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St Patrick and the O’Neill Clan

“I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unlearned of men, the least of all the faithful”


Even today, the above words ring true through the many centuries as one of the first authentic voice’s of an individual from century’s past, an individual that would change Ireland’s culture, religion and its sense of self forever. His message and memory has in some ways defined the very image of Ireland through the yearly celebration on the17th of March which commemorates his Death. Each year these parades are almost seen as a badge of identity concerning their Irish identity to some. However these parades at times could not be further from the teachings of St Patrick, a simple man with simple needs and a devoutly spiritual individual.     

Saint Patrick (Latin: Patricius; Primiitive Irish): *Qatrikias; Old Irish: Cothraige or Coithrige; Middle Irish: Pátraic; Irish padrig; British: *Patrikios; Old Welsh: Patric; Middle Welsh: Padric; Welsh: Padrig; Old English: Patric; c. 387 – 17 March, 493) was a Romano-Briton and Christian missionary, who is the most generally recognized patron Saint of Ireland, although Brigid of Kildare and Colmcille are also formally patron saints.

Two authentic letters from him survived, from which come the only universally accepted details of his life. When he was about 16, he was captured from Britain by Irish raiders or as Legend would quote by (Niall of the Nine hostages)and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After entering the Church, he returned to Ireland as an ordained bishop in the north and west of the island, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.

Most available details of his life are from later hagiographies from the 7th century onwards, and these are now not accepted without detailed criticism. Uncritical acceptance of the Annals of Ulster would imply that he lived from 340 to 440, and ministered in what is theNorth of Ireland from 428 onwards. The dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with certainty, but on a widespread interpretation he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the 5th century.


Most modern studies of Saint Patrick follow a variant of T F O’Rahillys's "Two Patricks" theory. That is to say, many of the traditions later attached to Saint Patrick originally concerned Palladius, who prosper of Aquitaine’s Chronicle, says was sent by Pope Celestine I as the first bishop to Irish Christians in 431.Palladius was not the only early cleric in Ireland at this time. The Irish born Saint Ciaran Saighir (the Elder) lived in the later 4th century (352–402 AD) and was the first bishop of Ossary.Ciaran the Elder along with Saints Auxilius Secundinus, and Iserninus are also associated with early churches in Munster and Leinster. By this reading, Palladius was active in Ireland until the 460s.

Prosper associates Palladius' appointment with the visits of Germanus of Auxerre to Britain to suppress the Pelagain heresy and it has been suggested that Palladius and his colleagues were sent to Ireland to ensure that exiled Pelagians did not establish themselves among the Irish Christians. The appointment of Palladius and his fellow-bishops was not obviously a mission to convert the Irish, but more probably intended to minister to existing Christian communities in Ireland. The sites of churches associated with Palladius and his colleagues are close to royal centres of the period: Secundus is remembered by Dunshaughlin, County Meath, close to the Hill of Tara which is associated with the High Kingsof Ireland; Killashee, County Kildare, close to Naas with links with the Kings of Leinster, is probably named for Auxilius. This activity was limited to the southern half of Ireland, and there is no evidence for them in Ulster or Connacht.

Although the evidence for contacts with Gaul is clear, the borrowings from Latin into the Old Irish language show that links with former Roman Britain were many. Saint Iserninus, who appears to be of the generation of Palladius, is thought to have been a Briton, and is associated with the lands of the Ui Cheinnselaig in Leinster. The Palladian mission should not be contrasted with later "British" missions, but forms a part of them.

In his own words

Two Latin letters survive which are generally accepted to have been written by Patrick. These are the Declaration (Latin: Confessio) and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (Latin: Epistola). The Declaration is the more important of the two. In it Patrick gives a short account of his life and his mission. His parents were Calphurnius and Conchessa. The former belonged to a Roman family of high rank and held the office of decurio in Gaul or Britain. Conchessa was a near relative of the great patron of Gaul, St Martin of Tours. In or about his sixteenth year, Patrick was carried into captivity by marauders and was sold as a slave to an Irish chieftan named Milchu in Dalriada, an area in present-day county Antrim. Here, for six years he tended his master's flocks at the valley of the Braid and the slopes of Slemish, near the modern town of Ballymena.

Although later legends state Patrick’s place of captivity is the above on Slemish Mountain in Co Antrim modern scholars think that it is more probable that his time as a slave was spent near the’ wood of volcut’ the only place name he actually mentions in his writings. This is likely to have been on the Northern coast of County Mayo, near present day Killala and the significantly named Down Patrick head. However Patrick did visit this area at a later date because Skerry Church was founded by him and is classed as on of the most ancient and earliest churches in Ireland it is also the ancient burial site of the O’Neills of clanaboy

He relates in his "Confessio": "But after I reached Hibernia I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the Love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day (I said) from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time".

During the six years of Patrick's captivity he acquired a knowledge of the Celtic tongue which he would later use. Also during this time, as Milchu his master was a high druid, the young saint became familiar with the details of the aboriginal Irish religions.

