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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Patrick had more than one purpose in view in going to Tara at this time. It is stated in the Chronicon Scotorum and other weighty authorities that the ‘Seanchus Mor was written’ in 438, that is, the ancient code was purified of pagan principles, and corrected in accordance with the maxims of the Gospel. We shall fully discuss this question hereafter, but it may be observed that it was in the same year, if we trust the Chronicon, that Secundinus, Auxilius, and Iserninus were sent to Ireland. The two former were nephews of St. Patrick, and the latter, though probably a Briton like the others, appears to have had an Irish mother from the Co. Carlow. It is not unlikely that Patrick met his two nephews in Leinster, and afterwards took them with him on his mission, but Bishop Fith, as Iserninus was called, remained in South Leinster preaching the Gospel.

It was in this year, then, that is 438, that the famous Commission of Nine was appointed to examine and codify the Brehon Laws. But the work must have taken time, and it is not unlikely that the leading purpose of Patrick in returning from the West to Tara was to promulgate the new Code. This work could only be accomplished with the sanction and help of the King, and hence he returned to Tara to secure his approval and authority. He had already found by experience how necessary it was to purify the ancient code, for it was closely interwoven with druidic doctrines and practices.

It is clear Patrick returned to Tara before going into Tirawley, although that is not expressly stated in the Tripartite. As we have already said, the main purpose both of the Book of Armagh and of the Tripartite is to record Patrick’s missionary journeys and the foundations of his new churches, taking no account of his interruptions or subsequent visitations, except when, now and then, they recorded some striking miracle or other extraordinary event. Hence, after giving an account of his foundations in Corcu-temne, that is, the portion of the modern barony of Carra north-east of the lake, both Tirechan and the Tripartite give the general statement that he crossed the Moy to come into Tirawley.

This statement, however, of itself implies that he did not immediately go into Tirawley from Carra, for if he did he would not cross the Moy, but proceed along the line of the present railway to Ballina and Killala, keeping all through on the left bank of the river from the neighbourhood of Foxford. His ‘crossing’ the Moy therefore implies that he had left Carra and gone eastward somewhere, and then, returning through the great and wide territory of Corann in the Co. Sligo, came to the banks of the Moy, and crossed it to come into Tirawley, as we shall presently see.

This is clearly enough implied in the Tripartite, for, after stating that he crossed the Moy to go to Tirawley, it goes back to explain how it came to pass. The narrative certainly implies that he met the sons of Amalgaid somewhere in the west, at the time when they were on their road to Tara.

‘There came to him twelve sons of Amalgaid, son of Fiachra, son of Eochy Moyvane.’ Amalgaid was King of Connaught at the time, and was, although now advanced in years, still the ruler of the province. He had a very large family, eight sons by one wife and seven by another, according to the official Chronicle of his own Kingdom. He was first cousin of the King of Tara at the time, that is Laeghaire, for their respective fathers Fiachra and Niall the Great, were both sons of Eochy Moyvane. His lands were some very rich and some very poor; but the chief strife was who should succeed him as King of Connaught, or at least as King of Tirawley.

No doubt at this time some of his sons were dead, but the Tripartite gives the names of the twelve who were contending for the sovereignty.

The real competitors, however, were two, namely, Oengus, the haughtiest of all the sons of Amalgaid, who gave a nickname to all his brothers because the tribesmen were unwilling to have anyone with a nickname reign over them. The real cause, however, was that the nickname was supposed to indicate some personal defect or deformity, and persons of that kind were not considered eligible for the headship of a tribe. Oengus wished to note such defects, whether real or imaginary, and hence he sought to give a nickname to all his brothers in order to disqualify them for the kingship.

The second formidable competitor was Enda Crom, who is represented as the eldest of the twelve sons, and therefore having the right of seniority. But the ‘nickname’ marks a personal defect, and hence the hunchback chief would not be well in the running. Now, Enda had a son, Prince Conal, young, vigorous, eloquent, and energetic; and this youth was determined to assert his own rights, derived through his father, to the last. These facts will help to explain what follows. It would appear from the course of the narrative that all parties concerned wished to refer the question to the arbritation of the King of Tara. Such, too, was, so far as we can judge, the advice of St. Patrick; and it is probable that he himself resolved to see the question settled in Tara before entering on his mission in Tirawley. One thing is quite clear—it would be fruitless to go to preach the Gospel in Tirawley, whilst the rival chiefs were absent in Tara trying to settle the succession. Even if he had no other business on hand in Tara, Patrick’s wisest course was to accompany the sons of Amalgaid to the Court of the High King; and we are expressly told that he resolved to do so, making at the same time a visitation of the Churches which he had founded, as we have already explained, both in Roscommon and Westmeath.

