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 Great Assembly at Tara (Part 1 of 4)

The Great Assembly at Tara (Part 2 of 4)

The Great Assembly at Tara (Part 3 or 4)

The Great Assembly at Tara (Part 4 of 4)

*note

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.

*note

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.

*note

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.   

Views: 202

Tags: History, Ireland, Laoghaire, Patrick, St., Tara

Comment by michael dunne on April 14, 2017 at 6:51am
Thank you John Anthony. An enjoyable read on this pleasant Good Friday morning. Posted on the 1st of April, I would not take it as gospel, but is an interesting take on Patrick's background, who would have been familiar with the Gaelic and strongly Druidic way of life. I wondered about Patrick's vocation and where he learned of Christianity. Your reference to the French connectoin through his mother confirms the possibility of his Gallician Christianity and perhaps close linkage with the Coptic Christians.

There's little doubt Patrick was an adept diplomat in recognizing the enormity of his task in convincing the powerful Ollamhs and Laoighaire of the need to convert to Christianity as he could have lost his head on the spot. From your account it would seem Patrick also recognized the high place women held in Irish and Druidic culture, unlike the Ultramontaine Christianity emanating from the Vatican. By contrast even the great Constantine was susceptible to accommodating many of the heresies of the eastern hordes and their particular beliefs and religious ceremonies like Christmas Day. Even he that was entrusted with the role of enforcer of dogma, for expediency and least resistance bent to facilitate.  No doubt Patrick's actions to save the choking son of the King went a long way towards winning the argument, as we can take it the Heimlich Lift was unknown in those times. What was known was that the Druids were way ahead of the Roman Catholic Church in fields of astronomy and medicine. For instance it was an Irish saint Columba (or Columbus) who explained to Vatican sources the fluctuations of our most important celebration which is Easter, and is predicated by stars and lunar movement.This was not a straightforward task as he had to do so without letting them know the earth was round!

The Cross of Murcadh at Clonmacnoise depicts a serpent intertwined on a staff beneath a 'Healing' hand. It can be seen on the underside of the arms of this Celtic Cross. For a long time the serpent was seen as the devil (as in the Garden of Eden) but a more enlightened view now accepts the significance of this work as a recognition of the advanced medical knowledge of the Druids. Today many medical ambulances and their crews bear this symbol. Is this testament to the diplomatic qualities of St Patrick?

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on April 14, 2017 at 7:05pm

Hello Michael,

Thank you for taking the time to reply in such detail. I must confess it is quite refreshing and I’m glad my article came across as I intended it to. The one thing I learned when doing the research, was that indeed, as you said, Patrick was surely a canny diplomat. He recognized, rightly so, that the females in Irish society were as powerful as the males and commanded great respect. Patrick realized that he had formidable enemies among the Brehons and Druids; he knew that they were extremely learned men, fully conversant in the sciences, astronomy, mathematics and medicine. He favored assimilation wherever possible and I believe that resulted in Irish Christianity becoming a unique blend of Pagan, Celtic and Christian beliefs. The caduceus is indeed a symbol of the medical profession although it is depicted with two serpents entwined around a staff, so I doubt there’s a connection with Patrick on that score. Interestingly, there are depictions of St. Anthony, the first of the desert monks of Egypt, on many of the High crosses signifying the deep connection with Ireland. The Egyptian monks visited Ireland in the late 7th to the early 8th centuries. All in all, ours is a fascinating story. 

Thanks again for your input.     

Comment by michael dunne on April 15, 2017 at 9:49am

Thank you John Anthony for this enlightening reply, and a happy Easter to you. I was unaware of what you refer to as a 'caduceus' and will have to inquire further if it is one or two intertwined serpents depicted on the Murcadh's Cross of Clonmacnoise Monastery. My recollection from our tutor who pointed out this piece, referred to the inter assimilation of Druidic and Christian culture. Speaking of monasteries, Dysart ÓDea one such reflects on the early hermetic style of monk or holy man, similar I imagine to the lifestyle of early Christian monks like St Anthony. It is believed the Gaelic word  'Dysart' is a derivative of the word desert even though the Gaelic alphabet does not contain the letter 'y'.

