Some time ago, I was kindly invited by Abarta Heritage to write a little something on the ‘Historical Patrick”. I jumped at the chance.
Abarta is the leading Irish company specializing in Irish digital audio guides, heritage interpretation and visitor service solutions to communities, cultural sites and institutions. It also happens to be owned and run by archaeologists. There’s something special about heritage material produced by people who have researched, excavated, visited, surveyed and physically held such subject matter in their own hands. It’s comes across in their approach and work. Detail and perspective. I’d like to think it might occasionally come across in mine.
The medium of audio is something which I have been interested in exploring for a while. I’m a podcast and radio fiend who inhales historical media. Abarta gave me the absolute freedom to do what I wanted. The brief was to come up with something engaging for people interested in learning more about the Historical Patrick – something which would explore the real life person underpinning his later saintly namesake.
We wanted to give an idea of his overall background within Ireland and Britain of the time, the landscape he would have witnessed and to give a flavour of what is known about the physical, social and cultural realities. We wanted to let his own story, his own words from his own hands, take centre stage whilst also retaining a wider academic framework informing the narrative. We wanted something which would reflect the rich details, issues and complexities involved in studying Patrick and his works alongside his importance and place in the development of later Irish identity and tradition.
The resulting audiobook, ‘Patrick; Six Years A Slave’, is available here.
Writing text with audio in mind was a very enjoyable change for me and perhaps appropriate, given the subject matter. In Patrick’s time, literacy was indeed vocal. His own letters were likely dictated to an assistant – although in his Epistola, he expressly mentions that he was writing with his own hands, a classical custom that was used to authenticate and emphasize a serious point. One of the very last things he urges in his Epistola is for his ‘letter to be read before all people‘.
The experience of ‘listening’ to text, of hearing portions of Patrick’s own words was something I particularly enjoyed in the studio. I was very taken with Gerry O’Brien’s expertise in narration and tonal expression. His voice really lends itself to the overall framework, occupying (what I think) is a wonderful middle ground – a halfway house between a conversation and a lecture. People with a keen ear may detect the faint hues of a particular accent in his articulation of Patrick himself. This was a little something I had wanted to explore, in terms of subliminal aural experience for the audience.
For the most part, people generally don’t think about how the fifth century Historical Patrick would have sounded to Irish ears. How forceful, or gentle he could have been. How he would have come across. His contemporary Irish accent must have been very interesting after so long in the country – yet perhaps, still retaining an element of his homeland. You very rarely hear a ‘British’ accent being used to portray Patrick and so I really wanted to get a flavour of it in the audio excerpts from his writings.
While I don’t imagine he sounded anything like a modern day regional Briton, speaking in English – I quite liked the idea of having it half-implied for modern ears. I’d like to think that fifth century Irish people at the arse end of the world in Co. Mayo would have had a similar aural experience hearing someone with a trace of a North Western British accent, however it may have sounded back then.
The excerpts from Patrick’s writings, the Confessio and Epistola, are my own translations. I have attempted to render them as accurately as I could, whilst also hoping to retain a sense of his original meaning, scattered thought process and unusual structural patterns. Patrick’s style of writing has traditionally been seen by scholars as being of poor quality. This is now being reconsidered. For someone who learned Latin later in life, he seems to have written it as he spoke and read it – largely influenced from the bible. It may have come across as halting and unpolished, sometimes jarring and disjointed – but it was nevertheless effective, highly personal and emotionally charged. I have therefore endeavored to give a small flavour (in translation) of how his words may have come across to a contemporary Latin reading audience.
In terms of the overall text, I was aiming for a mix of being accessible, educational and informative without sacrificing detail or complexity. All too often in academic circles there is a tendency to pitch things at a general audience in a slightly patronizing or ‘dumbed down’ fashion. I can understand the philosophy, but I don’t agree. Modern audiences interested in such subjects are not stupid. They read a lot. They are invested on their own terms. There’s probably never been as many consistently educated people in society than there has been in recent years. People in general know how to find out about specific terms or concepts which they are unfamiliar with. Patrick’s story, his reception and continual reinvention throughout the early medieval period was elaborate and intricate at times. It deserves to be understood as such. I have therefore assumed that anyone interested enough to listen is, by default, intelligent, independent and capable. Until proven otherwise, of course 😉
In other words, this is not one of those leprechaun versions you might have previously experienced.
Many thanks and deep appreciation to Róisín, Neil, Declan and Gerry for their sterling work and expertise in bringing it all to fruition. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to Abarta’s catalogue and hope that it will serve to help or direct people to find out more about Patrick and his place within Early Irish Christianity.