The saint recounts in his "Confessio" how he heard a voice in his sleep compelling him to leave his master and find a ship that awaited him, and after the six years of servitude he fled his cruel master. "And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: "You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country." And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: "Behold, your ship is ready." And it was not close by, but, as it happened, two hundred miles away, where I had never been nor knew any person. And shortly thereafter I turned about and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years, and I came, by the power of God who directed my route to advantage (and I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship."

He relates traveling probably towards Killala Bay then on towards Westport. As he says, his God's providence brought him to the ship, which was ready to set sail, however, once the captain found that Patrick had no money, he refused to let the young saint on board. He tells it best: "the steersman was displeased and replied in anger, sharply: "By no means attempt to go with us." Hearing this I left them to go to the hut where I was staying, and on the way I began to pray, and before the prayer was finished I heard one of them shouting loudly after me: "Come quickly because the men are calling you." The journey itself was not without incident either, as their food supplies were not enough for the voyage and many of the crew began to starve after some twenty-eight days meandering through uninhabited regions of England.

We meet with him later at St Martin's monastery at Tours, and again at the island sanctuary of Lérins which was just then acquiring widespread renown for learning and piety; and wherever lessons of heroic perfection in the exercise of Christian life could be acquired, thither the fervent Patrick was sure to bend his steps. No sooner had St Germain entered on his great mission at Auxerre than Patrick put himself under his guidance, and it was at that great bishop's hands that Ireland's future apostle was a few years later promoted to the priesthood. It is the tradition in the territory of the Morini that Patrick under St Germain's guidance for some years was engaged in missionary work among them.

WhenGermain commissioned by the Holy See proceeded to Britain to combat the erroneous teachings of Pelagius, he chose Patrick to be one of his missionary companions and thus it was his privilege to be associated with the representative of Rome in the triumphs that ensued over heresy and Paganism, and in the many remarkable events of the expedition, such as the miraculous calming of the tempest at sea, the visit to the relics at St Alban's shrine, and the Alleluia victory. Amid all these scenes, however, Patrick's thoughts turned towards Ireland, and from time to time he was favoured with visions of the children from Focluth, by the Western sea, who cried to him: "O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us."

Pope St Celestine I, who rendered immortal service to the Church by the overthrow of the Pelagian and Nestorian heresies (the former of which had the temerity, among other things, to profess man was free not to sin), and by the imperishable wreath of honour decreed to the Blessed Virgin in the General Council of Ephesus, crowned his pontificate by an act of the most far-reaching consequences for the spread of Christianity and civilization, when he entrusted St Patrick with the mission of gathering the Irish race into the one fold of Christ. Palladius had already received that commission, but terrified by the fierce opposition of a Wicklow chieftain had abandoned the sacred enterprise.

It was St Germain, Bishop of Auxerre, who commended Patrick to the pope. The writer of St Germain's Life in the ninth century, Heric of Auxerre, thus attests this important fact: "Since the glory of the father shines in the training of the children, of the many sons in Christ whom St Germain is believed to have had as disciples in religion, let it suffice to make mention here, very briefly, of one most famous, Patrick, the special Apostle of the Irish nation, as the record of his work proves. Subject to that most holy discipleship for 18 years, he drank in no little knowledge in Holy Scripture from the stream of so great a well-spring.

Germain sent him, accompanied by Segetius, his priest, to Celestine, Pope of Rome, approved of by whose judgement, supported by whose authority, and strengthened by whose blessing, he went on his way to Ireland." It was only shortly before his death that Celestine gave this mission to Ireland's apostle and on that occasion bestowed on him many relics and other spiritual gifts, and gave him the name "Patercius" or "Patritius", not as an honorary title, but as a foreshadowing of the fruitfulness and merit of his apostolate whereby he became pater civium (the father of his people). Patrick on his return journey from Rome received at Ivrea the tidings of the death of Palladius, and turning aside to the neighboring city of Turin received episcopal consecration at the hands of its great bishop, St Maximus, and thence hastened on to Auxerre to make under the guidance of St Germain due preparations for the Irish mission.

It was probably in the summer months of the year 433, that Patrick and his companions landed at the mouth of the Vantry River close by Wicklow Head. The Druids were at once in arms against him. But Patrick was not disheartened. The intrepid missionary resolved to search out a more friendly territory in which to enter on his mission. First of all, however, he would proceed towards Dalriada, where he had been a slave, to pay the price of ransom to his former master, and in exchange for the servitude and cruelty endured at his hands to impart to him the blessings and freedom of God's children. He rested for some days at the islands off the Skerries coast, one of which still retains the name of Inis-Patrick, and he probably visited the adjoining mainland, which in olden times was known as Holm Patrick. Tradition fondly points out the impression of St Patrick's foot upon the hard rock — off the main shore, at the entrance to Skerries harbour. Continuing his course northwards he halted at the mouth of the River Boyne.

A number of the natives there gathered around him and heard with joy in their own sweet tongue the glad tidings of Redemption. There too he performed his first miracle on Irish soil to confirm the honour due to the Blessed Virgin, and the Divine birth of our Saviour. Leaving one of his companions to continue the work of instruction so auspiciously begun, he hastened forward to Strangford Loughand there quitting his boat continued his journey over land towards Slemish. He had not proceeded far when a chieftain, named Dichu, appeared on the scene to prevent his further advance.

