Monday, 3 July 2017

St. Patrick's Mission at Cashel and through Munster

From Fr. Thomas Walsh's Ecclesiastical History of Ireland c. xx, pps. 188-192

St. Patrick having finished his mission at Ossory proceeded without delay to Cashel where the kings of the province usually resided. On approaching the city it is related that the king came to greet him and having given him a welcome salutation conducted the apostle to his court. The period assigned to the transactions of St. Patrick in Munster is about the beginning of the year 445. The king who thus cordially received the saint is said to have been Aengus, the son of Natfraich, a prince who has been for his zeal and piety highly commended by many ancient writers. Although his conversion cannot be controverted yet his accession to the throne seems to belong to a later period as the king Aengus was killed in the battle of Carlow which was fought according to the Four Masters AD 489. Aengus must have been then very young and it is probable that the prince or king of Cashel who paid attention to St. Patrick was Natfraich himself. Though he is not spoken of as a convert to the Christian faith yet he might have shown this courtesy to the apostle as a stranger of rank and one who was so particularly favored with the protection of Heaven and have permitted him to preach the gospel to his subjects as well as instruct his own children. However, this be Aengus was instructed in the faith and on his accession to the throne which he occupied thirty six years became highly instrumental in spreading the faith throughout Munster.

The celebrated anecdote of the prince's foot having been pierced by the staff of St Patrick it seems did not occur in the act of baptism as the sacred rite was then administered by immerson but rather when the saint was imparting his blessing to Aengus who approached too closely to the apostle in his desire to obtain such a favor. The prince when asked by St. Patrick why he had not given some indication of the pain he had felt replied that he submitted to the piercing of his foot as a part of the ceremony and accordingly bore it with patience.

St. Patrick it is said converted several other persons of distinction at Cashel and after this prosperous beginning at head quarters set out for other regions of the province preaching the gospel baptizing new converts reviving the faith of those who were already Christians erecting churches and appointing pastors. Hence we can legitimately infer that St. Patrick had some precursors in the southern parts as there were Christians in Ireland before the arrival of St Palladius, the predecessor of St Patrick. It is said that a synod was then held at Cashel and that certain regulations were entered into regarding the sees of Cashel, Ardmore, Saigir and Begerin, over which Ailbe, Declan, Kieran and Iber presided before the arrival of St. Patrick. Had such proceedings taken place they would not be omitted in all the lives of St. Patrick and again none of those saints was raised to the dignity of bishop at this early stage of St. Patrick's preaching in the south of Ireland.

That there had been some murmuring against himself the apostle hints in his confessions probably originating in a spirit of jealousy which might have influenced some of the Christians who were there prior to his mission and perhaps some of those cavillers belonged to the clerical order as St. Patrick wished to impress that he had with great risk visited even the remotest places into which no missionary had ever before penetrated.

The first district which St. Patrick visited after his departure from Cashel was seemingly the extensive and flat country between Cashel and Limerick. Here he is said to have founded several churches and to have left some of his disciples to preside at one of them called Kill fheacla. Thence he went to the territory of Ava Cliach in the now counties of Tipperary and Limerick in a part of which, the barony of Coonagh, he was at first violently opposed by the dynast Olild but, in consequence of a miracle which was in accordance with St. Patrick's orders to his disciples Ailbe and Ibar obtained through their prayers, the dynast his family and subjects are said to have been converted and baptized. While the apostle remained in the territory of Ara Cliach he foretold, we are assured in the Tripartite, various circumstances relative to future transactions in the country and among others the foundation of a monastery at Kill ratha and of a church at Kill Teidhil.

We next find the apostle in a tract lying to the east of Limerick and where he was hospitably entertained by a chieftain of the name of Lonan and there met the young Nessan who is well known in the annals of the Irish church. Some of the inhabitants of North Munster or Clare hearing of St. Patrick's visit to their vicinity crossed the Shannon for the purpose of seeing him and who when instructed in the Christian religion were baptized in the field of Tirglass. He was also waited on by Carthen son of Blod, the prince of North Munster and progenitor of the O'Briens of Thomond. Having ascended Mount Fentine near Donoughmore and viewing the country of Thomond he blessed it and foretold the birth of St. Senanus of Inniscatha. Afterwards the saint went to Luachra and while in that district he is said to have prophecied that the great patriarch of monks and star of the western world would be born in West Munster, viz., St Brendan of the race of Hua Alta and that his birth would be several years twenty after his own death.

