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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

His next journey brought him to the famous Traigh Eothaile (now Trawohelly), a wide beach of white sand separating the diocese of Killala from that of Achonry, and bounding Tireragh on the east. In the time of Bishop Bron, however, Hy Fiachrach extended to the Drumcliff River, north of Sligo, and hence in our ancient martyrologies Cashel Irra or Cuil Irra of Bishop Bron is expressly stated to be in Hy Fiachrach of the Moy.

Traigh Eothaile, which took its name from an ancient warrior who fell there after the battle of Moytura of Cong—if that be indeed the real origin of the name—was sometimes a very dangerous place to cross. There were shifting sands in it, and the tidal waves at high springs came in with a rush and a roar that might appal the stoutest heart.

But St. Patrick certainly crossed it, for it was the ordinary route eastwards, and then came to another ford or pass at Streamstown, which led across the strand of Ballysadare to Cuil Irra, just under Seafield House. It was called Fintragh Pass, and in ancient days was the usual route from Coolerra into Tireragh. At this time, as we have said, Coolerra was a part of the Tireragh territory, although it afterwards became a portion of the barony of Carbury, and now belongs to the diocese of Elphin.

Tirechan merely says that Patrick crossed the strand of Eothaile (Authili) with Bron and the son of Erc Mac Dregin, and came into the plain called, doubtless from the latter, Ros Dregain, ‘in which is preserved the chasuble of Bron.’ ‘And, as he sat down there, a tooth of Patrick fell out, which he gave to Bron,’ who preserved it as a relic. Patrick added also that the sea would in the last days drive them from that place, and then he said—“You will go out (from the Ros, or promontory) to the wood by the Sligo river.” The Tripartite is more precise as to the foundation of the Church, for it says that ‘Patrick marked out (the church of) Caissel Irre,’ and in the middle of the hall or porch of the cashel stands the flag-stone on which Patrick’s tooth fell. Bishop Bron is in that place; and Patrick prophesied that the place would be desolated by the heathens, which thing, it adds, ‘has come to pass.’ And Patrick, we are told, sang a stave after the manner of the bards; but its meaning is by no means clear, except that it expresses great affection for Bishop Bron.

The heathens, that is the Danes, devastated this place early in the ninth century, and the sea, too, has been encroaching on Bishop Bron’s ancient church. It is situated at the very extremity of the promontory, amongst the dunes, and is at times nearly covered with the blowing sand. It was long ago deserted, as Patrick had prophesied, and the principal church of the district is now by the Sligo river, close to the site of the ancient wood. But the venerable ruin still exists; and it is of the very earliest type of Christian architecture. The flag-stone, on which Patrick’s tooth fell, is still pointed out; and the local description of the Tripartite, as usual, is found faithful in every detail. The parish still bears the name of Bishop Bron; it is called officially Killasbugbrone, although it is now more commonly known by its ancient name of Coolerra, that is, the Western Corner, a very appropriate appellation. It was once the head church of the district, and Bishop Bron and his successors for many centuries appear to have exercised episcopal jurisdiction over that and the neighbouring parishes. Bron himself, who was certainly one of the favourite disciples of St. Patrick, lived to a great age, for we find his death noticed by the Four Masters at the year A.D. 511, that is about eighteen years after the death of his venerable master.

It would appear from Tirechan that Bishop Bron was a native of Muirisc, as he calls it, probably a son of the chieftain of the district, who at that time appears to have dwelt at the place now called Donaghintraine, for Dun Cinn Treathain, the ancient name, was one of the royal seats of Hy Fiachrach, otherwise called Lis na Draighne by the Sea, which was not far distant. There is some reason to think that Patrick remained a considerable time there preaching and teaching the three youths, Bron, Mac Rime and Muirethacus, for whom he wrote alphabets and afterwards designated as Bishops—making Muirethacus, or Muredachus, Bishop of Killala; Mac Rime, Bishop of Aughris, on the Batho, where Muredachus was for a time; and Bron himself Bishop of Ros Dregain, or Coolerra.

The next entry in the Tripartite, which is, however, omitted by Tirechan, brings St. Patrick to the bank of the Sligeach, or Sligo river. He and his familia wanted food, so they asked the fishermen to shoot their nets in the stream. But they said—“Salmon are not caught here in winter; but as you ask us we will do it.” They shot their nets and caught some large salmon, which they gave to Patrick. Then he blessed the river, ‘so that the Sligeach became the very milch-cow of Irish rivers, for salmon is caught in it every quarter of the year.’ A few years ago an investigation was held by the Fishery Commissioners as to the proper time for the opening of the salmon fishery in the Sligo river. Some old fishermen swore at the enquiry that fish in prime condition might be found in the estuary at every season of the year; and hence it was decided to open the fishery on the first of January, so that it is in very truth the ‘milch-cow of Irish waters’—for only one or two other streams in Ireland, or in England either, afford salmon at that season, when it sometimes fetches up to eight or ten shillings a pound in the London market.

