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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

It would appear from the context of the Tripartite that the Maidens of Focluth Wood were baptised by Patrick in the holy well at Killala. It is there still, close to the shore, under the brow of the hill, and covered over with a small stone house. The reference to Killala itself is very brief in the Tripartite, but very important. It simply states that ‘Patrick founded Cell Alaid (Killala), and left therein an aged man of his household (or religious family), namely Bishop Muiredaig.’ Tirechan makes no reference to Killala or to St. Muredach during Patrick’s journey in Tirawley, but when he crossed the Moy and was going round the coast to Sligo he came to ‘Muirisc,’ or in Irish ‘Muirsci,’ to Bishop Bron, son of Icni, and he blessed there a youth named Mac Rime, who became a bishop, and he wrote elements, that is a catechism, for him and for ‘Muirethacus, the Bishop, who was at the River Bratho.’ Both the youths in question are named bishops by anticipation. The River Bratho is the Borrach, which flows into the sea near Aughris Head, in the barony of Tireragh, as we shall presently see. It seems highly probable that this district was the native place both of Mac Rime and Muredach, that they learned at least some of their Latin and Theology there, that Muredach, who was then of ripe years, joined the family of St. Patrick for a time, and was afterwards appointed by the Saint, perhaps before he left Connaught, the chief Bishop of the Northern Hy Fiachrach and established in the church of Killala, which was the parish church of the royal dun at Mullaghhorn, close to Killala.

The chief difficulty against this view is the genealogy of Muredach, Bishop of Killala, quoted by Colgan from the Sanctilogium. Muredach is there represented as fifth in descent from Laeghaire Mac Niall, who was King of Ireland at the very time St. Patrick was preaching in Tirawley. Besides the Life of St. Farannan at the 15th of February, states that Muredach, the Bishop of Killala, met Columcille at the Synod of Easdara about the year A.D. 580, that is, after the Synod of Drumceat. Hence Lanigan and other critics deny that St. Patrick placed Muredach over the See of Killala.

The mistake that Lanigan makes is to assume that there was only one Muredach Bishop of Killala. It was a very common name amongst the Hy Fiachrach, and as a fact we have the undoubted testimony of Mac Firbis of Leacan, in Tireragh, who certainly knew what he was talking about, that there were seven Bishops of Killala of the Clan-Cele, and amongst them we find the name of a Bishop Muredach third on the list, and certainly not the founder of the See. Those prelates, too, derived their descent from a Laeghaire, but it was not Laeghaire Mac Niall, but from another Laeghaire, the grandson of King Dathi, who was ruler of the very district in which Killala is situated. There is no good reason, therefore, for denying the statement in the Tripartite that St. Patrick founded the church of Killala and placed over it his own disciple, St. Muredach, who was, probably, a native of Templeboy, in Tireragh.

The island of Inishmurray, in the Bay of Donegal, in our opinion, takes its name from this saint. He must have known it well, for it is only about fifteen miles distant from Aughris Head, where his family dwelt, and hence, when in his old age, he was anxious to live alone with God, nothing would be more natural than that, like so many Irish saints of the time, he should seek a ‘desert’ in the ocean, and retire to that lonely island surrounded by the wild Atlantic billows. Yet he was not the patron saint of the island. St. Molaise, who flourished a century later, is universally recognised as the patron saint of Inishmurray. Still it is strange that the festival day of both saints is the same, that is, the 12th of August, which would seem to imply some connection between them. But that of itself is no reason for identifying, as some have done, Muredach of Killala with Molaise of Inishmurray. We find, however, that the truly learned Dr. O’Rorke is inclined to that view.

The scene is now transferred from the low ground near Killala along the river to the hill of Mullaghfarry, which is some three miles south-west of Killala. It was the tribal meeting-place of the men of Tirawley, and hence its name—mullagh-forraigh—the Hill of the Meeting, where the princes of Tirawley were inaugurated, and all the important gatherings of the tribe were held. It still bears the ancient name, and is well known to everyone around Killala.

Tirechan says that Patrick went there to divide the territory amongst the sons of Amalgaid, doubtless in accordance with the instructions which King Laeghaire had given him before his departure from Tara. The place was admirably adapted for a tribal open air-parliament. It is a spacious flat-topped hill, commanding from its summit a splendid prospect of all the swelling plains and fertile valleys of Tirawley far and near from Ballina to the sea, and from Nephin to Slieve Gamh beyond the river. Tirechan then adds that Patrick built on its summit a quadrangular mud-wall church, ‘because,’ he says, ‘there was no wood near the place.’ All the ordinary turf buildings were circular, and hence he notes that this church was, according to the Christian usage, quadrangular. It shows, too, that stone was seldom employed in those primitive churches, for the writer here complains not of want of stone but of wood. When a stone church was built it was called by the special name of daimhliac.

