St. Patrick's Life
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St. Patrick's Life



The only point about the birthplace of St. Patrick on which there is real certainty is that he was born in Roman Britain, that is, in Britain south of a line drawn from the Firth of Solway to the mouth of the Tyne, and excluding most of Wales.  
Where we are to put his birthplace in this region has not yet been decided with certainty, but the more popular opinion now seems to be that he was born somewhere near where the Severn widens into the Bristol Channel.  
The only name given by St. Patrick himself is "Bannavem Taburniae," to adopt Bieler's rendering. It occurs in the first few lines of the "Confession," and St. Patrick says it was the village of his father-not, we may note, that he was born there, but we can assume it as his home at least.  
The date of St. Patrick's birth is put by traditional scholars like Bieler and Ryan around AD 395 or 386. If the theories of T. P. O'Rahilly and James Carney are true, it would be much later.

Of the family of St. Patrick, we can only fix on three persons with certainty, his grandfather, his father, and his mother.  Patrick himself mentions his grandfather on his father's side, Potitus
his father, Calpurnius. Muirchu gives his mother's name as Concessa, and while Muirchu does not give his authority, his statement can be accepted.  
Potitus, grandfather of Patrick, was a priest; Calpurnius, his father, was a deacon. Possibly they became so late in life in order to escape certain civil duties, such as tax gathering-thus Bury; possibly celibacy was not rigidly enforced in Britain at the time. Calpurnius, Patrick tells us, was also a "decurio," which probably means that he was a member of the local governing body of their home-village. As such, he would almost certainly be liable to the duty of tax gathering, so Bury's suggestion is quite likely.  
Concessa, Patrick's mother, may have been a blood relation of St. Martin of Tours; we cannot prove or disprove the tradition. The existence of a sister called Darerea, supposed to be the mother of Secundinus, is entirely legendary, though we have no proof that he had no brothers or sisters.  

Of Patrick's youth before his captivity we know very little. It was sixteen years in extent, we know from the "Confession," and Patrick also tells us that he led a life, which was neither very religious nor studious. He was to feel his lack of knowledge of Latin later, but it is not likely that a very superior type of education was open to him, living as he was in a frontier province at the time of the dissolution of the Empire. His lack of religion was enough to lead him once into a sin, which appears to have been fairly serious, as its revelation was to hold up his appointment to Ireland.

St. Patrick, when he was about sixteen years of age, was carried off into captivity in Ireland by a band of Irish raiders. At the time Ireland was ruled by the famed raider, Niall of the Nine Hostages (400-427 approximately), and while we do not know who led this raid to Patrick's country, Patrick's phrase, that he was captured "with many thousands of people" shows it to have been an invasion more than a raid.

Patrick, when he was captured, was living, not at Bannavem Taburniae, but at a country estate outside the village. Some visualize this as a lonely country manor near the sea, rather unprotected, but that is purely an imagined picture that may or may not be true.

Tradition, since Tirechan and Muirchu, has put the place of St. Patrick's captivity as somewhere near Mount Slemish in Co. Antrim, assigning Mount Slemish itself as the "mountain" on which Patrick says he prayed almost a hundred times in the night. Most modern scholars accept this seventh-century tradition, with the exception of Bury and O'Rahilly, and possibly James Carney. O'Rahilly rejects Slemish as "part of what we may call the Armagh development of the Patrician legend," i.e. part of the endeavor to boost Armagh's primacy, and chooses instead the district of Tirawley, Co. Mayo, west of Killala Bay. Bury goes even farther west, and makes the mountain of the captivity Croagh Patrick.  
We can accept Slemish, however, notwithstanding the view of these two eminent scholars. If St. Patrick had been in captivity in Tirawley, Tierchan, a Tirawley man, would be expected to know and stress the fact.  
St. Patrick's status in Slemish was that of a slave, and again Tirechan and Muirchu inform us that his master was a man named Miliuc Maccu Boin (Bieler's spelling), either a petty king (McNeill), or a druid (O'Rahilly and Bieler). Patrick's occupation -and here we are on the sure ground of the "Confession"-was tending the flocks of his master, Miliuc. The flocks could have been sheep, or pigs, or cattle, or all three. Probably he grazed sheep and pigs, as he says he stayed "in the woods and on the mountain." The woods would suggest pigs, as the Irish grazed pigs in woods (McNeill), and there is evidence of woods at the foot of Slemish. Furthermore, the Tripartite Life says explicitly that he herded swine. The mountain would suggest sheep, as only sheep could have grazed the high slopes of Slemish.  
The duration of Patrick's captivity at Slemish was six years. Again we have the evidence of the "Confession" for this. When Patrick escaped from Miliuc and his flocks, he was therefore twenty-two years of age.

