St. Patrick visits Tara—Easter Sunday—St. Patrick's Hymn—Dubtach
salute him—He overthrows the Idols at Magh Slecht—The Princesses
Ethnea and Fethlimia—Their Conversion—Baptism of Aengus—St. Patrick
travels through Ireland—His Success in Munster—He blesses the whole
country from Cnoc Patrick—The First Irish Martyr—St. Patrick's
Death—Pagan Prophecies—Conor Mac Nessa—Death of King Laeghairé—The
Church did not and does not countenance Pagan Superstition—Oilioll
Molt—Death of King Aengus—Foundation of the Kingdom of Scotland—St.
Brigid—Shrines of the Three Saints—St Patrick's Prayer for Ireland,
and its Fulfilment.

[A.D. 432—543.]

n Holy Saturday St. Patrick arrived at Slane,
where he caused a tent to be erected, and lighted the paschal fire at
nightfall, preparatory to the celebration of the Easter festival. The
princes and chieftains of Meath were, at the same time, assembled at
Tara, where King Laeghairé was holding a great pagan festival. The
object of this meeting has been disputed, some authorities saying that
it was convoked to celebrate the Beltinne, or fire of Bal or Baal;
others, that the king was commemorating his own birthday. On the
festival of Beltinne it was forbidden to light any fire until a flame
was visible from the top of Tara Hill. Laeghairé was indignant that this
regulation should have been infringed; and probably the representation
of his druids regarding the mission of the great apostle, did not tend
to allay his wrath. Determined to examine himself into the intention of
these bold strangers, he set forth, accompanied, by his bards and
attendants, to the place where the sacred fire had been kindled, and
ordered the apostle to be brought before him strictly commanding, at the
same time, that no respect should be shown to him.

Notwithstanding the king's command, Erc, the son of Dego, rose up to
salute him, obtained the grace of conversion, and was subsequently
promoted to the episcopate. The result of this interview was the
appointment of a public discussion, to take place the next day at Tara,
between St. Patrick and the pagan bards.

St. Patrick going to Tara.

St. Patrick going to Tara.

It was Easter Sunday—a day ever memorable for this event in the annals
of Erinn. Laeghairé and his court sat in state to receive the ambassador
of the Eternal King. Treacherous preparations had been made, and it was
anticipated that Patrick and his companions would scarcely reach Tara
alive. The saint was aware of the machinations of his enemies; but life
was of no value to him, save as a means of performing the great work
assigned him, and the success of that work was in the safe keeping of
Another. The old writers love to dwell on the meek dignity of the
apostle during this day of trial and triumph. He set forth with his
companions, from where he had encamped, in solemn procession, singing a
hymn of invocation which he had composed, in the Irish tongue, for the
occasion, and which is still preserved, and well authenticated.[125] He was clothed as usual, in white robes; but he wore his mitre, and carried
in his hand the Staff of Jesus. Eight priests attended him, robed also
in white, and his youthful convert, Benignus, the son of Seschnan.

Thus, great in the arms of meekness and prayer, did the Christian hosts
calmly face the array of pagan pomp and pride. Again the monarch had
commanded that no honour should be paid to the saint, and again he was
disobeyed. His own chief poet and druid, Dubtach, rose up instantly on
the entrance of the strangers, and saluted the venerable apostle with
affection and respect. The Christian doctrine was then explained by St.
Patrick to his wondering audience, and such impression made, that
although Laeghairé lived and died an obstinate pagan, he nevertheless
permitted the saint to preach where and when he would, and to receive
all who might come to him for instruction or holy baptism.

On the following day St. Patrick repaired to Taillten, where the public
games were commencing; and there he remained for a week, preaching to an
immense concourse of people. Here his life was threatened by Cairbré, a
brother of King Laeghairé; but the saint was defended by another of the
royal brothers, named Conall Creevan, who was shortly after converted.
The church of Donough Patrick, in Meath, was founded by his desire. It
is said that all the Irish churches which begin with the name Donough
were founded by the saint, the foundation being always marked out by him
on a Sunday, for which Domhnach is the Gaedhilic term.

