ST. PATRICK’S CAMEO IN CRATLOE AND EAST CLARE?

Clare natives have always understood that St. Patrick did not set foot in what is now Clare, during his country-wide conversion programme, post 432. We learned that the inhabitants of Corca Bhaiscinn, in Southwest Clare, visited Patrick on the far side of the estuary at Ardpatrick in Co. Limerick, inviting him and his clerics to visit their tribal district. Patrick declined the invite, but converted and baptised his visitors there and then. He sent them home happy with the forecast that a great Saint would come from their own stock, who would evangelise all West Clare. St. Senan was born in 488.

From the mountain at Ardpatrick, the saint stretched forth his hands towards Thomond and solemnly blessed it and its inhabitants, (G-p26). Folklore in the Parteen area is to the affect that Patrick also blessed the people of Clare across the Shannon from Athlunkard, (H-p12). That was supposed to be the extent of Patrick’s connection with Clare. However there are some grounds for thinking otherwise

We learn that Cairthen Fionn, King of Thomond, was baptised by St. Patrick at Singland, near the present Limerick City in 434 (E-p18). At that time Thomond encompassed not alone Clare but parts of Limerick and Tipperary also. So having got the Thomond King on message and de facto his subject Clare tribes, Patrick may have decided Clare was “sound” and hence no need to visit and preach there. Parteen folklore holds that during his mission at Singland, Patrick’s donkey was stolen by the people of nearby Park, and but for that, Patrick would have visited Thomond. Patrick is said to have expressed himself to the “Parkers” in a less than saintly manner. (H-p12).

While in Ardpatrick, Co. Limerick, the Holy man received an invite from the King of Connacht to come and visit. One can readily understand why Patrick would respond promptly to such an invite from a Chieftain of high status, rather than an invite from a single Clare tribe. Convert the Chief and you automatically had his subjects in your camp. Move on then to the next Kingly invitation. Fr. Fleming observes that it was St. Patrick’s tendency to visit areas of importance. (C-p9). Exactly and men of importance. “The Saint did his best to be on good terms with the great rulers. He gave them praemia” (F). From Ardpatrick, the missionaries headed cross country for the King of Connacht’s court at Loch Crome, in the present Co. Roscommon - on donkeys, horses or shanks mare?

A late 12th century tract “Agallamh na Seanórach” (A) gives an account of the holy mens’ journey from Ardpatrick to Limerick and their passage through Cratloe, East Clare and Galway to Roscommon. To quote the Agallamh-: “Not long had they been there (Ardpatrick) when they marked seven that drew near them. Patrick said “whence are ye come, young men?” “Out of the province of Connacht to the northward” “What hath set you in motion?” “From Connacht’s gentles we come to fetch thee, holy cleric, to convert us (both man and woman) to thy gospel”. Patrick said then: “it is not right that the Church make any lagging but to disseminate it”

Patrick with his people set out, and away they came from the southward: through mid-Munster, past Luimnech Uladh, into Fiadh na gCuan, which is called “Cratlow”; into Sliabh aidhid in Riagh, into Sliabh Echtge .......... by Cuaille Chepáin in Echtge....... past Loch Gréine...... into the Brecthir, which at this time is called Tír Máine, past Loch Cróine. There Muiredach More macFinnachta, King of Connacht was, expecting Patrick; whose tent was now spread over himself with his clerics. The Chiefs of Connacht’s province came then, made obeisance to Patrick, and laid their heads in his bosom”. (end of quote)

Some elucidation is necessary here.

Agallamh na Seanórach – see Sources

Luimneach nUladh – North Limerick, i.e Clare side of the river

Fidh na gCuan (Which is called Cratloe) – A wooded harbour / wooded shelter / wooded refuge (Ref Jody O’Connor NT)

Sliabh Aidhid in Righ – Slieve-Oighe-an-Righ (G-p21) - Mountain of the Kings death in 378– (ref. Death of Crimthann p. 373, Silva Gadelica). The mountain ridge at Gallows Hill (Cratloe) to Windy Gap area (Meelick).

Sliabh Eachtgha – The Slieve Aughty mountain range in the Feakle / Tuamgraney districts, i.e the border between Clare and Galway.