St. Patrick introduces his account of his escape by telling us of a voice in his sleep, and later just a voice, telling him of his coming escape and that his ship was ready. Trusting in the voices, he left Slemish, and journeyed "two hundred miles perhaps" to the sea. McNeill accepts the two hundred miles as accurate, as Patrick knew Ireland thoroughly by the time he came to write the "Confession," and so he fixes Patrick's place of embarkation in the region of Wexford.  
The ship on which Patrick sailed after some preliminary difficulty with the captain was bringing a cargo of Irish hounds to the Continent.  
The crew of the ship was pagan and probably Irish, and while Patrick sailed with them, he refused to join up with them completely. That is the most likely meaning of the strange phrase "I refused to suck their breasts," an Irish-ism, according to Bieler and Ryan, for placing oneself under the special protection of somebody.  
After three days, Patrick goes on, they reached land. The land was that part of France, then known as Armorica, and now as Brittany, and the date, if we follow traditional scholarship, was around AD 407.  
With the landing of the ship with the cargo of hounds in Armorica we come to a most confusing part of the "Confession" narrative. Patrick discusses the sojourn in Gaul in paragraphs 19-23 inclusive, and the interpretation of those paragraphs has exercised the ingenuity of many Patrician scholars.  
Thus, there are the apparent contradictions of the "many  
years" of par. 21 and the "few years" of par. 23; there is a mysterious "captivity" mentioned in par. 21; and there are the confused journeyings of pars. 19 and 22.  
Bieler is inclined to regard these difficulties as insoluble; McNeill works it out in pp. 29-30 of his "Life," and says that the whole party traveled through a deserted country for twenty-eight days, at some stage were captured as a body by unknown captors, possibly Vandals, and held in captivity for two months. After two months they got away as a body, and after another journey of ten days "met people," and apparently came to the end of their trouble.  
The "deserted country" of the first twenty-eight days' journey causes some trouble, too. Brittany was not such, so scholars ex- plain the phrase by the devastation presumably following on the Vandal invasion of Gaul on New Year's Night, AD 406-7. Bieler thinks the sailors may have kept to deserted places to avoid the soldiers of one Constantine 111, a usurper of Gaul at that time.  
Two definite incidents of all this tortuous journeying through  
"sweet France" are related by Patrick. The first was that God provided a herd of pigs, at Patrick's prayer, for men and hounds, after a challenge by the pagan sailors. The second was a strange vision of the night, in which Satan "fell upon me like a huge rock," and from whom he was delivered by the Sun, Christ, after he had called "Helias! Helias!" ("Confession," par. 20.) Interpreters are again hard put to it to explain this incident. Who was Helias? McNeill decides on Elias, Bieler on a confusion in Patrick's dreaming imagination, of Elias and Helios, the Sun-God. (Their names were alike, and both had chariots!) It does not matter very much, as we do not have to look for perfect consistency or clarity in a vision of the night. Possibly there is a simpler explanation, that Patrick simply called on Christ, the "Sol Salutis" and "Sun of Justice," as a result of suggestion from the supernatural source of his vision.  
How soon Patrick returned to Britain after his troubled wanderings with the sailors in Gaul, we do not know. All we know is that he did return to is family ("Confession" 23)'presumably (with McNeill) as soon as he was able to go.

Of this we know only three things with certainty. Firstly, that Patrick came home to his family; and it is generally accepted, too, that his parents were still alive. Secondly, that it was at his home in Britain during this period that he had a vocation for missionary work in Ireland. To convince him of this, he had three separate spiritual experiences, the famous vision in which he received the "Call of the Irish," and two others. The vision has been grossly overlaid by legend, and should be read of in the "Confession" itself, paragraph 23. Who Victoricus was is disputed - either a friend of Patrick's captivity in Ireland, or a friend in Britain who may have encouraged his vocation. The other two experiences described in paragraphs 24-5 confirmed the first vision and seem to have been real mystical experiences. Thirdly, we know that Patrick's family tried to prevent him from following his vocation and leaving them. They besought him "that now at last, having suffered so many hardships," he "should not leave them and go elsewhere."

This is a very vague period in Patrick's life. Both the time of his training and the place are disputed. Thus McNeill puts it after his sojourn at home, Ryan before (at least in part), after he had left the sailors and their hounds. Concerning the place, there is less dispute, but still there is some disagreement. Patrick him- self ("Confession" 43) clearly suggests that he received his training, or at least some of it, in Gaul. For the rest, there is an authentic saying of his preserved in the "Book of Armagh": "The fear of God I had as my guide through Gaul and Italy and the islands of the Tyrrhene Sea."  
This saying of Patrick, with the commentary of 'Tirechan on it, is taken by scholars to refer to a stay made by Patrick at various monastic foundations in these places. The islands of the T'yrrhene Sea (along the west coast of Italy) were full of such foundations at the time, and as such had aroused the cultured wrath of the pagan humanist, Rutilius Claudius Namatianus. In Rutillus's view, the islands were "squalid with fugitives from light." Patrick's stay at many of the monasteries need not have been long, as stabilization of houses had not yet taken place. But tradition has it, on Tirechan's authority, that he spent a long period at the famous monastery on the island of Lerins (now St. Honorat), just off Cannes and Monaco, on the Riviera, the island of which Virgil wrote: "There is not a lovelier isle in the whole world than Lerina." The founder of this monastery was St. Honoratus, a native of northern Gaul, and Abbott at the time St. Patrick is said to have been there. Bieler, however, denies that it is proved that Patrick was there at all; the name "insula Aralanensis" used by Tirechan, does not refer to Lerins, he says, but to an isle on the River Yonne, near Auxerre.  
Apart from Lerins, another place connected by tradition, from Muirchu on, with St. Patrick, is Auxerre, the French town about one hundred miles almost due east of Orleans. If we take Ryan's view, Patrick's sojourn in Lerins preceded his "holidays" in Britain, and then be went from Britain straight to Auxerre; if MeNeill's, then he went to Lerins after the "holidays," and from Lerins to Auxerre. But at any rate, the later part of his training-all are agreed-took place at Auxerre, and it is probable that he remained there until the time of his appointment to Ireland.