Having preached for some time in the western part of the territory of
Meath, the saint proceeded as far as Magh Slecht, where the great idol
of the nation, Ceann [or Crom] Cruach was solemnly worshipped. The
legend of its destruction, as given in the oldest annals, is singularly
interesting. We give a brief extract from Professor O'Curry's
translation: "When Patrick saw the idol from the water, which is named Guthard [loud voice] (i.e., he elevated his voice); and when he
approached near the idol, he raised his arm to lay the Staff of Jesus on
him, and it did not reach him; he bent back from the attempt upon his
right side, for it was to the south his face was; and the mark of the
staff lies in his left side still although the staff did not leave
Patrick's hand; and the earth swallowed the other twelve idols to their
heads; and they are in that condition in commemoration of the miracle.
And he called upon all the people cum rege Laeghuire; they it was that
adored the idol. And all the people saw him (i.e., the demon), and they
dreaded their dying if Patrick had not sent him to hell."[126]

After this glorious termination of Easter week, the saint made two other
important converts. He set out for Connaught; and when near Rath
Cruaghan, met the daughters of King Laeghairé, the princesses Ethnea and
Fethlimia, who were coming, in patriarchal fashion, to bathe in a
neighbouring well. These ladies were under the tuition of certain
druids, or magi; but they willingly listened to the instruction of the
saint, and were converted and baptized.

The interview took place at daybreak. The royal sisters heard the
distant chant of the priests, who were reciting matins as they walked
along; and when they approached and beheld them in their white garments,
singing, with books in their hands, it was naturally supposed that they
were not beings of earth.

"Who are ye?" they inquired of the saint and his companions. "Are ye of
the sea, the heavens, or the earth?"

St. Patrick explained to them such of the Christian mysteries as were
most necessary at the moment, and spoke of the one only true God.

"But where," they asked, "does your God dwell? Is it in the sun or on
earth, in mountains or in valleys, in the sea or in rivers?"

Then the apostle told them of his God,—the Eternal, the Invisible,—and
how He had indeed dwelt on earth as man, but only to suffer and die for
their salvation. And as the maidens listened to his words, their hearts
were kindled with heavenly love, and they inquired further what they
could do to show their gratitude to this great King. In that same hour
they were baptized; and in a short time they consecrated themselves to
Him, the story of whose surpassing charity had so moved their young

Their brother also obtained the grace of conversion; and an old Irish
custom of killing a sheep on St. Michael's Day, and distributing it
amongst the poor, is said to date from a miracle performed by St.
Patrick for this royal convert.

Nor is the story of Aengus, another royal convert, less interesting.
About the year 445, the saint, after passing through Ossory, and
converting a great number of people, entered the kingdom of Munster. His
destination was Cashel, from whence King Aengus, the son of Natfraech,
came forth to meet him with the utmost reverence.

This prince had already obtained some knowledge of Christianity, and
demanded the grace of holy baptism.

The saint willingly complied with his request. His courtiers assembled
with royal state to assist at the ceremony. St. Patrick carried in his
hand, as usual, the Bachall Isu; at the end of this crozier there was a
sharp iron spike, by which he could plant it firmly in the ground beside
him while preaching, or exercising his episcopal functions. On this
occasion, however, he stuck it down into the king's foot, and did not
perceive his mistake until—

"The royal foot transfixed, the gushing blood
Enrich'd the pavement with a noble flood."

The ceremony had concluded, and the prince had neither moved nor
complained of the severe suffering he had endured. When the saint
expressed his deep regret for such an occurrence, Aengus merely replied
that he believed it to be a part of the ceremony, and did not appear to
consider any suffering of consequence at such a moment.[127]

When such was the spirit of the old kings of Erinn who received the
faith of Christ from Patrick, we can scarcely marvel that their
descendants have adhered to it with such unexampled fidelity.

After the conversion of the princesses Ethnea and Fethlimia, the
daughters of King Laeghairé, St. Patrick traversed almost every part of
Connaught, and, as our divine Lord promised to those whom He
commissioned to teach all nations, proved his mission by the exercise of
miraculous powers. Some of his early biographers have been charged with
an excess of credulity on this point. But were this the place or time
for such a discussion, it might easily be shown that miracles were to be
expected when a nation was first evangelized, and that their absence
should be rather a matter of surprise than their frequency or
marvellousness. He who alone could give the commission to preach, had
promised that "greater things" than He Himself did should be done by
those thus commissioned. And after all, what greater miracle could there
be than that one who had been enslaved, and harshly, if not cruelly
treated, should become the deliverer of his enslavers from spiritual
bondage, and should sacrifice all earthly pleasures for their eternal
gain? Nor is the conversion of the vast multitude who listened to the
preaching of the saint, less marvellous than those events which we
usually term the most supernatural.