No doubt all the sons of Amalgaid and the men of the ‘twenty-four old tribes’ were gathered at this great meeting. It was a momentous one for them, for not only was the land to be divided but the religious question was to be finally settled, and, besides, they would all see the wonderful priest of whom they had heard so much. It was a no less important assembly for Patrick, for it was necessary to prove his mission and gain their good will, if his work was to endure in Tirawley. He had friends there, like Enda Crom and Conall, but he had enemies too, for the guileful Oengus was not yet converted, and the Druids still had their own adherents in the tribe. Miracles were needed, surely, for the tribesmen were not people to listen to either philosophical or theological arguments. If the rude infidels were to believe they must see signs; and they saw them, too, there on that day, and elsewhere. It was not necessary for Patrick in the might of his faith to cast Mount Nephin into the sea; but it was very necessary for him to prove to the rude tribesmen of Tirawley by visible signs that he was sent by God to preach the new Gospel and destroy the religion of their fathers.

Here, again, Tirechan is very brief. He merely says that they brought to Patrick a sick woman having a child (alive) in her womb, and that he baptised the child in the womb of its mother. This is sometimes done still in case of necessity, when the baptismal water can reach a partially born child. But Tirechan adds that this baptismal water was also the water of the communion of the mother. Perhaps the reading is inaccurate, but, if not, it merely means that a portion of the water blessed for baptism was used to enable the dying woman to receive the holy Viaticum, and, perhaps, the Viaticum may have been under the species of wine, which at that time was certainly not unusual. He adds that they buried her ‘in cacuminibus ecclesiae’—the roof of the church—a very strange place; but we must remember that this church was just then being built, that it was constructed of turf or earthen sods, and that in those buildings there was sometimes a kind of croft or loft, which might be used for the burial. A vault above the loft is in itself not more objectionable, rather less, than a vault below the floor. But in all this there is nothing miraculous, and the narrative clearly alludes to something not fully explained.

The Tripartite, however, more than makes up for this omission of Tirechan. It will be remembered that Oengus said he would believe ‘if my sister is brought back to life.’ Now, the Tripartite tells us that at this great meeting of the Sons of Amalgaid, the seven sons of the king believed in Patrick, together with Enda and with the old King himself. Then it is added—‘Therein, on the hill, it is that he baptised the pregnant woman and her child, and raised another woman to life.’ Then we are told how it happened. Patrick and Conall went to the grave wherein the dead pregnant woman, namely Fedilm, was biding, by the lower path to Killala. Oengus (her brother), however, went along the upper path (to Killala). They reached the grave (at Killala). Patrick raised the woman to life, and the boy in her womb. And both were baptised in the well of Oenadarc (the One-horn). ‘From the steep little hillock of earth that is near it the well was so named.’ And when she was brought to life, ‘she preached to the multitude of the pains of hell and the rewards of heaven, and with tears she besought her brother, Oengus, to believe in God, through Patrick; and in that day twelve thousand were baptised in the well of Oen-adarc’—and he left with them Manchen the Master. If the tribesmen were eye-witnesses of these great miracles, or even heard of them from the actual eye-witnesses, it is no wonder that twelve thousand believed and were baptised on that day.

Such is the story in the Tripartite. The text leaves it doubtful where the baptism of the twelve thousand took place—whether at Killala or at Mullaghfarry. To us it appears clear that it was at Killala, and that the well of the ‘One-horn,’ or hillock, was not at Mullaghfarry, but at Killala. It still flows there under the hillock, as anyone can see; there is no such hillock at Mullaghfarry, and no well near the site of the old church there. Then it is evident that when Oengus challenged Patrick to raise his sister to life as the condition of his believing, Patrick accepted the challenge, going to Killala by the ‘lower road,’ while Oengus took the higher or western one. The two roads are there still. No doubt the multitude accompanied them to see the miracle at the grave; they saw it, and twelve thousand of the men of Tirawley were accordingly baptised on that day at Killala. We have gone over the whole ground—walked every inch of it—and we have no doubt even those who might deny the miracle would be greatly surprised at the extraordinary fidelity of the narrative in all its local details.

It is not easy to ascertain who Manchen the Master was. No native of Tirawley was at this time fit to take charge of a church. The ‘bishops’ referred to are so called by anticipation; they were then only learning their ‘elements’ or ‘alphabets,’ that is, their catechisms, in preparation for their ministry. Hence Patrick left to the men of Tirawley one of his own followers from Britain, or who had been trained in Britain, and was thus, as his title shows, well qualified to teach both the clergy and the people. But he took his students from the sons of the native chieftains, thereby strengthening the infant Church through the rising influence of a local clergy and their manifold tribal connections. On this, as on many similar occasions, Patrick showed consummate prudence in the organisation of his infant Church.

Oengus was baptised after the miracle at Killala, and Patrick now went to visit his territory, which was at Loch Daela, now Lough Dalla, a small lake about five miles south-west of Crosspatrick. The Saint was anxious to get the place of a church there, and subsequently got it, not, however, without rudeness and reluctance on the part of Oengus. The old warrior came half drunk to Patrick, and treated him with disrespect, for, like King Laeghaire, ‘it was not from the heart he believed,’ but rather from fear or policy. Patrick reproached the drunken chief severely. “By my troth,” he said, “it were right that thy dwellings and thy children after thee should not be exalted. Thy successors will be ale-bibbers, and there will be parricides from thee.” It is noteworthy that O’Donovan says of the descendants of Oengus, who were once in Tirawley, that their family names (mentioned by Mac Firbis as those of the Cenel-Oengusa), are all obsolete at present in the barony of Tirawley.

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