When did St. Patrick come to Auxerre? Again, that is not certain; but it was before AD 418 probably. Some authors (McNeill and Ryan) follow Bury in saying that he was probably ordained deacon by Amator, Bishop of Auxerre, who died in AD 418. At any rate, Patrick was certainly ordained a deacon by someone, and remained on at the church of Auxerre, under St. Germanus, who succeeded Arnator. According to Bieler, there is no record of his having been ordained a priest, and so Bieler thinks that Patrick was consecrated bishop straight from the diaconate. This would be very interesting from a theological point of view, as it is disputed among theologians as to whether this is possible or not.

However, the question does not arise for some writers on St. Patrick. The surprising length of Patrick's alleged stay at Auxerre, 418-32, has led at least two of them to question the fact of his having waited so long as a mere deacon before going to Ireland. In 1887 Whitley Stokes, and in 1956 Kathleen Mulchrone, advanced the view that he was ordained priest in Auxerre in 418, and that he went at once to Ireland, working there as a simple priest from 419-31.  The evidence claimed for this view is: -  
(1) Can we imagine Patrick, burning with zeal for Ireland's conversion, called to work there by visions, waiting so long?  
(2) He would surely have forgotten Irish if he had been absent from Ireland for twenty-five years, A.D. 407-32.  
(3) He would also have learned better Latin. (4) The "Book of Armagh" has an account of the foundation of a church at Trim in 419 by Patrick and other clerics.  
What value these arguments have is hard to say. The last one would probably be worth investigating; Todd and Bury are obviously hesitant in fixing the date of the foundation of Trim.  

The immediate cause of the mission to Ireland was the heresy of Pelagius. Pelagianism began to be taught in the early years of the fifth century by the British monk, Pelagius, and the Irishman, Coelestius. By 429 the heresy had become fairly prevalent in Britain, and in that year, says Prosper of Aquitaine's "Chronicle," Pope Celestine sent Germanus of Auxerre to Britain at the instigation of the deacon Palladius, Germanus's mission being to overthrow the Pelagian heresy there. Who the deacon Palladius was we are not absolutely sure, but it is thought that he was attached to Auxerre, and that Germanus had himself sent him to Rome to warn Pope Celestine of the state of Britain.  
Germanus went to Britain, and there he seems to have been struck very forcibly by the need for sending missionaries to Ireland. A conference, over which he presided, was held in Britain to discuss this, and Patrick's name was mentioned as possible leader of the mission. That much is certain. But at this point we run into controversy again. Bieler holds that this was the only conference, and that it decided the whole question of the mission. Most other authors claim that there was a second and much more important conference at Auxerre, when Germanus and others had returned from Britain, and that it was at this second conference that the question of the mission to Ireland was decided.  
Whichever view is true, we know that the conference (or conferences) ultimately led to the appointment of Palladius to Ireland instead of Patrick in 431, and that the rejection led to a crisis in Patrick's spiritual life, due to the circumstances of the rejection.

Patrick had a very good friend among the clergy of Auxerre, and was so intimate with him that he had confided in him concerning a sin of his youth-some time, in Auxerre, before his ordination to the diaconate. This friend, who seems to have been a person of importance, was a strong supporter of Patrick's nomination in the beginning, and had even told Patrick that he would support him. But at the conference (or conferences) objections were made to Patrick--on the grounds of his "rusticity" apparently- and then, when things were going badly for Patrick, his friend suddenly changed, and revealed the sin that Patrick had told him of. This was enough to decide the question, and Patrick was rejected.  
Patrick himself tells us that this rejection constituted the supreme spiritual crisis of his life. "On that day indeed was I struck so that I might have fallen now and for eternity," he says ("Confession" 26). The action of his friend is presented as the chief cause of this, but disappointment may have had a share in it too. Assistance from God, including another "vision of the night" ("Confession" 29) strengthened him, and consoled him in this crisis.  
So Patrick was rejected as head of the Irish mission, and Palladius was chosen in his place. Prosper tells us that Palladius was ordained by Pope Celestine and sent by him with full Papal authority as first bishop to Ireland. The year was A.D. 431.

Of Palladium's mission work in Ireland, we know scarcely any- thing, and for what we know, we are dependent entirely on the early Irish "Life" by Muirchu, on entries in the Irish Annals, and on a note at the end of Tirechan in the "Book of Armagh." From these, and from the names of three Palladian churches preserved in the 'I'ripartite Life, a short account of his mission can be reconstructed.

He landed, we are told, probably in the region of Wicklow town, for its port was in use at the time, and the three Palladian churches mentioned above are in Wicklow. They are Cellfine, Tech no Romanach, and Domnach Airthe. According to Bury, we do not know where Celifine is, but Tech no Romanach is Tigroney in the Vale of Avoca region, and Domnach Airthe is Donard.  
Palladius's mission in Ireland did not last long. O'Rahilly tries to destroy the evidence of the Annals, which put the arrival of Palladius in 431 and that of a bishop Patrick in 432, by specialized interpretation, making the two references in the Annals refer to the same event. However, other scholars accept the Annals at their face value, and agree also to accept Muirchu's statement that Palladius crossed to Britain shortly after his arrival in Irealnd, and died there. Bieler is more inclined to accept Tirechan's note to the effect that Palladius was martyred in Ireland. But whether he was martyred in Ireland, or died in Britain, we can take it that within a year of his appointment to Ireland, Palladius was dead.  

