On Your Own, With No Direction Home: (St) Patrick’s Journey Across Ireland

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Image: Emmet Ó hInnéirghe (Used with Permission)

Introduction

It’s Thursday. It’s March 17th. If you’re a regular, you know what that means. To celebrate the day that’s in it and in keeping with time-honoured blog tradition, I hereby present my annual Patrician-themed rambling extravaganza – a forensic examination of a lesser spotted feature within the writings of the historical Patrick himself. This year, I thought I’d take a look at what appears to be a fleeting throwaway line from the Confessio concerning Patrick’s escape from captivity and subsequent two hundred mile journey across Ireland to an unknown port.

I have actually touched on it before, ever so slightly. Previously, I wrote a short audio book for Abarta Audioguides on Patrick’s six years in captivity; and towards the end of the section dealing with the young Patrick’s decision to make a break for freedom, I concluded with the following line:

If there was one thing that Patrick would have known after six years under Irish skies – it was the direction home. Towards the rising sun.

Aside the fact that it reads like an over-dramatic hollywood-esque voice-over (it sounds much better in the book, honestly!), its both over-exaggerated and simplified. For one thing, the sun doesn’t rise or set directly east/west, except for the equinoxes. In Patrick’s time as a slave in western Ireland on the shores of Killala Bay, it actually would have risen North East over the sea from his perspective during the summer months. Nevertheless, it was my little way of acknowledging a single line in the text of the Confessio and suggesting that there may be more than meets the eye to it.

The particular line centres on the youthful Patrick’s decision to leave his captor and head 200 miles across Ireland to a waiting ship/port – without knowing anybody or where he was going. Why is it important and worthy of examination? Well, I would suggest that it carries several implications. Celestial symbolism and biblical frameworks aside, Patrick did escape from captivity and he must have crossed Ireland somehow and I think a closer look hints at just how he may have done so. In addition, it opens up several other aspects:

a) its a further inference (other than his own words) to his youthful captivity being on the western Irish coast – something which continues to be questioned by certain sectors, despite modern Patrician scholarship being widely agreed on the matter

b) it forms a crucial event horizon (quite literally) in Patrick’s later theological framework and motivation for his mission

c) it potentially offers an indication of how he may have come to be there in the first place – as in, the manner in which he was transported to Ireland from Western Roman Britain.

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Nouissimis Diebus: St. Malachy the Irishman and the Last Days of Something or Other

The major news of the last day or so has been the surprise papal resignation announcement. Almost immediately, historic medieval precedents were being touted and referenced. The coming weeks will no doubt see a media surge of interest in medieval aspects of the modern-day Papacy/Vatican; and one of the more fanciful avenues will surely be the so-called ‘Prophecies of St. Malachy’. Allegedly penned by the twelfth century Irish reforming Bishop of Armagh, they purport to list over a hundred future popes with the current Pope occupying the second last position. The implication then, is that the coming Pope will be the last one.

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St. Malachy, Brussels MS.II, 1167 (after Leclercq, 1959, 323)

As you can imagine, much ink and electronic typeface has already been spent on the subject, with a large majority of it occupying the very lowest level of armchair pseudo-historical quasi-mystical bovine excretia. In honour of the coming onslaught of idiotic internet babble concerning the Irish Malachy and his ‘prophecies’; I thought it would be appropriate to have a quick look at the figure of Malachy and what he actually represents in terms of Irish medieval history and archaeology. Continue reading

No Horses for Courses: Christian Horror of Horseflesh in Early Medieval Ireland [Part 3]

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Image: Tatum/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

(Continued from Part 2…)

Straight from the Horses Mouth

Ultimately, what comes across from a (relatively!) brief survey of the range of archaeological, historical and etymological material are the following commonalities:

  • Widespread distribution of archaeological evidence for horse activity, iconography and ritual associated with high status figures and burials in late prehistoric Europe.
  • Widespread attestation of horse motifs, symbolism and metaphor associated with sacral and ancestral kingship/inauguration in late antiquity/early medieval Europe.
  • Widespread ecclesiastical condemnation of horseflesh and equine attributes in later medieval literature
  • Widespread ecclesiastical adaptation and transformation of horse/kingship motifs & traditions in sources pertaining to secular royal authority and legitimacy.

In terms of depicted pre-christian ritual associated with royal inauguration, certain motifs and cultural components appear frequently:

  • Outdoor assembly/meeting/burial locations
  • Public performance & display; power, authority, legitimacy
  • Horse/King sacral & symbolic union; association, attributes, metaphor
  • Horse sacrifice & consumption
  • Communal feasting and drinking
  • Large cauldrons/containers/receptacles to facilitate communal participation
  • Reiteration and renewal of royal/tribal prosperity and fortune

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