The saint's greatest success was in the land[128] of Tirawley, near the
town of Foclut, from whence he had heard the voice of the Irish even in
his native land. As he approached this district, he learned that the
seven sons of King Amalgaidh were celebrating a great festival. Their
father had but lately died, and it was said these youths exceeded all
the princes of the land in martial courage and skill in combat. St.
Patrick advanced in solemn procession even into the very midst of the
assembly, and for his reward obtained the conversion of the seven
princes and twelve thousand of their followers. It is said that his life
was at this period in some danger, but that Endeus, one of the converted
princes, and his son Conall, protected him.[129] After seven years spent
in Connaught, he passed into Ulster; there many received the grace of
holy baptism, especially in that district now comprised in the county

It was probably about this time that the saint returned to Meath, and
appointed his nephew, St. Secundinus or Sechnal, who was bishop of the
place already mentioned as Domhnach Sechnail, to preside over the
northern churches during his own absence in the southern part of

The saint then visited those parts of Leinster which had been already
evangelized by Palladius, and laid the foundation of many new churches.
He placed one of his companions, Bishop Auxilius, at Killossy, near
Naas, and another, Isserninus, at Kilcullen, both in the present county
of Kildare. At Leix, in the Queen's county, he obtained a great many
disciples, and from thence he proceeded to visit his friend, the poet
Dubtach, who, it will be remembered, paid him special honour at Tara,
despite the royal prohibition to the contrary. Dubtach lived in that
part of the country called Hy-Kinsallagh, now the county Carlow. It was
here the poet Fiacc was first introduced to the saint, whom he
afterwards so faithfully followed. Fiacc had been a disciple of Dubtach,
and was by profession a bard, and a member of an illustrious house. He
was the first Leinster man raised to episcopal dignity. It was probably
at this period that St. Patrick visited Munster, and the touching
incident already related occurred at the baptism of Aengus. This prince
was singularly devoted to religion, as indeed his conduct during the
administration of the sacrament of regeneration could not fail to

The saint's mission in Munster was eminently successful. Lonan, the
chief of the district of Ormonde, entertained him with great
hospitality, and thousands embraced the faith. Many of the inhabitants
of Corca Baiscin crossed the Shannon in their hidecovered boats
(curaghs) when the saint was on the southern side, in Hy-Figeinte, and
were baptized by him in the waters of their magnificent river. At their
earnest entreaty, St. Patrick ascended a hill which commanded a view of
the country of the Dalcassians, and gave his benediction to the whole
territory. This hill is called Findine in the ancient lives of the
saint; but this name is now obsolete. Local tradition and antiquarian
investigation make it probable that the favoured spot is that now called
Cnoc Patrick, near Foynes Island.

The saint's next journey was in the direction of Kerry, where he
prophesied that "St. Brendan, of the race of Hua Alta, the great
patriarch of monks and star of the western world, would be born, and
that his birth would take place some years after his own death."[130]

We have now to record the obituary of the only Irish martyr who suffered
for the faith while Ireland was being evangelized. While the saint was
visiting Ui-Failghe, a territory now comprised in the King's county, a
pagan chieftain, named Berraidhe, formed a plan for murdering the
apostle. His wicked design came in some way to the knowledge of Odran,
the saint's charioteer, who so arranged matters as to take his master's
place, and thus received the fatal blow intended for him.

The See of Armagh was founded about the year 455, towards the close of
the great apostle's life. The royal palace of Emania, in the immediate
neighbourhood, was then the residence of the kings of Ulster. A wealthy
chief, by name Daire,[131] gave the saint a portion of land for the
erection of his cathedral, on an eminence called Druim-Sailech, the
Hill of Sallows. This high ground is now occupied by the city of Armagh
(Ard-Macha). Religious houses for both sexes were established near the
church, and soon were filled with ardent and devoted subjects.

