Friday 24 March 2023

Saint Patrick's Confessions

Bringing the series of posts in honour of Saint Patrick to a close on the octave of his feast day with another Australian newspaper offering, an 1884 article quoting his Confession, although the writer refers to Confessions in the plural. I have always found it a truly wonderful thing that we are able to hear the voice of our patron saint, 'a unique voice from the dawn of Irish history' as one modern scholar puts it, through his own writings. As Philip Freeman notes in his 2005 book Saint Patrick of Ireland - a Biography:

Patrick's letters were restricted to those who read Latin until the nineteenth century, when the first English translations appeared. In the last hundred years more than a dozen editions of the letters have been published. In spite of this proliferation, the writings of Patrick are poorly known to this day. Everyone has heard of Saint Patrick, of course, but the man most people know is little more than an icon who drove the snakes out of Ireland. This lack of knowledge about the real Patrick is truly regrettable, because he has such an amazing story to tell: a tale of slavery and brutality, pain and self-doubt, sorrow and constant struggle, but ultimately of perseverance, hope and faith. His letters, in the end, remain as a remarkable gift from an extraordinary man.

 Let's hope that in the twenty-first century we too can begin to rediscover and truly appreciate this remarkable gift:


Some years before his death, St. Patrick, the Irish apostle, wrote his confessions. The following extracts from this invaluable document will show the state of the writer's mind, and the spirit in which he left the world :— 

"You know," says he to the Irish people, "and God knows, what kind of behaviour I have had with you from my youth, in the belief of the truth, and in the sincerity of my heart. Moreover, in every province where I have been, I have made known my faith unto the people, and will make it known. God knows that I have defrauded none of them, nor have I stirred up any one against them through all our persecutions, lest on my account the name of the Lord might be blasphemed. When I had baptized so many thousands of the people, I might, perhaps, have expected from some of them a small compensation. Tell me if I have received aught, and I will pay it back. Or when I have ordained ministers, if I have asked from any of them even the price of a pair of shoes, tell me, and I will return to you more than I have received. And now I recommend my soul to God, who faithful, for Whom, in reproach, I have performed this mission. I pray God that He may give unto me perseverance, that I may bear for Him a faithful testimony until my transition to my God. This sun which we now see, by the help of God will rise for us every day; but he will never reign, neither will his splendor be lasting. But we believe in the worship of the true Sun, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who will never pass away; Who made all things by His own will, and shall remain for ever. He reigns with God the Father Omnipotent, and with the Holy Spirit, before the worlds were, now, and will reign through all ages of ages. Amen."

SAINT PATRICK'S CONFESSIONS, South Australian Weekly Chronicle, April 19, 1884.

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Thursday 23 March 2023

Saint Patrick's Staff of Jesus

In 2018 I posted a series of posts on one of the most famous of all of the relics associated with Saint Patrick - the
Bachall Ísu (Íosa), or Staff of Jesus. Below is a reminder of the story of how the Irish patron came to acquire Christ's staff, published in the American journal The Pilgrim of Our Lady of Martyrs in 1889:

WHEN the young St. Patrick escaped to Gaul after his second term of captivity in Ireland, he heard in spirit the Irish people crying to him from the woods of Tirawley, in Mayo: " "We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk amongst us and set us free."

Come, holy one, long preordained!
For thee the swans of Lir are singing;
Come from the morning, orient-stained,
Thy Mass-bell thro' our valleys ringing.

Man of the hooded hosts, arise!
Physician, lo! our souls lie dying —
Hear o'er the seas our piteous cries,
On thee and on thy God relying.  [1]

Moved by their spiritual wants, the devout youth at once began his studies to prepare himself for holy orders.

In the course of these studies, St. Patrick travelled much in France and Italy and the islands of the Mediterranean. He stopped longest, perhaps, at the noble monastery of Lerins, shortly after the death of its founder, the great St. Honoratus,  and here he received his celebrated "Staff of Jesus."