We are dependent solely on Muirchu for an account of what was happening to Patrick in the meantime. Muirchu's story is this:-Patrick was sent after Palladius as a simple missionary to Ireland in the company of a priest Segitius, a "senior," that is, a superior. Whether Patrick had been ordained a priest before he was thus sent we do not know.

On their way from Auxerre to Ireland, they met some disciples of Palladius returning from Ireland with news of his death. On hearing of the death of Palladius, they turned back, and although at this point Muirchu becomes a little confused and contradictory, it is agreed that they went to Auxerre, and that there Patrick was consecrated a bishop by Germanus. He was not consecrated by Pope Celestine, as later legend claimed, nor did he go to Rome before he left for Ireland. But his appointment was decidedly "Roman," for he succeeded Palladius, and all the signs go to show that Germanus of Auxerre was appointed by Rome to see to the Irish mission. And so, Patrick, a newly-consecrated bishop, set out from Auxerre to Ireland, and arrived there in the year A.D. 432.


There are two accounts' of Patrick's first landing on Irish soil. According to Muirchu, he landed first at the mouth of the Vartry River, once the Dee, at the harbor of Inbhear De, just above Wick- low town. According to Tirechan, he touched first at a tiny island off the coast of Dublin County, a little north of Lambay, off Skerries. This island is still known as Inis Pádraig or Holmpatrick.  
Both accounts are possible and equally likely, but McNeill favors the second. Whichever is true, Patrick is not said to have delayed long at his first landing place, but to have pushed on north to Antrim, to the area of his captivity.  
Sailing north along the coast, Patrick went up the narrow neck of Strangford, and then turned westward through another channel until he reached a landing place near Saul and Downpatrick. There his mission work (according to Muirchu) opened with success and failure, the success being the conversion of the local chieftain, Dichu, and the erection of the first church in Dichu's barn or storehouse at Saul, the failure being the unsuccessful attempt to convert his old master, Miliuc.

The historical value of this account is not yet definitely known, but we can take it as certain that Patrick did open his mission in the north, in this area. Dichu and the foundation of the church at Saul are definitely historical.  
After the attempt to convert Miliuc, Muirchu goes on, Patrick decided on his famous expedition to Meath, and so he embarked again, and sailed south to the mouth of the Boyne, where Drogheda now stands. They left the boat there, and traveled by land to Slane, where, on Easter Saturday night, they began to celebrate the Easter rites, and lit the Paschal fire. Again according to Muirchu, on the very night that Patrick lit the fire, a heathen festival was taking place at Tara, Laoghaire's royal seat, about ten miles off across the plains of Meath. Part of the ritual in the pagan function was the lighting of a fire at Tara, which had to be the first fire lit that night, under pain of death. ("Patrick knew not this thing," the Tripartite comments characteristically, "and if he knew it, it would not have prevented him.")

Patrick's fire was observed, and things began to move in Tara. Laoghaire set out with his chariots to Slane, challenged Patrick, and had his chief Druid miraculously slain, his company miraculously dispersed, and so on. Next day, Easter Sunday, Patrick came to Tara and after a contest in wonder-working with the druids, ended by converting two of Laoghaire's bards, and even Laoghaire himself.

How much of history is there in this famous Slane and Tara story? It seems we have to admit that the best scholars (e.g. Todd, Bury, Bieler) regard it as largely legendary. That Patrick did celebrate Easter and light a fire at Slane is very probably historical, but the challenge across Meath to Tara is almost certainly not. Beltaine, the heathen sun festival, took place on May 1st, and Muirchu plainly puts Patrick's fire on Easter Saturday, which never could be May 1st. As a matter of fact, the heathen festival of Samhain (November 1st) would fit Muirchu's story even better. It was at Sahmain that a fire was lit from which Ireland's fires were said to be enkindled, and it was at Samhain that festivals were hold specially at Tara.

And as with Slane and Tara, so with the dramatic scenes at itself. They are so "wonderful" that they are clearly legendary.  
However, we need not dismiss everything as legend. The most likely explanation, according to Bieler, is that Muirchu combined in legendary form two genuine traditions, first the celebration of Easter at Slane in 433, and a visit to Laoghaire at Tara in autumn, 433. Bury suggests that Patrick visited Laoghaire at Tara much later when Christianity had become very widespread, to parley with him on the civic status of Christian communities.  

The Annals of Ulster record that in 439 "Secundinus, Auxilius, and Iserninus, bishops, are sent to Ireland to assist Patrick." The exact nationality of these three important helpers of St. Patrick is not certain, but it is almost certain that they were Continentals. Auxilius and Iserninus are said to have been fellow disciples of St. Patrick under Germanus of Auxerre, and it is likely that Secundinus also came from Auxerre, since he came at the same time. He is said to have been a Lombard, which may be true.  
That these three bishops were important men in the early Irish Church is clear from the fact that Auxilius's and Iserninus's names are appended with Patrick's to the earliest collection of Canons for the Irish Church that we possess. They were promulgated after 447, the year that Secundinus died. But at the same time the old records leave us in no doubt that all three were always subordinate to Patrick.

It is very difficult to sift fact from fiction in dealing with this, but we can decide on a few historical characters. And scholars agree, and the kind of converts the old records describe indicate, that Patrick concentrated on "key" people, the rulers and the learned, and that from the beginning he began to form a native clergy RECRUITED FROM THESE CLASSES.

