St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and today is his day. The traditional date of arrival to my country’s shores of the man who brought Christianity to the Irish and in doing changed the course of Ireland’s destiny and Europes’ too. Within a hundred years a barren pagan wasteland trapped in darkness was to become a place where many great European saints went to endow themselves with knowledge and the Christian heritage.
We know that he definately existed outside of secondary sources as we have two of his own written works which testify to this – one an autobiography called the Confessions, the second a letter to the soldiers of Coroticus. So ignore the naysayers today in online posts or the traditional media who state he never existed. He may not have converted the whole island, or been the first Christian here but he was the most important. That is the honest truth.
Of course there are also many legends about St. Patrick which is not surprising given that he came to the people who invented a form of storytelling, and who placed a great deal of stature on oral traditions. Before St. Patrick Ireland did not have writing. The language of the Irish people had not even been condensed into word. Nevertheless that is not to say that some of these traditions have no weight. After all history is often based simply on stories which cannot rely on physical or written evidence but seek local knowledge or tradition.
One of the oldest traditions preserved in Ireland is the following story recorded in one of the great ancient books of Ireland – the Book of Armagh which dates to within 200 years of St. Patrick’s life. It is one of the oldest traditional stories about St. Patrick, based not on Christian hagiographers but likely from the words of pagan druids. The ones who St. Patrick fought all his life.
“It is said that, three years before St. Patrick’s apostolic visit to Ireland, the druids of King Laeghairé predicted the event to their master as an impending calamity. The names of the druids were Lochia and Luchat Mael; their prophecy runs thus:—
“A Tailcenn will come over the raging sea,
With his perforated garment, his crook-headed staff,
With his table at the cast end of his house,
And all his people will answer ‘Amen, Amen.'”
The allusions are intriguing. The pagan druids are referring to the priestly vestments, the altar at the east end of the church, and the pastoral staff, the words of priest are sufficiently obvious, and easily explained. Together these describe the Catholic Christian tradition. The prophecy is quoted by Macutenius, and quoted again from him by Probus; but the original is in one of the most ancient and authentic Irish MSS., the Book of Armagh.
It could be fake, written hundreds of years later by imaginative monks with little to do. But I doubt it. There is something in it that screams real to me.
St. Patrick is in many respects a mix of two biblical figures – Moses and St. Paul. St. Paul had a similar experience to St. Patrick of being called across the sea to pagans (in Macedonia) by an angel. Moses was the Jewish deliverer of Israel who freed them from pagan enslavement. St. Patrick modelled himself on Moses, and for the Irish he was a deliverer. He rescued Ireland from pagan darkness and the evil of the druids.
Happy St. Patrick Day Ricochet people.
PS: Ireland could do with another St. Patrick now.
Have a great day. God bless you all. Thanks too for the comments. Slainte Ricochet.