Tag Archive | St. Patrick

“Burning and Scorching”: The Easter Curse of St. Patrick

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For centiuries, great ritual fires were burned during the high festivals of the ancient Celtic world. And then the upstart Patrick lit his own in defiance of tradition . . .

Church historians and hagiographic scholars have claimed that St. Patrick, then a bishop ordained by the pontiff, was the center of a dramatic confrontation on the occasion of the Christian Easter in 433 AD.

The date was May 1, and the site was the Hill of Slaine, ten miles distant from the High King’s domain at Tara.

At that time Patrick had been in Ireland only about a year, but he had been held as a slave for six or seven years when he was much younger. His master Milchu had been a high druid, and historians believe that Patrick must have learned much about the druids and the religious life of the people of Ireland, along with a thorough knowledge of the language and culture.

circle of druids

Whether white-robed (according to Roman scribes) or not, the druids were a hugely powerful class, second only to kings in ancient Ireland. Who besides Patrick would dare hurl a curse back at them?

The Festival of Beltaine, in honor of the sun god Bel, was one of the two most sacred observances in the Celtic world. Huge fires were lit all over the island, signifying (among other beliefs) purification and rebirth through the power of great Bel. The high king when Patrick was in Éire was Leary, a stubborn and devoted pagan, who surrounded himself with scores of druids.

Leary’s purification fires, of course, were to be the highest and most sacred in the country, and Patrick well knew it. According to these historians, Patrick probably spent several months planning a fire that would not only rival Leary’s, but would awe and convert thousands on the occasion of the Christian Easter, which coincided with Beltaine.

Patrick was not only stubborn and highly intelligent, he must have been a very courageous soul to flout the power of the highest power in the land.

In my novel THE WAKENING FIRE, I imagined what happened on that fateful day, May 1, 433 AD and told it through the eyes of the main female character Caylith. After Patrick set his huge bonfire, King Leary angrily sent for the upstart to be brought before him on the sacred Hill of Tara.

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[Incensed that the meddling priest has lit a high Easter bonfire in defiance of his Beltaine ritual fire, High King Leary speaks to the bishop Patrick: ]

“Me druids tell me ye would usurp the laws of our land. Ye would defy the ancient Brehon precepts, an’ ye would replace our gods with yours. How do ye plead on those counts?”

“I plead only to my God,” Patrick said evenly. “I speak to kings, and to common men alike. But I plead only to Christ, that he forgive your ignorance and hold you to his bosom in his mysterious love and compassion.”

I felt warm admiration for Patrick. In all the time I had known him, I had rarely seen even a trace of anger. But now I saw it slowly building in his eyes, and in his very demeanor, in spite of his mild words.green paddy 330

“Then I must bid me guards take ye to confinement.”

“Even as Herod did, would you so dismiss me?”

I saw Leary’s face change then, and a flicker of fear or alarm in his eyes. “If I but believed the lies ye spread about a man who died an’ walked again, then yes. Even as Herod.”

Patrick’s tone changed then, and for the first time he spoke softly, in the fatherly tone so familiar to me. “Thousands of your subjects believe those lies, O King. Would you call them foolish? Misguided? Or do they see something that perhaps you are missing? That Christ is love. Is é grá Chríost. That he asked not for special treatment. That he sought only to teach others about God’s love and forgiveness. That he did indeed die and live again, even as your own god Bel, whom you celebrate as the sun. And so I also celebrate Christ, also the son—the son of God.”

Leary’s voice was almost pleading now. “Then why do ye flout me laws, priest? Why do ye set your own fires to be higher than me own? How does that show love?”

“I must love all men, even as my Lord Christ loved. I cannot show you more love than I show your worthy fair-faced advisor.” And he gazed directly at one of the most ugly men I had ever beheld, a hairy-faced druid whose lower lip seemed to emit a constant stream of dribble. A ripple of laughter drifted through the room.