(a) Among the ruling classes, first of all, his most noteworthy converts were Conall, son of Niall, and brother of Laoghaire, founder of the kingdom of Tir Conaill; the two daughters of Laoghaire, Eithne the Fair and Fedelm the Ruddy, at Crochan; Enda of Tirawley and his son Conall. The story of Eithne and Fedelm, as given by Muirchu, is so beautiful it is worth quoting.  
"But St. Patrick then came, before sunrise, to the well which is called Clebach, on the eastern side of Crochan, and they seated themselves near the well. And behold the two daughters of King Laoghaire, Eithne the Fair and Fedelm the Ruddy came in the morning to the well to bathe, as women are wont to do; and they found the holy assembly of bishops and priests at the well.  
"And the maidens said to them: 'Who are you, and whence do you come?' And Patrick said to them: 'It were better for you to confess our True God than to enquire about our race.'

"The maiden said: 'Who is God? And where is God? And of whom is God? And where is His dwelling? Has your God sons and daughters, gold and silver? Is He everliving? Is He beautiful? Did many foster His Son? Are His daughters dear and lovely to the men of the world? Is He in the heaven or on earth? In the sea? In the rivers? In mountains? Make Him known to us. How is He to be seen? How is He to be loved? How is He to be found? Is it in youth? Is it in old age that He is to be found?'

"But St. Patrick, filled with the Holy Ghost, answered and said: 'Our God is the God of all men; the God of heaven and earth, of the sea and rivers; the God of the sun, the moon, and the stars; He has a dwelling in heaven and earth, and the sea and all therein; He gives breath to all; He gives life to all; He is over all; He has a Son co-eternal and co-equal with Himself; the Son is not younger than the Father; and the Father is not older than the Son; and the Holy Ghost breathes into them; the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are undivided; but I wish to unite you to the Heavenly King, as you are daughters of an earthly king, by believing.'

"And the maidens, as if with one voice and with one heart, said:  
'Teach us most exactly how we may believe in the Heavenly King; show us how we may behold Him face to face, and we will do whatever you shall say to us.'  
"And they were baptized and were clothed with a white garment on their head. And they besought that they might behold the face of Christ. And the Saint said to them: 'You cannot see the face of Christ unless you taste death, and unless you receive the Sacrifice.'

"And they answered: 'Give us the Sacrifice, so that we may be able to behold the Son, our Spouse.' And they received the Eucharist of God, and they slept in death. And they placed them on one bed clad with white garments, and their friends made great lamentation and weeping, and the druid Caplait, who had fostered the younger of them, came and wept, and Patrick preached to him; and he believed."

The story of Eithne and Fedelm may have legendary details, as, for example, their immediate death after baptism, but their conversion at Crochan and later burial there is taken as true. Scholars differ as to the questions put by the two girls. Whitley Stokes thinks they ring perfectly true.  
Laoghaire himself, in spite of Muirchu's statement, never became a convert. Instead, he ordered that he be buried in pagan fashion, standing in full armor on the ramparts of Tara, facing south towards enemy Leinster, "because of the endurance of our hatred."

Dichu, chieftain of Saul, was another convert from the ruling classes. So was Crimthann of Rathvilly, son of E-Enda Cennsalach.  
(b) Among the learned, the most noteworthy converts were Dubthach, one of the leading druids and bards, and Fiacc, his pupil, later bishop of Sletty. (The Tripartite has an intriguing comment on Mace's traveling habits: "Five cakes with him, as report says.")

Of the native clergy the most famous were Benignus, or Benen, who joined Patrick while still a boy, and succeeded him in the See of Armagh; Sacellus and Cethiacus, bishops at Baslick and Oran in Roscommon; and Fiacc of Sletty mentioned above.  

Patrick, in the beginning, appears to have acted rather like the Apostles, exercising general jurisdiction over the Irish Church, without picking a See for himself. So the first important Sees went to his companions. Thus the See of Secundinus, his first fellow bishop from Gaul, was at Domhnach Seachlainn or Dunshaughlin, five miles from Tara. Auxilius, the second companion, had his See at Cell Ausailli, or Killashee, just outside Naas. Iserninus, the third, had his See at Ath Fadhad, or Aghade, on the Slaney, near Rathvilly. Fiacc had his See at Sletty in Laughs, near the Carlow border.

Patrick, when he came to choose a See for himself, chose Armagh as the primatial See, with authority over the others. The date of its foundation is uncertain; it was either 444 or 457, Bieler being more inclined to favor the latter date. There is extant authentic evidence of Patrick having exercised primatial authority from Armagh over two of his bishops, Sacellus and Cethiacus, in Roscommon. They are referred to as the bishops of Mag Ai, i.e.,. the plains between Boyle and Roscommon. They are reproved for ordaining indiscriminately without the permission of Patrick.

It is obvious, from the location of these first Sees, that Patrick tended to base his dioceses, or "mission stations" if you like, on the civil divisions of the country. All of them are near important seats of government. Thus Dúnshaughlin was near Tara. Killashee near Nas na Riogh, one of the seats of the Lagin kings, Aghade not far from Rathvilly, a royal seat of the Ui Cennsalach, a Lagin tribe first made important by Enda Cennsalach. Enda, as a matter of fact, refused to have Iserninus in his territory. It was his convert son, Crimthann, who allowed him to come to Aghade. (Aghade is a crossing of the Slaney between Tullow and Ballon, a bridge even today, beside a place called "Bang-up Corner." Rathvilly, according to Bury, still has earthworks, which mark the seat of the Cennsalach.) Armagh, of course, was only about a mile and a half to the east of Emain Macha, the once famous royal seat of the Ulster, Firbolg, the Ulaid. Earthworks still mark the position of Emain. There Conor Mae Nessa, Cuchulainn, and the Red Branch heroes were supposed to have lived.  

