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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

FROM Aghagower Patrick went to Cruachan Aigle. The beautiful cone of this hill, since called Croaghpatrick, rises just over the low hills surrounding Aghagower on the west; and it appears so near, so striking, so attractive, that the heaven-aspiring soul of Patrick must have longed with an ardent longing to reach its summit. He would there be farther from men, he would be nearer to God, and he could see from that lone summit by land and sea all the western country he had already won or was still to win for Christ. It was like Mount Sinai, on which Moses saw God face to face; there he would fast and pray for Erin, and strive with God for the land that ‘He had given him at the end of the world,’ so that neither men nor demons should ever wrest it from His sway. No one who reads the Confession of St. Patrick will deny that he was, like St. Paul, a man of burning zeal and of high enthusiasm in the service of God; and such a man could hardly see Croaghpatrick near him without longing to ascend it, for the lone grandeur of its soaring peak has a strange fascination for the beholder, and attracts the eye from every point of view.

Tirechan’s narrative is brief and simple. The Apostle went there on Shrove Saturday, that is the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, and his purpose was to fast the forty days of Lent, thus following the example of Moses, of Elias, and of Christ himself. He buried his coachman at the foot of the mountain near the sea where he died; and then he went to the summit himself and remained there forty days and forty nights. The birds were a trouble to him; and he could not see the face of the heavens, the earth, or the sea (on account of them); ‘for God told all the saints of Erin, past, present, and future, to come to the mountain summit—that mountain which overlooks all others and is higher than all the mountains of the West—to bless the tribes of Erin, so that Patrick might see (by anticipation) the fruit of his labours, for all the choir of the saints of Erin came to visit him there, who was the father of them all.’

The idea here clearly is that the flocks of white birds which disturbed the repose of Patrick really represented the choirs of Erin’s saints who were come to meet their common father, and join him in blessing all the tribes of Erin.

But the Tripartite enlarges greatly on this simple narrative in a fashion that suggests the perfervid imagination of the Scotic Chronicler. Still, as it is a very ancient narrative, and has laid hold of the minds of the western people for many ages, we shall give it here in full, but at the same time as briefly as possible:—

Patrick then went to the summit of the mountain, not only to fast, but above all to pray for the people of Ireland, and he was resolved to do violence to heaven until his petitions were granted. The Angel then came to him to tell him that God was disposed to grant his petitions, although he was ‘excessive and obstinate’ in urging them, and the requests were also great in themselves. ‘Is that His will?’ said Patrick. ‘It is,’ said the Angel. ‘Well, then,’ said Patrick, ‘I will urge them; and I will not go from this Rick till I am dead, or till all the petitions are granted to me; and so he abode on the mountain in much disquietude without food, without drink, from Shrove Saturday until Easter Saturday, after the manner of Moses, son of Amra; for they were alike in many things, but especially in this that God spoke to both out of the fire, that the age of both was at their death 120 years, and that the burial place of both is unknown.

But meanwhile Patrick was by his prayers and fasting doing violence to heaven, and he was greatly tormented. For towards the close of his term of forty days and nights the mountain was filled with black birds, so that he knew not—that is, could neither see heaven nor earth. He sang maledictive psalms against them; but still they held on. Then he grew wrathful against them, and rang his bell against them, ‘so that all the men of Erin heard its voice;’ and, as the birds still kept flying around him, he flung the holy bell at them, whereby a piece was broken out of it, whence it was called Bernan Brigte or Brigid’s gapling, because it seems Brigid had given the bell to Patrick. Then Patrick’s heart was filled with grief, the tears in streams flowed down his cheeks, and even his chasuble was wet with them. At length the demon birds disappeared; and no demon for seven years, seven months, seven days, and seven nights afterwards came to torment the land of Erin.