It is not stated that Patrick crossed the Sligo river, and the context both in the Tripartite and Tirechan seems to imply that he did not then cross it to the eastern shore. Tirechan brings Patrick directly from Killasbugbrone, through the mountain of the Hy Ailella, into the barony of Tirerrill, and so we think the Tripartite also must be understood, for there is no reference to his crossing the river and coming into Calry. But at this point the Tripartite interposes a curious paragraph regarding Bishop Rodan, Patrick’s herdsman, whom he left in Muirisc-Aigle, that is at the foot of Croaghpatrick. He was, it seems, a first-rate herdsman, for his calves used only to do what he permitted them—they would not even suck the cows without permission. Patrick had a large company to provide for, and his family brought their sheep and cows along with them; so it was necessary to have some person to keep an eye on the drovers. This was Bishop Rodan’s office. He got a church to look after at Croaghpatrick, but still he kept with his beloved master, and came with him, it seems, this far at least. Dr. O’Rorke thinks that the church of Kildalough, at Streamstown, near the pass over the estuary into Coolerra, was his church, for the old people, he says, always connect its foundation with that of Killasbugbrone, and say ‘they are the two churches first prayed for in Rome.’ This would explain the reference to Bishop Rodan here, but the Muirisc of the Tripartite is not the Muirisc of Tireragh, and, in any case, that latter Muirisc did not extend beyond Aughris Head, nor, indeed, quite so far east. The reference to Rodan here does not otherwise affect the narrative.

Here the Tripartite says that after Patrick got the fish from the river in Sligo, ‘the Calraige of Cule Cernadan were in a secret place, ahead of Patrick,’ and they struck their shields with their spears to terrify Patrick and his household. “By my troth,” said Patrick, “not good is that which you have done. Every battle and every conflict that you and your children after you shall deliver, ye shall be routed therein.” Whereupon they all, except five, knelt to ask pardon of Patrick. Then Patrick added, “Every battle in which you shall be routed, though all Con-naught were against you, there shall not fall more of you than five men, ‘as is fulfilled.’ ”

It is not stated where this took place, but it must be on Patrick’s journey towards Tirerrill, for we think it can be clearly shown that on this occasion he did not cross the Sligo river; his immediate purpose being to visit the territory of the sons of Ailell, and perhaps revisit some of the churches in South Tirerrill, which he had directed to be founded, but did not yet visit.

There were several districts in Ireland called Calraige—now Calry—all, it would appear, taking the appellation from the descendants of Cal, grand-uncle of Maccon, who flourished in the second century of the Christian Era. There was a Calry in Westmeath; a Calry in Mayo, and, as we have seen, the Calraige dwelt in the Ox Mountains in Sligo, extending even into Leitrim—the last district in part still bears the ancient name.

Tirechan is here, no doubt, our safest guide, and he speaks of Calrige Tre Maige, which was certainly the district round Drumahaire. Then he speaks of Calrige Ailmaige, which, as we shall presently see, was the adjoining parish of Killasnet. These are in Leitrim, but the present parish of Calry, in Sligo, is called by McFirbis, Calry Laithim, and we cannot afford to set aside his authority. Where then was Calrige Cule Cernadan? O’Donovan, we think rightly, identifies it with the district still known as Coolcarney, comprising the parishes of Kilgarvan and Attymas, in the Co. Mayo, on the slopes of the Ox Mountains. The adventure here referred to is introduced as an incident, but it is not stated where it occured. It might well happen that some of this tribe who held the Ox Mountains would meet the Apostle as he was going into Tirerrill by the ‘Gap,’ at the edge of the Ox Mountains, and try to frighten him back, lest he might, perhaps, come amongst themselves by the pass at Collooney, which led into the plain of Leyney. Such seems to us the most probable explanation of the meeting of St. Patrick with the men of Coolcarney.

They likely held the whole of the Ox Mountains, and made an excursion towards Ballisodare to frighten the Saint. But Patrick did not go westward in Leyney as they perhaps anticipated, but due northward by the well-known pass called the Bernas Hy Ailella, under Slieve da En. The old road passes through it still; and it is a lonely and romantic spot, for the hills rise steeply on either side, clothed with dense woods, which in disturbed times made it a peculiarly dangerous gap of very evil repute.






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