The saint's labours were now drawing to a close, and the time of eternal
rest was at hand. He retired to his favourite retreat at Saull, and
there probably wrote his Confessio.[132] It is said that he wished to
die in the ecclesiastical metropolis of Ireland, and for this purpose,
when he felt his end approaching, desired to be conveyed thither; but
even as he was on his journey an angel appeared to him, and desired him
to return to Saull. Here he breathed his last, on Wednesday, the 17th of
March, in the year of our Lord 492. The holy viaticum and last anointing
were administered to him by St. Tussach.[133]

The saint's age at the time of his death, as also the length of his
mission in Ireland, has been put at a much longer period by some
authors, but modern research and correction of chronology have all but
verified the statement given above.

The intelligence of the death of St. Patrick spread rapidly through the
country; prelates and priests flocked from all parts to honour the
mortal remains of their glorious father. As each arrived at Saull, he
proceeded to offer the adorable sacrifice according to his rank. At
night the plain resounded with the chanting of psalms; and the darkness
was banished by the light of such innumerable torches, that it seemed
even as if day had hastened to dawn brightly on the beloved remains. St.
Fiacc, in his often-quoted Hymn, compares it to the long day caused by
the standing of the sun at the command of Joshua, when he fought against
the Gabaonites.

It is said that the pagan Irish were not without some intimation of the
coming of their great apostle. Whether these prophecies were true or
false is a question we cannot pretend to determine; but their existence
and undoubted antiquity demand that they should have at least a passing
notice. Might not the Gaedhilic druid, as well as the Pythian priestess,
have received even from the powers of darkness, though despite their
will, an oracle[134] which prophesied truth?

There is a strange, wild old legend preserved in the Book of Leinster,
which indicates that even in ancient Erinn the awful throes of nature
were felt which were manifested in so many places, and in such various
ways, during those dark hours when the Son of God hung upon the accursed
tree for the redemption of His guilty creatures.

This tale or legend is called the Aideadh Chonchobair. It is one of
that class of narratives known under the generic title of Historical
Tragedies, or Deaths. The hero, Conor Mac Nessa, was King of Ulster at
the period of the Incarnation of our Lord. His succession to the throne
was rather a fortuity than the result of hereditary claim. Fergus Mac
Nessa was rightfully king at the time; but Conor's father having died
while he was yet an infant, Fergus, then the reigning monarch, proposed
marriage to his mother when the youth was about fifteen, and only
obtained the consent of the celebrated beauty on the strange condition
that he should hand over the sovereignty of Ulster to her son for a
year. The monarch complied, glad to secure the object of his affections
on any terms. Conor, young as he was, governed with such wisdom and
discretion as to win all hearts; and when the assigned period had
arrived, the Ulster men positively refused to permit Fergus to resume
his rightful dignity. After much contention the matter was settled
definitely in favour of the young monarch, and Fergus satisfied himself
with still retaining the wife for whose sake he had willingly made such
sacrifices. Conor continued to give ample proofs of the wisdom of his
people's decision. Under his government the noble Knights of the Royal
Branch sprang up in Ulster, and made themselves famous both in field and

It was usual in those barbarous times, whenever a distinguished enemy
was killed in battle, to cleave open his head, and to make a ball of the
brains by mixing them with lime, which was then dried, and preserved as
a trophy of the warrior's valour. Some of these balls were preserved in
the royal palace at Emania. One, that was specially prized, passed
accidentally into the hands of a famous Connaught champion, who found a
treacherous opportunity of throwing it at Conor, while he was displaying
himself, according to the custom of the times, to the ladies of an
opposing army, who had followed their lords to the scene of action. The
ball lodged in the king's skull, and his physicians declared that an
attempt to extract it would prove fatal. Conor was carried home; he soon
recovered, but he was strictly forbidden to use any violent exercise,
and required to avoid all excitement or anger. The king enjoyed his
usual health by observing those directions, until the very day of the
Crucifixion. But the fearful phenomena which then occurred diverted his
attention, and he inquired if Bacrach, his druid, could divine the

The druid consulted his oracles, and informed the king that Jesus
Christ, the Son of the living God, was, even at that moment, suffering
death at the hands of the Jews. "What crime has He committed?" said
Conor. "None," replied the druid. "Then are they slaying Him
innocently?" said Conor. "They are," replied the druid.