Now when the demon birds were gone an angel came to console Patrick, and the angel cleansed his chasuble from the tear stains and brought beautiful white birds around the Rick, which sang sweet melodies to comfort the afflicted Saint. The angel, too, announced the granting of the first petition. “Thou shalt bring,” he said, “an equal number of souls—equal to the birds—out of pain, yea, as many as can fill all the space sea-ward before your eyes.” “That is not much of a boon,” said Patrick, “for mine eyes cannot reach far over the sea.” “Then thou shalt have as many as will fill both sea and land,” said the angel—but Patrick, recalling his sorrows and the crowds of demons that had surrounded him, said—“Is there anything more that He granteth me”? “Yes,” said the angel, “seven persons on every Saturday till Doomsday shall be taken out of hell—that is, torment—by your prayers.” “Let twelve be given me,” said Patrick. “You shall have them,” said the angel; “so now get thee gone from the Rick.” “I will not go,” said Patrick, “since I have been tormented, till I am blessed” (by having my petitions granted). Then said the angel “thou shalt have seven on Thursday and twelve on Saturday, so get thee gone now.” “No,” said Patrick, “I must have more.” Then said the angel, “a great sea shall overwhelm Ireland seven years before the day of judgment”—so that they will not be tormented in Erin by the signs and wonders of that day—“Now get thee gone.” “No,” said Patrick, “I must still be blessed.” Then said the angel, “Is there aught else you would have?” “Yes,” said Patrick, “that the Saxons shall never hold Ireland by consent or force so long as I dwell in heaven.” “Thou shalt have this, too,” said the angel, “so now get thee gone.” “Not yet,” said Patrick. “Is there aught else granted to me?” “Yes,” said the angel, “every one who shall sing thy hymn (that is the Latin hymn by Sechnall) from one watch to the other shall not have pain or torture,” “The hymn is long and difficult,” said Patrick. “Then every one who shall sing it from ‘Christus illum’ to the end, that is, the last four stanzas, and every one who shall give aught in thy name, and every one who shall do penance in Erin, his soul shall not go to hell; so now get thee gone from the Rick.” One would think that this was giving much indeed; but Patrick was not yet content. “Is there aught else I am to get?” said he. “Yes,” said the angel, “a man for every hair on thy chasuble thou shalt bring out of pains on Doomsday.” “Why, any saint will get that number,” said Patrick. “How many more do you want?” said the angel. “Seven persons for every hair on my chasuble to be taken out of hell (or pains) on the day of Doom,” said Patrick. “Thou shalt get that, too,” said the angel; “so now get thee gone.” “Not yet,” said Patrick, “except God Himself drive me away.” “What else do you want?” said the angel. “This,” said Patrick, “That on the day when the twelve Thrones shall be on Mount Sion, that is on the day of Doom, I myself shall be judge over the men of Erin on that day.” “But this surely cannot be had from God,” said the angel. “Unless it be got I will not leave this mountain for ever,” said Patrick, “and I will leave a guardian on it after me.”

The angel went to heaven to see about this petition, and Patrick went to say Mass to make his own case stronger, no doubt. The angel came back at None after Mass. “All heaven’s powers have interceded for thee,” said the angel, “and thy petition has been granted. You are the most excellent man that has appeared since the Apostles—only for your obduracy. But you have prayed and you have obtained. Strike thy bell now, and fall on thy knees, and a blessing will come upon thee from heaven, and all the men of Erin living and dead shall be blessed and consecrated to God with thee.” “A blessing on the bountiful King who hath given it all,” saith Patrick, “and now I leave the Rick.”

This narrative is evidently made up; and yet it is full of meaning. It teaches the efficacy of prayer in a very striking way, and it is full of faith and confidence in God. There is no more authentic fact in Patrick’s history than this Lenten fast of Patrick on the Rick. The ancient road from Aghagower to the Sacred Hill has been worn bare by the feet of pilgrims who in every age followed the footsteps of their beloved Apostle even to its very summit, as they do still. If the demon tempted our Saviour at the beginning of His public mission, we may be sure he would not leave untempted the man who broke down his ancient empire over the Gael of Erin. In some things the story is extravagant, in others almost untheological; but the prayer, the yearning efficacious prayer, for the men of Ireland, is no myth. It has been fulfilled, and no greater marvel is recorded in the history of the Church than its fulfilment. It is in itself a miracle. The common tradition that Patrick, by his strong prayers, on Cruachan Aigle, conquered the demons, and drove them far from his beloved Erin, has been verified of the nation as a whole, and except through his prayers and blessing it could never, humanly speaking, have been accomplished.

Yes, Croaghpatrick is a sacred and beautiful hill. From most points of view, it rises from the sea on the southern shore of Clew Bay as a perfect cone to the height of 2,510 feet. There are larger and loftier masses of mountain in Ireland, but none so striking from its isolation, and so regular in its outline, especially when viewed from the east. It commands both land and sea, and has the great advantage of looking down on the most beautiful bay in Ireland, with its hundred islets mirrored in its glancing waters. The whole rugged coast-line of the West—its hills, its cliffs, its havens, its rock-bound islands—can be seen from that lone summit of a clear day as distinctly as if they were stretched at its feet. Then the vast inland plains, their woods and towers and towns, can be traced with perfect distinctness. You see the rivers stealing serpent-like to the sea, the great brown bogs in the distance, the clouds resting on Nephin or the Twelve Pins of Connemara, the far-off hills of Donegal on the horizon’s verge, rising from the main, the smoke of the train rounding Clew Bay, the hookers and fishing boats with their white wings spread to catch the gale, the long waves bursting in streaks of light on the cliffs of Clare Island and Achill. Such a scene, combining at once so much sublimity, variety, and beauty, cannot be found anywhere else, at least in these kingdoms.






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