He had had a vision in which an angel told him to repair to this island, and visit a holy recluse named Justus who was living there — doubtless the same as the Bishop Justus who assisted at the Synod of Arles in 450. St. Patrick eagerly sought him out, and noticed, by the way, that in a certain part of the island lived a number of devout men, some of whom were in the bloom of health while others were quite old and decrepit. Justus, he learned, had formerly been the leader of these men, but for some years latterly had retired apart for greater security in his heavenly meditations.

"Hail, servant of God!" exclaimed St. Patrick, on finally meeting the hermit at the door of his cell; "the peace of Christ be with thee!"

For a moment Justus looked astonished, and then, raising his hands in joy to heaven, cried: " Thanks be to God! Thou art Patrick, a messenger of Jesus Christ. Long, long have I awaited thy coming."

The two Saints spent some hours in spiritual conversation, hardly noticing the flight of time, so wrapt were they in God, when the deep shadows of evening began to fall about them. Hereupon Justus arose and begged St. Patrick to enter his cell and join him in his repast of cool spring-water and bread seasoned with a few small herbs.

"But stay, good brother," said St. Patrick ; "who has told thee my name ?"

"As we take our meal, I will tell thee," answered Justus, and as soon as they were seated he told him this story:

"My brethren whom you have seen," he said, "and I were from our youth, which was many, many years ago, devoted to works of charity. Our doors were always open, and no stranger sought our help in the name of Christ and went his way unaided. So it fell out, one night, that a footsore pilgrim asked us for food and shelter. He bore a long staff in his hand, and seemed to have come a long journey. We received him with warmest hospitality, putting him no curious questions and giving him the best that our means afforded.

"He seemed grateful, and on the morrow arose with a smiling face to depart; but, as we gathered round him to bid him adieu, a sudden transformation came over him. His garments turned white as snow, and his face radiant, though softer than the sun. A heavenly fragrance was diffused about him. We gazed at him only once, awe-stricken, and fell upon our knees in adoration. It was Christ Jesus whom we had sheltered.

" 'Fear not,' He said in the gentlest accents, you have received your God in person this time, to reward you for the thousand times you received the poor and the sick and the tired in His name. And thou, Justus,' He said, bending over me, receive My staff and keep it till, after long years from now, there come to thee a pious pilgrim named Patrick. Give it to him, for he shall have a mighty mission to perform for Me.' So saying, our Lord ascended into the clouds before us. Ever since that day, we have retained our youthfulness and vigour, while our children who then were only infants have grown decrepit with age. As soon as I saw thee, my brother, I knew that thou wast Patrick, and, lo! I fetch thee thy staff."

St. Patrick humbly knelt to receive the heavenly gift, which he regarded as a divine symbol of his call to preach the faith in Ireland. After lingering some days with Justus, he set out to throw himself at the feet of the Sovereign Pontiff, St. Celestine I.

Many were the miracles wrought by the sacred staff, and even the great St. Bernard tells us, in his life of St. Malachy, that in his own day it was held in highest esteem by the Irish as a venerable relic of their Apostle. A charter of Henry III., now preserved in the British Museum, confers "a Knight's Fee, at Inistioge, on John Comyn, Archbishop of Dublin, for guardianship of the Staff of Jesus."

But by and by thieves broke into the fold of Christ. The precious relics of Irish faith fared ill at their hands, and Browne, the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, impiously ordered the sacred Staff of Jesus to be publicly burned with many other relics in High Street.

[1] From Thomas Darcy M'Gee's St. Patrick's Dream. 

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Wednesday 22 March 2023

Saint Patrick's Ink

As an old-school researcher I write out all my notes for the blog in longhand using a fountain pen and rather enjoy experimenting with different types and colours of ink. I was therefore pleased to find the following 1895 article with the intriguing title of 'Saint Patrick's Ink'. It pays tribute to the skill of those monastic scribes and scholars who produced the Irish illuminated manuscripts. The article is taken from the newspaper collection of the National Library of Australia, whose online TROVE resource is indeed well-named:


It is impossible to read the most ancient histories of the Irish saints without noticing how large a part books play in their lives.

