'I like to think that it was there that Patrick learned the Irish language - so he spoke it with a Northern accent'

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'I like to think that it was there that Patrick learned the Irish language - so he spoke it with a Northern accent'


Mary reflects upon the place of Co. Antrim in the history of Ireland in particular the story of St. Patrick's time in Ireland.


Mary Dynan


Trinity College Dublin




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As a child growing up there I was very conscious of the fact that in our little patch of North Antrim there were many places associated with St Patrick. At Dunseverick, the castle on the north coast which is reputed in the Annals of the Four Masters to have been founded in BC 1692, and also at Portstewart Strand there were holy wells both called Tubber Padraig (St Patrick's Well). Our holy well in Cloughmills was called Tubberdoney (Sunday's Well). It had a stone with the knee print of an unnamed saint. However is was not treated with much reverence in the 1940's, though, until the scheme water came from Altnahinch Dam, the village got its lovely spring water supply from it, and succulent watercress grew in the swamp around it, and May flowers. Coleraine (which just makes it into Co Derry) owed its beginnings to a monastery founded by St Patrick on the 'eastern brink of the Bann where the boys are burning the ratha (ferns)'. That's where it got its name Cul Rathan. Later Colmcillee visited that monastery before he left for Iona. In Coleraine, on the banks of the Bann, he stood for the last time on the soil of Ireland before he went into the exile from which he never returned. Patrick founded the church of Ramoan which is now my mother's parish in Ballycastle - that makes it one of the oldest in Ireland. He had also consecrated St Olcan as Bishop of Armoy at Dunseverick, but Slemish was the jewel of all the Patrician sites. The tradition was that Patrick the slave boy had herded animals (sheep, pigs?) there for the local chieftain Milchu. I like to think that it was there that Patrick learned the Irish language - so he spoke it with a Northern accent. They must not have treated him too badly, for when he returned, he came to the North, even if he did land in Co Down! Perhaps it was the voices of the children of Antrim that he heard calling him to come back. During his long lonely nights on Slemish he was laying the foundations for the man of prayer he became. In his Confession which is preserved in the Book of Armagh he wrote 'When I came to Ireland, I was daily employed in feeding cattle and often times during the day I prayed and the love of God, and the fear of him, grew more and more, and my vigour of mind increased, so that in one day I made as many as a hundred prayers and in the night a like number.' Perhaps it was there that he composed that wonderful prayer, his 'Breast Plate' Criost liom. Criost romham, Criost im dhiadh, Criost os mo chionnsa agus Criost fuim .... Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me Christ above my head and Christ beneath me ....... Tradition has it that when Patrick returned to North Antrim, Milchu was persuaded by the Druids that it would be a disgrace to be in any way subservient to his former slave so he killed himself. However his three children, Emer, Bronagh and Gusacht were among Patrick's first converts. The latter became a disciple of Patrick and was the first Bishop of Granard. Emer and Bronagh are remembered and their names are still popular today for girls. However, I've never heard of anyone called Gusacht! We had other saints associated with the area. St MacNissi was an important one. He is the patron saint of Connor, and the diocesan boy's college where my brothers went to school is dedicated to him. St Malachy is the patron of the Down part of the Diocese of Down and Connor. There were many places where Mass had been said in penal times, but the most celebrated was the Mass Rock in Cushendun where there was an annual celebration. This was associated with St Kieran, who passed through the district at one stage. St Oliver Plunket made visits to various parts, but my father used to say it was because he had not been able to visit some of them that a lot of the people were lost to the Church. As a counter to that it could be noted that to some extent the Church was responsible for the demise of the Irish language in the area. There was quite a saga about classes using bibles in Irish provided by the Presbyterian Home Mission, which the Catholic were forbidden to have anything to do with. The fall - out from this was a decline in the use of Irish. On his feast we could ask Patrick and the other saints associated with this sad and beautiful part of the world to pray for an end to the trouble there. He overcame the Druids, 'men of hard hearts without any good in them'. Perhaps he, 'Patrick of the miracles', could have another victory coming to him on behalf of the children of Ireland.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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