He drew his sword to smite the saint, but his arm became rigid as a statue and continued so until he declared himself obedient to Patrick. Overcome by the saint's meekness and miracles, Dichu asked for instruction and made a gift of a large sabhall (barn), in which the sacred mysteries were offered up. This was the first sanctuary dedicated by St Patrick in Erin. It became in later years a chosen retreat of the saint. A monastery and church were erected there, and the hallowed site retains the name Sabhall (pronounced Saul) to the present day. Continuing his journey towards Slemish, the saint was struck with horror on seeing at a distance the fort of his old master Milchu enveloped in flames. The fame of Patrick's marvelous power of miracles preceded him. Milchu, in a fit of frenzy, gathered his treasures into his mansion and setting it on fire, cast himself into the flames. An ancient record adds: "His pride could not endure the thought of being vanquished by his former slave".

Returning to Saul, St Patrick learned from Dichu that the chieftains of Erin had been summoned to celebrate a special feast at Tara by Leoghaire, who was the (High king) Ard-Righ, that is, the Supreme Monarch of Ireland. However the following should be noted from an historical perspective The Irish annals purport to record events in the 5th century, but their reliability is doubtful as such early entries were added in the 9th century or later. The chronology of the annals is particularly suspect as it is believed that this was created retrospectively in order to match what were believed to be the dates of Saint Patrick with the kings named by Patrick's earliest hagiographers, Miuirchu moccu Mactheni and Tirechan. Both writers had Patrick come to Ireland in Lóegaire's reign and meet with him. Since the annals provided two death dates for Patrick, 461 and 493, Lóegaire's reign was made to fit these, and in general the earlier date. For the later date, Lóegaire's son Lugaid appears to have served the same adversary role.

In late prehistoric times, beginning in the fifth century, the ancestors of the Ui Neill—descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages—expanded into the east midlands of Ireland, southern Ulster and northern Leinster, at the expense of the previous overlords. The record of the Irish annals, perhaps unreliable at such an early date, records war between the descendants of Niall and the Leinstermen. Although later associated with the conquests in the east midlands, Tirechán's life of Patrick may suggest that Lóegaire's power was centered in Connacht. Patrick is said to have met Lóegaire's daughters near Cruachan, a complex of prehistoric sites associated with the kingship of Connacht in legend and in history.

According to king lists, the earliest of which is dated on internal evidence to the reign of Finsnechta Fledach (died 697), Niall was succeeded by Lóegaire, who was in turn followed by a second son of Niall, Coirpe, Coirpre by Ailill Molt, one of the few kings not descended from Niall, and Ailill by Lóegaire's son Lugaid. Later lists make Nath I king between Niall and Lóegaire and also omit Coirpre. Given the many problems with the record, the dating of Lóegaire's floruit is imprecise, estimates placing it in the second half of the 5th century, circa 450 to perhaps the late 480s. In 's 7th century life of Patrick, Lóegaire is described as "a great king, fierce and pagan, emperor of the barbarians". After a number of attempts by Lóegaire and others to kill Patrick, Lóegaire is warned by the saint that he must accept the faith or die. Having taken the counsel of his people, he submits and is baptised.

The other early life of Patrick Lóegaire remained a pagan in spite of Patrick’s miracles. Lóegaire say that his father Niall would not have allowed him to convert. "Instead I am to be buried in the earthworks of Tara, I the son of Niall, face to face with the son of Dúnlaing in Mullaghmast". Tírechán, however, does allow that Patrick converts two of Lóegaire's daughters, Eithne the fair and Fedelm the red.

The later Vita tripartita Sancti Patricii (Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick) again portrays a Lóegaire who schemes to kill Patrick. The lorica of Saint Patrick appears in the Vita tripartita, and it protects Patrick from one of Lóegaire's schemes. In this account Lóegaire is not converted by Patrick, and is buried in the walls of Tara as his father Niall had wished. The Lebour Na hUidre provides a further account of Lóegaire's conversion and death. However for now lets get back to our story

This was an opportunity which Patrick would not forego; he would present himself before the assembly, to strike a decisive blow against the Druidism that held the nation captive, and to secure freedom for the glad tidings of Redemption of which he was the herald. As he journeyed on he rested for some days at the house of a chieftain named Secsnen, who with his household joyfully embraced the Faith. The youthful Benen, or Benignus, son of the chief was in a special way captivated by the Gospel doctrines and the meekness of Patrick. Whilst the saint slumbered he would gather sweet-scented flowers and scatter them over his bosom, and when Patrick was setting out, continuing his journey towards Tara, Benen clung to his feet declaring that nothing would sever him from him. "Allow him to have his way", said St Patrick to the chieftain, "he shall be heir to my sacred mission." Thenceforth Benen was the inseparable companion of the saint, and the prophecy was fulfilled, for Benen is named among the "comhards" or successors of St Patrick in Armagh.