The druid stepped in front of Patrick then, and he stood on one foot and extended his bony arm, and with the other hand he held one eye shut. “Dóite agus loisceadh ort!

“Burning and scorching on ye,” whispered Liam. I heard the note of awe in his voice. The druid’s high-pitched voice screeched almost as effectively as Talon’s own squawk had echoed in this room several months ago. Even I was mildly impressed.

Then Father Patrick drew himself up to the extent of his slight frame, and his own eyes began to crackle and burn. His tonsured head shone like a ritual fire in the bright light, and his voice rang out as though he were shouting at his enemy from a high rampart.

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druid 433

When Patrick utters his own curse in answer to the druid, everything changes. What words does he speak that spare him and change the mind of stubborn King Leary?

Guess you’ll just have to read The Wakening Fire

SirenBookStrand http://www.bookstrand.com/the-wakening-fire

caylith fire final

 

 

 

 

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How St. Patrick Changed Ireland

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A land mysterious, untouched by the hands of the Romans, pre-Patrick Ireland was a study in ancient ways . . . a land of mighty stones, gods, and stalwart warriors.

In about 432 AD, Pope Celestine I elevated an unknown priest to bishop and gave him a mission. He sent him as a bearer of the Gospels, or good tidings, to an island steeped in mystery and considered a place of hellish paganism. The man was of Roman heritage, called “Patricius” or “patrician one.” The mysterious place was Ireland.

From what historians and archaeologists have been able to determine, the island that the Romans named “Hibernia” was a world so protected by fierce clan warriors that the emperors chose to stay on the larger island of Britannia and the European mainland. Few remnants of the Italian marauders . . . um, the proud Roman armies . . . are found throughout the island that its inhabitants proudly call Éire.fierce 200

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Why did the Pontiff choose Patrick? It is a matter of historical record that as a youth, Patrick himself had been taken from his home somewhere in Britannia—possibly Wales, or even Scotia—by a band of freebooters or pirates and taken to the island called “Hibernia.” He was about 16 years old, a pious young fisherman whose father and grandfather before him had been priests. Once in Ireland, probably in modern County Antrim, he lived in slavery for six or seven years.

Once taken, Patrick was sold to a clan chief, supposedly a druidic high priest. Patrick became both his lowly shepherd and possibly even his unwilling acolyte. In those several years, the young man learned the language and the beliefs of the druids—both of which would stand him in good stead much later, when he returned as a missionary.

According to his own published Confessio, Patrick lived among the people and spoke to them every day of the man named Christ. He says that he prayed to God hundreds of times every day, trying to maintain the utmost humility and love, even for his captors.

In a young adult novel called HIDDEN BY THE ROSE (to be published March 22), the authors Bil and Bon Franks recount his life as a slave. Here he is talking to a young girl whose mother, too, has been taken by slave-holders to Hibernia, and he is trying to  comfort her with his own story of captivity. During the telling, his own voice begins to take on the lilt of the Éireannach people:

st p statue ~2x5“Knowing me end had come, I collapsed to me knees and began to pray. ‘Lord, me Father,’ I whispered, ‘I come to thee with glad heart. If I cannot spread thy word abroad to the heathens, let them hear me now.’ I raised me voice in joy as the wild men gathered ‘round me. ‘Love thy God, thy father, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind.’

“The savages stopped in their tracks. They exchanged looks of wonder at the strange young man on his knees, laughing and smiling at their imminent attack.

“Slowly, they lowered their barbed spears and talked among themselves. I continued me prayer, for I understood not a word of their gentle conversation.

“At last, two of them seized me, one on each arm, and dragged me to the water’s edge. One of the oarsmen reached over the side and hauled me into the currach. Thus I became an unwilling passenger on what turned out to be a slave ship. . . .

“I spent the next few days in ropes, alternately praying and vomiting, while the vagabond slavers made their way back to the Isle of Hibernia.

“I will tell you only that I was able to survive quite well during the seven years of thralldom that followed. Me captors soon sold me to a chieftain named Milchu, whose land lay on the hills of Slemish and down into the valley of the Braid. Milchu was a high priest of the group they call ‘Druids.’

