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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

From this point the missionary journeys of St. Patrick on the borders of Mayo and Galway are not set forth with clearness. The Tripartite brings him at once to the land of Conmaicne Cuile Toladh, that is the barony of Kilmaine; and adds that ‘he founded four-cornered churches in that place, one of which is Ard Uiscon, etc.’

Tirechan, however, has an interesting paragraph, though the readings are somewhat uncertain, which says that Patrick, leaving Secundinus at Tobur Muckna, fared through ‘the desert of the Hy Enda,’ as we take it; and therein he left the holy Lomman. He then adds that after many days ‘Senmeda, a daughter of Enda, son of Brian, came to see Patrick there, and received from his hand the pallium or nun’s cloak.’ Moreover, in token of her utter renunciation of the world, the blessed maiden gave up to Patrick all her necklaces and bracelets, also her ornamental sandals and armlets, ‘such as the Scotic maidens wear, which are called in their language their aros,’ or ornaments.

As this royal maiden was a daughter of Enda of the Hy Briuin race, we may safely conclude that the territory called the ‘desert of the Hy Enda,’ or Tir Enda, was the present parish of Kiltullagh, which never formed any part of the Ciarraige territory, and, as a fact, still belongs for that reason to the Co. Roscommon. Lomman’s church was, no doubt, the old church of Kiltullagh, and most probably it was there the blessed maiden Senmeda received the veil from Patrick. As it would not be possible to cross over Slieve Dart, Patrick, it would appear, passed from Kiltullagh, by Clogher, to the old church of Kiltivna, or rather to the place where it once stood, and near it was a blessed well now dry. The local traditions still tell of the Saint’s prayers at this old church, and of his journey through this district. As Conmaicne Duine Moir (Dunmore) was always a fertile territory, and the residence of the ancient chiefs, Patrick, no doubt, visited the place and probably founded a church there; and such is the local tradition of the people. From this point he went south-west to Kilbannon, near Tuam, where he left his disciple, Benen, of the Hy Ailell, brother of Cethech—not Benen of Meath, but of Tirerrill. The two are carefully distinguished by the Tripartite. The imprint of Patrick’s knees, where he prayed, is still shown at Kilbannon, and the remnant of a slender round tower marks the ancient celebrity of the place. Benen is described by Tirechan as son of Lugni, a scribe, a priest and an anchorite. His mother was daughter of Lugaith Mac Netach. She was of the Conmaicne, and her family, who dwelt near Kilbannon, gave young Benen a farm on which he founded his church, dedicated to God and (afterwards) to St. Patrick. Patrick himself, we are told, marked out the site of Kilbannon, and blessed the place with his crozier; and he was the first to offer the Body and Blood of Christ there, after he ordained Benen, and he blessed Benen, and left him there in his place. It is not improbable that Benen afterwards retired to Aranmore, where he founded the beautiful little church that still bears his name, for Tirechan describes him as an anchorite, which implies retirement from the world. Tuam was not yet founded by St. Jarlath, who was a disciple of Benen at Kilbannon, if not of Patrick himself.

The Saint did not cross the Clare River here, but passed by Sylane and the old church of Killower south-westward to Domnach Mor Maige Seolai, which was even then the royal seat of the ancestors of the O’Flahertys. Killower itself takes its name—the Church of the Book—from a book which Patrick left there, or forgot there, and which afterwards became the cherished treasure of that church.

From Killower Patrick passed, in our opinion, to the territory of Magh Seolai, and there founded, near the chieftain’s dun, the church of Domnach Mor Maige Seolai, now called Donaghpatrick, near Headford.

We have no written evidence that Patrick, on this missionary journey, went further south through Galway into the Hy Maine territory. There is, indeed, a ‘Patrick’s Well’ between Aughrim and Kilconnell, and another is marked some miles further west near Bullaun. Colgan, too, thought that the old church of Kilricle, in that neighbourhood, took its name from St. Richell, a sister of St. Patrick, but the evidence is vague and unsatisfactory. We can, however, clearly trace the Saint from Ballyhaunis, by Kiltullagh, Kiltivna, Dunmore, Kilbannon, and Killower, to Donaghpatrick—and that was, in our opinion, the road he followed on this missionary journey. We find traces of the Saint in living traditions all along this way, which strongly confirm the meagre references of the written records in the Tripartite and Book of Armagh.