Now the sons of Amalgaid went to Tara in twelve chariots to lay their case before the King; ‘but in the Books of Patrick it is found that only seven brothers of them submitted to the judgment,’ that is, were prepared to accept the arbitration of the King. The ‘Books of Patrick’ here referred to seem to mean the Book of Armagh, which contains Tirechan’s Notes and Muirchu’s Life of Patrick. Tirechan states that six of the sons of Amalgaid came to judgment before Laeghaire, besides Enda (and his young son Conall), that is seven; that Laeghaire and Patrick judged the cause, and decided that they should divide the inheritance into seven parts, and that Enda made offering of his son, and of his own share of the inheritance to God and to Patrick for ever.

The version of the judgment, given in the Tripartite, is fuller and more significant. ‘When the princes came to Tara they found welcome from the King, Oengus especially, for he was a foster son of Laeghaire’s,’ that is, he was brought up by Laeghaire in the royal palace of Tara. Now Oengus was astute as well as ambitious, and feared young Prince Conall, who was, it appears, both eloquent and earnest in defending his father’s right, which was also his own. So he begged the doorkeepers of the palace, whom he knew, not to admit young Conall into the royal dun; and they accordingly refused him admittance to the King, so that he could not plead his father’s cause.

Whilst Conall was thus biding outside the court of the King, ‘he heard the voice of Patrick’s Bell from Patrick’s Well’—Tobur Patrick—which was close to the fortress or court of the King. Thereupon Conall went to meet Patrick; and the Saint gave his blessing to the gracious young chieftain. “O Cleric,” said Conall, “knowest thou what language is this that is in my memory: ‘Hibernenses omnes clamant ad te pueri’—all the children of Erin call upon thee—which two girls sang out of their mother’s womb in our territories?” The phrase ‘out of their mother’s womb’ seems to mean, as we have before stated, ‘in tenderest childhood,’ as they were when Patrick saw them long ago. Yes, he remembered them well; they were the voices of those who dwelt by Focluth’s wood on the western sea, which he often heard in far off lands, and he at once said to Conall: “It is I who was called thus, and I heard that voice when I was biding in the Isles of the Tyrrhene Sea, and I knew not whether the words were spoken within me or outside me; and I will go with thee into thy country to baptise, to instruct, and to preach the Gospel.”

How Prince Conall came to know the words is by no means clear. It might well be known in Tirawley that the great Bishop, who came from over the sea to preach in Erin, and whose fame was now spread over all the land, was in truth the fugitive slave, who many years ago took shipping from their own port of Killala. Perhaps, too, the prattling of the children, who in tender childhood asked the holy youth to promise to come once more and dwell amongst them, was well remembered; for these maidens still dwelt in their home by the western sea, and could never forget the memorable scene of their childhood. And so Prince Conall in Tirawley came to hear the wonderful story; and reminded Patrick of the strange, prophetic words. One thing is clear, that they touched a deep and tender chord in the heart of the Saint, who from that hour became Conall’s friend and protector.

Then, we are told that Patrick, now deeply interested in young Conall, asked why he had come to Tara, and Conall told the cause, adding that he was excluded from the palace by the door-keepers. But the doors were opened at Patrick’s bidding; and he said to the young prince—“Enter now, as the doors are open, and go to Eoghan, son of Niall, who is a faithful friend of mine; and he will help thee if thou take secretly the finger next his little finger, for that is always a token between us.” Patrick, we know, had many enemies at Tara, and needed powerful friends at court, especially when he was absent himself. So, doubtless, this token was agreed upon in an age when no letters could be written, as a secret means of making known to Eoghan, who was general-in-chief at Tara, the messengers and friends of Patrick. What follows makes this quite clear. When his finger was touched, “Welcome,” said Eoghan, “what is Patrick’s desire?” “To help me,” said Conall; and then the young prince was allowed to state his cause before Eoghan and the King. “If,” said he, “it is according to my age the questions of the palace and the land are to be decided, I must admit that I am the youngest and have no claim. But, if it be according to my father’s age, then my father, Enda Crom, is the oldest, and has, therefore, the right on his side.” Laeghaire reluctantly acquiesced in this reasoning, and adjudicated the chieftaincy to the eldest of the sons of Amalgaid, directing, however, that the land should be divided between them, and that each should retain the jewels and other personal property already in his possession. No doubt the astute Oengus had already provided himself well in this respect; but he was defeated on the main issue. We have already noticed that Enda Crom, as his name implies, was rather stooped, and perhaps not well fitted to be a warrior, for which reason some of the tribesmen objected to him on account of his deformity. But Conall, being young and vigorous, could take his father’s place as a warrior, and was well able to defend his rights against the intrigues of Oengus. This controversy serves to explain much of what follows.

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