Sunday 22 March 2015

Saint Patrick and Slemish

Mount Slemish, Sliabh Miss, is located in the valley of the Braid in Antrim, in northern Ireland. This was the ancient Ulidia then divided into Dal-riada to the north and Dalaradia to the south, and Mount Miss as it was then called, Sliabh or Slieve being the Gaelic for 'Mount' was in northern Dal-riada...
The fore-hill of Slemish, which, when viewed from the side, is seen to be a part of it, is known as Skerry, and here was located the dun or fortress house of the Pictish chieftain Miliucc, the master to whom Patrick was sold as a slave. Slemish itself  rises 1,437 feet from a barren and desolate moor. It is treeless as are all of the mountains of Ireland above a thousand feet. Yet there are green patches to relieve the mottled grey rock that reach almost to the top where from the north the outline of the formation known as Patrick's Chair may be seen. Field-glasses resolve the moving white dots upon these green patches into sheep grazing there, the descendants of the animals that Patrick herded there, perhaps....
It was on the harsh, chill, wind- and rain-swept crest of Slemish that Patrick found the presence, comfort and the love of God, just as it was to the still higher peak of Aigli that he went to communicate with Him.
The mountain has always been man's stairway to God. Stand upon the summit of Mount Canaan between Galilee and the sea at night when the heavens curve downwards and the stars may be touched ... and the feeling of the Presence is unmistakeable.
It was on the slopes of Slemish that God first spoke to Patrick.
Here it was that for six years, from the age of sixteen to twenty-two, Patrick the slave tended the swine of Miliucc in the forests where they fed on acorns or rooted beneath the moss. At other times, he took the sheep to the high pastures atop of Slemish and herded them in wind and weather.
Look upon Slemish today and you can grasp something of the ordeal of a lonely boy snatched from loving and indulgent parents and a life of ease and luxury to the rigours of slavery, exile and abuse. For Slemish is in itself a lonely mountain standing in isolation in the plain like an island rising from the ocean. Its brow caught the brunt of the storms whirling in from the sea, the driving rains and snows, the cold mists and fogs, with not so much as a sapling beneath which to shelter. 
It was during these six years and upon this mountain that the character of Patrick was formed. The iron went into his body as the Spirit entered into his soul. Here he acquired the hardy frame and physical endurance that were to see him through his missionary years in Ireland. Here he suffered spiritually and bodily until he could suffer no more, until there was no more that life could do to him that it had not done. 
... Here too he came to that faith in God, that belief in His concern for him, and that love for Him, that were to become his guide and support to the end of his days.
You cannot see the place where the infant Patrick first saw the light of day, for no one can point out the spot or name it, and no two scholars agree where it might have been, but when you gaze upon Slemish you are in the presence of the site where Patrick the man and the Apostle of Ireland was born out of the chrysalis of Patrick, the indolent, sinful boy.
... The slopes and vicinity of Slemish, then, are richer in the presence and tradition of Patrick than almost any other spot in Ireland. Yet there is no shrine there, marker or tablet, not even one of those appalling white statues of studied anachronism supposed to represent this remarkable man.

Paul Gallico, The Steadfast Man - A Life of Saint Patrick, (London, 1958), 166-169, 172.

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