In Domnach Mor Maige Seolai, better known as Donaghpatrick, to which we have traced the Saint, he placed his disciple, Bishop Felartus, for whom Assicus of Elphin made one of his quadrangular patens, described in the Life of that saint. At that time close at hand was the royal residence of the princes of the Hy Briuin race, who were ancestors of the O’Flahertys. In after times it became the stronghold of that tribe, whose chief dun was situated in an island of the lake, now called Lough Hackett, near the old church.

It is expressly stated that Patrick founded several churches in this neighbourhood, but not within that territory. Tirechan says that Patrick fared (from Donaghpatrick) to the territory of the ‘Conmaicne hi Cuil Tolat’—that is to say, into the modern barony of Kilmaine, in the Co. Mayo. To do so, his natural course would be to cross the Black River at the fords of Shruel, where ‘the Bloody Bridge’ was afterwards erected. It was a famous and historic pass from Galway into Mayo, and we may assume it as fairly certain that Patrick crossed over it.

There is some reason to think that he founded a church north of the ford in Sruthair, which was the ancient name of the village on the Mayo side of the ford, now corrupted into Shruel, and it is set down as a Patrician Church in some of the old records. About three miles north of Shruel was Kilmaine Beg, which is, beyond doubt, the ‘Cellolam Mediam,’ or Middle Little Church between Shruel and Kilmaine Mor, in which Patrick left the sisters of Bishop Felartus, of the Hy Aillel race. Felartus was Bishop of Donaghpatrick, so it was quite natural that Patrick would leave his sisters near him, yet not with him, in Kilmaine Beg.

Some three miles further north was Kilmaine Mor, which was always regarded as a Patrician Church, and was certainly a larger and more richly endowed establishment than the Nuns’ church at Kilmaine Beg. We are inclined to think, however, that Kilmaine Mor was not itself Patrician, but of a later date, and that the real Patrician church in this district was the ancient church of Cuil Corre, now known as Kilquire, in which we are told Patrick baptised many persons. It is not more than a mile north of Kilmaine, on the road to Hollymount, and was undoubtedly founded, like Kilmaine Beg, by St. Patrick. The old church has disappeared, but the graveyard is there still, not far from the noble Anglo-Norman Castle of Kilternan, close to which is a Tobur Patrick, which indicates the presence of the Saint in the place, and where, doubtless, he baptised his converts. No fairer or more fertile fields of richest green can be found in all the West than those around Kilternan Castle and Kilquire Church; but the men who dwelt there of old are all gone—only sheep and bullocks now depasture those most fertile fields of Mayo. So it is as we write, but that unnatural state of things is, thank God, rapidly passing away.

Tradition, rather than history, brings Patrick from Kilmaine, far west, into the Mountains of Connemara. It is not improbable that he founded a church at the place now called Cross, near Cong, and then faring westward between the Two Great Lakes, he preached the gospel to the rude natives until he came to the wild gap in the hills beyond Maam, where Patrick’s Bed and Patrick’s Well may still be seen. Farther progress through the Twelve Bens was then impossible, and, even at the present day, the traveller who ventures to follow Patrick on foot into the wilds of Ross will find his task a difficult one. He blessed the wild hills to the west, and the wilder people who dwelt amongst them; but it was reserved for St. Fechin and others, two centuries later, to bring them to the faith.

Patrick must have then returned by Cong to Kilmaine, or Kilquire, and continued his missionary progress northwards through the plains east of Lough Mask. The territory south of the River Robe, that is the country of the Conmaicne Cuile Toladh, was then, as now, a fertile and prosperous land, of which the modern town of Ballinrobe may be regarded as the capital.

We have thus brought Patrick to Kilquire, but thereafter his progress northward is not so clearly ascertained.






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