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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

THENCE from ‘Ciarraige Airtech’ Patrick went further west to ‘Ciarraige Arne,’ where he met Ernaisc and his son, Loarnach, sitting under a tree. And Patrick wrote an alphabet or catechism for the youth Loarnach, and he remained with him—Patrick and his family of twelve men—for a week, or more. And Patrick founded a church in that place, and made him the abbot or superior thereof, and he was, indeed, a man full of the Holy Spirit.

This shows us what we know otherwise must be true—that Patrick spent a week, or sometimes a fortnight, in each new district, preaching, baptising, and building his church with the help of the willing hands of the people. On Sunday he consecrated it; and when he had no man of his own ‘family’ ready to place over it he took some other likely youth, generally a son of the chief, gave him a catechism, taught him how to say his psalter, read his missal and his ritual, and then ordained him for the service of the Church. But these boys were educated youths; they had well-trained memories, for they generally belonged to the schools of the Bards or Brehons, and so in a very short time they could be trained to do the indispensable work of the ministry. But we must also assume that for some time they accompanied the Saint on his missionary journeys in their own neighbourhood, and when that was impossible he left one or more of his own ‘familia’ to give them further instructions and moral guidance.

We find reference in the above passages to three districts called Ciarraige or Kerry, for the name is the same. This tribe, like their namesakes of the South, derived their descent from Ciar, son of Fergus MacRoy and of Meave, Queen of Connaught. It is evident from the Lives of St. Patrick that they were established in Connaught before he began to preach there, in 437, or thereabout. The territory which they inhabited to the west of Cruachan is, perhaps, the poorest and most barren in Ireland, except one district, which contained comparatively good land. That is Ciarraige of Magh Ai, comprehending the parish of Kilkeevan, around Castlerea. Their patron saint in after times was St. Caelainn, a daughter of their own race, whose church and termon land was, says O’Donovan, about one mile east of Castlerea. The second sub-tribe of the Ciarraige were called the Ciarraige of Airtech, in the north-west of Roscommon, of whom we have just spoken. The third division was the Ciarraige of Arne, as the Tripartite calls them, that is those who dwelt around ‘Loch na n-Arneadh,’ as the name is given by O’Donovan, that is the ‘Lake of the Sloe Bushes.’ It is now called Lough Mannin, and is situated about two miles to the north of Ballyhaunis. This is the heart of that wild territory of which three quarters, in Perrott’s composition of Connaught, were taken to be equivalent to one quarter elsewhere. It was a wide desert, including the parishes of Aghamore, Knock, Bekan, and Annagh, desolate, water-logged and wholly undrained, whose marshy flats supply the head waters of the Suck, the Lung, and many tributaries of the Moy, as well as of several other streams that flow westward into Lough Mask and Lough Corrib. That St. Patrick had the courage to travel through it in those ancient days, shows that he was a man to be deterred by no obstacle in the prosecution of his great task.

The church founded by Patrick in this Ciarraige of the Lake, over which he placed Loarnach, is, doubtless, the ancient church of Aghamore, in the very centre of the district, about a mile to the north of the lake, that is, Lough Mannin. But Tirechan adds that either then, or at a later period, Patrick left in the same place, that is, at Aghamore, a certain Medbu, who in his text appears to be the person described as ‘full of the Holy Spirit.’ He was a deacon of Patrick’s family, and appears to have afterwards studied at Armagh, and subsequently founded a church of his at Imgoe Mair Cerrigi, wherever that was—the text is corrupt and uncertain. Aghamore is still a large and very populous parish in the diocese of Tuam, and the modern Catholic church is only a short distance from the site of the ancient church and churchyard. There is a tradition amongst the people that St. Patrick founded his church close to the eastern shore of the lake, beside the holy well that still flows, as of old, under the shadow of an ancient white-thorn. But the building was bodily carried away by the people at a later date, and rebuilt where its ruins still stand, near the village.

Thence Patrick went south by Ballyhaunis, it would appear, and came to Tobur Mucno, where he erected Senchill. There can hardly be a doubt that it is the well now known as Patrick’s Well, or Toburpatrick, about two miles south of Ballyhaunis. This marks the Apostle’s route as due south from Aghamore; and we may fairly assume that the ‘old church.’ founded by the Saint, is that whose ruins are still to be seen, or rather its site, a little to the west of the well. It is in the parish of Annagh, which, as we have seen, was a part of the Ciarraige territory. We are then told that Secundinus or Sechnall—Patrick’s nephew—was there apart under a leafy elm; and ‘the sign of the cross is in that place to this day.’ Tirechan seems to imply that Sechnall, who certainly accompanied Patrick in his early missionary journeys, built himself a cell or oratory under this leafy elm at Tobur Mucno, and, perhaps, when leaving, erected a stone cross to be a memorial of his sojourn there. The holy well is there still, but there is no leafy elm, only one or two old whitethorns mark the site of Sechnall’s church.






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