St. Patrick and the Tradition of Cursing

I am not a blasphemer, no-siree-bob. My mama brought me up right. So when I say that St. Patrick was a man renowned for his cursing, you have to believe me–or at least believe a strong tradition that tells us exactly that!

Throughout the history of Ireland, even at the dawn of that history (marked by the mission of the good bishop himself), the Éireannach people have been known for their lusty curses.

The stalwart druids were especially known for their curses, called glam dichenn. Cursing was part of their mystique, the way they conjured up fear and respect from the great unwashed of their day. Their maledictions, spoken with enough venom and arm swinging and eye-popping, were supposed to do deadly harm to others.

And the greatest opponent of the druids was Father Patrick, the bishop who had been sent by the Pontiff in Rome to convert the people of Éire. Tradition has it (and who are we to scoff at tradition?), Patrick could hurl a glam dichenn right back at the druids, enough to make them stagger backward as though struck by lightning.

P.W. Joyce, writing in the late 19th century, tells us that the druids would perform spells called “one foot, one hand, one eye,” during which they stood on one foot, put one hand on their head and shut one eye, then cursed their hearts out at an adversary.

I can well imagine Pádraig, who well knew both the the Gaelige tongue and the Holy Bible, spitting back a curse at them, one taken from the Old Testament where boisterous curses abound.

There is no proof of Patrick’s cursing. But what son of Éire really doubts it?  The gentle saint may well have said, to be polite about it, Coimhéad fearg fhear na foighde . . . “Beware the anger of a patient man.” Or his curses may have been a tad more pointed. We will never know.

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7 thoughts on “St. Patrick and the Tradition of Cursing

  1. Hi, Miriam. Happy St. Paddy’s Day!!! 😀

    From what I’ve read, many Éireannach (native Gaelic speaking Irish) believe absolutely in the power of curses. In my own mind, there is absolutely no doubt that Pádraig knew how to give back what he took! In the final chapter of The Wakening Fire (coming early May), Father Patrick and the druids get into a cursing contest, and the result is fiery indeed.

    • Dear reader,

      I think you’d love my book THE WAKENING FIRE, in which Patrick (then a Bishop) out-curses the druids, by using some famous lines from the Old Testament. I don’t have time right now to do further research into Irish curses, but if you put those two words into your search engine, you’ll find some doozies! Also, look at another of my archives, called something like “How to be an Irishman,” and you’ll find a few, um, colorful curses also. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment.

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