It was on 26 March, Easter Sunday, in 433, that the eventful assembly was to meet at Tara, and the decree went forth that from the preceding day the fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished until the signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. The chiefs and Brehons came in full numbers and the druids too would muster all their strength to bid defiance to the herald of good tidings and to secure the hold of their superstition on the Celtic race, for their demoniac oracles had announced that the messenger of Christ had come to Erin. Twice Patrick pleaded for the Faith before . Lóegaire (5th century) (died c. 462), also Lóeguire, is said to have been a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. The Irish Annals and king lists include him as a King of Tara and or High King of Ireland. He appears as an adversary of Saint Patrick in several hagiographies. His dealings with the saint were believed to account for his descendants' lack of importance in later times. There are several accounts of his death, all of which contain supernatural elements, some of which concern his wars against the men of Leinster.

Lóegaire had given orders that no sign of respect was to be extended to the strangers, but at the first meeting the youthful Erc, a royal page, arose to show him reverence; and at the second, when all the chieftains were assembled, the chief-bard Dubhtach showed the same honour to the saint. Both these heroic men became fervent disciples of the Faith and bright ornaments of the Irish Church. It was on this second solemn occasion that St Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock from the sward, to explain by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, to the assembled chieftains, the great doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.

On that bright Easter Day, the triumph the Triune God i Hibernia was complete. The (High King) Ard-Righ granted permission to Patrick to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Erin, and the druidical prophecy like the words of Balaam of old were fulfilled: the sacred fire now kindled by the saint would never be extinguished. St Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane, at the opposite extremity of the valley from Tara, on Easter Eve, in that year the feast of the Annunciation, and on the summit of the hill kindled the Paschal fire(symbol of Chrisianity). The druids at once raised their voice. "O King", (they said) "live for ever; this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished." By order of the king and the agency of the druids, repeated attempts were made to extinguish the blessed fire and to punish with death the intruder who had disobeyed the royal command.

But the fire was not extinguished and Patrick shielded by the Divine power came unscathed from their snares and assaults. On Easter Day the missionary band having at their head the youth Benignus bearing aloft a copy of the Gospels, and followed by St Patrick who with mitre and crozier was arrayed in full episcopal attire, proceeded in processional order to Tara. The druids and magicians put forth all their strength and employed all their incantations to maintain their sway over the Irish race, but the prayer and faith of Patrick achieved a glorious triumph.The druids by their incantations overspread the hill and surrounding plain with a cloud of worse than Egyptian darkness. Patrick defied them to remove that cloud, and when all their efforts were made in vain, at his prayer the sun sent forth its rays and the brightest sunshine lit up the scene. Again by demoniac power the Arch-Druid Lochru, like Simon Magus of old, was lifted up high in the air, but when Patrick knelt in prayer the druid from his flight was dashed to pieces upon a rock. Thus was the final blow given to paganism in the presence of all the assembled chieftains. It was, indeed, a momentous day for the Irish race.

St. Patrick remained during Easter week at Slane and Tara, unfolding to those around him the lessons of Divine truth. Meanwhile the national games were being celebrated a few miles distant at Tailten (now Telltown) in connection with the royal feast. St. Patrick proceeding thither solemnly administered baptism to Conall, brother of the High King Ard-Righ Leoghaire, on Wednesday, 5 April. Benen and others had already been privately gathered into the fold of Christ, but this was the first public administering of baptism, recognized by royal edict, and hence in the ancient Irish Kalendars to the fifth of April is assigned "the beginning of the Baptism of Erin".

This first Christian chieftain made a gift to Patrick of a site for a churchwhich to the present day retains the name of Donagh-Patrick. The blessing of heaven was with Conall's family the U’Neill clan. St Columba is reckoned among his descendants and many of the kings of Ireland until the eleventh century were of his race. St. Patrick left some of his companions to carry on the work of evangelization in Meath, thus so auspiciously begun. He would himself visit the other territories. Some of the chieftains who had come to Tara were from Focluth, in the neighbourhood of Lillala, in Connaught, and as it was the children of Focluth who in vision had summoned him to return to Ireland, he resolved to accompany those chieftains on their return, that thus the district of Focluth would be among the first to receive the glad tidingsof redemption. It affords a convincing proof of the difficulties that St. Patrick had to overcome, that though full liberty to preach the faith throughout Erinwas granted by the monarch of Leoghaire, nevertheless, in order to procure a safe conduct through the intervening territories whilst proceeding towards Connaught he had to pay the price of fifteen slaves.

I used to make payments to the local kings. In addition I also gave money to their sons who accompanied me on my journeys .But that didn’t stop them form seizing me one time along with my companions .they were egar to kill me.

On his way thither, passing through Granard he learned that at Magh-Slecht, not far distant, a vast concourse was engaged in offering worship to the chief idolCrom-Cruach. It was a huge pillar-stone, covered with slabs of gold and silver, with a circle of twelve minor idols around it. He proceeded thither, and with his crosier smote the chief idolthat crumbled to dust; the others fell to the ground. At Killala he found the whole people of the territory assembled. At his preaching, the king and his six sons, with 12,000 of the people, became docile to the Faith. He spent seven years visiting every district of Connaught, organizing parishes, forming dioceses, and instructing the chieftains and people.