I also think it a fascinating story and wonder about the earliest monks and how they evolved especially in N Africa. For instance the 6th C. St Brendan the Navigator has a church or part of one named after him in Sicilly. It can be assumed he passed through Gibraltar from Kerry on this voyage and would have to have seen North Africa. Yet a travelled and knowledgeable man as St Brendan makes no reference to that continent. Was the 'Dark Continent' a taboo subject for Rome? An Fear Dubh is another Gaelic name for the devil. That may explain why the Gaelic name for an African is Fear Gorm...a blue man! Alexandria and Marseilles were equally important Christian centres as was Rome in those times. Am not clear at what point the Coptic Christians were cut off (or were they excommunicated by Constantine)?

Could Gallician Christianity have had its origins in Coptic beliefs and a hermetic way of life, and continued under our home grown saints, including St Patrick, St Brendan and St Bridget etc. That is why I wonder about St Patricks vocation, his French mother, his time spent in France and his statesmanlike diplomacy in his beloved Ireland. Regarding his earlier life here, it may be that he had acquired a respect for many of the Druidic traditions and wisely, did not throw the baby out with the bath water. Had he been more of a dogmatist with King Laoighare and the Priomh Ollamhs, the challenge to their power could have been fatal to him and even changed the religious course of European history.

When the Cambro Normans arrived in Ireland as Catholics in 1169 they assimilated easily with the established Christians, the island of saints and scholars who did so much to convert a pagan Europe to Christianity in Ireland's Golden Age. Normans brought progress bringing 12 man juries, abolishing slavery etc. The down side perhaps was the way women's status was downgraded and never recovered. To what extent this can be attributed to the arrival of the larger and Vatican recognized monastic orders which included the Dominicans, the Franciscans, The Cistercians and others whose arrival heralded the end of the older hybrid Gallician Christianity.  Doubtless these monastic orders added much to our civilization with their creditable scientific knowledge of agriculture, fertilization, crop rotation etc. These monks converted poor land to productive and as many had taken vows of poverty died where they toiled and prayed, and had much in common with their predecessors. One of the main criticisms of the present Catholic Church is their massive global portfolio in the face of much needed reform. The parable of the rich man's difficulty compares with a camel getting through the eye of a needle. Food for thought?

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on April 15, 2017 at 7:42pm

Hello again Michael,

Food for thought indeed… 

Firsthand knowledge of the Egyptian Desert monks was brought to southern Gaul by St. John Cassian in the late 4th century. Later in 451 a major split occurred when the new Byzantine Emperor Marcian, an orthodox Christian, ordered a new Ecumenical council be convened to establish once and for all, the belief that Christ was and is both God and Man. Pope Leo 1 called for it to be held in Italy but Marcian insisted it be held in Nicea. Unfortunately, Attila the Hun, who was not a Christian, orthodox or otherwise, was on the rampage at the same time. This prompted the organizers of the Council to relocate to Chalcedon, an ancient maritime town situated on a peninsula near the Bosphorus, and opposite the old city of Byzantium. The main aim of the new council was to set aside the findings of the Second Council of Ephesus, held in 449 AD and which became known as the ‘Robber Council.’ 

The Council of Chalcedon issued the ‘Chalcedonian Definition’ refuting earlier beliefs that Christ was solely a God. The council bishops declared that Christ has two natures, God and Man. The Council’s decree is not accepted by large numbers of monks and the ancient Eastern Churches, including the Orthodox of Egypt, Syria, Armenia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. A major schism occurred soon after the Council ended, that lingers to the present time. Out of the ashes of the Council of Chalcedon arose the Orthodox Christian sect who chose the Church of Alexandra as their spiritual leader. These monks cut their remaining ties with the Church of Rome, retreated to their desert bases, and indeed, many more actually fled from Egypt at this time. 

You are correct when you say that the Gaelic word 'Dysart' is a derivative of the word desert and means ‘solitary place.’ It is believed that the Irish monks, inspired by the lifestyles of the desert monks, sought out similar places in Ireland as their retreats. While there are no actual deserts in Ireland, there are places which afforded desert-like qualities, places that were remote and away from the everyday hustle and bustle. One notable example of this can be seen on the windswept island of Skellig Michael, a monastic settlement that sits about 11 kilometers west of the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry, 600 feet above the wild Atlantic Ocean, which was hewn from the bare rock by Irish monks in the 6th century.  