“Thus I learned their strange beliefs, and I also learned their melodious tongue perfectly, and whenever I could, I taught the word of God to anyone who would listen. I spread glad tidings, and I prayed hundreds of times every day, not once failing to thank God for me good fortune.”

Patrick finally managed to escape on a boat that was bound for Britannia. After his return, he studied to become a priest somewhere in Gallia (modern France) and served as parish priest somewhere in Britannia before being called to Rome.

He recounts, again in his Confessio, how he was convinced in a dream to return to Éire, for he heard the children calling. Whether or not one believes in miracles, the outcome of this dream is one of the astonishing facts of history. For the lowly priest not only returned to convert the “children,” he lived a long and productive missionary life in Ireland and was beatified some centuries later as Saint Patrick.

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The Book of Kells, dating from the 9th century, is a direct result of Patrick’s insistence on re-copying and preserving the scriptures.

If one can differentiate the legends from the facts, it is safe to say that Patrick sent for scores of bishops and other priests to join him in Ireland, and that he insisted the ancient scrolls and scriptures be brought with them, copied and protected. This dedication to ancient learning is what “saved” the world from the dark ages of ignorance after the retreat of the Romans in the fifth century. Thomas Cahill’s best selling book How the Irish Saved Civilization is a great one to read in this context.

There is not a place in Ireland that does not boast of Paddy’s footprints somewhere on its soil. In the novel WAKENING FIRE by Erin O’Quinn, the people of modern Coleraine (Northern Ireland) trace the name of their town to a visit by the latter-day saint:

The brothers O’Cahan lived some ten miles north of Limavady, near the mouth of the River Bann. . . I gathered it was near a settlement called Cúil Raithin, or Coleraine, once visited by Father Patrick himself. Brion told me how his own grandfather, a chieftain, had offered Patrick a portion of land near the river overgrown with great ropy ferns that had to be burned to the ground each year. After Patrick left, the residents then adopted the name, meaning “ferny backwater” . . .

This was not the first folktale I had heard about Father Patrick in the northern part of this island. I began more and more to realize that Patrick’s influence was beginning to be felt in many places besides Armagh, even if he had never set foot near most of them.

Every place name in Ireland bearing the root word “kell” or “kil” can in a sense be traced to Patrick or his later followers, for the name means “church.” And St. Patrick’s day has become a celebration not just of the man, but of Ireland itself.

Patrick has put his stamp so firmly on the Emerald Isle that to think of him is to think of that charmed place, no matter what may be one’s religious denomination.

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We are left to guess at what Ireland would be today if an intrepid priest named Patrick (“patrician one”) had not set his sights on converting the inhabitants to Christianity. But it hardly matters. Once Patrick entered Ireland, the charismatic bishop set about changing the entire religious life and world view of the people. Here, in an ingenious portrait of the saint by Hamish Burgess, we see the various symbols associated with St. Patrick: the tri-partite shamrock, the banished snakes, the gentle deer. The fanciful halo shows a kind of crown of thorns, possibly the paschal fire he set in defiance of High King Leary in 433 AD. Note that this image shows Patrick’s hair as it probably was worn—in a tonsure.

One last blessing to all: HAPPY ST. PADDY’S DAY!

~

Books noted here:

 

Wakening Fire:

A tale of tempestuous romance and blazing fervor in the Ireland of St Patrick.

cay fire correx copy WAKENING FIRE tells the story of several fires:

The one that flares between Caylith and Liam, as they find that married life is just the beginning of hot desire…

The burning zeal of imprisoned Owen Sweeney to find the long-held secret of his birth, held only by his mother, now on her deathbed…

The ritual fires of pagan Ireland, set for purification in honor of the mighty god Bel, the symbol of the “Sun of God.”

The smoldering flames of Christianity that Father Patrick is beginning to light across the landscape of Old World Ireland, culminating in the famous Easter fires of 433 AD.

