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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

This is a very wild, but highly picturesque spot, and naturally attracted one who had so keen an eye as Patrick for the beauties of nature. On the land side it is low, not much above the level of high tide; but then the headland gradually rises towards the sea, affording a fine view, especially westwards, of all the bold coastland of Erris, with the Stags of Broadhaven rising from the sea in the distance. The turf under foot is soft and green, with all the tender elasticity of a velvet carpet. Upward still you walk and seaward as you advance, watching the glorious prospect on either side, until suddenly a deep abyss opens before you, with the roaring waves one hundred and thirty feet beneath. Involuntarily you step backward, for it is a place to try one’s nerves, and then, getting courage, you see before you an island, Doonbriste it is popularly called, that is, the Broken-off-fort, and such it clearly is. It was the sea that tore off the island from the main; they are exactly the same height, and the little island shows the same strata and the same gradual elevation towards the sea. Broken off it surely was from the promontory on which you stand—and an impassable gulf now yawns between them—but when no man can tell. They say there is an ancient fort on the island, built there before the fracture. It could not have been done since, for no man can now surmount it, either from the land or from the sea. The wild birds have it all to themselves, and they know it. The cliffs, the rocky ledges, and the green area of the summit of Doonbriste are literally alive with them; they build their nests everywhere, even on the bare rocks, in perfect security that they cannot be disturbed. It would be a cruel and fruitless thing to shoot them; they might be destroyed, but nothing could be gained thereby.

On the slope of the hill there is an old ruin, which the people say was an ancient church built by St. Patrick. It is not cyclopæan, and we think it is not so ancient as the time of St. Patrick; but as all the characteristic features have disappeared, it is now hard to say what it was. The tradition, however, that St. Patrick came there, and founded an oratory on the Head, is still very vivid, and, we have no doubt, is founded in fact. The name itself is sufficient evidence of the Saint’s sojourn there for some brief period. Knox thinks the church may have been that called by the Tripartite the church of Ros Mac Caithni. O’Donovan, however, more justly places this church at Ross Point, near Killala. I do not think there was a church on Doonbriste; the ruins are those of a very ancient fort; although there certainly was a church called Dunbristia, but it was on the mainland—that is, on Downpatrick Head.

It is likely that St. Patrick, returning from Downpatrick, came by way of Mullaghcross to Fearsad Treisi, close to the old Abbey of Rafran. It was the usual way, and besides it was a place likely to be visited by the Saint. Mullaghcross—the Hill of the Cross—appears to take its name rather from the cross roads than from any ancient cross erected on the spot. But it is a remarkable place, for it seems to have been the original seat of Druidism in Tirawley. The great stone circle surrounding the Druid’s altar still remains on the left of the road to Palmerstown; and close to the cross roads a very ancient ogham pillar once stood. When we saw it the monolith was overthrown, so that we could make no attempt to copy the inscription, but we have since heard that it has been re-erected, and that the inscription, though much defaced, has been deciphered.

The whole locality is at once very remarkable and also very picturesque.

From the cross-roads St. Patrick would descend a gentle slope through green and fertile meadows to the ford at Rafran. Here the Pagan and Christian memorials stand side by side at a spot which is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful in Connaught. The bay of Rafran penetrates far into the land—the tidal waters coming up to meet the mountain river at Palmerstown, but the ancient ford was about half-a-mile to the seaward of the present road, just under the old abbey. It was called Fearsad Treisi because Tresi, daughter of Nadfraoch, King of Munster, who was wife of King Amalgaid, was drowned at the crossing. In later times it came to be called Fearsad Raith Bhrain (Rafran) from the rath of Brunduibh, which stood at the same spot—doubtless to command the ford; and the rath certainly was, and most fitly too, one of the royal forts of the kings of Hy Fiachrach. The friars were not likely to miss such a spot—it was so quiet, so fishful, so picturesque. Wherefore the Dominicans, at a very early date, got a grant of the place from the conquering D’Exeters, and built their beautiful church just over the river in one of the most charming sites in Tirawley. The ford is a little below it, and is, we believe, still used by those who wish to shorten the way to Killala by crossing the river at this point.

There can hardly be a doubt that it was over this ford St. Patrick passed into the peninsula of Ross, when he returned from Lecc Balbeni to cross the Moy to the east. The peninsula of Ross retains its name; and Tirechan—not the Tripartite—tells us that Patrick founded a church there ‘with a certain family in the bosom of the sea.’

This description of the place is very picturesque and quite exact. We spent a day rambling through the sand hills of Ross to find out the site of this church, and at length found it, just one hundred yards south of the coast-guard station, at the southern extremity of the promontory, looking towards Bartragh Island.

It is described happily as ‘in the bosom of the sea,’ for it is a sand-hill with the tide flowing nearly all round it; but it is a pleasant spot at any time, and in summer it must be quite delightful. It is strange the good people of Killala seem to have deserted it for Enniscrone on the opposite side of the bay. The few lodges around it are roofless and desolate.






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