Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, by Msgr James B Dollard

Saint PatrickIn the year 1932 Eire celebrated the fifteen hundredth anniversary of the coming of Saint Patrick to Ireland. On August the 6th of that year I stood on the summit of the venerable Hill of Tara, and gazed around me over the verdant reaches of the great Central Plain. The smoke of Dublin, which is only eighteen miles from Tara, could be seen darkening the blue skies of the Irish Sea to the south-west. Down the slope of the hill stretched the foundations of the famous Tara Hall, but there are no walls there to bear the celebrated harp of Thomas Moore. Perfectly well-defined, and in some places eight feet in depth, are the two long fosses where the vanished walls rested, and it gave one a weird feeling to think that these walls could be built again on the very same foundations. The summit of Tara is just a great, big, green field, in which there are several forts or duns, and circles of fortifications. I stood before the Eoyal Mound where the palace of Erin’s king was seen in the centuries before and after Christ. Saint Patrick’s statue is on this rath and I thought of the day in the year 432 when he stood in person here and preached to the king, and to his household and army. The shamrocks are there still, and I thought of how he bent and plucked the little trefoil, and demonstrated the doctrine of the blessed Trinity. Loneliness was heavy over all the hill, and cattle grazed quietly here and there along the grassy slopes. I thought of Patrick’s miracles performed on this very site. The “Tripartite Life” tells us that an elemental struggle, similar to Moses’ duel with the priests of Pharaoh, took place on this hallowed spot. The chief antagonist of Patrick was a Druid named Luchru who by Satan’s aid performed great feats of necromancy to deceive the people. At last Luchru, like Simon Magus, began to boast that he could raise himself up to the very skies by his magic powers. But Patrick prayed to God, and when the Druid arose in the air he was hurled lifeless to the earth in the sight of all!

The “Tripartite Life” tells us that Saint Patrick then challenged the Druids to a supreme ordeal. “Let a wooden house be built with two rooms” said the Saint “and let one room be filled with green wood and another room with dry wood. Then let a Druid be placed in the midst of the green wood, and let my disciple Benignus be placed in the midst of the dry wood.” This was done. Then the Druids began to pray and to shout to their pagan gods to send down fire from Heaven to consume Benignus. But all their prayers and rantings were in vain. Saint Patrick prayed to his God. and presently, though it was a fair, clear day, thunder was heard over Tara, and a vivid shaft of lightning struck the wooden house. When the people ventured tremblingly to approach, they found that, in the midst of the green wood, the body of the Druid was burned to a crisp, and in the midst of the dry wood, the young Benignus was peacefully sleeping in safety!

Proofs like these, combined with the Saint’s eloquent sermons, could not be withstood, and that first day, the greater number of that vast assemblage, including the High Queen, embraced the Christian Faith. The Ard-Ri or High King, was not converted the first day, bvit gave the Saint permission to preach the gospel over all the kingdom of Ireland. This the Saint did, with most amazing results; for soon the whole island was converted to the True Faith. At Cashel in Munster occurred a remarkable event. Saint Patrick had already converted the King of Munster, and his wife and daughters. He was now baptizing the young warrior. Prince Aengus, son of the King, and Tanist of the Royal line. The Saint was weary after a hard day, and the light was growing dim. He drove the iron-pointed crozier into the ground and leaned heavily upon it. After some time he became conscious that he had driven the point of the staff through the young prince’s sandal and into his foot. “Son” cried the grief-stricken Saint “why did you not warn me of this?” “Father” answered the heroic prince “I knew that I was being made a follower of Him who was pierced and crucified, and I thought it was part of the initiation.” Then the Saint mourned over him and blessed him and prophesied that he would become a great saint and confessor of the Faith. He also signed a cross upon his wounded foot, which immediately was healed.

When the illustrious apostle had accomplished the work of conversion throughout the length and breadth of the island, he at once proceeded to set the seal upon it by a long prayer and fast. For this he chose the summit of a high mountain on the western coast, then called Mount Cruachan, but ever afterwards called Croagh-Patrick. Here, upon one of nature’s mighty altars, Saint Patrick was nearer to Heaven, and could hold converse with the Omnipotent, undisturbed by the jarring noises of the world. For forty days and forty nights he was alone on the vast and lonely mountain wrestling in prayer with God. Some of the requests he made are too mysterious for our feeble minds to understand.

He asked that the land which he had evangelized might never again be lost to the true Faith.

He prayed that the waters of the ocean might close above his beloved island seven years before the Day of Judgment. He thus wished to spare his people the hideous anticipatory terrors that shall precede that terrible event, when men shall wither away with fear and expectation of what is to come upon them in these last awful days!

Thirdly, he prayed that as the twelve Apostles would judge the twelve tribes of Israel, so also he himself would judge his own people, the race of the Gael!