It was too great a sorrow for the noble prince; he could not bear that
his God should die unmourned; and rushing wildly from where he sat to a
neighbouring forest, he began to hew the young trees down, exclaiming:
"Thus would I destroy those who were around my King at putting Him to
death." The excitement proved fatal; and the brave and good King Conor
Mac Nessa died[135] avenging, in his own wild pagan fashion, the death
of his Creator.

The secular history of Ireland, during the mission of St. Patrick,
affords but few events of interest or importance. King Laeghairé died,
according to the Four Masters, A.D. 458. The popular opinion attributed
his demise to the violation of his oath to the Leinster men. It is
doubtful whether he died a Christian, but the account of his burial[136] has been taken to prove the contrary. It is much to be regretted that
persons entirely ignorant of the Catholic faith, whether that ignorance
be wilful or invincible, should attempt to write lives of Catholic
saints, or histories of Catholic countries. Such persons, no doubt
unintentionally, make the most serious mistakes, which a well-educated
Catholic child could easily rectify. We find a remarkable instance of
this in the following passage, taken from a work already mentioned:
"Perhaps this [King Laeghairé's oath] may not be considered an absolute
proof of the king's paganism. To swear by the sun and moon was
apparently, no doubt, paganism. But is it not also paganism to represent
the rain and wind as taking vengeance? ... for this is the language
copied by all the monastic annalists, and even by the Four Masters,
Franciscan friars, writing in the seventeenth century." The passage is
improved by a "note," in which the author mentions this as a proof that
such superstitions would not have been necessarily regarded two
centuries ago as inconsistent with orthodoxy. Now, in the first place,
the Catholic Church has always[137] condemned superstition of every
kind. It is true that as there are good as well as bad Christians in her
fold, there are also superstitious as well as believing Christians; but
the Church is not answerable for the sins of her children. She is
answerable for the doctrine which she teaches; and no one can point to
any place or time in which the Church taught such superstitions.
Secondly, the writers of history are obliged to relate facts as they
are. The Franciscan fathers do this, and had they not done it carefully,
and with an amount of labour which few indeed have equalled, their
admirable Annals would have been utterly useless. They do mention the
pagan opinion that it was "the sun and wind that killed him [Laeghairé],
because he had violated them;" but they do not say that they believed
this pagan superstition, and no one could infer it who read the passage
with ordinary candour.

It is probable that Oilioll Molt, who succeeded King Laeghairé, A.D.
459, lived and died a pagan. He was slain, after a reign of twenty
years, by Laeghairé's son, Lughaidh, who reigned next. The good king
Aengus[138] died about this time. He was the first Christian King of
Munster, and is the common ancestor of the MacCarthys, O'Sullivans,
O'Keeffes, and O'Callahans. The foundation of the kingdom of Scotland by
an Irish colony, is generally referred to the year 503.[139] It has
already been mentioned that Cairbré Riada was the leader of an
expedition thither in the reign of Conairé II. The Irish held their
ground without assistance from the mother country until this period,
when the Picts obtained a decisive victory, and drove them from the
country. A new colony of the Dalriada now went out under the leadership
of Loarn, Aengus, and Fergus, the sons of Erc. They were encouraged and
assisted in their undertaking by their relative Mortagh, the then King
of Ireland. It is said they took the celebrated Lia Fail to Scotland,
that Fergus might be crowned thereon. The present royal family of
England have their claim to the crown through the Stuarts, who were
descendants of the Irish Dalriada. Scotland now obtained the name of
Scotia, from the colony of Scots. Hence, for some time, Ireland was
designated Scotia Magna, to distinguish it from the country which so
obtained, and has since preserved, the name of the old race.

Muircheartach, A.D. 504, was the first Christian King of Ireland; but he
was constantly engaged in war with the Leinster men about the most
unjust Boromean tribute. He belonged to the northern race of Hy-Nial,
being descended from Nial of the Nine Hostages. On his death, the crown
reverted to the southern Hy-Nials in the person of their representative,
Tuathal Maelgarbh.

It would appear from a stanza in the Four Masters, that St. Brigid had
some prophetic intimation or knowledge of one of the battles fought by
Muircheartach. Her name is scarcely less famous for miracles than that
of the great apostle. Broccan's Hymn[140] contains allusions to a very
great number of these supernatural favours. Many of these marvels are of
a similar nature to those which the saints have been permitted to
perform in all ages of the Church's history.

