In the last week of July 431 A.D., Patricius left his residence at Ard Mhacha and traveled with his retinue south toward the kingdom of Midhe. He had been summoned, by royal decree, to a meeting with the reigning monarch, king Laoghaire Mac Neill at the court at Tara. His journey would take him along the slige midluachra (royal roadway) that wound from Antrim on the north coast, through Eamhain Mhacha, the seat of the kings of Ulster, through the foothills of Slieve Gullion and the gap of the north, passing near to the hamlet of Dundalk, on past the old, moss covered dolmens and burial place of the nobles at Ros na ri, on through the town of Drogheda and over the hill of Slane. Then, after crossing the river Boyne, arrive at the royal residence at Tara where he would stay overnight as a guest of Queen Angias and attend the Feis on the following day. Despite the earlier attempts on his life, Patricius was unafraid and eager to meet with Laoghaire. Although acutely aware of his connection to Laoghaire’s father Niall and his time as a hostage in Ireland, Patricius believed that fate had brought him full circle and was sure that his meeting with Niall’s son was inevitable and the final hurdle to be cleared. He was also fully aware that during his six years as sheep herder in County Antrim, he had acquired a good knowledge of the Celtic language and a broad understanding of local customs, all of which would be a great benefit to him during his mission.
As he walked along, he let his mind wander, back to the fateful day when the wild, pagan marauders attacked his village and family home, burning and looting with impunity. He recalled his mother and father shouting at him and his sisters, urging them to run and hide and the fear and panic as the young men and girls, including him and his sisters, were rounded up and taken to the boats. He remembered his time as a shepherd, tending to the sheep and goats, on the rugged granite crags of the cold, wet mountain and the absolute loneliness surrounding him like a burial shroud, sustained only by his unwavering faith.
He shivered as he thought of the stormy nights when the howling wind roared and the thunder rocked the very ground where he lay trembling in abject fear. He could still feel the crackle of electricity on his skin as he thought of the night sky ablaze with fiery light, the furze and bracken lit with an eerie, hellish glow, each flash etched in his memory forever. He recalled how he had prayed earnestly every day imploring God to free him from his bondage and allow him to return safely to his family. By God’s grace he had survived it all; intimidation, threats of imprisonment, death and banishment, but he was aware that there was still considerable opposition to him and his new message, even though he had converted many among the nobles and other important people. High king Laoghaire and Lochra, the chief Druid, his main opponents, were the real stumbling block and he knew that unless he converted them, his mission could falter. A miracle was needed.
Patricius arrived at Tara in the early evening and was escorted to the royal residence by the gatekeepers, where Queen Angias and her daughters waited to welcome him. Already converts, she and her daughters had looked forward to his arrival and after exchanging pleasantries, led him directly to the seat reserved for him at the head of the table. Among the guests were Aonghus, the king of Connaught, Daire, the king of Ulster, Benignus, son of the chieftain Secsnen, who would later become Patricius’ successor and Erc, the son of the important noble Daig, who would later become the Bishop of Slane. All had been baptized and converted to the new faith, were loyal followers of Patricius and would accompany him to the meeting with Laoghaire the next day. Despite the seriousness of the scheduled meeting, everyone was in good spirits and enjoying the food, hospitality and quiet conversation when a sudden, anguished cry startled everyone at the table.
On the floor, near to the open hearth, Lughaidh, the four-year-old son of Laoghaire and Angias, lay motionless. His elder sister, Lupida was bent over him and seeing that he was gasping for air, looked around, her eyes wide with fear and called again for help. Angias jumped to her feet and ran to where her son lay lifeless and fell on her knees. Picking him up, she ran to the table and implored Patricius to save him. Holding the small, lifeless body in his arms, Patricius could see that the child was not breathing, even though his mouth was wide open. Peering closely, he noticed something lodged in the child’s throat, obstructing the airway. Placing Lughaidh on the table, Patricius, praying aloud for guidance, reached his fingers into the boy’s mouth and removed the obstruction, a piece of un-chewed meat, and miraculously, the child began gasping for air and started to breathe normally. Handing the frightened child to his mother, Patricius told her that her son had been saved by the power of Michael the Archangel. Relieved and overjoyed, Angias assured Patricius of her eternal gratitude and devotion, promising to do all in her power to promote him and his message of salvation. Later that night, when the guests had retired and were asleep, Angias told Laoghaire of the miracle that had occurred earlier in the evening and was eager to convince him that if not for Patricius’ rapid intercession their son would surely have died. She urged him to listen to what Patricius had to say and even if not completely in agreement with his message, at least allow him to preach to those who wanted to listen.