Much of the contact between Egypt and the British Isles took place before the Muslim Conquest of 640 AD. There is evidence of a trade route through the Mediterranean and in a passage of the life of St. John the Almsgiver, the Greek Patriarch of Egypt, 610-621 AD, reference is made to “a vessel sailing from Britain to Alexandria bearing a cargo of tin.” This tin most likely came from Cornwall or Somerset, well known areas of Britain for tin mining. An Irish monk named Dicuil, in his ‘Liber de Mensure’ written in 825 AD, describes the pyramids in great detail as well as a precursor of the Suez Canal leading us to believe that visits were often made to Egypt by pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. The ‘Saltair Na Rann,’ an anthology of biblical poems attributed to Oengus the Culdee, also contains the ‘Book of Adam and Eve,’ composed in Egypt in either the 6th or 7th century AD, and known in no other country except Ireland. 

As I said earlier, ours is a deep and fascinating history that has roots worldwide

Comment by michael dunne on April 17, 2017 at 1:33pm

Thank you for this detailed account of Eastern and Western European Church history. I forgot to mention the Fadden Mór psalter of late Eighth or ninth Century Europe found in a bog in Tipperary in 2006. For the purpose of this discussion it is interesting to note the inlay of this psalter was made of papyrus...the preferred material of Alexandria for such manuscripts. Some of the oldest recorded Irish history relates to people from exotic countries entering along the South West coast. This part of our history is obscured in the mists of time. None the less the possibility remains that some of those who fled Egypt may have sailed out of the Mediterranean and followed the coast up to Ireland. I am not clear on whether or not Rome used papyrus for such manuscripts or if they done so in the 8th or 9th Century. The following link may be of interest...

http://www.museum.ie/Archaeology/Exhibitions/Current-Exhibitions/Th...(1)

Comment by michael dunne on April 17, 2017 at 1:40pm

Thank you for this detailed account of Eastern and Western European Church history. I forgot to mention the Fadden Mór psalter of late Eighth or ninth Century Europe found in a bog in Tipperary in 2006. For the purpose of this discussion it is interesting to note the inlay of this psalter was made of papyrus...the preferred material of Alexandria for such manuscripts. Some of the oldest recorded Irish history relates to people from exotic countries entering along the South West coast. This part of our history is obscured in the mists of time. None the less the possibility remains that some of those who fled Egypt may have sailed out of the Mediterranean and followed the coast up to Ireland. I am not clear on whether or not Rome used papyrus for such manuscripts or if they done so in the 8th or 9th Century. The following link may be of interest...

http://www.museum.ie/Archaeology/Exhibitions/Current-Exhibitions/Th...(1)/Context-and-Significance

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on April 18, 2017 at 3:49pm

Fascinating stuff Michael,

The culdee, Oengas of Tallaght, mentions the burial of seven Egyptian monks in County Antrim and there’s an Ogham inscription on a stone near Saint Olan’s well in the parish of Aghabulloge, County Cork, which has been interpreted as reading “Pray for Olan the Egyptian.” The ‘Saltair Na Rann,’ an anthology of biblical poems attributed to Oengus, also contains the ‘Book of Adam and Eve,’ and was composed in Egypt in either the 6th or 7th century AD, and is known in no other country except Ireland. Irish monks were deeply influenced by the Egyptians for sure and makes the story more interesting.

Comment by michael dunne on April 18, 2017 at 6:45pm

Thank you John Anthony for these fascinating pieces of information. It would take quite an effort to forensically link  these pieces of information, and establish a clear bond between the return of St Patrick and the religious influences  which may have dominated his teachings. Those teachings may have been very different to what we have come to accept, and which is referred to as Ultramontaine doctrine as set out by the Vatican.   

Comment by michael dunne on April 23, 2017 at 5:11pm

And following on from this great assembly at Tara, Jeremy Corbin promises to make St Patrick's Day a Bank Holiday in the UK. That should swing it as Pat will be on his side and rid that country of the grass snakes still habituating there.

Comment by John Anthony Brennan on April 23, 2017 at 5:57pm

Good old Jeremy!!....There is hope for humanity still...............LOL

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