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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The territory west of this point as far as Lough Ree and south of the Inny River was the ancient kingdom of Cuircne, a name still retained in the district, which, however, is now better known as the barony of Kilkenny West.

Here at the place called in Irish Forgnaide, which bears its name to the present day, Patrick founded a church a little to the south of the Inny, over which either then or at a later period he placed Bishop Munis, who is described as a Briton and brother of St. Mel of Ardagh, and, therefore, Patrick’s nephew.

The entry in the Tripartite regarding these brothers is important. ‘When Patrick went on the sea from Britain to journey to Ireland, Bishop Munis came after him and after his brothers who were with him,’ namely, Bishop Mel of Ardagh, and Rioc, of Inis-bo-fine (in Lough Ree), ‘and they are sons of Conis and Darerca, Patrick’s sister, as the households of their churches say, and that is not to be denied.’ There are, moreover, sisters of these bishops—Eiche, of Kilglass, to the south of Ardagh in Teffia, and Lallocc, of Senlis—that is Fairymount in Connaught; and it is considered that she is the mother of Bard’s sons also, so that Darerca had seven sons and two daughters doing the work of God in Ireland.

This family history will be more fully discussed in the Appendix. But here it is necessary to observe, if we accept the authority of the Tripartite, that Munis followed his brothers Mel, Rioc, and Melchu—whose name is mentioned lower down—to Ireland, that they came with Patrick, although they were not yet bishops, but are so called by anticipation, and that they were of the household of Patrick in Ireland from the beginning. Wherefore Patrick, needing priests and bishops, placed them all over churches in this western part of Meath, just as he had placed Franks and other Britons, his relatives, over several churches in Bregia, because they were already either priests or bishops, or, at least, fit for ordination.

It would seem from the story told in the Tripartite that Patrick did not at first place Munis at Forgney, although he had, doubtless, designated him for that church. For it is implied that Munis accompanied the Saint during his journey through Connaught, and Patrick, who wished to get the new Pope Leo’s blessing upon his work, and also wanted relics for the altars of his new churches, sent Munis from Croaghpatrick to Rome to procure them in the spring of 441. Returning home to Patrick, who was probably still in Connaught, Munis stayed for a night at Clonmacnoise, doubtless waiting to cross the river. Here ‘Patrick’s Leper’ had already set up as a pilgrim, and as he was helpless he asked a stranger to dig a sod for him, from which a well sprang forth, which gave its first name to Clonmacnoise—‘Tibraid, that is the Well,’ and then asked to have his grave made near at hand, because he knew it was destined to become a very holy place, and there, we are told, he was buried.

Now, when Munis came to the place to spend the night there under the hollow elm, he put his case of relics into the hollow of the elm, and as he lay down to rest he saw ‘a service of angels’ over the Leper’s grave, so he knew a saint was buried there. When he sought his reliquary in the morning he found the tree had closed around it, and he was sad thereat. So he went, apparently without the relics, and told Patrick what had happened. “Be not disturbed,” said Patrick, “they are not lost; a son of Life will come there hereafter, who will need them, namely, Ciaran the Wright”—the great founder of Clonmacnoise, and of many other dependent monasteries.

This story is inserted in the Tripartite as a traditional episode in the history of Munis. It was apparently before this journey that Munis had been told by Patrick where he himself was to settle. It was in answer to a question put to Patrick, by Munis, at Ardagh. “My brothers,” he said, “Bishop Mel and Rioc, have got their own places; tell me in what stead am I to be placed?” “There is a good station down below there,” said Patrick, pointing out Forgney, from the high ground at Ardagh, whence it can be distinctly seen about six or seven miles to the south. The text, which is corrupt, seems to imply that there would, in Patrick’s opinion, be more souls going to heaven from Munis’ Church at Forgney than if he were to set up, as it appears he wished, ‘on the high hill yonder,’ perhaps, Bri Leith, near Ardagh. “The lake near it—Forgney,” said Munis, “will be troublesome; I shall have no peace there; the warriors passing there with their shouts and their tumult will leave no life in me.” It would seem that there was a much-frequented pass across the river at Forgney; and ‘the lake’ was a watering place, and, perhaps, a camping place for the hosts of Meath when passing by. Thereupon, Patrick removed the difficulty by his prayers. The Lake of Forgney disappeared; ‘and it is now Loch Croni in Hy Maine.’ There is, or was, a small lake called Lough Croan in the parish of Dysart, west of the Shannon; but it is more likely the alleged ‘translation’ of this lake took place, at least to some extent, by drainage, which formed another lake in Hy Maine, east of Athlone. Tor Maine, son of Niall the Great, ruled this territory, and it is from him that the modern name, the Brawny, is derived. It is a clumsy corruption of Bregh Mhaine, that is the Bregia of Maine.

One thing is clear, the nephews of St. Patrick were located helpfully and conveniently for each other,—Munis, in Forgney, near Ballymahon; Mel, a few miles to the north, with Melchu; his brother Rioc was in Innisboffin, some miles to the west in Lough Ree; and their sister Eiche, a holy nun, was in the church of Kilglass, just three miles south of Ardagh. These undoubted facts will help to explain subsequent events.






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