of St. Patrick
Saint Patrick's first encounter with Ireland revealed a nation who was unaware of Christianity or thought of Christianity as an alien faith. Saint Patrick had a great compassion for Christianity and he also possessed an ability to hold on to what is essential about Christianity. He was able to draw people to the faith by offering a more open and welcoming aspect of the faith to them.
Saint Patrick understood the Celtic people. Being a romanized Briton his real name was Magonus Saccatus Patricius. St. Patrick's father had been a deacon and a decurion and his grandfather was a priest. The Romans had not yet fully pulled out of Britain, so Patrick grew up in a world whose mores and Christianity were provincial Roman, in an area which never lost its Celtic identity and customs. St. Patrick had already become familiar with the Celtic festivals of the pre-Christian calendar before he was taken into Irish slavery. Even though Patrick's family had been ordained they did not seem to have a passion for their work. St. Patrick himself even describes to us as being rather indifferent to it as a youth.
At the age of sixteen St. Patrick's life changed. He was abducted and taken into Irish slavery. During his six years of enslavement he developed a life of prayer. Patrick even credits God for his escape from slavery. Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, whose main religious background was Roman. The story follows:
Around the year 400, Patrick was born in Scotland. When Patrick was sixteen years old he was captured as a slave by the high king of Ireland. He was sold in Ireland and was taken to the North east of the country to herd sheep. During his six years of solitude he found a life of prayer and pledged his life to God. One night Patrick had a vision and he escaped from slavery and found his way home to his family. Patrick studied religion for many years to become a priest and a missionary and at night he would hear in his dreams the call from the Irish. They called him to come and free them from paganism, "crying to thee, come hither and walk with us once more". Finally Pope Celestine fulfilled Saint Patrick's wish and ordained him as bishop to preach the word of God to the Celtic People. Saint Patrick then came back to Ireland to help teach the word of God. He helped to build churches and he baptised the pagans into Christianity, he also ordained bishops and priests but this did not come without difficulty.
As legend tells us of Saint Patrick lighting the Easter bonfire at Slane hill, it portraits some of the difficulty which Patrick had to face. On Easter night long ago it was forbidden to light any other fire in Ireland until after the lighting of the High King's own bonfire. When the High King saw that Saint Patrick was lighting the fire he sent a warband to kill the Saint and quench the fire. But the fire could not be quenched and Saint Patrick and his followers passed the warriors in disguise of a herd of deer and they went onto defeat the royal druids at Tara in a contest of miracle working. Many of the King's court bowed down to Saint Patrick and were converted, even though the High King was not one of these he did grant the Saint free speech and the right to preach freely to the people of Ireland.
Another one of the stories told to us about Saint Patrick is the one where he went to the royal center at sunrise and here he found the King's two daughters, Eithne and Fedelm. The two girls questioned Patrick about God and they listened attentively to what he had to say, Patrick recited the Holy Creed to them then they wished to be baptised and Patrick did so. Upon receiving the sacrament the two girls died and were buried there.
Another tale about Saint Patrick tells us of him coming to a Neolithic tomb thought to be a "giant's grave". To satisfy his followers' curiosity, Saint Patrick raised the giant from the dead and baptised him, and then returned him to his grave.
As time past Saint Patrick and his followers spread the word of God around the country. They fasted and prayed at the top of what is now Croagh Patrick. Patrick made a promise to God on that day that the people of Ireland would keep their faith until the end of time and the day they did not keep their faith would be the day of doom.
When Saint Patrick died, several communities joined together for his burial. It is said that Saint Patrick's body was wrapped in a shroud and placed on a cart, which was drawn by two unreined white Oxen, it is said that the beasts wandered to Downpatrick where, today people believe he is buried. A granite boulder marked with a cross marked his grave and it is simply inscribed: PATRIC. It is also said that on the day Saint Patrick died that the sun did not set, but shone for twelve days and nights.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ST PATRICK
There are many Irish Locations endeared to the heart of Irish people because of their intimate memories of St Patrick.
SLIABH MIS. On this Ulster mountainside the future apostle of Ireland spent sir lonely years tending the sheep and swine of Milcho Lord of Dalradia. The bog of sixteen was sold to Milcho by plundering Irish pirates. It was also on this mountain that the Divine call to his great Apostlate was heard.
SLANE. The hill of Slane in County Meath was the site of one of the most dramatic incidents in the conversion of Ireland to christianty. It was here Patrick lit the Pashcal fire in 433 of marking Ireland's first celebration of Easter.
Croagh Patrick. The 2510 feet high mountain in County Mayo where the Saint withdrew from the world for the forty days and night of lent. It was here Patrick demonstrated to the Kings and chieftains of Ireland. That he could rise higher than their Royal mounds it was here, too, that the Saint summoned a great host of loathsome and venomous creatures and then command them to cast themselves over the edge of the mountain, thus freezing the Irish countryside from all kinds of reptiles.
SAUL The place near Strangford Lough in County Down. Reputed to be the landing place of the saint after he was driven from the Wicklow coast on his return to begin the conversion of Ireland. The original name of the place was the Gaelic Sabhail, meaning a barn. Here Patrick was given a rude structure by a neighbouring prince, named Dichu, one of the saint's first conversions. It was at Saul, Patrick died There are many wells associated with the saint. ST. Patrick's well near Clonmel in County Tipperary. Here ancient cross has been set up in the middle of a pond whose surface is alive with bubbling swirling water from underground springs. It is a place of special pilgrimage.
STRUEL WELLS. In Co. Down is another place of pilgrimage.
CASHEL. It was here in County Tipperary that Patrick entered Munster where the King Aengas came to meet him and was baptised. At king baptism, the pastoral staff, unwittingly saint saw blood on the ground and then realised what had happened. On asking Aengas "Why did not cry "? The king replied: "You told me so much about the suffering of Christ, I thought it was part of the ceremony".
ARMAGH. Meaning "Heights of Macha" It was at Armagh that Patrick declared that his church there should have pre-eminence over all other churches in Ireland and so to this day it has remained both for the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland.
DOWNPATRICK; Regardless of the prestige of Armagh, St. Patrick was buried here at Down Cathedral. In the nearby graveyard a huge rock slab with rudely-traced inscription marked "Patric" shows his resting-place. St Patrick were discovered in the 12th century saint Patrick hand was enshrined in silver and placed in the high alter of the abbey church. Water was poured through it to heal sores.