In the library some cut the sheets of parchment, or even sewed together in the neatest way the odd shreds, for the monk must not waste the gifts of God, especially when they are rare and dear. They polished it on one side until it was smooth and laid it near the scribe. Others prepared the peculiar thick inks of the Irish writers, very much like varnish, in different colours. The red was the most beautiful, and after one thousand years it yet shines as the day it was first used. It was got from a kind of cockles collected on the seashore. Then there were black and green and golden inks, used in various thicknesses by the illuminators and the artists in miniature.

All these inks will resist chemicals that corrode iron. The ink was placed in thin, conic glasses attached either to the side of the desk or to the chair, sometimes to the girdle of the writer, often fixed to the end of a pointed stick placed upright in the ground, it is owing to this peculiar skill in making ink that so many of the old Irish manuscripts nave come down to us. They were like the cloth of corduroy — unless cut or burned up they were bound to last for ages — and are an eloquent symbol of that tenacious love of learning and that unquenchable faith which the hand of Patrick wrote in characters ineradicable on the very soul, in the very blood and innermost marrow of the Irish race.

"SAINT PATRICK'S INK." Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 - 1955) 16 February 1895: 1 (The Ovens and Murray Advertiser Supplement). <>.


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Tuesday 21 March 2023

Hymn to Saint Patrick

Another stirring patriotic hymn to Saint Patrick, this time from 1884. The author was the then vice-president of Thurles College, an institution first established as a school in 1837 but which later became a seminary. It is still in existence today as Mary Immaculate College and the campus retains many of its splendid nineteenth-century buildings. It is obvious from Father Arthur Ryan's hymn that he is writing in the heady days of the Irish national revival. Saint Patrick is referred to as a 'patriot saint' who champions faith and fatherland and has stood by the Irish people as they battled for their freedom. It may be that in his sense that 'morn is breaking', the author is anticipating the First Home Rule Bill of 1886 and he ends with a prayer that free from the chains of sin, he may be laid in 'a freeman's grave', an aspiration with a political as well as a spiritual dimension:


THE following beautiful hymn, from the pen of the Rev. A. Ryan, vice-president , The College, Thurles, is taken from his lately published novena to St. Patrick :—

Hail, glorious saint of Ireland! We,
Thy children, raise our song to thee;
Defend our land, and make her free
From sin and Satan's tyranny.

Defend thy sons from every foe;
Strike thou, O patriot saint! the blow 
For faith and fatherland; and woe
To all who seek their overthrow!

As reptiles fled thy staff before, 
May viperous discords flee our shore, 
And strife and folly join no more 
To wreck our hope and rob our store. 

In the darkest night, by tempests torn, 
The bark of Erin rode forlorn: 
Then wert thou by, to cheer and warn; 
Now, lo! the radiance of the morn. 
Yes, morn is breaking, father dear — 
The Eastern skies are bright and clear; 
Thou wert our star through midnight drear, 
In noontide's peril still be near. 
Be near to guide the patriot's hand, 
Be near to make our people stand 
A fearless, true, united band. 
For freedom, faith, and fatherland. 
Oh! guard our Irish loyalty  
To all that's justly, nobly free, 
To powers that rule by God's decree, 
To Church, to country, and to thee. 
Saint Patrick, may thy banner wave 
Triumphant o'er the enfranchised slave; 
From chains of sin thy suppliant save, 