Cuaille Chepáin – The place where Cepan Mac Morna fell

Loch Gráine – Lough Graney

Tír Máine – The land of Hy-Many, i.e Co. Galway

Loch Cróine – Lough Crome in Co. Roscommon

Continuing with our narrative – Having made their way from Ardpatrick past North Limerick – 400 years before any such Viking city –was it there in 434 that Patrick brought the Thomond King, Cairthen Fionn, into the religious fold? If Patrick’s retinue were to cross the King’s Thomond territory, whether Clare, Limerick or Tipperary, perhaps permission and safe conduct was advisable. The specific description that Patrick and company travelled past North Limerick “into Fidh na gCuan” and interprets this as Cratloe, suggest that the local legendary primeval forest was the wooded shelter / recess / harbour into which they entered, thereby satisfying the moniker. The mid fourteenth century saga “Triumphs of Turlough” records “along cratalachs’ thickly – sheltering, mast – abounding woods; into Ui Aimrit of the high hills with pleasant levels, clear good horse paths and salmon yielding rivers”. (K).That, and ancient practicalities.

The noted antiquarian, John Hunt, informs us “the old route over the Cratloe hills which, for 2000 years and more, had been the great road to the West from the first crossing of the Shannon” (L). That was up over and down the Cratloe / Glennagross mountain ridge whether coming or going. Thousands of acres at the Clare side of the Shannon from Bunratty to Limerick was impassable corcass / marsh / slob lands, prior to the taming and banking of the mighty river. The Munster / Connacht inter-connector had to be dry firm and accessible for all eventualities in times of peace and strife. If it offered shelter, cover and refuge so much the better. As can still be seen today, it was a difficult pass, with the risk of ambush from the all-enveloping forest.

It was on this “Highway” in the townland of Ballycannon North, (Meelick) that the death, from poisoning, occurred of Crimhthann, King of Ireland, in 378. (I-p9). Hence Slieve-Oighe-an-Righ. He and his army were returning to Munster from Connacht - 5 decades before Patrick came (A-p375). About 940 Muircartagh, King of Ulster, marched through, holding three provincial kings as hostages, and in the process robbing some Cratloe Oak to roof his palace at Aileach, near Derry. (G- p48). The King’s bard wrote re the challenging Gallows Hill pass – “I did not see since I left my house, a pass like unto Cratloe. A night at Slieve-Oighe-an-Righ, where we put away all our anxiety” (J).

Where exactly was that artery as of Patricks time? We know that the Árd Rí, Crimthann, died crossing that ridge in 378. But where – Gallows Hill or Windy Gap areas? In the 9th / 10th centuries, that historic route most likely led from Thomond Gate, via the high road past Thomond Park via the old Cratloe road, right at the “Country Club” past Meelick Church, straight ahead at Gavin’s shop, past Moneen graveyard, thence climbing steeply through Cratloe Forest to the top of Slieve Oighe an Rí, i.e. Gallows Hill, down steeply to the Gullet Cross, onto Sixmilebridge and thence to the West of Ireland.

From Thomond Gate to 6-mile-bridge, is just that, 6 Irish Miles via the ancient high and dry historic route. It was the original N18 dual carriageway with traffic both ways, much or most of it through the then extensive Cratloe Forest. Little surprise that at some stage an enterprising cleric built a chapel – that of Saint Thomas – on the side of that busy thoroughfare near the Gullet Cross. One wonders if there might have been a toll or donation demanded for right of passage, as presently with the tunnel.

The Agallamh informs us that Patrick and his entourage travelled from Cratloe near the Limerick Border to Lough Graney near the Galway border, in other words right through East Clare. Between these two borders they crossed Slieve Oighe an Ri, i.e Cratloe / Meelick area and Slieve Eachtgha, the Feakle / Tuamgraney district. The distance from Ardpatrick to Limerick is about 25miles and from Limerick to the Galway border the same again - as the crow flies.

So leaving Cratloe, what route did the missioners take and what was their mode of transport? Remember they had good guides. The seven Connacht men (A- p126) who travelled to Ardpatrick inviting Patrick to Roscommon likely knew the route well – quite possibly having traversed same, to and fro previously. We have two very fixed points on the itinerary, i.e from Cratloe to Lough Graney. So where to, between these two landmarks? From the Sixmilebridge area they likely moved onto Broadford / OC Mills / Bodyke / Feakle / Kilenanna and Flagmount districts, crossing the Slieve Aughty mountain range and into Tír Máine or Galway.

