Monday 1 August 2011

31 - 'St. Patrick was a gentleman ..'

St. Patrick's Day parade, 2009, Downpatrick, Co. Down
March 07, 2011

A couple a' shows back we were talkin' about Scotch Street, Irish Street and English Street.  The town that has all three of these streets is called Downpatrick - and we had a photo of Scotch Street, Downpatrick, on the podcast.  Downpatrick is the County Town of Down, in fact it used just to be called Downe - with an E on the end, but it has always been associated with the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick.  Tradition has it that he is buried under a huge stone in the grounds of Down Cathedral in the town.

Patrick wasn't the first Christian missionary to heathen Ireland - as mostly we were, then.  Patrick wasn't Irish at all!  He was actually British, in the old sense - not Anglo-Saxon, but from the pre-Saxon Celtic British tribes - related to modern-day Brittany, in France.  His name was a Roman one, though, meaning he was upper class, or well off.  And then disaster struck!  At sixteen Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken by ship to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave.  He ended up in the north here, in Co. Antrim, 'pasturing the flock' out on Mount Slemish - the remains of an extinct volcano - to the east of Ballymena.

In his loneliness there, he began to pray a lot and to remember the lessons taught by his father and grandfather - a deacon and a presbyter.  In his Confession he says, "More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith, increase", so that he'd say up to a hundred prayers a day - even in the rain, ice and snow!  One night, in his sleep, he heard a voice saying, "Soon you will depart for your own country."  And then a short time later he again heard a voice, this time sayin', "Your ship is ready."  

After 6 years of slavery he ran away, travelling 200 miles to catch a ship leaving Ireland.  He travelled for a few years before eventually returning to his home in Britain.  His parents were glad to see him again and didn't want him to leave but, as we know, he had another dream - this time where a man came from Ireland with a bundle of many letters and gave one to Patrick.  It began, "The voice of the Hibernians", and as he read it in his dream he saw others in the west of Ireland crying out, "We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us again."

Patrick came back as a missionary to the heathen Irish, ruled over back then by the Druid religion.  He landed on the southern shore of Strangford Lough, Co. Down,  and after a confrontation with a local chieftain, was given a barn at a place called Saul, just outside Downpatrick - which became his first church!  There is still a modern-day church building on the site.  And in Downpatrick we now have a St. Patrick's Day parade - but no green beer, that I've ever heard of - just beor dhu, the black stuff!

A lot of stories and legends have arisen about Patrick, but he only wrote two documents himself - his Declaration, or Confession, and a letter to a Scottish king called Coroticus.  He is supposed to have banished all the snakes from Ireland but, in fact, a Roman historian Solinius had reported many years before Patrick was born that there were no snakes in Ireland!  

That story probably came out of Patrick's conflict with the Druids, who were still practising child sacrifice, among other things.  Patrick had a major confrontation with his Druid rivals - at Tara, Co. Meath, where the High King ruled from.  But we'll leave that story for our next show.

There's a song about Patrick, which begins:

"Saint Patrick was a gentleman,
He came from dacent people,
He built a church in Dublin town,
And on it put a steeple."

And my wife, Gerry's favourite joke is this:  
"What did Patrick say when he was drivin' the snakes out of Ireland?"  
'"Are yez all right in the back, there?"

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