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Monday 20 March 2023

Of Irish Interest: Hymn to St Patrick

Although in recent days I have been looking at the grave site of Saint Patrick in Down, the cause of our national apostle has always been championed by Armagh, Ireland's seat of ecclesiastical authority. The city's historic Saint Patrick's cathedral was appropriated by the new state church at the time of the Reformation, so it was not until after Catholic Emancipation was achieved in 1829 that the building of a Catholic cathedral could commence. The foundation stone was laid on Saint Patrick's Day in 1840 and work continued until 1873 when the cathedral was dedicated and opened. Michael, Cardinal Logue (1887-1924), continued work on the interior of the building, which was rededicated and reopened in 1904, and below is the text of a hymn which was sung on that occasion. It was published in the American Catholic newspaper The Sacred Heart Review in its 'Of Irish interest' column aimed at the large expatriate community of Boston. The sentiments of the hymn mirror those of similar compositions of the time, and interestingly this one was also translated into Irish:
Of Irish Interest.
A notable feature of the exercises incident to the rededication and reopening of the Armagh Cathedral, the other day, was the "Hymn to St. Patrick" originally written by the Rev. G. O'Neill, S. J., and translated into Irish by Tadhg O'Donoghue. The Irish words were sung in unison by the choir, the tune being an ancient Irish air of extreme beauty which had been adapted to them, and which fitted the hymn as happily as if they had been composed for each other. The Hymn in English is as follows; —
Dear Apostle, blessed Patrick, faithful lover of our land; 
Thou so tender in compassion, in thy fortitude so grand, 
See thy children gathered round thee, let thy heart be opened wide 
To the voice of their appealing; be our father and our guide. 
At thy word the pagan island blossomed red and blossomed white,
As a garden of God's pleasure, in the dawning of the light; 
And the evil spirits fleeing from each holy rite and prayer 
Left to Jesus and to Mary evermore that land so fair. 
Blessed Patron, make us faithful, as thy martyr sons of old; 
Loving still the Church, our Mother, with an ardent love and bold. 
Make us wise to battle Satan in his cunning and his might; 
Give us strength to conquer sorrow, give the scorn of base delight. 
O  console our drooping courage, as we battle day by day 
'Gainst the world and its beguiling and our hearts that still betray; 
Let thy prayer, on earth so mighty, be our aid till peril cease, 
Till we hail thee in the gladness of the everlasting peace!

The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 32, Number 7, 13 August 1904, p.13.

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Sunday 19 March 2023

Saint Patrick's Grave

Following yesterday's 1882 newspaper article lamenting the sorry state of the reputed grave of Saint Patrick at Downpatrick, County Down, today we have a description of the restored site as unveiled in 1900. The project was spearheaded by Belfast Presbyterian solicitor and leading Celtic Revivalist, Francis Joseph Bigger (1863-1926). We can see the influence of the Celtic Revival in Bigger's choice of inscription and of the cross. Why he chose a cross from Lough Ree, on the Shannon, is unclear to me, as is his decision to carve the name of Patric alone and omit his fellow Irish patrons Saint Brigid and Saint Colum Cille. For the tradition was that all three of the Irish patrons shared a common grave. Doubtless those visitors who came to the spot read in their guidebooks the rhyme 'Three saints in Down one grave do fill, Patrick, Brigid and Colum Cille' but now it was Patrick alone who would be remembered at the site. The renovations of 1900 were certainly an improvement on what had gone before but below is a picture of the grave as it looks today, with a tarmac walkway and a cobblestone border.


To all Irishmen, both at Home and abroad, it will be of interest (says the Irish Weekly) to hear that the reputed grave of St. Patrick in the Cathedral yard at Downpatrick has been put in order, and marked with a lasting memorial placed there after much thought and at considerable expense. It is unique of its class, and will be another distinctively attractive feature to the many remarkable historical remains in the immediate vicinity of Downpatrick. Visitors to the spot will not be shocked to find the site of the grave marked only by a few broken stones and a rugged hole scraped in the earth with nothing distinctive to record the name of him who did so much to spread Christianity throughout the land, and whose remains are believed to be here interred The memorial stone is a rough weather-broken boulder of granite weighing about seven tons, taken from the mountain side of Slieve-na-Largie, near Castlewellan, where it rested at a height of 600 feet above the sea. Upon the upper surface of this boulder has been incised an Irish cross, faithfully reproduced from one cut on an equally rough, unhewn stone found on Inisclearaun, one of the islands of Lough Ree, on the Shannon, and not far from Clonmaonoise. Here St. Dairmid founded big famous ecclesiastical settlement about the middle of the sixth century. The name 'Patric' has also been cut in Irish characters copied from the earliest known Celtic manuscripts. This simple, but massive, treatment is considered to be a near approach to the form of a grave slab, which would have been used about the fifth century— the date of the Saint's death. The movement for the erection of the monument was initiated by the editor of The Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Belfast. The supervision of the work was entrusted to Mr. W. F. Fennel, M.R.I.A., architect, and excellently carried out by the Messrs. Hastings, of Downpatrick, who also so carefully restored the ancient town cross of Downpatrick, under the same auspices, a few years ago.