On the occasion of his first visit to Rathcrogan, the royal seat of the kings of Connaught, situated near Tulsk, in the County of Roscommon, a remarkable incident occurred, recorded in many of the authentic narratives of the Saints life. Close by the clear fountain of Clebach, not far from the royal abode, Patrick and his venerable companions had pitched their tents and at early dawn were chanting the praises of the most high, when the two daughters of the Irish monarch — Ethne, the fair, and Fedelm, the ruddy — came thither, as was their wont, to bathe. Astonished at the vision that presented itself to them, the royal maidens cried out: "Who are ye, and whence do ye come? Are ye phantoms, or fairies, or friendly mortals?" St. Patrick said to them: "It were better you would adore and worshipthe one true God, whom we announce to you, than that you would satisfy your curiosity by such vain questions”

The beautiful prayer of St Patrick, popularly known as "St Patricks Breast Plate", is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over Paganism. The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:

I bind to myself today the strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:

I believe the Trinity in the Unity the Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism, The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial, The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension, The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today The virtue of the love of seraphim, In the obedience of angels, In the hope of resurrection unto reward, In prayers of Patriarchs, In predictions of Prophets, In preaching of Apostles, In faith of Confessors, In purity of holy Virgins, In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today The power of Heaven, The light of the sun, The brightness of the moon, The splendor of fire, The flashing of lightning, The swiftness of wind, The depth of sea, The stability of earth, The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today God's Power to guide me, God's Might to uphold me, God's Wisdom to teach me, God's Eye to watch over me, God's Ear to hear me, God's Word to give me speech, God's Hand to guide me, God's Way to lie before me, God's Shield to shelter me, God's Host to secure me, Against the snares of demons, Against the seductions of vices,

However some historians have mentioned that the above prayer may be driuidic in orgin and is actually a druid blessing spell.Again these are assumtions only and there is no proof that this is the case. In the month of March, year unknown, mid to end 5th century Patrick was born in Roman Britain at Banna Venta Berniae, a location otherwise unknown. Calpornius, his father, was a deacon, his grandfather Potitus, a priest. When he was about sixteen, he was captured and carried off as a slave to Ireland. Patrick worked as a herdsman, remaining a captive for six years. He writes that his faith grew in captivity, and that he prayed daily. After six years he heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home, and then that his ship was ready. Fleeing his master, he travelled to a port, two hundred miles away he says, where he found a ship and, after various adventures, returned home to his family, now in his early twenties. Patrick recounts that he had a vision a few years after returning home:

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.A. B. E. Hood suggests that the Victoricus of Patrick's vision may be identified with Saint Victricius, bishop of Rouen in the late 4th century, who was the only European churchman of the time to advocate or practice conversion of pagans, and who visited Britain in an official capacity in 396. Much of the Declaration concerns charges made against Patrick by his fellow Christians at a trial. What these charges were, he does not say explicitly, but he writes that he returned the gifts which wealthy women gave him, did not accept payment for baptisms, nor for ordaining priests, and indeed paid for many gifts to kings and judges, and paid for the sons of chiefs to accompany him. It is concluded, therefore, that he was accused of some sort of financial impropriety, and perhaps of having obtained his bishopric in Ireland with personal gain in mind.

From this same evidence, something can be seen of Patrick's mission. He writes that he "baptised thousands of people". He ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too. Patrick's position as a foreigner in Ireland was not an easy one. His refusal to accept gifts from kings placed him outside the normal ties of kinship, fosterage and affinity. Legally he was without protection, and he says that he was on one occasion beaten, robbed of all he had, and put in chains, perhaps awaiting execution. Murchiú's life of Saint Patrick contains a supposed prophecy by the druids which gives an impression of how Patrick and other Christian missionaries were seen by those hostile to them:

Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head,
his cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head.
He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house;
all his people will answer: "so be it, so be it."

The second piece of evidence that comes from Patrick's life is the Letter to Coroticus or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, written after a first remonstrance was received with ridicule and insult. In this, Patrick writes an open letter announcing that he has excommunicated Coroticus because he had taken some of Patrick's converts into slavery while raiding in Ireland. The letter describes the followers of Coroticus as "fellow citizens of the devils" and "associates of the Scots (i.e., the Irish of Argyll and Northern Ireland and Apostate Picts ". Based largely on an 8th-century gloss, Coroticus is taken to be King Ceretic of Alt Clut. It has been suggested that it was the sending of this letter which provoked the trial which Patrick mentions in the Confession.


According to the latest reconstruction of the old Irish annals, Patrick died in AD 461 on March 17, a date accepted by some modern historians. Prior to the 1940s it was believed without doubt that he died in 420 and thus had lived in the first half of the 5th century. A lecture entitled "The Two Patricks", published in 1942 by T.F O ‘Rahilly, caused enormous controversy by proposing that there had been two "Patricks", Palladius and Patrick, and that what we now know of St. Patrick was in fact in part a conscious effort to blend the two into one hagiographic personality. Decades of contention eventually ended with most historians now asserting that Patrick was indeed most likely to have been active in the latter half of the fifth century. While Patrick's own writings contain no dates, they do contain information which can be used to date them.