Brigid belonged to an illustrious family, who were lineally descended
from Eochad, a brother of Conn of the Hundred Battles. She was born at
Fochard, near Dundalk, about the year 453, where her parents happened to
be staying at the time; but Kildare was their usual place of residence,
and there the holy virgin began her saintly career. In her sixteenth
year she received the white cloak and religious veil, which was then the
distinctive garment of those who were specially dedicated to Christ,
from the hands of St. Macaille, the Bishop of Usneach, in Westmeath.
Eight young maidens of noble birth took the veil with her. Their first
residence was at a place in the King's county, still called Brigidstown.
The fame of her sanctity now extended far and wide, and she was
earnestly solicited from various parts of the country to found similar establishments. Her first mission was to Munster, at the request of Erc,
the holy Bishop of Slane, who had a singular respect for her virtue.
Soon after, she founded a house of her order in the plain of Cliach,
near Limerick; but the people of Leinster at last became fearful of
losing their treasure, and sent a deputation requesting her return, and
offering land for the foundation of a large nunnery. Thus was
established, in 483, the famous Monastery of Kildare, or the Church of
the Oak.

At the request of the saint, a bishop was appointed to take charge of
this important work; and under the guidance of Conlaeth, who heretofore
had been a humble anchorite, it soon became distinguished for its
sanctity and usefulness. The concourse of strangers and pilgrims was
immense; and in the once solitary plain one of the largest cities of the
time soon made its appearance. It is singular and interesting to remark,
how the call to a life of virginity was felt and corresponded with in
the newly Christianized country, even as it had been in the Roman
Empire, when it also received the faith. Nor is it less noticeable how
the same safeguards and episcopal rule preserved the foundations of each
land in purity and peace, and have transmitted even to our own days, in
the same Church, and in it only, that privileged life.

The Four Masters give her obituary under the year 525. According to
Cogitosus, one of her biographers, her remains were interred in her own
church. Some authorities assert that her relics were removed to Down,
when Kildare was ravaged by the Danes, about the year 824.

It has been doubted whether Downpatrick could lay claim to the honour of
being the burial-place of Ireland's three great saints,[141] but there
are good arguments in its favour. An old prophecy of St. Columba
regarding his interment runs thus:—

"My prosperity in guiltless Hy,
And my soul in Derry,

And my body under the flag
Beneath which are Patrick and Brigid."

The relics of the three saints escaped the fury of the Danes, who burned
the town and pillaged the cathedral six or seven times, between the
years 940 and 1111. In 1177, John de Courcy took possession of the town,
and founded a church attached to a house of Secular Canons, under the
invocation of the Blessed Trinity. In 1183 they were replaced by a
community of Benedictine monks, from St. Wirburgh's Abbey, at Chester.
Malachy, who was then bishop, granted the church to the English monks
and prior, and changed the name to that of the Church of St. Patrick.
This prelate was extremely anxious to discover the relics of the saints,
which a constant tradition averred were there concealed. It is said,
that one day, as he prayed in the church, his attention was directed
miraculously to an obscure part of it; or, according to another and more
probable account, to a particular spot in the abbey-yard, where, when
the earth was removed, their remains were found in a triple
cave,—Patrick in the middle, Columba and Brigid on either side.

At the request of De Courcy, delegates were despatched to Rome by the
bishop to acquaint Urban III. of the discovery of the bodies. His
Holiness immediately sent Cardinal Vivian to preside at the translation
of the relics. The ceremony took place on the 9th of June, 1186, that
day being the feast of St. Columba. The relics of the three saints were
deposited in the same monument at the right side of the high altar. The
right hand of St. Patrick was enshrined and placed on the high altar. In
1315, Edward Bruce invaded Ulster, marched to Downpatrick, destroyed the
abbey, and carried off the enshrined hand. In 1538, Lord Grey, who
marched into Lecale to establish the supremacy of his master, Henry
VIII., by fire and sword, "effaced the statues of the three patron
saints, and burned the cathedral, for which act, along with many others
equally laudable, he was beheaded three years afterwards." The
restoration of the old abbey-church was undertaken of late years, and
preceded by an act of desecration, which is still remembered with
horror. The church had been surrounded by a burying-ground, where many
had wished to repose, that they might, even in death, be near the relics
of the three great patron saints of Erinn. But the graves were exhumed
without mercy, and many were obliged to carry away the bones of their
relatives, and deposit them where they could. The "great tomb," in which
it was believed that "Patrick, Brigid, and Columkille" had slept for
more than six centuries, was not spared; the remains were flung out into
the churchyard, and only saved from further desecration by the piety of
a faithful people.