ST. PATRICK'S GRAVE.,New Zealand Tablet, Volume 07, Issue 23, 7 June 1900

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Saturday 18 March 2023

The Grave of Saint Patrick


Last night on Radio Maria Ireland's show 'All the Saints of Ireland' I looked at the question of where Saint Patrick was laid to rest. Downpatrick, County Down emerged as the only place with an actual reputed burial site to which a visitor could be pointed. As I explained on the show, by the nineteenth century there was a lot of muttering about the shabby state of the grave, a sentiment reflected in the 1882 article below, syndicated in a New Zealand newspaper from The Cork Examiner. By this time the railways had reached Downpatrick making travel easier and encouraging the beginnings of tourism. Victorian visitors went armed with their guidebooks, anxious to see what historical curiosities their destinations offered, so it must have been something of a disappointment to read of Downpatrick's rich Patrician associations only to be be confronted with the reality of this unprepossessing grave site where not just Saint Patrick but his two co-patrons, Saints Brigid and Colum Cille, were said to rest. To make matters worse, the historic market cross which marked the grave was destroyed in a mindless act of vandalism. So, the picture of the grave site by the early 1880s is bleak indeed, but tomorrow we will have another newspaper article which describes how things changed dramatically twenty years later:

THE GRAVE OF ST. PATRICK. (From the Cork Examiner.)

AWAY in the far north, in the quaint little graveyard of the Cathedral Church of Down, lies the grave of St. Patrick. In the Saint's lifetime called Dun-de-leth Glaiste, the town in which the honoured remains were interred became known as Downpatrick. This ancient borough has been singularly privileged in Irish ecclesiastical history in having not less than three saints interred in its old and venerable cathedral churchyard, the ancient chronicle tolling us that —
"One grave in Down three saints do fill—Patrick, Bridget and Columbkille."
For centuries, and even up to the present day, the shrine of our patron saint and of his great fellow-labourers in the cause of Irish evangelization, has been annually visited by hundreds of pious pilgrims, the tradition of the neighbourhood affirming that miraculous cures of physical ailments have been obtained by helpless sufferers. In the "Life of St. Patrick" written by the Nun of Kenmare, we find it stated that when the Patron Saint died at Saul (a little village lying a couple of miles eastward of Downpatrick, on the shore of Strangford Lough), in the year 465, a dispute arose between his followers as to which of the two places his remains should be removed to. It was known that the Saint's wishes pointed in the direction of Armagh; but, anxious to prevent dissension among his disciples over his remains, and unwilling to express a decided preference for either place, he gave instructions for bis funeral to the effect, that when his body was removed for interment it should be placed on a bier drawn by two young bullocks which should be permitted to go without hindrance or guidance in whatever direction they chose, and that wherever the bullocks should stop, there his remains should be buried. The bullocks stopped at Dun-de-leth Glaiste, where his place of sepulture was accordingly made. Close beside, stands the Cathedral Church of Down, one of the most venerable ecclesiastical structures in Ireland, and nearly opposite the southern side of the Cathedral tower, on the highest part of the old burial-ground (which in itself forms a hill), is the grave of St. Patrick. To a stranger, the first look begets disappointment. Instead of a jealously-guarded crypt or tomb, worthy even in a small degree of the great Apostle, the eye rests on a flat green sod, 7 feet long by 7 feet wide, with a hole at the east end, 20 inches square by 8 inches deep, which, from the veneration of the Saint and by a continuation of visitors, is rapidly developing into much larger proportions. Up to the year 1846 a magnificent Irish stone cross, dating from centuries before, stood at the head of the Saint's grave, and was a source of pride to the inhabitants of Downpatrick, as well as of interest to visitors; but in that year a band of vandals, at the dead hour of night, dragged the sacred emblem from the grave of the Saint, and, conveying it a short distance, deposited it with ignominy in the common town drain. The indignation of the inhabitants was profound, and on the action of the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, who at once offered a reward for its discovery, the violated Celtic stone cross was restored to its place at the head of St. Patrick's grave. Again it was stolen, doubtless in the hope of obtaining further reward; but on that occasion it was unfortunately smashed into many fragments, and being after a time recovered, they were placed beyond reach of future sacrilege, by the Dean and Chapter, in the east end of the cathedral. And so the grave remains unmarked by brass, or stone, or monumental urn. . . . Indeed, the grave itself would have been ere now in much worse condition than it is, were it not for the thoughtfulness which has, for many years past, prompted Mr. Robert H. Bell, a native of Downpatrick, to bestow some gratuitous attention upon it.

