Friday, 21 March 2014

Saint Patrick and the Miraculous Yield of Milk

Alongside the scholarly works about Saint Patrick and the devotional items published in the Victorian religious press, our national apostle also flourished in popular tradition. I'm currently reading an anthology of folklore, translated from a collection first published in Irish in 1952. The tales have a distinctly religious flavour and so the three patron saints of Ireland are well represented. I was interested by the following episode featuring Saint Patrick, as miracles involving milk are more usually Saint Brigid's domain. This one was collected in County Mayo and as the notes remind us, 'A common theme in folktales is an abundance of food being given to a poor household after a visit from a saintly person'. Particularly enjoyable is the obvious anachronism of the men sowing potatoes, centuries before this crop was introduced to Europe:

70. The Miraculous Yield of Milk

At the time Saint Patrick was going around working miracles, he came in to an old woman on a fine spring day. The old woman was very good-hearted. He asked her for something to drink and she said she had very little, that the cow was nearly dry but whatever drop she had she'd give him, and welcome. She told the servant-girl to go out and milk the cow for whatever drop she might have; and she was taking a small vessel with her.

'Bring a fine big vessel with you', said Saint Patrick.

She was very surprised at that, but she brought a can with her and the girl didn't leave the cowshed until she had filled the can from the cow. There were three or four men working there, sowing potatoes, and she called them in so that they could drink their fill of milk, more than they ever drank from a single cow in their lives before. And they were very pleased with the amount they got to drink.

Before that time, cows never gave more than the full of their horns of milk.

Seán Ó Súilleabháin, editor, Miraculous Plenty- Irish Religious Folktales and Legends, (Dublin, 2012), 166-167.

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