Tuesday 17 March 2020

The Story of Saint Patrick - A Legend in Verse

To celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, below is a poem describing his life by a nineteenth-century priest ministering to an Irish expatriate congregation working in the heavy industries of England. The introductory paragraph tells us that the writer, Father George Montgomery, wanted to foster devotion to Ireland's patron among the young and so adopted the form of street ballads, then popular in industrial towns and cities. Father Montgomery was an interesting character, this blog tells us that he was a convert from Protestantism in the heady days of the Tractarian movement. This perhaps explains his desire to emphasize in the poem that Saint Patrick had Papal approval for his mission. So on this day, let's honour the memory of this hard-working Black Country priest as well as that of our hard-working patron, Saint Patrick, as we enjoy The Story of Saint Patrick - A Legend in Verse:



The Story of S. Patrick.

A Legend in Verse, by the late Rev. G. Montgomery, of Wednesbury.

[The following story, in verse, of the life of S. Patrick, here given in a somewhat abridged shape, was written in moments of leisure snatched from the laborious duties of a missionary priest, placed in the heart of the mining and iron-working district of South Staffordshire. Its writer had in view mainly the instruction of the young of his flock, to whom he wished a knowledge of the history of the Patron Saint of their native country to become a household possession. The better, as he thought, to secure this end, he has given his lines the form of the popular ballads often heard in the streets, sung or recited by ballad street-singers. We ask a prayer, for the honour of S. Patrick, for the repose of the writer’s soul, who is now passed away from the scene of his former labours by a death accelerated through the cares and troubles of his mission.]

Patrick, our Erin’s famous saint, the subject of this lay.
Was born in greater Brittany, the Church’s lessons say;
Nigh years three hundred and threescore from that great day of mirth,
When Angels sang the Saviour born, we date Saint Patrick’s birth.

He had not sixteen summers seen, when, lo, a pirate band,
Ruthless, on deeds of plunder bent, approached Taburnia’s strand.
Then, marching from their mooring place, by a bold captain led,
They to Taburnia’s peaceful homes with evil purpose sped.

They sacked the homes, they swept the fields, they bore the youths away;
They captured, with his sisters twain, our Patrick on that day.
They put to sea, this heathen crew, they gained the Irish soil;
They spread themselves along the beach, and there displayed their spoil.

A wealthy chieftain came to buy, to him was Patrick sold,
But what befel the little maids the legends have not told.
We trust that God, at Patrick’s prayer, took up the children dear,
To be in joy with Saints above, safe from distress or fear.

The steward of Saint Patrick’s lord now sent the lad to keep,
Upon a far wild pasturage, his master’s flock of sheep.
There, heedless of the frost and snow, and of the driving rain,
He rose before the light to pray upon the open plain.

He for his people did deplore, that they in sin were found,
Whereby their homes had been despoiled and they in exile bound.
For he who loves, the Scripture saith, shall pardon crave for sin,
And so did Patrick’s prayer avail the souls of men to win.

Now Patrick, by decree of God, was soon at large to be,
Yet twice again was captive ta’en, and twice again set free.
Thus oft was he by sorrow tried, as gold is tried in fire,
That from his heart God’s love might burn as dross all base desire.

For God had chosen him to teach, and by his zeal to save,
The very Pagan race with whom he once had lived a slave.
But he who goes the faith to preach, should be with knowledge fraught,
So Patrick humbly went to those by whom he might be taught.

He crossed to Gaul, he visited the great Saint Martin there,
And studied long with Saint Germain, the Bishop of Auxerre.
He learned all holy discipline, and piously he took
Most earnest care to be well versed in knowledge of God’s book.

But Patrick knew that ere he sought the heathen’s hearts to move,
He must commission have from Rome, at Rome his faith approve.
For Christ on Peter built His Church, surnaming him The Rock:
To Peter gave the keys, and said, “ Thou, Simon, feed My Flock.”

And every Christian ought to know that in the See of Rome
Peter doth ever live and speak, and ever hath a home.
So thither Patrick bent his steps, and found of Peter’s line
The prince who sat on Peter’s Throne, by name Pope Celestine.

This holy Pope he caused our Saint awhile in Rome to bide,
Then with full power he sent him forth a Legate from his side.
With holy haste our Saint proceeds unto Hibernia’s shore,
Eager to bless the land he loved, and gift it from God’s store.

’Twas on a glorious Easter Day, at Tara’s famous hall,
Saint Patrick met the Irish king, the bards and chieftains all.
“I come,” quoth he, “a humble man, the strong and proud to face.
In the Name of the Blest Trinity to bring you truth and grace.

"Let God arise, and let His foes scattered before Him be;
Let them that hate Him, like thin smoke, at His bright presence flee.”
Chanting these words the Saint dispersed the demons of the air,
Who then, with purpose fell, swarmed in the Court of Leogaire.

And God was with Saint Patrick’s work, and blessed all that he wrought,
Whereby the champion gained at last the prize for which he fought.
The people flocked to be baptised; pastors o’er all the land
Were consecrated and ordained by Patrick’s own right hand.

To many maids and widows, too, he gave the sacred veil,
And gathered them in order due within Religion’s pale.
And by the right he had from Rome, our Saint made this decree.
That in the city of Armagh the primate’s chair should be.

Thus he who once as slave did keep a farmer’s fleecy flock,
As Prelate great for Christ did fold the faithful Irish flock.
And God in mercy granted him before his course was run,
To see his loved Hibernia for Christ and Mary won.

Satan since then has often tried, with all his force and guile,
To seize again the land he lost when Patrick blessed our isle.
But quite in vain are all his wiles to change her steadfast will,
For Ireland's heart unfailing cleaves to God and Mary still.

And Erin’s faith hath well withstood the scoffer's biting gibe,
The scaffold, sword, and prison cell, and often-proffered bribe.
So let all pray that in this land, this holy faith may last,
By virtue of Saint Patrick’s prayer, till time itself is past.

The Monthly Magazine Of The Holy Rosary; Under The Direction Of The Dominican Fathers, Volume 1, 1872-1873, 211-214.

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