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HE early history of Ireland is
lost in the 'twilight of fable.' Modern researches have certainly added much to knowledge of that period, and opened up wide fields of information hitherto imperfectly
explored. Still, in a very elementary little book such as this, it will be better to keep to the highways of history; and therefore I propose to make the Christian era the starting point of my narrative.
Prior to the mission of St Patrick there were few, if any, Christians in Ireland. It is said that, about 431, Pope Celestine sent Palladius to convert the Irish. But the mission of Palladius was a failure, and it remained for Patrick to light the torch of Christianity in the island.
St Patrick was born, probably, near Dumbarton in Scotland, about 387. When a lad of sixteen he was seized and carried into captivity by one of those Irish expeditionary forces which, at the time, swept the coasts of Britain and Gaul, spreading terror and devastation around. In Ireland he became the slave of a chief named Milchu, and spent six years tending flocks and herds on the Slemish mountain in the County Antrim. Patrick himself tells us something of his life at this time.
•When I had come to Ireland,' he says, 'I was employed every day in feeding cattle, and frequently in the day I used to have recourse to prayer, and the love of God was thus growing stronger and stronger, and His fear and faith were increasing in me, so that in a single day I would give utterance to as many as an hundred prayers, and in the night almost as many. And I used to remain in the woods, too, and on the mountains, and would rise for prayer before daylight in the midst of snow and ice and rain, and felt no injury from it, nor was there any sloth in me, as I now see, because the spirit was fervent within me. I was not from my childhood a believer in the only God, but continued in death and unbelief until I was severely chastened ; and in truth I have been, humbled by hunger and nakedness, and it was my lot to traverse Ireland every day, sore against my will, until I was almost exhausted. But this proved rather a benefit to me, because by means of it I have been corrected by the Lord, and He has fitted me for being at this day what was once
ST PATRICK'S DREAM
far from me, so that I should interest or concern myself about the salvation of others when I used to have no such thoughts even for myself.'
After six years' captivity, Patrick fled from Ireland and wandered for many years more in Britain and in Gaul. But Ireland was always in his thoughts and in his heart; and now, full of religious fervour, he resolved to return and to reclaim the land from Paganism.
'In dead of night,' he says, 'I saw a man coming to me as if from Hiberio, whose name was Victoricus, and who bore countless letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of it, which contained the words “The Voice of the Irish.” And while I was repeating the words of this beginning, I thought I heard the voice of those who were near the wood of Foclut, which is nigh to the Western Sea; and they cried thus,—“We pray thee, holy youth, to come and live among us henceforth.” And I was greatly pricked in heart, and could read no more.'
Patrick obeyed the voices which he had heard in his dreams, and came back to Ireland, fortified, it is said, by the authority and benediction of Pope Celestine. About 432 he landed on the coast of Wicklow. But he was driven hence by the native Chief Nathi, and fled northwards, taking refuge in Lecale in the County Down. Dichu, the chief of that part, at first regarded Patrick with hostility and aversion, but finally resolved to hear what he had to say. Patrick explained his doctrine with clearness and simplicity, and Dichu listened with wonder and delight. The chief was converted, and he and all his tribe joined the Christian Church. So the mission of Patrick began.
Ireland was about this time divided into four provincial kingdoms - Ulster (Ulla), Munster
) (Mumain), Leinster (Laighin), and Connaught (Connacht). Over the provincial kings there was a supreme king called the Ard-ri, who reigned at Tara, and possessed, as his special domain, the territory of Meath. The inhabitants, like most of the people of Western Europe, belonged to the Aryan branch of the human family, that is to say, they came from the same stock as the English, the Germans, the French; with this distinction, that while the English and Germans were Teutons, the Irish, like the French, and like the earlier inhabitants of Britain, were Celts.
Early Irish institutions were the same as the early institutions of the Aryan elsewhere.
The land was held by tribes, and at the head of each tribe was a chief to whom the clans and septs, who composed the tribe, looked for protection and guidance. Of course, there was no cohesion among these tribes, and there was no approach to national life. Nationalism, in any shape or form, among the Aryan
a growth of much later times. There is some evidence of the beginnings of an Irish literature, and of an Irish system of laws at this period, though the development of both belong to the Christian era.
Upon the whole, Patrick found the Irish an intelligent and warlike people, eager for know
ST PATRICK'S MISSION
ledge, and tolerant of new views, full of poetic fancies, simple, confiding, progressive.
Taking advantage of the institutions of the country, and of the habits and customs of the people, Patrick addressed himself mainly to the kings and chiefs, feeling that the masses of the inhabitants would follow their leaders.
Having converted Dichu, he set out to see his old master, Milchu; but Milchu refused to be converted by his former slave, and died an uncompromising Pagan. Patrick then proceeded straight to Tara to meet the Ard-ri Laoghaire.
On Easter Eve, about 433, he arrived at Slane, nine miles from the royal residence, and there lighted the paschal fire. The king saw the fire afar off, and asked one of the Pagan priests who surrounded him what it was. The priest replied, * If that fire which we see be not extinguished to-night, it will never be extinguished, but will overlap all our fires ; and he that has kindled it will overturn your kingdom. Laoghaire set out at once for Slane, and summoned Patrick to his presence. Patrick, full of faith and courage, gladly obeyed the summons, and preached before the king.
The king had warned his retainers to show no reverence to Patrick, but the warning was not obeyed, and, ere the morning dawned, some of the most trusted followers of the king had embraced the new religion. The fire which Patrick had lit was not put out that night, and has never been put out since.
Next day the missionary was invited to the palace at Tara; and Laoghaire gave him authority