And there is yet another fire quickening, this one a surprise, revealed only at the end of Erin O’Quinn’s smoldering second novel in The Dawn of Ireland trilogy.

MF historicalromance steamy StPatrickAsCharacter
Kindle http://amzn.to/2m5D6eH
SirenBookStrand http://www.bookstrand.com/the-wakening-fire

Other photo credits: Wikipedia.

St. Patrick art:

‘ST.PATRICK’ © Hamish Burgess 2012. Original Celtic and folk art by Hamish Burgess, a piece for the cover of The Celtic Connection newspaper in Vancouver BC and Seattle, the March issue.

 

Tara: In the Cradle of Kings

Photo by Jim Dempsey

Tara–the very name evokes the ancient beginnings of Éire. That was the location of the famous Lia Fáil, known as the Stone of Destiny. That was the legendary site of the famous Mead Hall of the high kings…the Mound of Hostages….White Grange… the ráths or ringforts of kings and even mythic beings.

In the map shown here, you will see that Tara lies in Co. Meath, not far from Dublin. During the fifth century AD when my novels take place, Tara was  the site where Ireland’s high king Leary had his “bally” or settlement, and it served as the seat of his power. In the times well before that, since the dawn of Ireland’s civilization, this area was venerated as the sacral center of neolithic people around 5,000 years ago.

According to Ireland’s legends, Tara predated even those neolithic people, as it was the cradle of the Tuatha Dé Danann, pre-Celtic dwellers who held this land sacred. One can see by looking at a panoramic view that Tara is elevated gently, commanding a viewer to see for miles around. In a country largely devoid of peaks, this must have been a natural site to place its kings–close to the ocean, near rivers that feed the verdant, rolling hills where thousands of head of cattle could roam.

The Hill of Tara figures prominently in several of my novels, both published and unpublished. The first time the character Caylith stands on the ancient grounds, she is with her mother listening to the High King as he utters condemnations and bestows endowments from the Throne of Judgment. Later, she and the other characters watch a hurling match in a field near the sacred mounds, hosted by the king himself. In a later book, Caylith returns with her new husband in a failed attempt to forestall a confrontation between King Leary and St. Patrick. The the bold priest has set himself to lighting a huge bonfire to rival the king’s own Beltane purification fire. This event, supposed to have happened in 432 AD, is the part of the climax of my novel The Wakening Fire.

In my most recent novels Warrior, Ride Hard and Warrior, Stand Tall the characters are in a “flashback” setting, as I tell what was happening behind the scenes when Caylith and her mother were given lands before the Throne of Judgment. Later, one of the characters is captured and held inside the Mound of Hostages, and still later another character is severely wounded and left to die under a huge dolmen near the sacred hill.

Photo by Jim Dempsey

Two of  the most intriguing and compelling sites at Tara are the Mound of Hostages and the Lia Fáil, both unarguably several thousands of years old.

From neolithic times, the leaders (later, kings) of  Ireland held “hostages” or representatives from the various sub-kingships of the island. Ireland’s most famous High King, called Niáll Noígíallach, is known to this day as Niáll of the Nine Hostages, for he held hostages not only from the five provinces of 5th-century Éire but also from Alba, the land we now know as Scotland.

It is possible that the ancient kings actually sacrificed some of those unlucky hostages. Here we see the structure called the Mound of Hostages where it is surmised that some held were allowed to die as representatives of their people. Here is an overview of the mound, taken on a stormy day, that to me evokes the frightening aspect of that place:

Photo by Jim Dempsey

A closer look at the opening reveals that it is really quite low, no more than four feet or so. In Warrior, Ride Hard the young man Wynn is thrown into this enclosure and finds that he can hardly sit up, and he cannot move around, because the dimensions inside are so cramped. As I wrote of his captivity, I imagined those hostages from centuries past trying to find air to breathe and room to stretch their limbs in this dire place.

