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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Tailteann or Telltown was from immemorial ages the great marriage mart of Erin, not an assembly for political or religious purposes, but for amusement. The marriage fair was celebrated about the 1st of August, or, more correctly, on the last Sunday of Summer, and traces of its existence are still to be found in connection with Garland Sunday. But this meeting at Telltown was not the regular annual gathering, but a special meeting in connection, no doubt, with the great gathering of the princes on Tara Hill a few days before. Telltown, on the left bank of the Blackwater, is about nine miles to the north-west of Tara, so there would be no difficulty in the chiefs and warriors of Tara making their way to the great games on the banks of the Blackwater. On this occasion we are told that Patrick blessed the green or place of assembly at Telltown, ‘so that no corpse will ever be carried away from it.’ The blessing must have been a strong one, for although the law forbade all riots at such assemblies, it was not always observed by the passionate warriors of Erin.

Patrick never missed an opportunity of doing his Master’s work, and therefore went to the Telltown meeting on that Easter Monday, for he knew he would thus have an opportunity of meeting the men and maids of Erin in great numbers; and he went there, too, which was very important, under the safe conduct of the King of Tara.

No doubt it was that safe conduct saved his life. We have already seen how the wicked Cairbre received Patrick, and how he treated his servants and followers, and, doubtless, he would have slain the Saint if he dared. But the journey was not without happy results. Patrick was, it would appear, driven away from Telltown by Cairbre, but turning aside he went to visit Conall, son of Niall, ‘who dwelt at the place wherein stands Donaghpatrick to-day.’ Unlike the graceless Cairbre, Conall received the saint ‘with great joy,’ and Patrick baptised him, ‘and confirmed his throne for ever.’ Moreover, Patrick said, “Thy brothers’ seed shall serve thy seed for ever, thee and thy sons, and thy sons’ sons, so that it may be an enduring blessing for my faithful children.” And so, we may add, it came to pass, for most of the kings of Tara in after times were sprung from this Prince Conall; and of Cairbre there was only one, namely, Tuathal Maelgarbh, who is said to have been a grandson of Cairbre, and was slain in A.D. 543 by Diarmaid Mac Cerbhaill, a grandson of this Conall Cremthainn. Yet Cairbre was, next to his brother Conall Gulban, amongst the bravest of the sons of Niall the Great. He gained several battles over the Leinstermen, especially the two great battles of Granard in 485 and in 494; and another so late as 500 at Magh Ailbhe, in the County Kildare. In the former the Leinstermen were the aggressors, but Cairbre drove them back to Kildare, and defeated them at home like a true son of the Great Niall. We shall hear of him again on the banks of the Erne, and find him there, too, acting in the same bad spirit as he did on the banks of the Blackwater.

Now, Prince Conall received Patrick with joy after Cairbre’s rude repulse, and gave him the place of a church—the second in Meath—near his own fort, which was called Raith Airthir, a name still surviving in Orristown. ‘He measured out the site of a church for God and for Patrick with sixty feet of his own feet’—that is, it was sixty feet long, but the breadth is not specified. It was, however, according to that scale of length, about 26 feet broad; and Patrick foretold that only one slaughter should profane the holy ground, which took place at a much later date, and is recorded in the Tripartite. This church was founded during Easter week, and was probably dedicated for Divine worship on the following Sunday. Hence, like so many other churches founded by the Saint, it came to be called Domnach Patraic (Donaghpatrick), and it still retains the name, and gives title to a parish, about three miles northwest of Navan, on the left bank of Blackwater. Patrick left his flag-stone there, too—that is, a portable altar containing relics of the saints—with some of his people to attend to the religious services of the church; and he said, “Whoever shall profane this church, his life and his realm shall be soon cut off.” And that prediction was afterwards verified in the case of Cinaed, son of Irgalach, King of Tara, who slew a man that had fled for sanctuary to the church. Thereupon drops of blood began to flow from Patrick’s altar-stone, until reparation was partially made by bestowing on the church three townlands as an eric. Final reparation was not, however, made until the prediction was fulfilled, and Cinaed himself was slain in battle. Donaghpatrick continued to be an important religious centre for many centuries, although it was more than once plundered by the Danes. The ancient building has, we believe, entirely disappeared; but the old churchyard is still a favourite burying place, and the ashes of many generations of holy men rest in peace beneath its sacred sod.

When this Easter week was over, Patrick went further up the river on the Monday after Low Sunday—the close of the Paschal octave—as far as Ath-da-laarg, the Ford of the Two Forks, where Kells was afterwards founded by Columcille. And there he founded a church, in which he left three brothers and their sister, who were of his household, and seem to have accompanied him from Britain—that is, Cathaceus, Cathurus, Catneus, and their sister was Catnea, a holy virgin of great meekness, who used to milk the wild hinds, ‘for so,’ says Tirechan, ‘we have heard the elders say.’ Patrick also founded another church in the same neighbourhood, called Drum Corcortri, and he left therein Diarmaid, son of Restitutus the Lombard; and hence, it would appear, a nephew of his own. The connection will be more fully discussed hereafter. The old church at the Two Forks was on the river in the modern Headford demesne; Columcille’s later and more famous foundation was a little to the west, at the modern town of Kells.

It was on this same journey, probably when returning to Tara, that Patrick baptised the tribe known as the Luigne, and founded for them the great church of Domnach Mor Maige Echnach, still called Donaghmore, a little to the north of Navan. The tribe-name of the Luigne is still retained in that of the modern barony of Lune; but it is clear from the narrative that in the time of St. Patrick the territory included at least some part of the barony of Lower Navan, in which the church and parish of Donaghmore are situated. The ancient celebrity of the church is still shown by the beautiful round tower built near it, to protect its clerics and its treasures during the raids of the Danes. All these events took place, it would seem, in what was afterwards known as the sub-kingdom of Laeghaire, the mensal lands of the monarch extending from Trim to Tlachtga, near Athboy, and from Navan to Kells, by the Blackwater. It is, perhaps, the most fertile and beautiful part of the Co. Meath, and the very centre of the royal principality.

Patrick placed Presbyter Cassan in Donaghmore; Tirechan puts his name in the list of ‘Patrick’s Franks,’ who, it would appear, accompanied the Saint from Gaul to aid him in preaching the Gospel to the Gael. The Tripartite says he was one of six young clerics, with their books in their girdles, whom Patrick met on his journey either to or from Rome, to which city, it would appear, they were going on their pilgrimage.






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