Patricius arose before dawn the following morning and after a light breakfast of oatmeal and water, walked the short distance to the highest point on the hill. There, beside the ancient stone of Fal he would be able to see for miles in all directions, and as he watched, the first rays of sunlight crept slowly across the landscape, bathing the hills, valleys and the meandering river below, in a glorious morning glow. He marveled as the crisp, autumn air was warmed, causing the early mists to evaporate and smiled as it’s heat caressed his upturned face. Looking north, he could see a herd of small, red deer quietly grazing on the still shaded, dew covered, grassy slopes of Slane, the hill where he had lit the fire that had incensed Laoghaire earlier in the spring. Toward the eastern horizon, on a hill above the river, he could see the old, stone burial mound, held sacred by the Druids, and where he and his followers had argued with Lochra and the Brehons, one of many encounters that had come to blows. As time passed, he sat in the mid-day sun and reflected on his long, arduous journey, which began all those years ago, praying that today, it would all come together as divinely planned. He then rose and made his way back to the Queens house and as he neared the entrance, two of Laoghaires stewards approached him and told him the king was waiting and that he must go with them. Patricius, together with Aonghus, Daire, Benignus, Erc and three priests bade farewell to Angias and walked the short distance to the great assembly hall and entered.
Inside, a silent, stern-faced audience watched as Patricius walked to the center of the hall, stood at the recommended distance and faced Laoghaire across the wide floor. At a table, close to the north wall, the Brehons sat, dressed in their yellow robes; the Ollamhs, seated near to the east wall, their writing materials neatly laid out on the table before them in readiness for inscription of the events. The Seanchas, ordered that the charges be read and the chief Brehon rose, unfurled a parchment and began to read aloud the charges levelled against Patricius:
1 That he promoted worship of an alien God in defiance of the king’s decree.
2 That he accepted gifts from wealthy women and converts.
3 That he accepted payment for performing baptisms and ordinations.
4 That he gave gifts to Nobles and judges in return for land and property.
Turning to face the Brehons, Patricius began to speak:
"As for our God, He is the God of all men. He is God of heaven and earth, of sea and rivers; He is the God of sun and moon; of all the stars. He is the God of the lofty mountains and of the lowly valleys. God, above the heaven and in the heaven and under the heaven, has His dwelling around heaven and earth and sea and all that in them is. He inspires all things; He quickens all things; He transcends all things; He sustains all things. He gives its light to the sun; He veils the light and knowledge of the night. He made fountains in the parched land, and dry islands in the midst of the sea; and He appointed the stars to serve the greater lights. He has a Son, co-eternal with Himself and co-equal with Himself. The Son is not younger than the Father, nor the Father older than the Son; and the Holy Spirit breathes in them; nor are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit divided. I wish to unite you to the heavenly King, our savior, inasmuch as you are the children of an earthly king and must be baptized. Amen.”
Continuing his address, he further stated that yes, he had accepted small tokens of appreciation from grateful patrons, but had since returned them. He told the judges that he did not accept payment for baptisms, nor for ordaining priests, and indeed he personally paid for many gifts to kings and judges, and paid for the sons of chiefs to accompany him on his mission. Any properties on which he built shrines and small churches, had been either given to him freely as donations or purchased by him personally. He was prepared to do whatever he deemed necessary to save their mortal souls, it was his pre-destined duty to do so. He reminded the gathering that two kings and many Chieftains’ sons, including Benin, the son of the powerful chieftain Secsnen, had joined his group and more were flocking to the group in large numbers every day. His mission included baptizing thousands of people, ordaining priests to lead the new Christian communities, converting many wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition and interacting with the sons of kings, converting them too. He was prepared to give his life for his beliefs and those who continued to worship the false gods and refused baptism, would be lost forever. Having spoken honestly as required, guided by his faith, he had answered the charges brought against him, and without further comment, Patricius then turned, motioned to his companions, and together they walked out of the great hall.
From soon to be published "Out of the Ice: Ireland Past and Present."
By Author/Poet John A. Brennan. Escribe Publishing Inc.
The annals tell us that, faced with overwhelming numbers who had converted, coupled with pressure from at least two of the provincial kings and members of his own family, Laoghaire did indeed allow Patricius to continue his mission untroubled. The saving of his son’s life would have greatly influenced his final decision and it is recorded that Laoghaire agreed to baptism by Patricius, making him the first Christian king of Ireland. After his conversion, the Code of the Laws of Ireland, known as the Seanchas Mor, was drawn up. King Laoghaire reigned as Ard ri of all Ireland from 428 AD to 463 AD and was buried in an upright position on the hill of Tara, as decreed by his father Niall. His son Lughaidh went on to become high king after his father’s death, the only one of his sons to do so.
Queen Angias, so grateful for the miracle that saved her son’s life, promised to give a sheep out of every flock she possessed each year and a portion of every meal she should take during her lifetime to the poor in honor of Michael the Archangel. She established it as a custom throughout Ireland for all who received baptism. The custom is still adhered to today and is known as the ‘Michaelmas sheep’ and ‘Michael's portion,’ celebrated on September 29, as Michaelmas Day.
Patricius went on to become the most revered figure in Irish Christianity and continued to convert and baptize people all across the island until his death in 461 AD at the site of the first shrine he established at Saul in County Down. He lies at rest together with Brigid and Colmcille under a large stone slab in the nearby churchyard.