Patrick's quotations from the Acts of the Apostles follow the Vulgate, strongly suggesting that his ecclesiastical conversion did not take place before the early 5th century. Patrick also refers to the Franks as being pagans. Their conversion is dated to the period 496–508. There is plentiful evidence for a medieval tradition that Patrick had died in 493. An addition to the Annals of Ulster states that in the year 553 (approximately two hundred and fifty years before the addition was made):I have found this in the Book of Cuanu: The relics of Patrick were placed sixty years after his death in a shrine by Colum Cille. Three splendid halidoms were found in the burial-place: his goblet, the Angel's Gospel, and the Bell of the Testament. This is how the angel distributed the halidoms: the goblet to Dún, the Bell of the Testament to Ard Macha, and the Angel's Gospel to Colum Cille himself. The reason it is called the Angel's Gospel is that Colum Cille received it from the hand of the angel.

The reputed burial place of St. Patrick in Downpatrick, the placing of this event in the year 553 indicate a tradition that Patrick's death was 493, or at least in the early years of that decade, and the Annals of Ulster report under 493: Patrick, arch-apostle, or archbishop and apostle of the Irish, rested on the 16th of the Kalends of April in the 120th year of his age, in the 60th year after he had come to Ireland to baptize the Irish. This tradition is also seen in an annalistic reference to the death of a saint termed Patrick's disciple, Mochta, who is said to have died in 535. St. Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba, although this has never been proven.


The Battle for the Body of St Patrick demonstrates the importance of both him as a spiritual leader, and of his body as an object of veneration, in early Christian Ireland. Saint Patrick Visitor Centre is a modern exhibition complex located in Downpatrick and is a permanent interpretative exhibition centre featuring interactive displays on the life and story of Saint Patrick. If anyone was in doubt that the U’Neill and the O’Neill clan helped to create the cult of St Patrick and would further the general love of the people and eventually the Irish nation toward our country’s patron Saint according to the Annals of Ireland we quote the following “there was a rising of battle, and a cause of dissension in the province of Ulster contending for the body of Patrick after his death. The UiNeill and the Airgialla attempting to bring it to Armagh; the Ulaid to keep it with themselves.

And the Uí Néill and the Oirghialla came to certain water, and the river swelled against them so that they were not able to cross it in consequence of the greatness of the flood. When the flood had subsided these hosts united on terms of peace, i.e. the Ui Neill and the Ulaid, to bring the body of Patrick with them. It appeared to each of them that each had the body conveying it to their respective territories, so that God separated them in this manner, without a fight or battle. The body of Patrick was afterwards interred at Dun Da Lethglas with great honour and veneration; and during the twelve nights that the religious seniors were watching the body with psalms and hymns, it was not night in Magh Inis or the neighboring lands, as they thought, but as if it were the full undarkened light of day. Of the year of Patrick's death was said:

Since Christ was born, a correct enumeration/Four hundred and fair ninety/Three years add to these/till the death of Patrick, chief Apostle.It provides the only permanent exhibition centre in the world devoted to Saint Patrick.

Seventh-century writings

An early document which is silent concerning Patrick is the letter of Columbanus to Pope Boniface IV of about 613. Columbanus writes that Ireland's Christianity "was first handed to us by you, the successors of the holy apostles", apparently referring to Palladius only, and ignoring Patrick. Writing on the Easter controversy in 632 or 633, Cummian—it is uncertain whether this is the Cummian associated with Clonfert or Cummene of Iona—does refer to Patrick, calling him our papa that is Pope or primate. Two works by late seventh-century hagiographers of Patrick have survived. These are the writings of Tirechan, and Vita sancti Patricii of Muirchu moccu Machtheni. Both writers relied upon an earlier work, now lost, the Book of Ultán. This Ultán, probably the same person as Ultan of Ardbraccan, was Tírechán's foster-father. His obituary is given in the Annals of Ulster under the year 657. These works thus date from a century and a half after Patrick's death.

Tírechán writes

"I found four names for Patrick written in the book of Ultán, bishop of the tribe of Conchobar: holy Magonus (that is, "famous"); Succetus (that is, the god of war); Patricius (that is, father of the citizens); Cothirtiacus (because he served four houses of druids)." Muirchu records much the same information, adding that "(h) is mother was named Concessa." The name Cothirtiacus, however, is simply the Latinized form of Old Irish Cothraige, which is the Q Celtic form of Latin Patricius.The Patrick portrayed by Tírechán and Muirchu is a martial figure, who contests with druids, overthrows pagan idols, and curses kings and kingdoms. On occasion, their accounts contradict Patrick's own writings: Tírechán states that Patrick accepted gifts from female converts although Patrick himself flatly denies this. However, the emphasis Tírechán and Muirchu placed on female converts, and in particular royal and noble women who became nuns is thought to be a genuine insight into Patrick's work of conversion. Patrick also worked with the unfree and the poor, encouraging them to vows of monastic chastity. Tírechán's account suggests that many early Patrician churches were combined with nunneries founded by Patrick's noble female converts.

