which he had left at the mouth of the Boyne, under care of Lomman, with instructions ‘to row against the stream.’ It had come to the Ford of Trim, and, so far as we can judge, the Apostle set out on Easter Sunday in the afternoon to meet his nephew at the hospitable home of the kindly British matron who had received Lomman with so warm a welcome. The story, as given in the Tripartite, is full of interest, and bears intrinsic evidence of its own authenticity—it never could have been invented.

It would appear that Lomman had worked his curragh against the stream up to the ford of Trim—Ath Truim—late in the evening, and remained there during the night. At dawn of day, Fortchern, son of Fedilmid, going down to the river, found Lomman ‘with his Gospel before him’—perhaps saying Mass. Now, it was a strange sight, to see the British cleric with his companions thus engaged in Divine worship at dawn of day by the fords of Trim. It would seem Fortchern waited a little, and then made inquiry as to the strangers’ purpose. They told him in few and simple words; and we are told that the doctrine he heard was to him a marvel. But he received the Good Tidings in a spirit of faith; and, believing, was baptised by Lomman in the ‘open well’ close at hand. It is, we believe, there still; and reveals one of those unconscious touches which furnish the most striking evidence of the authenticity of the story. These events occupied some time, possibly some hours; until at length the mother of Fortchern, wondering what kept him away so long from home, came down herself from the dun to the river to ascertain the cause of the delay. And there she found her son still listening to the teaching of Lomman; and she marvelled greatly to hear him speak in her own British tongue, ‘for she herself was of the Britons,’ and was rejoiced to see her countrymen, to whom she gave most cordial greeting. Like her son, she believed, and was doubtless baptised, and then, returning home, she told her husband all that had taken place. Thereupon he, too, was rejoiced at the arrival of the clerics from Britain, because his own mother had been the daughter of a British king, and bore the beautiful name of Scoth Noe—the Fresh Flower. Coming down to the bank of the Boyne, he saluted the strangers in their own British tongue, and then made full enquiry about Lomman’s family, and the new religion which he preached. The other replied—‘I am Lomman, a Briton and a Christian, a disciple of Patrick, the Bishop, who has been sent by the Lord to baptise and convert the Irish people to the faith of Christ, who also sent me in accordance with God’s will.’

Thereupon Fedilmid and all his family believed, and in the first fervour of his young faith he offered Ath-Truim to God and to Patrick, and to Lomman, and to his own son Fortchern, for ever.






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