It seems that he did not continue his course to any other part of West Munster and turning back from Luachra he directed his steps towards Desmond or South Munster. Concerning his transactions in this region we have nothing even on which to found conjecture. He is said to have visited the southern part of the Desii (Waterford) and with the assistance of the chieftain Fergar and his nobles to have not without much trouble arranged the ecclesiastical affairs of the territory. When near the banks of the Suir he was kindly received by the inhabitants and continuing thence his journey through the now county of Tipperary proceeded to lower Ormond, where he converted among others two brothers of a powerful family Munech and Meachair, their eldest brother Furech remaining an obstinate infidel.

Having now spent seven years in the southern province of Ireland he set out for Leinster and was escorted by the chieftains and people in multitudes from all parts of the country who wished to obtain his benediction and which from an eminence he cheerfully bestowed on them and on all Munster. About the year 452 the apostle took his departure from Munster. The bishop without fault, as the Four Masters call him, Secundinus whom St. Patrick had left to watch over the churches of Meath and the northern parts was already dead having departed this life on the 27th of November 448 and in the 75th of his age. He was a very wise and prudent prelate and the first that died in Ireland. Having, it is said, expressed disapprobation of the disinterestedness which St. Patrick observed in refusing donations or grants of land by which, according to the views of Secundinus, he might support a large number of holy persons, the saint, having explained the reason of his not accepting of presents or grants of any value lest the incredulous should defame his ministry, the holy bishop sought forgiveness and expressed his sorrow. According to some accounts it was on this occasion of his pardon by the saint that he composed his hymn in honor of St. Patrick.

It is very probable that the horrid transaction which moved St. Patrick to write his letter against Coroticus occurred before his departure from Munster and in some part of its south eastern seaboard, as that tract lay convenient for the expedition of that prince against the Irish coast, as after his departure to the north St. Patrick is not found preaching in any region of the maritime part of Ireland south of Louth. The prince Coroticus, though apparently a Christian, as St. Patrick excommunicated him and his followers was a tyrant a pirate and a persecutor.

He landed with a party of his armed followers at a season of solemn baptism either Easter, Whitsuntide or the Epiphany, for on this last festival the sacrament of regeneration was solemnly administered in Ireland, and set about plundering a district in which the saint had just conferred that rite as well as that of confirmation on a great number of converts. Having murdered several persons those marauders carried off a considerable number of people whom they sold or delivered as slaves to the Scots and to the apostate Picts, who were then probably on a similar expedition in Britain and who were about the year 450 obliged to return to their own country, vanquished by the Saxon auxiliaries whom the Britons invited to become their protectors.

The saint had written a letter, not extant, which he had sent with a young priest instructed by himself from his younger days to the pirates, requesting of them to restore the baptized captives and a portion of the booty. The letter not regarded, the bearer and his companions treated with scorn and mockery, St. Patrick was placed under the necessity of issuing a circular epistle in which he announces himself a bishop, and established in Ireland, and proclaims to all those who fear God that the said murderers and robbers are excommunicated and estranged from Christ, that it was not lawful to show them civility to eat or drink with them or receive their offerings until, sincerely repenting, they made atonement to an offended God and liberate his servants and the handmaids of Christ. He begs of the faithful into whose hands his letter may happen to come to have it read before the people and before Coroticus himself and to communicate it to his soldiers in the hope that they and their master may return to God.

In his expostulation he affectingly observes that the Roman and Gallic Christians are wont to send proper persons with large sums of money to the Franks and other pagans for the purpose of redeeming Christian captives, while on the contrary the monster Coroticus made a traffic of the members of Christ to nations ignorant of a supreme Being. Whether the remonstrance or the sentence of St. Patrick produced any effect or change in the conduct of this tyrant is not known.