The shrine of St. Patrick's hand was in possession of the late Catholic
Bishop of Belfast. The relic itself has long disappeared; but the
shrine, after it was carried off by Bruce, passed from one trustworthy
guardian to another, until it came into his hands. One of these was a
Protestant, who, with noble generosity, handed it over to a Catholic as
a more fitting custodian. One Catholic family, into whose care it passed
at a later period, refused the most tempting offers for it, though
pressed by poverty, lest it should fall into the hands of those who
might value it rather as a curiosity than as an object of devotion.

This beautiful reliquary consists of a silver case in the shape of the
hand and arm, cut off a little below the elbow. It is considerably
thicker than the hand and arm of an ordinary man, as if it were intended
to enclose these members without pressing upon them too closely. The
fingers are bent, so as to represent the hand in the attitude of

But there is another relic of St. Patrick and his times of scarcely less
interest. The Domhnach Airgid[142] contains a copy of the Four
Gospels, which, there is every reason to believe, were used by the great
apostle of Ireland. The relic consists of two parts—the shrine or case
and the manuscript. The shrine is an oblong box, nine inches by seven,
and five inches in height. It is composed of three distinct covers, in
the ages of which there is obviously a great difference. The inner or
first cover is of wood, apparently yew, and may be coeval with the
manuscript it is intended to preserve. The second, which is of copper
plated with silver, is assigned to a period between the sixth and
twelfth centuries, from the style of its scroll or interlaced ornaments.
The figures in relief, and letters on the third cover, which is of
silver plated with gold, leave no doubt of its being the work of the
fourteenth century.

The last or external cover is of great interest as a specimen of the
skill and taste in art of its time in Ireland, and also for the highly
finished representations of ancient costume which it preserves. The
ornaments on the top consist principally of a large figure of the Saviour in alto-relievo in the centre, and eleven figures of saints in basso-relievo on each side in four oblong compartments. There is a
small square reliquary over the head of our divine Lord, covered with a
crystal, which probably contained a piece of the holy cross. The smaller
figures in relief are, Columba, Brigid, and Patrick; those in the second
compartment, the Apostles James, Peter, and Paul; in the third, the
Archangel Michael, and the Virgin and Child; in the fourth compartment a
bishop presents a cumdach, or cover, to an ecclesiastic. This,
probably, has a historical relation to the reliquary itself.

One prayer uttered by St. Patrick has been singularly fulfilled. "May my
Lord grant," he exclaims, "that I may never lose His people, which He
has acquired in the ends of the earth!" From hill and dale, from camp
and cottage, from plebeian and noble, there rang out a grand "Amen." The
strain was caught by Secundinus and Benignus, by Columba and Columbanus,
by Brigid and Brendan. It floated away from Lindisfarne and Iona, to
Iceland and Tarentum. It was heard on the sunny banks of the Rhine, at
Antwerp and Cologne, in Oxford, in Pavia, and in Paris. And still the
old echo is breathing its holy prayer. By the priest, who toils in cold
and storm to the "station" on the mountain side, far from his humble
home. By the confessor, who spends hour after hour, in the heat of
summer and the cold of winter, absolving the penitent children of
Patrick. By the monk in his cloister. By noble and true-hearted men,
faithful through centuries of persecution. And loudly and nobly, though
it be but faint to human ears, is that echo uttered also by the aged
woman who lies down by the wayside to die in the famine years,[143] because she prefers the bread of heaven to the bread of earth, and the
faith taught by Patrick to the tempter's gold. By the emigrant, who,
with broken heart bids a long farewell to the dear island home, to the
old father, to the grey-haired mother, because his adherence to his
faith tends not to further his temporal interest, and he must starve or
go beyond the sea for bread. Thus ever and ever that echo is gushing up
into the ear of God, and never will it cease until it shall have merged
into the eternal alleluia which the often-martyred and ever-faithful
children of the saint shall shout with him in rapturous voice before the
Eternal Throne.