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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Two St Patricks - by Frank O'Shea

The two St Patricks theory is now regarded as respectably mainstream. The idea that Patrick came to pagan Ireland and changed it to an island of saints and scholars is an attractive one, however shaky that conversion has often seemed.
We know that there were Christian communities in the country when he arrived — St Ciaran in the midlands, St Declan in the south-east, to mention two. (The Saint part of those names was removed by Rome some years ago, but the Irish paid no heed.) We know too that Palladius was sent to the country at least a year earlier than Patrick, so it is likely that the Christian message was not completely new.
In those times, all that a missionary needed to do was to convert the king or the chieftain; if he was converted, all his subjects followed or were assumed to have followed. The story of the Paschal fire of Patrick used to be known to every Irish school child:
On Tara's hill the daylight dies,
On Tara's plain 'tis dead.
'Til Baal's enkindled fires shall rise
No fire must flame instead.
In prayer on the nearby hill of Slane, Patrick lit his Easter paschal fire and was summoned to the king to explain his defiance.

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