The martial Patrick found in Tírechán and Muirchu, and in later accounts, echoes similar figures found during the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. It may be doubted whether such accounts are an accurate representation of Patrick's time, although such violent events may well have occurred as Christians gained in strength and numbers. Much of the detail supplied by Tírechán and Muirchu, in particular the churches established by Patrick, and the monasteries founded by his converts, may relate to the situation in the 7th century, when the churches which claimed ties to Patrick, and in particular Armagh, were expanding their influence throughout Ireland in competition with the church of Kildare. In the same period, Wilfred, Archbishop of York, claimed to speak, as metropolitan archbishop, "for all the northern part of Britain and of Ireland" at a council held in Rome in the time of Pope Agatho, thus claiming jurisdiction over the Irish church. Other presumed early materials include the Irish Annals, which contain records from the Chronicle of Ireland. These sources have conflated Palladius and Patrick. Another early document is the so-called First Synod of Saint Patrick. This is a seventh-century document, once, but no longer, taken as to contain a 5th century original text. It apparently collects the results of several early synods, and represents an era when pagans were still a major force in Ireland. The introduction attributes it to Patrick, Auxilius, and Iserninus, a claim which "cannot be taken at face value."

In legend (The Shamrock)


Pious legend credits St. Patrick with banishing snakes from the island; however all evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes. However, one suggestion is that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the druids during that time and place, as exampled on coins minted in Gaul. Legend also credits St. Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Holy Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of 'three divine persons in the one God. Some Irish legends involve the Oillipheist, the Caoranach, and the Copog Phadraig. During his evangelising journey back to Ireland from his parent's home at Birdoswald, he is understood to have carried with him an ash wood walking stick or staff. He thrust this stick into the ground wherever he was evangelising and at the place now known as Aspatria (ash of Patrick) the message of the dogma took so long to get through to the people there that the stick had taken root by the time he was ready to move on.The 12th century work Acallam na Senorach tells of Patrick being met by two ancient warriors, Cailte mac Ronain and Oisin, during his evangelical travels. The two were once members of Fionn mac Cumhaill's warrior band the Fianna, and somehow survived to Patrick's time.

Saint Patrick's Bell

The National Museum of Ireland, in Dublin possesses a bell first mentioned, according to the Annals of Ulster, in the Book of Cuanu in the year 552. The bell was part of a collection of "relics of Patrick" robbed from his tomb sixty years after his death by Colum Cille (Great Great Grandson of Niall of the Nine hostages) to be placed in a shrine. The bell is described as "The Bell of the Testament", one of three relics of "precious minna" (extremely valuable items), of which the other two are described as Patrick's goblet and "The Angels Gospel". Cille is described to have been under the direction of an "Angel" for whom he sent the goblet to Down, the bell to Armagh, and kept possession of the Angels Gospel for himself.

The name Angels Gospel is given to the book because it was supposed that Colum Cille received it from the angel's hand. A stir was caused in 1044 when two kings, in some dispute over the bell, went on spates of prisoner taking and cattle theft. The annals make one more apparent reference to the bell when chronicling a death, of 1356, "Solomon Ua Mellain, The Keeper of the Bell of the Testament, protector, rested in Christ." As a museum exhibit, the bell is accompanied by a shrine in which it was encased for King Domnall Ua Lochlainn sometime between 1091 and 1105.As a side note the Mulholland family, of Greenlough Parish in Co Derry were the hereditary Keepers of St Patrick’s Bell, of Clog-an Udhacta. They shared this privilege with the O’Mellons/Mellons of Lissan hence the inscription on the Shrine.

One of their duties was to attend at the inauguration of The O’Neill at Tullyhoge. St Patrick’s Bell was used for swearing evidence and for sealing contracts under the brehon laws. The last Keeper of the bell, Henry Mulholland, died at Edenduffcarrick (Shane’s Castle) near Randalstown some time before the year 1819. He died still in possession of St Patrick’s Bell. The Shrine of St Patrick’s Bell and the Bell itself are now in the National Museum in Dublin. The Mulhollands are still numerous around Eden and Ballymacpeake but in the last century this surname was the most numerous in the Baptismal Register of Greenlough. Domnall Ua Lochlainn was the son of a certain Artgar son of Lochlann. Genealogical compilations, such as that surviving in the Rawlinson B.502 manuscript trace Domnall's ancestry back, through the High King Domnall Ua Neill, and his father the heroic Muirchertach of the Leather cloaks, to Niall Glundub.