We are told that a shining angel came down from Heaven and remonstrated with him, and asked him to cease his praying. But the angel was sent only to try his faith, and Patrick triumphed, for he told the heavenly visitant that he would continue to pray there until his death, and that after his death a disciple would place his knees where now his own rested, and so the prayer would continue forever.

As Saint Patrick’s life was crowned with the splendour of miracles, so also was his death. One day as he went on a journey a great crowd of both men and women joyfully accompanied him. He began a discourse on the glory of God in Heaven and on the joys of God’s saints there. Among his auditors were Saint Brigid and Saint Ethembria, with many other hoh’ women. As he was discoursing, a bright light was seen shining over a certain spot in a nearby graveyard. This graveyard must have been that of Downpatrick. The people asked Saint Patrick what it signified. Saint Patrick then said: “If you go to Brigid she will explain all to you.” Saint Brigid told them it meant that soon a very high servant of God would be buried there. Saint Ethembria then secretly asked Saint Brigid what was the name of this high servant of God, and was told that it was Saint Patrick himself who was soon to die. Saint Patrick, knowing well what was passing between these two, turned to Saint Brigid and requested her to go back to her convent and bring him the shroud which she had woven for his dead body. lie then advanced northward into a place called Sawl, where he had first landed, a place that he loved very much. There on the Hill of Sawl, Anno Domini 492, he died, and was buried in the holy shroud at Downpatrick. The “Tripartite Life” tells us that a sweet fragrance exhaled from the body of the saint, and, during the twelve nights of the wake, a brilliant illumination spread itself over the skies, and angels were heard singing his praises and his virtues!

The three great characteristics of Patrick, the son of Calphurnius, were indomitable courage, unwavering faith, and devotion to prayer. His courage was shown when he confronted all the wrath of Druidical paganism on the summit of the Royal Hill of Tara. There he defeated the powers of earth and the powers of hell!

His unbreakable Faith was shown in the numerous miracles he accomplished, calling on Heaven to be a witness before men to the truth of the gospel he was preaching to the multitudes.

His devotion to prayer was manifested in his youth on the mountains of Slieve Mish when he was awakened at night by the snow and the freezing winds, and, a hundred times a night he communed with God in prayer. The power of his prayer was made manifest on Croagh-Patrick, when the very pillars of Heaven were swayed by the resistless storm of his impetration.

Patrick’s personality was sublime and powerful, like to the mighty mountain to which he gave his name, and, as around the summit of that storied peak, the lightnings of Heaven flash and reverberate, so around the brow of Patrick was seen the scintillant crown of miracles and prophecy! The following poem, which is apropos of my subject, was written by me in 1912, and was included in Joyce Kilmer’s anthology, “Dreams and Images”:

The Sons of Patrick
by James B Dollard, Litt.D.

Into the mists of the Pagan Island,
   Bearing God’s message, great Patrick came;
The Druid altars on plain and highland
   Fell at the sound of his mighty name!

Swift was the conquest, – with hearts upswelling
   The Faith they took, and to God they swore.
That precious spark from their bosom’s dwelling.
   Men’s guile or torture should snatch no more!

And ever since, while the wide world wonders,
   This steadfast people their strength reveal.
As Time Earth’s Kingdoms and empires sunders,
   They stand by Patrick in ranks of steel!

The nations mock them, like Christ’s tormentors,
   “Descend,” they cry, “from your cross of shame!
“Abjure the Faith – see the road that enters
   The groves of pleasure and wealth and fame!

Like those who passed where the Cross rose dimly.
   Their wise beards wagging – “what fools” they say
But the Sons of Patrick make answer grimly –
   “Our God we’ve chosen – the price we’ll pay!

“Ever about us the foe’s commotion
   The anguish-sweat on our brows ne’er dry,
Our martyrs’ bones strew the earth and ocean,
   Lone deserts echo our exiles’ cry.”

“Unto our heart is earth’s pride forbidden,
   Unto our hands is its gold denied, –
We do not question the Purpose hidden, –
   Let Him Who fashioned our souls decide.”

“Yet though, once more, to us choice were given,
   And the long aeons were backward rolled,
We’d walk again, before Earth and Heaven
   The blood-stained pathway we walked of old.”

It is a long time now since I first watched the coast of Ireland looming up through the mist like a broad shield burnished by the rising sun. I know now a little of what lies on the other side of those dark mountains, and the more I learn about this little country, the more I am convinced of her greatness. For Eire has planted her foundations in her glorious past, a past rich in learning and Christian faith, the traditional insula sanctorum et doctorum. No strong tradition in a race is ever lost, and this is not a new Ireland that is coming to flower all around us, but an ancient culture planted centuries ago, buried deep in the earth, deep in the heart, a culture which was great enough never to die.
MLA Citation

  • Monsignor James B Dollard. “Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland”. Saint Joseph Lilies, 1940. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 April 2016. Web. 26 October 2016. <>