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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

ST. PATRICK’S visit to Magh Slecht is, next to his great conflict with the Druids of Tara, the most noteworthy incident in his missionary career. It is very briefly narrated in two short paragraphs of the Tripartite, but we must examine it at greater length.

‘Thereafter (that is, after he left Granard) he went over the water to Magh Slecht, the place in which was the chief idol of Ireland, namely, Crom Cruaich, covered with gold and silver, and twelve other idols covered with brass, about him.’ The water here referred to seems to be the chain of small lakes stretching from Drumshambo Lough to Gulladoo Lough on the borders of Co. Cavan. There are eleven or twelve of them in all, and they form the mearing line between Longford and Leitrim in modern, as they probably did between Teffia and Magh Rein in ancient, times.

It is expressly stated by Tirechan that Patrick went from Granard into Magh Rein, and therein ordained Priest Bruscus, and founded a church for him in that place. It is not easy to identify this church or Priest Bruscus, of whom the following curious story is told by Tirechan:—After his death he appeared to another saint who dwelt in Inchicairbre—in Latin, Insula generis Cothirbi—and said to him: “It is well for you whilst you have your son with you, but I am afflicted in death, for I am alone in the desert and my church is deserted and empty; no priests offer the Sacrifice near me.” For three nights the island saint had the same vision, so on the morning of the third day he rose early, and taking pick, shovel, and spade, he opened the lonely grave of Bruscus and carried off his bones with him to his own island, where they rested in peace. It would be interesting to identify this island, but even 1,000 years ago the scribe in the Book of Armagh noted on the margin that the place was uncertain. Perhaps it was Church Island in Garadice Lough. There was certainly an ancient church on the island, but whether it was the one here referred to or not is still uncertain.

In its wider sense, Magh Rein designated the whole of the great undulating plain of southern Leitrim, but it was more properly applied to the fertile plain around Fenagh, which in all the old books is called Fenagh of Magh Rein, for it was its capital and religious centre. There is a Lough Rein a little to the north of Fenagh, which probably gave its name to the plain, and the lake itself was so called from Rein, the nurse of Cobhthach, son of King Conaing. The youth was drowned in the lake, and his nurse, in trying to save him, also perished there, but gave her name to the lake for ever.

From immemorial ages Fenagh of Magh-Rein was famed in bardic story, and was, certainly, both in pagan and Christian times, one of the great religious centres of the land. Its ancient name was Dunbaile, and before the Conmaicne established themselves in Magh-Rein, this territory as well as Magh Slecht was held by a Firbolgic tribe, named the Maisraige, who were certainly there in the time of St. Patrick, since they slew Conal Gulban near Fenagh in A.D. 464, a deed of which they greatly boasted, for he was the bravest of all the sons of Niall the Great.

Magh Slecht lay to the east of Magh Rein, but O’Donovan is not accurate in saying that no part of it lay in the County Leitrim. The entry in the Annals of the Four Masters, under date A.D. 1256, proves that beyond doubt a great part of the parish of Oughteragh, north of Ballinamore, formed a part of Magh Slecht. It is true that it also extended into the modern County Cavan, comprehending the level part of the barony of Tullyhaw, through which the light railway now passes, by Ballymagauran to Ballyconnell, in County Cavan. Magh Slecht formed a part of what was afterwards called Breifne O’Reilly, but Magh Rein belonged to Breifne O’Rorke, the dividing line being marked by the existing boundary between the diocese of Kilmore and of Ardagh. The parish of Oughteragh is in the diocese of Kilmore, and its boundary passes about one mile north of Fenagh and less than a mile south of Edentinny, the last-named being thus a part of Magh Slecht.






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