 The Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Innisfallen record the approval by Rome of St. Patrick. The Annals of Ulster state, for the year 441, "Leo was ordained the forty-second bishop of the Roman Church, and approved in the Catholic faith was bishop Patrick." This was expanded into a legend concerning Patrick's visit to Rome, and the bringing back of relies of Sts. Peter and Paul to Armagh. Very conveniently, according to the Tripartite, when Patrick arrived in Rome, "sleep came over the inhabitants of Rome, so that Patrick brought away a sufficiency of the relics!" But there is no certain evidence for the journey at all, even though it may have taken place, and the circumstances of the approval are unknown to us.  

We have so little that is really authentic and so much that is legendary on the missionary journeys, that it is extremely difficult to "follow St. Patrick." Still, scholars are agreed that he did most of his work in Ulster, the Midlands, and Connacht. Of his work in Munster we have very little evidence, even though it is certain that he worked there, just as we know that he worked in southeast Leinster.

One would like to take each of the provinces, and trace St. Patrick's missionary work in each, but it is not easy. For our information we are dependent entirely on the Tripartite and Tire- chan, and Tirechan's work is incomplete. The plan of his Memoir was this-to make a list of the Churches founded by St. Patrick, with the ulterior motive of consolidating the control of Armagh over them, but we have only his list for Meath and Connacht. However, one can attempt very briefly to trace the journeys of St. Patrick, and it seems best to take each of our present provinces separately.

Scholars generally admit that Patrick began his missionary work in the northeast, where he built his first church, at Saul. And the success of his mission there is evident from the choice of Armagh as his primatial See. Tirechan and Tripartite tell us that he founded churches in various places in Antrim and Down, one at Coleraine in Derry, and that he worked in Tyrone and Donegal, where he founded a church near the shores of Lough Derg. Monaghan and Cavan figure in his travels, too, and once or twice, Fermanagh. Just how much of it all we can take as historical is very difficult to know. The fact of his working in and founding churches all over the North is true, but the rather ridiculous embellishment of the Tripartite can be rejected.

Seeing the amount of material there is in Tirechan and the Tripartite, there does not seem to be any doubt that St. Patrick worked very extensively in Connacht. And the evidence seems to point to the whole of Co. Mayo and Co. Sligo, and the north of Co. Roscommon as the chief scenes of his activity. Possibly the fact that Tirechan was a Mayo man from the borders of Sligo may explain this, but we would expect it at any rate in North Roscommon, the place where two of the first Sees were set up.  
The Tripartite gives an even more than usually colorful account of Patrick's journeying in Connacht.

Leinster is fairly well documented also in Tirechan and the Tripartite, again naturally enough, as Tirechan was a cleric in Meath. And Meath county, itself, Kildare, Carlow, Wicklow, and Longford figure prominently. Again, all this seems likely, considering the position of the first Sees, and Longford would really be part of the Connacht journeyings.

Tirechan's Memoir only tells us that he visited Cashel, but the Notes added to Tirechan in the "Book of Armagh" say he worked in northeast Cork and most of Co. Limerick. The Tripartite expands on this, but does keep to Tipperary, Cork and Limerick principally. It relates the famous incident at the baptism of Aengus, king of Cashel, when Patrick's crozier passed through Aengus's foot, and Aengus thought it was part of the baptism ceremony.  

This is done very well by John Ryan, in "Irish Monasticism," and his conclusions are mainly two:  
(a) St. Patrick set up the Church in Ireland as a Church of secular clergy, i.e., he organized it on the usual lines, with monarchial bishops ruling dioceses and assisted by priests and deacons. Some of the clergy thus appointed may have been monks, but all the evidence points to a majority of seculars.  
(b) He strongly favored monasticism, and from his own writings, the "Confession" and the "Letter," we know that he got a response that even surprised himself, both from men and women. But the Church in Ireland did not become overwhelmingly monastic in character until a considerable time after St. Patrick's death.

On these two general conclusions one can elaborate a little. Firstly, of the secular clergy we can say that-  
1. Patrick put his Sees near the royal or chieftainly seats.  
2. The diocesan limits, as elsewhere in the Church at the time, were not too clearly defined.  
3. Often Sees were put in quite small places, but not multiplied unnecessarily,
e.g. Patrick's reproval of Cethiacus and Sacellus was partly for this.  
4. The episcopal buildings were usually built within the con- fines of a fort, and there the bishop and his clergy lived and candidates for the priesthood were trained. They-were somewhat like ecclesiastical colleges, and the transition to monasticism was easy.

Secondly, of the monasticism all we can say is that the numbers were very great. Patrick himself says that "their number is ever increasing," that he "cannot count their number," and mentions a nun who obviously impressed him, "a blessed Irishwoman of noble birth, full-grown, beautiful, whom I had baptized." One would like to know her name. Other prominent nuns are mentioned in the "Book of Armagh," like St. Attracta at Killaraght on the shores of Lough Gara. It seems that the nuns were placed in small groups to help the clergy in the churches, rather than in convents proper.
Part of the monastic site at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly

This is the best documented incident in the whole of St. Patrick's missionary life, and it shows St. Patrick at his zealous missionary best.