THE GRAVE OF ST. PATRICK. (From the Cork Examiner.),New Zealand Tablet, Volume X, Issue 476, 26 May 1882

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Friday 17 March 2023

The Death and Character of Saint Patrick

A beautiful tribute, drawn from hagiography, on the death and character of Saint Patrick. A saint's death marks the end of his earthly life, but the beginning of his heavenly life as an intercessor. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the chronology of Saint Patrick's career, something which I have posted on previously here, the calendars have always agreed that March 17 is his feast day. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig Oraibh Go Léir!

The Saint's Death and Character.

Full of years, like the prophet of old in this as in much more; with the prayers and blessings of a people whom he had so often prayed for and blessed; in a land, which he had found in darkness, and which he left to be the brightest jewel of the Church, the old man lay down to die. Borne on the cold March wind the watchers heard sounds of angelic voices, the first notes of that chorus of praise which should last in Erin as long as the waves should break on the shore of Strangford Lough. It was on the 17th of March, 493—day to stand beyond all saints' days in Erin's calendar; yes, and in thousands of churches and in millions of hearts, and in lands as yet unknown. Victor, faithful angel once upon Mount Slemish, faithful to the end, summoned Bishop Tassach: Patrick must have the Viaticum for his last journey, and the Godspeed of the people.
That journey was easily made, for the saint's road from labour to rest is very short.
St. Evin shall tell us what manner of man this was whose body lies in Saul, and whose soul lives with God: "A just man indeed was this, with purity of nature like the patriarchs; a true pilgrim like Abraham, gentle and forgiving like Moses, a praiseworthy psalmist like David, an emulator of wisdom like Solomon, a chosen vessel for proclaiming truth like the Apostle Paul, a man full of grace and the knowledge of the Holy Ghost like the beloved John, a fair flower, garden to children of grace, a fruitful vine branch, a flashing fire, with force and warmth of heat to the sons of life, for instituting and illustrating charity, a lion in strength and power, a dove in gentleness and humility, a serpent in wisdom and cunning to do good, gentle, humble, merciful to the sons of life, dark, ungentle towards the sons of death, a servant of labour and service of Christ, a king in dignity and power for binding and loosening, for liberating and convicting, for killing and giving life. . . Though great his honour here, greater honour will be his in the day when judgment will be given on the fruits of his work."
Here, standing out clearly recognisable amid so much that time has dimmed, is the personality to which the eyes and hearts of the Irish race have ever fondly turned. About dates and places and the authenticity of this miracle and that, there might be question, but there can be no question about the person whom we see and, love. He is strong and tender. Strong, terribly strong, against evil-doers, and above all, as a father is against those who would his children wrong. He is tender, too; tender to the dwellers in that land which he first trod as an Apostle—the land of Britain; but above all, tender to his own who call him father, who cherish his traditions and cling lovingly to the land which he made to be an Island of Saints, and which, through much sorrow, he has kept faithful until now. The almost fierce devotion of his children to him seems to share that twofold character of strength and tenderness which made St. Evin call him a lion and a dove—"gentle, humble, merciful to the sons of life, dark, ungentle towards the sons of death." May that love remain, strong and tender, until the day on which according to the promise of the Mount, Patrick shall be told to count his flock upon the right hand of the Judge.
Thus therefore saith the Lord,
"So long as sea girdeth this isle,
so long, thy name shall hang
In splendour o'er it like the stars of God.

—From the Very Rev. Canon Ryan's "Life of St. Patrick."

 Southern Cross, Friday 18 March 1904, page 7.

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