I imagined those huge stones at the entrance being rolled across, allowing scant air for the prisoners to breathe. All in all, this famous mound is one to stop a visitor in his tracks. It is clear that it dates from the neolithic period, and that it really was once the site of sacrifice–whether human or animal–and that it was an important part of the rhythm of life of those early dwellers in Ireland.

To most Irish people, the word “Tara” conjures up the unforgettable image of the Lia Fáil–Stone of Destiny.

Photo by Jim Dempsey

The stone is undeniably, proudly phallic. On this greyish-white stone, would-be kings would have reverently placed their hands. On the ground at the base did the ancient seekers after kingship place their feet. Legends say that if the stone roared, or cried out joyfully, the seeker was the true king.

One wonders what happened to those unlucky candidates who heard nary a peep. I suspect that the seekers after the throne had their minions ready somewhere to simulate the sound of approval from this mighty rock!

The stone itself is barely six feet high. But in centuries past, this height was no doubt much greater than that of the people. It is said that the stone even passed over to Scotland to usher in the realm of Fergus in ca. AD 500, but modern scholars have debunked that notion. It is more probable that a threshhold stone was taken instead, one of sufficient size to warrant being a “swearing-in” stone, but not this several-ton behemoth!

We do know that in the nineteenth century, the Lia Fáil was taken from its place near the Mound of Hostages and placed on its current site.

As if to rival the pagan stone of old, a modern statue of St. Patrick now looms on the Hill of tara, near where it is  told that he lit his famous Paschal Fires in defiance of High King Leary.

Patrick seems even now to defy the pagan beginnings of the ancient Hill of Tara, as his imposing figure stands in a place of honor not so far from the neolithic Stone of Destiny.

This modern map of the northern and central section of Ireland shows Tara a little more in context.

All the characters in my books have roamed these boglands and hills, these seas and bays and lakes. You will meet them in the following novels:

Storm Maker:  http://amzn.to/O218y7
The Wakening Fire : http://amzn.to/N1Gc6C
Captive Heart:  http://amzn.to/Qm8b1X
Fire & Silk:  http://amzn.to/P6jZtn
Warrior, Ride Hard:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard
Warrior, Stand Tall:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-stand-tall

 Slán until next weekend…Erin O’Quinn

May Day! May Day! The Pagan World is on Fire!

The most important–and most dangerous–Easter in centuries took place the first week in May, AD 433. That was the date agreed on by most historians when St Patrick, then Bishop Patrick of Armagh, lit his huge conflagration on the Hill of Sláine. Only moments later, apparently, the fires of Beltane sprang into the night sky to rival Patrick’s, lit by the druids of High King Leary himself on the sacred Hill of Tara 10 miles away.

Why were the fires so important both to the pagans and to Patrick? Why would this particular date from the long ministry of Patrick be remembered 1500 years later?

To begin with, as most people know, the Festival of Beltane was one of  the two most important observances in the Celtic year. It signified a time of rebirth, the eternal renewal of life. The other–equal and opposite–was Samhain, six months later,  the symbolic end of the year, of the death of what once lived. The birth/death cycle figures as part of probably all religions, no matter where in the world, wherever signs of spring and winter give mankind alternate hope and despair.

Beltane belonged to Bel, the Sun, and figuratively the Sun of God. Patrick knew that well, and he knew all the subtleties of the religion of the pagan Gaels. . . . His own fire would be lit instead to glorify not the Sun of a god, but the Son of God.

Patrick had arrived in Ireland probably the previous year, consecrated Bishop and sent by the Pontiff himself to spread the word of Christ. Patrick apparently wasted no time at all inserting himself in the volatile politics of the day. He had been a slave some twenty years earlier and knew both Gaelic and the druidic rituals. In fact, his master had been a High Druid.

So it is probable that Patrick planned the Easter fires several months in advance of Beltane. The fires themselves were made of huge piles of detritus–chunks of peat, old cow hides and pieces of horn and hooves, human waste–all the stuff that we in this modern world call “garbage.” Anything that would burst into flame was set into huge piles, all over Ireland. There are theories that this ritual burning was a natural way of clearing  the country of possible disease.

