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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Patrick now went north from Magh Ai to the Gregraide of Lough Techet. This is the beautiful and well-known lake south-west of Boyle, now called Lough Gara. The railway to Sligo beyond Boyle gives some picturesque glimpses of the lake as well as of the Boyle river, which carries its superfluous waters through that town down to Lough Key on their way to join the Shannon. The ‘Greagraidhe,’ as they are called in the Book of Rights, occupied the territory around the lake, which is now known as the barony of Coolavin. They had migrated into this territory from Ulster, for they were descended from Aengus Fionn, who was a king of that province in the first century. Another colony of the same tribe were settled on the right bank of the Moy, and they were a rude and ill-conditioned people.

There, east of the lake, “Patrick founded a church, to wit, in Drumne, and by it he dug a well, and it hath no stream flowing into it or out of it; yet it is for ever full, and hence its name ‘Bithlan,’ that is, the ‘Everfull.’ ” It is there still, and is ever full, as of yore, under the shade of an ancient ash, about three miles from Boyle, on the right side of the road to Frenchpark. The spot cannot be mistaken, for it is still called St. Patrick’s Well. But the church has disappeared, only the church-yard remains.

“After that he founded Cell Atrachta in Gregraide, and he placed therein Talan’s daughter, who took the veil from Patrick’s hand, and he left a paten and chalice with her.” She is there described as the daughter of Talan of the Gregraide of Loch Techet, a sister of Coeman of Airtne Coeman. Patrick blessed the veil for her head, and at the time they were biding in Drumana; ‘but Machara is now the name of the place,’ adds the Tripartite. A ‘casula’ was sent from Heaven into Patrick’s bosom, whilst they were biding there. “Let this casula (or chasuble) be thine, O nun,” said Patrick; “not so,” she said, “for it has been given not to me but to thy Beatitude.”

This is an interesting narrative, and the local details are strikingly like the truth; yet there are difficulties about the chronology. According to the statement here given by the Tripartite, which is in all points confirmed by Tirechan, an older authority, this Saint Attracta, as she is now called, must have been at least some sixteen years of age when she received the veil from St. Patrick, most probably about the year 437 or 438. It is not likely, therefore, that she lived much beyond the fifth century; yet her Life, as given by Colgan, represents the saint as contemporary with Saint Nathy and other personages, who flourished in the sixth and early part of the seventh century. But these stories cannot be accepted as authentic, or must be referred to her successors at Killaraght rather than to herself. The place called the Maghera seems to have been on the south shore of the lake which still forms a part of the parish of Killaraght, and contains an ancient grave-yard close to the shore, which was probably the site of the nunnery. There is no saint of the diocese of Achonry more celebrated than Attracta. Numerous old churches and holy wells throughout the whole diocese still bear her name, which is also intimately associated with the folk-lore of the district. It is interesting to note that she was a sister of St. Coemhan of Airtne, which some take to be the most easterly of the three islands of Aran. This island was always known as Ara Coemhan, because he was its patron saint, and if we accept the authority of the Tripartite, he was not a brother of St. Kevin of Glendalough, as O’Flaherty says, but rather of Saint Attracta of Loch Techet. We must assume, therefore, that he was born in that neighbourhood, and that his father was Talan, chief of the district around the lake. His beautiful little church in Inisheer still stands, and is dear to the natives of the island, who often visit his grave, and never fail to invoke the powerful name of Coemhan when the tempests of the wild west rage around their little boats, and they believe their own beloved saint seldom fails to watch over them and calm the angry waters.

Both Attracta, then, and her brother Coemhan were children of Talan, a chief of the Gregraide of Loch Techet. This tribe were descended from Cufinn, otherwise called Aengus Finn, a son of the famous Fergus MacRoy. The modern half barony of Coolavin (Cuil-o bh-Finn) takes its name from the descendants of this ancient hero, and represents their territory around Lough Gara. As a body they might be described as a bad lot in the time of St. Patrick, and he foretold that their name and power would disappear from the land—a prediction that has been completely fulfilled.

Patrick did not then cross the lake to the north, but he went further on towards Boyle to preach to the sons of Erc, ‘at the place where the nuns now live,’ says Tirechan. But the godless crew stole the Saint’s horses, at the Ford of the Sons of Erc, whereupon he cursed them, and said—“Your offspring shall serve the offspring of your brethren for ever,” and so it came to pass. Tirechan tells us that these things took place on the southern shore of the Boyle River at Eas Mic n-Eirc, now called the Assylin, which was an ancient ford on the Boyle River, just at the point where the railway now crosses it. The nunnery was near the ford.

Patrick did not then cross the dark Curlieu Hills, but turned back again to the south-west by Frenchpark and Loughglynn and came into Magh Airtig, which he blessed. Artagh, as it is now called, still retains the ancient name, and it is said by O’Donovan to contain the parishes of Tibohine and Kilnamanagh, in the north-west corner of the County Roscommon. It is sometimes called Ciarraige Airtech, because this district was inhabited by a tribe of colonists from Kerry, who had originally settled further west, as we shall presently see. It is merely stated in the Tripartite that Patrick blessed ‘Ailech Artig in Telach na cloch,’ but Tirechan says he returned (from Assylin) to Magh Airtech, and he founded the church of Senchell in that plain; and then blessed the place called Tulach Lapidum, which is manifestly the same name as Telach na cloch. It appears to be the place now called Tullaghan Rock, the last part of which is obviously a corruption, and is situated near Edmonstown House, close to Ballaghadereen. The ‘old church,’ in the plain, was, probably situated in the ancient graveyard, which may still be seen a little to the left of the road, about a mile from Lung Bridge, at the mearing of the county. This was what is now called ‘Artagh North.’ Thence he went further on towards the south-west, to ‘Drummat Ciarraigi,’ now the townland of Drummad, in the parish of Tibohine, and in the electoral division of ‘Artagh South,’ which shows in what a remarkable way the ancient names have been preserved in this district.

Here he found two brothers, Bibar and Lochru, sons of Tamanchann of the Ciarraige, fighting with swords about their father’s land after his death. Patrick, whilst yet an acre away from them, blessed their hands, doubtless by making the sign of the cross, ‘and their hands stiffened around their sword-hilts, so that they could neither stretch them nor lower them.’ Then Patrick said—“Sit ye still,” and he made peace between them. Then they gave the land to Patrick for the good of their father’s soul; and Patrick founded a church therein, in which he placed Conn the artificer, brother of Bishop Sachell of Baslic. The ancient graveyard, north of Drumlough Wood, in all probability marks the site of this Patrician church, which was thus in the very centre of this extensive but barren district. Two centuries later St. Baithen built a church in the same parish, which has given it its present title of Tibohine; but from the account given in his Life, as sketched by Colgan, we gather that he was a great grandson of that Enda whom St. Patrick had baptised at Uisneach, and that he inherited this Patrician church in Tir ‘Enda’ of Airtech as a matter of spiritual inheritance belonging to his tribe.






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