Coroticus was a nominally Christian British prince, usually identified with Ceredig, the founder of the Welsh kingdom of Cardigan. He was obviously, says Bieler, one of those local rulers in Imperial territory who, after the breakdown of Roman rule, defended as best they could the remnants of Roman civilization against the "barbarians." Coroticus did a very good job of his defending; he carried the war into enemy territory, and at least on one occasion reversed the usual fifth century procedure, and raided Ireland from Britain for slaves. The people he attacked were recent converts of St. Patrick; some he killed, the rest he sold as slaves to what Patrick calls "the abominable, wicked, and apostate Picts." The apostate Picts, according to McNeill, may have been some of the inhabitants of South Scotland converted by St. Ninian of the monastery of Candida Casa in the early fifth century. By the time of Coroticus's raid, apparently, they had fallen away.

St. Patrick immediately took up the defense of his Christians. Even before Coroticus had left Ireland with his booty, Patrick protested in the most solemn fashion, sending a delegation to the raiders headed by "a holy presbyter whom I had taught from his childhood." "They only jeered at him," Patrick says.  
Patrick then sent the letter we possess, "to be given, delivered, and sent to the soldiers of Coroticus," but obviously intended for the other British Christians, asking that the raiders be treated as "excommunicate vitandi." What effect Patrick's appeal had we do not know; possibly it only caused resentment in Britain, but the whole letter is a most moving one, full of emotion, good honest indignation and condemnation, and remarkable for Patrick's whole- hearted identification of himself with the Irish people.

St. Patrick wrote his "Confession   " towards the end of his life as a kind of "Apologia pro vita sua." He himself suggests two motives he had in writing, firstly, "that my brethren and kinsmen should know what sort of person I am, so that they may understand my heart's desire," secondly, "that after my death I may leave a bequest to my brethren and sons whom I have baptized in the Lord - so many thousands of people."

To justify and explain his mission to his British friends, to leave a remembrance of himself to his Irish converts, these were two aims of his "Confession." But in the background, a constant source of embarassment to Patrick in his unaccustomed literary efforts, are groups of hostile critics, whose criticism went a long way towards prompting the "Confession" as well. With these in mind, Patrick constantly refers to his lack of learning, his "rusticity," his poor Latin and literary style, his general natural unfitness for his work in Ireland.

Who were these accusers, who, naturally speaking, must have taken so much of the good out of Patrick's wonderful success story? Scholars think it likely that there were critics of his work every- where he was known, in Gaul, in Britain, and in Ireland. If Bieler's identification is correct, it is hard to have patience with the first group in Gaul. ] For they were probably men like Sidonius Apollinaris and others, "literati" who gave us our first Christian Latin poetry, living a polite and cultured existence among their vineyards in Provence. "You men of letters on your estates," Patrick (sarcastically, may be) addressed them. The second group, the British, are probably referred to in "Confession," par. 9, those who "thoroughly imbibed law and Sacred Scripture and never had to change from the language of their childhood days." The Irish, the third group, were probably of the Druid class, who may have accused Patrick of making money, as he is painfully anxious to defend himself on this score.

The traditional date of St. Patrick's death is March 17th, 461 A.D. The place, according to Muirchu, was Saul, where he founded his first church. The circumstances of his death are so overlaid with legend in "Muirchu" and the other early "Lives" that we can say no more with certainty. The place of his burial is supposed to be Downpatrick. There, the legends say, he lies in the same grave as Brigid and Columkille. What truth is there in this?

Only a few authors mention the question at all. Gougaud says that his place of burial is unknown. Bury and Ryan say Saul, and Healy argues at length for Downpatrick. Certainly the old sources favor Downpatrick. Muirchu and the "Tripartite" say so explicitly, and Tirechan says, "in Saul of Patrick, that is, in the church nigh to the sea." Perhaps the church near the sea is Downpatrick, says Healy. It seems quite probable that Downpatrick is the place. The burial certainly seems to have taken place in the region of Saul, and Downpatrick is only two miles from Saul.  

St. Patrick's own writings are our best guide to his quality as a missionary, but unfortunately Patrick's description of his missionary work is tantalizingly brief. "It would be tedious to give a detailed account of all my labours," he writes, "I do not want to bore my readers."

With the little we have to go on, we can say that St. Patrick was obviously a missionary of extraordinary zeal, energy, and courage. It is also obvious that he met with great success. But all this has been said and written many times, and it really takes a reading of Patrick's own words to bring it home. Out of many instances of his worth, we can take the following:  
It seems fairly certain, from the way Patrick speaks, that he never once went back to Britain, or even Gaul. "And how I would have loved to go," he adds, "God knows it that I much desired it."

He was apparently utterly reckless of his own life and safety. He went everywhere in an Ireland that was notoriously unsafe for travelers. The impression he gives us is of a man who cannot get around Ireland quickly enough, of an abundance of the "divina impaciencia" the Spaniards ascribe to Xavier. "It was most necessary to spread our nets," he writes, that a great multitude and throng might be caught for God. "I am afraid of losing the labour which I have begun." "May God never permit it to happen to me that I should lose his people which he purchased in the utmost parts of the world."