The reality appears to be subtly different as demonstrated by the records in the Book of Leinster. Rather than being the descendants of Lochlann, grandson of Domnall ua Néill, the Mac Lochlainn appear to have been descended from another Lochlann, Lochlann mac Maíl Sechnaíll, a descendant of Niall Glúndub's less renowned brother Domnall Dabaill. Nonetheless, the Mac Lochlainn were members of the Cenel nEoghain named after Eoghan MacNeill son of Niall of the nine hostages and branch of the Ui Neill, (Eogan was a close friend of Saint Patrick and received Patricks blessing. With his brother the high king Loegaire Mac Neill  his burial record donates the following, Eoghan, King of Tír Eoghain, and Prince of Inis Eoghain is buried at St. Patrick's Church in Iskaheen, Innishowen, Donegal. A plaque there states "Eoghan Prince of Iniseoghain, Son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Died 465 of grief for his brother Conall. Baptised by Patrick and buried in Uisce Chaoin"

Therefore Domnall could rightly claim famous ancestors, albeit in the 9th century and earlier. Under Domnall, the Cenél nEógain were again a significant force in Irish politics.In the years before Domnall, the Cenél nEógain had been largely bereft of effective leadership, so much so that Conchobar Ua Briain of Munster, cousin and bitter enemy of Toirdelbach, had been invited to take the kingship of the Telach Og branch of the kindred, and following Conchobar's murder in 1078, his brother Cennétig was invited to succeed him.

Domnall became King of Ailech in 1083 and began his reign in traditional fashion, with an inaugural raid—crech ríg—against the Conaille Muirthemne (in the region of modern Dundalk, County Louth). The Annals of Ulster state that Domnall "carried off a great prey of cattle and gave stipends from that prey to the men of Fernmag (the people and land from whom modern County Fermanagh was named)".

The shrine of St Patrick is a sparkling example of fine jewellry. Intricate and delicate Celtic design has been worked in gold and silver over every surface except where encrusted with large precious stones. The Bell was inscribed in Gaelic: "U INMAINEN" (which translates to: NOONAN) "who with his sons enriched/decorated it" (metal work was often inscribed for remembrance).

Although today one or two of the jewels are missing as well as some of the panels of Celtic artwork, full appreciation of the shrine's workmanship is unaffected and it is kept, along with Patrick's Bell, in glittering condition by the National Museum as a priceless national treasure. The bell itself is simple in design, hammered into shape with a small handle fixed to the top with rivets. Originally forged from iron, it has since been coated in bronze. The shrine is inscribed with three names, including King Domnall Ua Lochlainn. The rear of the shrine, not intended to be seen, is decorated with crosses while the handle is decorated with, among other work, Celtic designs of birds. The bell is accredited with working a miracle in 1044 and having been coated in bronze to shield it from human eyes, for which it would be too holy. It measures 12.5 × 10 cm at the base, 12.8 × 4 cm at the shoulder, 16.5 cm from base to shoulder, 3.3 cm from shoulder to top of handle and weighs 1.7 kg.


Patrick is also credited in later tradition as being the founder of the church of Armagh "Macha’s height". Ard Mhacha or Armagh was founded by Saint Patrick, it having been granted to him by Daire, son of Finnchadh, son of Eoghan, son of Niall. Twelve men were appointed by him for building the town. He ordered them, in the first place, to erect an archbishop's city there and a church for monks, for nuns, and for the other orders in general, for he perceived that it would be the head and chief of the churches of Ireland in general.

In following centuries, Armagh was promoted as the see of Patrick and hence the primatial church of the Irish. A number of texts were written, including several lives of Patrick, which argue for and support this claim. On a secular, political level, the claim was also supported by the great royal Ui Neill dynasty. At a later date 1004 to be exact the High King of Ireland Brian Boru came to Armagh in order to pay tribute the Church, after the battle of Craebh Tulcha. King Brian marched through Meath to Armagh, where he stayed a week and made an offering of gold upon the altar of the great church and acknowledged the ecclesiastical supremacy of Armagh.    


Sainthood and modern remembrance

March 17, popularly known as St Patrick’s Day, is believed to be his death date and is the date celebrated as his feast day. The day became a feast day in the universal church due to the influence of the Waterford -born Francician scholar Luke Wadding, as a member of the commission for the reform of the Breviary in the early part of the 17th century.Wadding was also closely associated to the O’Neill’s and was a spiritual advisor to the O’Neills in Rome and the many other Irish Royal Families on the continent. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Irish Catholics in the war of 1641, in particular Owen Roe O'Neill, and his college became the strongest advocate of the Irish cause in Rome. He was also the only Irishman in history to receive papal votes in regard to the position of Pope.   

Kilpatrick still retains many memorials of Saint Patrick, and frequent pilgrimages continued far into the Middle Ages to honour his sanctity and miracles.For most of Christianity's first thousand years, canonisations were done on the diocesan or regional level. Relatively soon after the death of people considered to be very holy people, the local Church affirmed that they could be liturgically celebrated as saints. As a result, St. Patrick has never been formally canonised by a Pope; nevertheless, various Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven (he is in the List of Saints). He is still widely venerated in Ireland and elsewhere today. St. Patrick is also venerated in the Orthodox Church, especially among English-speaking Orthodox Christians living in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and in North America. There are Orthodox icons dedicated to him.

Hope you all had a happy St Patricks Day, on behalf of the Association of O’Neill Clans