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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

As we have just seen, St. Patrick on his second missionary journey from Tara went first due west to Delvin, where he founded many churches. Thence he proceeded south-west towards Lough Ennel, south of Mullingar, where he baptised the men of that neighbourhood, but we are told nothing of their rulers. Thence, going north-east of the lakes, he founded several churches, until he came to the northern limits of the royal territories at Ath Maigne. He did not then cross the ford on the Inny, but returned to Tara, doubtless revisiting on his way the first churches which he had founded on the banks of the Blackwater.

It is probable that he spent the whole summer of the year A.D. 433 in founding these churches around Tara towards the west, and that he remained during the winter months perhaps with his nephew, St. Lomman of Trim, and the kindly British lady and her children who had received the missionaries so hospitably on their first arrival at her doors. No doubt there was plenty of work to do in his immediate neighbourhood, even during the short winter days, and Patrick was not the man to make delay in doing the work of God.

With the spring—the early spring—of the year 434 he once more set out from Tara, and again journeyed westward, visiting his recently founded churches till he came to Uisneach.

After Tara Uisneach was the most famous of the old historic hills of Erin. It was at first called—and it deserved the name—Caen-druim, ‘the Beautiful Hill.’ Originally it belonged to Connaught, of which it formed the eastern outpost, but as we all have already seen it was made part of Meath by Tuathal Teachtmhar, in the second century of the Christian Era.

From immemorial ages it had been the great meeting place of all the chiefs and tribes of Erin, who celebrated religious games there, as men did in ancient Greece, at least once every seven years. For this purpose it was admirably suited, for it was the very centre of the kingdom, extremely fertile, and well supplied not only with grass and water, but also with sheltered valleys on its wide-spreading flanks, where all the hosts of Erin might find shelter and abundant food for their sheep and cattle. We have walked to its summit and closely observed all its natural features. The rich grass, knee deep, on which the bullocks grow fat for the English market, is very remarkable on a hill reaching the height of over 600 feet. Then it has a great area, so that there are on its slopes four or five plateaux with deep sheltered valleys, where the flocks could be penned, and the provincial kings with their followers might find ample accommodation, yet perfectly distinct and well marked off from the camping ground of their neighbours, all around the hill. This was most important, for by that means the risk of a collision between the rival chiefs was diminished. From its summit there is a prospect of far-reaching grandeur, for the eye can range over the whole centre of Ireland from the Shannon to the Dublin Mountains, except at one point where Rosemount hill breaks the distant view for a little space on the west. On the summit of the hill, between two long ridges, there is a wide depression containing a small lake and a perennial fountain. This lake at different points would be accessible to all the hosts of Erin without confusion, so that from every point of view the hill was, without doubt, the most convenient in all Ireland to be a meeting place for the tribes of Erin. It is a lonely place now, fertile and well watered as of yore; but the cattle have taken the place of men, and where all the sons of the Gael were wont to assemble to celebrate their national games for a fortnight or three weeks in ancient days, one might now wander for a long summer’s day and not meet a living soul to break the silence of the great lone wide-spreading hill. All that remains of the past is the mighty Rock of the Mearings.

It is said by Keating that King Tuathal erected a palace on the summit of the hill for his own temporary residence; but it appears also that the right was reserved to the King of Connaught of getting a horse and harness from each of the great chiefs who came to celebrate the games. The site of this palace or dun can still be traced on the crown of the hill; and not far off, beside the lake, are the remains of the church which Patrick founded there, for the Tripartite expressly says that he founded there a cloister or monastic church. No doubt, the palace on the hill belonged to Laeghaire himself, and it was in virtue of his permission, as owner-in-chief, that Patrick founded his church on its summit.

But two of his brothers, sons of Niall the Great, who dwelt at or near Uisneach, ‘came against Patrick,’ that is, opposed him in building the church and preaching to his converts. Their names were Fiacha and Enda, and very rudely they opposed Patrick, driving him and his ‘family’ away from the famous hill. Then Patrick, as was his custom, denounced God’s vengeance against the enemies of the Gospel. “A curse,” he said—“be on the stones of Uisneach,” interposed Sechnall, his nephew, who was standing by, and wished to divert the curse of Patrick from the men to the stones. “Be it so, then,” said Patrick; and so it was fulfilled. The crumbling, impure limestone of Uisneach became good for nothing—‘not even washing stones are made of them,’ adds the author of the Tripartite.

But there was a great difference between the two brothers. Fiacha persisted in his opposition, and refused to be baptised, although it seems Patrick paid him a visit at his own fort at Carn Fiachach, which is close to Uisneach. Not so Enda; he received baptism, and in a spirit of great self-denial he offered to Patrick, for God’s service, his infant son, Cormac, who had been born the night before; and with the child, as its dowry for fosterage, he offered also every ninth ‘ridge’ of land that Enda possessed throughout Ireland, and King Laeghaire afterwards confirmed the donation, allowing Enda to alienate to the Church for that purpose fifteen senchleithe or townlands, which Laeghaire had himself given to his brother Enda in the province of Connaught, hence called Enda Artech; and the name still survives, as we shall see further on.

In connection with this donation the Tripartite here anticipates several events by way of interlude, for it tells us that Patrick handed over the child to be fostered by four of his own household, who were also his nephews—to wit, Bishop Domnall, Coimid Maccu Baird, Da Bonne Maccu Baird, and another. Those holy prelates after a while sent for the child and had him trained up in his father’s territory of Enda Artech, where they themselves had got their churches. Bishop Domnall was established at Ailech Mor, called also Ailech Artech, near Castlemore, at Ballaghadereen. Bishop Coimed set up at Cluain Senmail, now Cloonshanville, near Frenchpark, and Bishop Da Bonne at Kilnamanach, in the same neighbourhood. The land belonged to their young pupil, Cormac, who became afterwards, it appears, St. Patrick’s successor at Armagh, and in recognition of the rights of Armagh, it was usual for each of these churches on All Saints’ Day to send a cow to the successor of Patrick in acknowledgment of the fact that Cormac was his daltha, and that Patrick himself was the chief fosterer of that saint. That ‘servitude’ of the churches of Enda Airtech continued until it was remitted by Nuada, Abbot of Armagh, in A.D. 810.

Cormac was known as Cormac Snithene, and Snithene’s field is before Dermag Cule Cœnnai, and Snithene’s tree also, showing the place where the youth was fostered; but the field itself was never given to Armagh, much to the regret of Patrick’s community there, as the Tripartite expressly tells us. But all this is an episode in the Tripartite story of the doings of Patrick.

From Uisneach Patrick went to a place called Lecan Midhe, and there he left a number of his household, with Crumaine as their Superior. There can be no doubt that this Lecan of Meath was the old church near the Inny Junction, to the south, which has given its name to the modern parish of Lackan. Patrick founded a church there about two miles south of the Junction between the railway and the river, and we are told that he left with the family of Lackan relics of the saints, according to his custom. It is probable that this was the Meath estate of Enda, whom he baptised there, and after making this excursion towards the north he returned again southwards to Uisneach, and thence prosecuted his journey west by Templepatrick to Moyvore, founding churches along his route.






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