He became so identified with the Irish people that he more or less unconsciously describes himself as an Irishman in the letter to the soldiers of Coroticus. "For them," he says, "it is a disgrace that we are Irish." It is probably a further tribute to the complete- ness of Patrick's identification that many Irishmen have since unconsciously agreed with him, and -rarely regard him as the foreigner and Englishman that he was.

But apart from Patrick's general worth as a missionary of great zeal, is there anything we can learn about his missionary technique? Again we are lamentably short of evidence, but the following points can be made.

In his general approach to the people, Patrick, in the beginning, clearly concentrated on "key" people, princes and druids, and very early on he set up a native clergy. The addition of monks and nuns was a further fundamental step. But it would be a mistake to imagine him confining himself to the powerful and the learned. All classes received attention, as the recruiting of nuns from slave girls shows.

Going a step further, Patrick seems to have fairly expertly adapted the Christian faith to the customs and traditions of the country. For example, according to Todd, he replaced the pagan festivals of Beltaine and Samhain by harmless celebrations that have lived on in the customs of May Day and Hallow-E'en. The  
Tripartite Life" has an interesting story, which illustrates Patrick's attitude, even though its details may not be true. Patrick was in Co. Galway, and he came across three pillar stones, which had been placed there by pagans "in memory of some crimes or pagan rites." He at once inscribed the name of Christ on them in three different languages, Jesus, Soter, Salvator.

Another example of adaptation is the "Lorica" of St. Patrick. The "Lorica," which became a very popular form of prayer in the Middle Ages, is really a Christian version of a pagan incantation against evil. The Irish pagans, like many twentieth century African pagans probably, believed that the forces of nature embodied supernatural powers, and Patrick's "Lorica" is a claim that all these are subject to God. It is interesting to compare the form of various "Loricae," including St. Patrick's, with the Kikuyu pagan incantations given in Jomo Kenyatta's "Facing Mount Kenya."

Indeed, the whole attitude of the early Irish Church after St. Patrick is evidence that Irish Church policy from the beginning was one of fearless and untroubled adaptation to pagan custom. For example, the whole pagan literature of Ireland was taken over bodily by the Church, and written down and transmitted by Christians. The missionary Irish of the seventh century, and the wandering Irish of the ninth and tenth, were famous for their interest in pagan literature and philosophy. In this, as Cardinal Newman and Helen Waddell have noted, they were in marked contrast to many continental saints and scholars, and often a source of grave embarrassment to the latter.

The financing of the Irish mission must have seriously engaged Patrick's att6ntion, too, and one of the most obvious things in the "Confession" is his insistence that he certainly did not gain financially from his work in Ireland. He states indignantly that he refused gifts offered to him, that he never accepted the smallest stipend for any of his numerous baptisms or ordinations. At the same time it is clear that Patrick spent money lavishly in his missionary work. He says so himself, and the main outlay was on what we can call "protection money," bribes to the chiefs to allow him into their territories, and money to kings' sons who traveled with him as a bodyguard.

Where, then, we may ask, did he get all this money? Alice Curtayne, in "Saints Are Not Sad," and in the "Furrow" for March, 1951, says he must have drawn fairly heavily on missionary funds on the Continent, and implies that these were his only source of revenue. This would be surprising in a practical minded missionary, as any infant Church has to learn to support itself. But a collection of canons published in 447-459 by Patrick and his fellow bishops, Auxilius and Iserninus, gives a somewhat different picture. Several of the canons deal with the distribution and allocation of gifts received from the people, and with organized collections for the redemption of captives. Probably Patrick's objection to taking gifts from his converts was personal, and general native support of the Church was encouraged.  

The sanctity of St. Patrick, like his missionary zeal, is some- thing that can only be appreciated from reading his own writings- certainly not from early "biographies" like the "Tripartite." The difference between the real Patrick of the "Confession" and the legendary Patrick of the "'I'ripartite" and parts of "Tirechan" and "Muirchu" is truly very great. The Patrick of legend is an all- powerful, violent, and sometimes cruel wonderman who brooked no opposition or offence. To a man who pretended to be asleep, according to a "Tripartite" story, when Patrick visited him, Patrick says, "I would not be surprised if it (the sleep) were your last." And it was. According to other stories, Patrick is ever ready to drive his chariot over those who offend him.

How different all this is from the real Patrick of the "Confession" and the "Letter." Yet it is difficult to analyze or to write anything at length about the holiness of Patrick. His writings leave us merely with a strong impression of a man of extraordinary holiness-they have something of the atmosphere of the more emotional letters of St. Paul or the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Probably the truest thing to say of his holiness is that it is typically missionary. One feels at once inclined to compare him with other great missionaries in the history of the Church. That is probably why he is so often compared with St. Paul.

There is a sense of urgency about him, a wide and all-embracing charity, a highly developed spirit of prayer, penance, and solid hard work. But it would be tedious merely to make a list of the Christian virtues, and say that Patrick had them all. His most obvious virtue was probably a very attractive and very genuine humility that recognized his own real and not imaginary short- comings. His recognition of his poor education and lack of polished manners is well known. But he is also ready to admit that he was very strongly tempted to sin even towards the end of his life, and even to admit that on one occasion his humility nearly let him down, when his rejection as head of the Irish mission caused him deep and bitter disappointment. 

From "The Life of St. Patrick"  
By Fr. Ciaran Needham SPS

edited: April 21, 2017