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TOGETHER WITH AN INTRODUCTORY CHAPTER COMPRIBING AN
ANALYSIS OF OUR NATIONAL CHURCH FROM THE
REV. M. J. BRENAN, U.S.F.
AN ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY
The ancient Irish, notwithstanding the many noble qualities for which they have been characterized, were, antecedently to the introduction of the Gospel, involved in the same universal wreck with the rest of mankind. Druidism appears to have been the standing religion of the nation; while among its principles, fire-worship was considered a permanent and a leading dogma. It is certain that there was neither a hierarchy or a Christian bishop in Ireland before the year 431, although it is highly probable that the natives in many parts of the island were by no means unacquainted with the Christian Religion. Palladius, an Archdeacon of the Roman Church, and by birth a Briton, was the first Christian bishop whom the genuine annals of the Irish Church have upon record. He received his missionary powers from Celestine, who then sat in the chair of St. Peter, and landed in this country early in the year 431.* The mission of Palladius was but of short duration. At the close of the same year. he sailed from Ireland, and died not long after at a place called Fordun, in Scotland. The great supernatural work of
Ireland's conversion was reserved for another instrument, . and under the protection of the God of heaven it was splen
didly accomplished by the unwearied labours and miracles of the blessed and ever-revered Patrick, the glorious patron and illustrious apostle of Ireland.
* Annals of Innisfallen ad A. 431.
There exists a diversity of opinion relative to the birthplace of this great saint. Some assert that he was born in Wales, others maintain that he was a Scotchman, but the best supported opinion is, that he was a native of Armoric Gaul, and was born A.D. 387, in that part which is now called Boulogne-sur-mer. * In his youth Patrick was brought a captive into this country, and was employed in the service of a man named Melcho, residing in Dalaradia, County of Antrim. Providence at length put a period to his captivity. It appears that he was brought a second time into bondage, but was soon after liberated, at which period he formed the resolution of embracing the ecclesiastical state. He studied under his relative, St. Martin of Tours; afterwards, his director was the great St. Germain of Auxerre, and being furnished by him with letters of recommendation, he repaired to Rome, Celestine being at that time sovereign pontiff. Upon the death of Palladius, Patrick was consecrated, and received the regular jurisdiction from the head of the Church.† He landed in Ireland in the year 432, at a port in the County of Wicklow, and thence proceeded to Lecale, in the county of Antrim. He was received by Dicho, the lord of that territory: this dynast became a Christian, and was the first convert whom St. Patrick had made to the religion of Christ in Ireland. I
The festival of Easter was approaching, and St. Patrick was determined to hold its celebration near Tarah, where the Monarch Leogaire and the princes of his kingdom, were at that time assembled. Among his converts at Tarah were Dubtach, an eminent poet, and Benignus, who became the immediate successor of our apostle. .
The next scene of his mission was the province of Connaught. The churches which he erected and the learned
• This opinion is clearly borne out by the “ Confession," a work written by St. Patrick himself. + Eric de Vita S. Germ. fourth life.
Probus, lib. 1, c. 29. $ Third life.
|| Tripartite, lib. 2, c. 44.
men whom he converted in this noble province would supply abundant materials for the admirer of sacred and biographical subjects.
As yet our saint had not proceeded to the great and powerful province of Munster; however, before he embarked on this mission, he visited Slane and other favourite quarters in Meath.* Our saint advanced into Ossory, where he erected many churches and converted a vast multitude. Having now (A.D. 445,) reached the borders of Munster, the saint proceeds to Cashel. On his approaching the city, the celebrated Aengus, then king of Munster, came forth to meet him, and both he and the nobility of his court became Christians.t
St. Patrick arrived at Lecale in 452, the place in which he made his first convert. He now determines on erecting a metropolitan see: for this purpose he proceeds to the territory of Macha, where he was received by Daire, who gave him a grant of a spot of ground called Druim-sailech, (the hill of Sallows,) and upon this site the saint erected his cathedral.. This high ground is that on which the city of Ard-Macha, or Armagh, now stands; and here the ecclesiastical metropolis of Ireland was established A.D. 455.|| At this period St. Patrick held two synods. Of his writings the only genuine ones which remain are his letter to Coroticus, a British prince, whom he excommunicates for his cruelty; and his “Confession,” in which he points out the extraordinary assistance afforded him by the Almighty. At length the great design having been accomplished, the moment is approaching when he is to be summoned to receive the reward of his labours. St. Patrick, who then resided at Saul, had a fore-knowledge of this event, and being attended by Tassach, bishop of Rath-colphtha, near Down, his happy soul retired from this world to enjoy the glory of his
* Tripartite. lib. 3.
Ibid. c. 29.
Probus, lib. 3, c. 7. $ The hill of the territory called Macha. . || Colgan, Ind. Chron.