And so Patrick must have directed the building of a huge fire a mere ten miles away from the sacred hill of High Kings, the very Tara where kings and sons of kings had ruled Ireland for countless centuries. A fire set that close would be seen, and no doubt reviled, by the King who lived so close and who forbade any fire be set at the same time as his own.

Patrick was, in a word, stubborn. He must have known that only a huge conflagration would be seen and become legend in this land of Kings and Druids. And so he planned for months. And before the fires of High King Leary could be lit, Patrick gave the signal to light  his own.

And all, er, heck broke loose.

Here is the scene, as captured by Erin O’Quinn in my second novel The Wakening Fire.

Liam turned to me. He leaned across and caught my lips inside his warm mouth, withdrawing with an effort. “Cat, me father will direct the lighting of the fire. Come outside.”

We left the hall hand in hand before the others had completed their dinner and before the king stood, the signal for everyone to leave. “Take you to see the fire of Beltane,” he said. We walked in the approaching twilight around the twin hills of Tara, opposite to where the mead hall stood on a low rise.

“I remember this spot,” I told Liam. “This is where the king pronounced his judgment. Yes, there is the Lia Fáil, the stone of destiny.”

“Tall fire to be lit…there,” said Liam, directing my gaze to the horizon where I knew stood the huge, white, earthenwork structure I had seen last September. Torin had called it Sí an Bhrú, and I knew it was almost as ancient the hills themselves.

“Important,” said Liam. “Older than druids. Me father…stand here, by the stone, the Lia Fáil. His signal starts the fire.”

“Let us be sure to stand close to him, Liam. I know he will be angry. You and Torin must stand ready to respond.”

He put his arm around my shoulder and brought me close against his body. “Not worry, Cat. Torin comes. I see Father, and a crowd. We…almost ready.”

The sun had not yet set, but I saw that we were only minutes away from seeing its shining orb disappear under the far hills. Leary stood with a score of white-robed, bearded priests—his latest collection of druids. Torin and Swallow joined us. “When the druids drop their hands,” Torin said, “Father will take his cue. He in turn will signal, and his order will be carried along the entire distance, passed along to those tending the fire.”

  I saw that not only those from the mead hall, but thousands of people had already converged on Tara’s twin hills and spread over the surrounding area. Unusually for such a large crowd, there was absolute silence. It was as though everyone awaited the druids’ signal, and Leary’s royal command.

The druids, dancing around the Lia Fáil, had their hands raised to the setting sun. But before their hands dropped to their sides, a loud shout escaped Leary’s mouth, and I looked where he looked. I saw a blaze not on the site pointed out by Liam, but beyond, on the distant hill of Sláine, ten miles away. It seemed to light the entire sky, and I began to tremble.

Just then, the druids dropped their hands, and Leary shouted again. This time, after the space of a score of heartbeats, another huge blaze tore at the evening sky. This was the king’s fire. It was, in a sense, the rival fire, the adversary of Christ.

Was it bigger, and better, than Patrick’s? Who in the world would know? I knew only that the king was wild with rage. I pulled at Liam’s hand, and we ran to where the king stood with his small army of druids.

I heard a brief exchange among them, and I turned to Torin, who stood at my other side. “Tell me,” I implored him.

Torin’s eyes were clouded. “Father asked who would so dare defy the law. His druids spoke as one. ‘The priest called Patrick. And unless ye stop him now, the fire ye see before ye will never be quenched.’ And then Father called for his immediate arrest. He is to be brought here shortly.”

I bowed my head, and the sobs began deep in my stomach and rose to my throat, stopping my words and my very breath. The last thought I remembered was, “O God, bless Patrick.” And then my world went dark.

 Watch for The Wakening Fire coming Tuesday, May 15 from SirenBookStrand.com

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.