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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

The Tripartite states that ‘when Patrick was in Cruachan Aigle he sent Munis to Rome with counsel unto the Abbot of Rome, and relics were given to him.’ The full significance of this passage will appear from another and quite independent statement made in the Annals of Ulster under date A.D. 441:—‘Leo ordained 42nd Bishop of the Church of Rome, and Patrick the Bishop was approved in the Catholic faith.’ This is a most important statement for many reasons. Pope Leo the Great was consecrated on the 29th of September, A.D. 440. News of his election would not probably reach Ireland until the end of the year, or some time in the beginning of 441. Patrick, who was then on Cruachan Aigle, resolved to send one of his disciples to present his own homage and submission to the new Pope, to give an account of the Irish mission, and beg the Pope’s blessing. He would also naturally ask for relics, and no doubt in those difficult times he would forward a written confession of his own faith and teaching in Ireland. The Pope ‘approved’ of Patrick’s doctrine, confirmed his mission, and blessed his labours—that is what is clearly meant by the statement that ‘Patrick was approved in the Catholic faith.’ The entry also enables us to ascertain that Patrick was on Cruachan Aigle during the Easter of the year 441, which is of itself a most interesting fact.

When Patrick left Cruachan Aigle on Saturday of Holy Week, he returned to Aghagower, which is not more than eight miles to the east, by the ancient straight road, traces of which still remain. There at Aghagower, with his beloved Bishop Senach and his holy son Oengus and the virgin Mathona, he celebrated, doubtless with great joy, the festival of Easter. He had been through the desert, and was now come, as it were, into the Promised Land. But it was not allowed him to remain there; so once more he set out on those toilsome journeys, about which he had already made some not unnatural complainings.

The Tripartite here inserts a curious paragraph, not found in the Book of Armagh, concerning the keepers whom Patrick had set on various well known hills in Ireland. They are said to belong to Patrick’s familia, or household; and the writer adds, ‘they are alive in Ireland still.’ Let us hope that it is in a spiritual sense, for if they keep their lofty lodging in the body they must often have hard times and windy weather to endure.

‘There is a man of Patrick’s on Cruachan Aigle’—he threatened to have a guardian there if his petitions were not granted—‘and people hear the voice of his bell on the mountain, although they cannot find himself.’ There is another keeper of Patrick’s in Gulban Guirt—the beautiful hill called Benbulbin, overlooking the Bay of Donegal, and, indeed, the whole north-west of Ireland—and we know it well, for we often sat upon its rocky brow. There is a third man from him east of Clonard (in Meath), together with his wife. Well, he is much better off than his fellow-watchers, for there is no hill there by the infant Boyne, only a small mound or tullagh not worth talking about. Besides, east of Clonard it is a dead level, so what the old couple are doing there it is difficult to see. The reason assigned is that they showed hospitality to Patrick when he was there in South Meath, and he rewarded them with an earthly immortality; for ‘they will remain there of the same age until the day of doom.’ There is another in Drumman Breg or Bregia, the site of which it is not easy to determine. It is probably the hill called the Moat, a few miles north of Slane, which rises to the height of 750 feet, and is the most commanding summit of all that overlook the fair Bregian Plain. Patrick knew it well, for it was not far from that other famous hill where he lit his first Paschal Fire in Erin. There is a fifth watcher of Patrick on Slieve Slainge—namely, Domongart, from whom the hill gets its present name of Slieve Donard—in Down. It will not be denied that he, too, has an airy position and a wide look out, but he has a special duty which he waits to perform. It will be his business to upraise Patrick’s relics before the day of doom. St. Domongart, son of Echaid, was a historical personage who had an oratory on the mountain; but his ceaseless watching is no doubt purely imaginary. The writer adds, however, that ‘he has a fork and its belongings’—meat, let us hope—and a pitcher of beer always before him at his church at Rath Muirbuilc on the slope of the mountain, and he gives them to the mass-folk on Easter Tuesday always.

It may be said that in a spiritual sense all this is true. From these lone summits God’s Guardian Angels keep watch and ward over all the land of Erin that Patrick loved so well. He foreknew that they would be needed in the evil days to come, and God placed them there to watch the land and the people of the land, and help them in the long struggle that awaited them. Patrick’s own striving on the Holy Mountain was only a figure of the still more desperate strife in which his spiritual children were to be engaged, and as God’s angels comforted him, so they have comforted them through the prayers of Patrick.

Perhaps, too, it might have some foundation in a more literal sense if we take it that Patrick ordered a perpetual watch to be maintained by the religious of the nearest monasteries from those conspicuous summits. But even that explanation will hardly suit the case of the old couple at Clonard. There certainly was an ancient oratory on Croaghpatrick, and another on Slieve Donard. We know of no trace of an oratory on Benbulbin, although doubtless there was a church of some kind on Drumman in Bregia. The nuns of St. Brigid kept a perpetual fire in Kildare until it was extinguished by John Comyn, Archbishop of Dublin, who, being an Anglo-Norman, declared it savoured of superstition. So it may be that Patrick told his monks to keep watch—a spiritual watch—on these commanding hills, and by their prayers drive far away the demons of the air who might seek to injure his own beloved land of Erin.

It is also noted, both in the Tripartite and the Book of Armagh, that Patrick’s charioteer, Totmael, that is Barepoll, died at the foot of the hill of Croaghpatrick—in Murrisk Aigle—that is the plain between the sea and the mountain. So they buried him there at Murrisk, and over his grave they raised, after the fashion of the country, a great carn of stones; and Patrick said: “It will remain there for ever, and I shall visit it on the last day,” as if he intended to make sure of the salvation of his faithful charioteer before the Day of Doom.

There is good reason to think that during his sojourn at Murrisk St. Patrick paid a visit to at least one of the islands off this coast. Caher Island is a small green island off the coast of Mayo, some three-quarters of a mile long and one quarter in breadth. There is a vivid local tradition that it was visited by our saint; and the ancient ruin, which still bears the name of Temple Phatraic, confirms the tradition. It is at present uninhabited, but its very loneliness would be an additional reason to induce the Apostle to visit the island, which is a striking object as seen from the shore beyond Louisbourg, for it rises in a peaked summit to a height of 188 feet above the sea. No reference, however, is made to this visit in any of the written Lives of the Apostles.

There is one clear statement, both in Tirechan and the Tripartite, that Patrick before leaving the ‘Owles’ founded a church in the Plain of Umall, the last being the ancient form of what has since been called the ‘Owles.’ This church was situated close to the later church founded by Columcille, called with reference to this more ancient church Nuachongbhail, that is the New Monastery, which has been corrupted into Oughaval, the modern name of the parish. The old church was on the other side of the road.






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