So while Patrick’s team might not have visited or preached in Clare, did they pass through East Clare? Mgr. Fahy in his “History and Antiquities of Kilmacduagh” refers to “A well sustained tradition in the district of Derrybrien, that Saint Patrick and his associates made a brief stay there as he journeyed through” (F). M. Keating states “These two independent traditions (ref the Agallamh & Mgr. Fahy), both pointing in the same direction, make it tolerably certain that St. Patrick passed through Feakle”(B-p51). If so, from whence did Patrick come? From Cratloe?

A thought – as they were traversing the 25 miles minimum through Clare, by whatever method, they surely stopped off occasionally, requiring and afforded hospitality while promoting the new doctrine. Did they meet with Thomond natives when passing through? It may be that as “Cratlonians” and Dalcassians we can claim a religious connection, however tenuous, with Saint Patrick, dating back to the mid 5th Century. However Fr. Fleming cautions “Reservations will probably always be present, when dealing with the historicity of Saint Patrick and his visitation of the places in Ireland associated with him and the local traditions of this Country”. (C- p12)

In light of foregoing references it is surprising that the tradition of Saint Patrick never having been in Clare remains so entrenched. More “evidence” exists for at least his passing through than for his bypassing us entirely.

Many will be aware of the numerous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes in Spain and Portugal over thousands of miles, to the tomb of Saint James the great, patron Saint of Spain, since the 9th Century. How about a Saint Patrick’s Camino through East Clare, starting in Thomond Gate (i.e. Thomond) over what we would surmise was Saint Patrick’s route to Lough Graney. Our Saint Patrick Camino might have just as much historical fact behind it as the Santiago Camino, or numerous other pilgrimage origins.

Perhaps even one great Saint Patrick Camino over various legs of the route, say Ardpatrick to Limerick, from there to Lough Graney, on through Galway to Lough Crome in Roscommon. It could be a winner, attracting thousands eventually through exercise and religion. What a combination – exercising ones faith, just as in Santiago.

Sources

A: “Agallamh na Seanórach”: Is a late 12th Century middle-Irish narrative, which purports to record tales of the elders – as discussed with Saint Patrick. It was transcribed in Irish and translated to English as “The Colloquy of the ancients” from later manuscripts by Castleconnell native, Standish Hayes O’Grady in two volumes, under the titles “SILVA GADELICA” –published in 1892. The narrative has been republished and interpreted in more recent times.

B “Cameos of Historic Clare” – Clare Champion 1940: “Clare Dynasties” by M. Keating, B.A. N.T.

C: “Ardpatrick Co. Limerick”, by Fr. John Fleming 1978 (now Bishop of Killala)

D: “History of Cratloe Parish”, by pupils of Cratloe N.S. 1971. Ed. Dónal O’Lideadha

E: “The History of Limerick City”, by Séan Spellissey 1998.

F: Article re Saint Patrick in the Clare Champion of March 19th 1955, including “Tradition in regard to the Saints journey in Clare”.

G: “History of Clare and the Dalcassian Clans”, by Rev. P. White 1893

H: “The History and folklore of Parteen and Meelick” by Séamus Ó’Cinnéide and Dónal Ó’Riain

I: “History and Topography of County Clare” by James Frost, M.R.I.A. – 1893

J: “Irish Archaeological Society” Vol 1 p47.

K: “N.M.A.J. 1959 (8.2, p66)

L: “N.M.A.J. 1978 (p75)

“The Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James, is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago in north-western Spain. Here, legend has it that the remains of the apostle, Saint James the Great, are buried. It is difficult to define where exactly the Camino starts, as pilgrims used to start their journey from their own home and over the years, different Camino ways have emerged”. (See www.caminoways.com/camino-de-santiago)

In addition to Fidh na gCuan there are four other references to “Fidh” in the Colloquy (Sliva Gadelica) with attributed meanings. Fidh Eanaigh – Bird Wood (p 147). Fidh Dorcha – Dark Wood (p 222). Duibh Fidh – Black Wood (p 222). Fidh Omna – Oak Wood (p 111). Fidh na gCuan – No specific attributed meaning, other than “Which is called Cratloe” (p 126). Fidh Cuan, na gCuan O.N. of Cratloe – Index (p 598).

John Ryan, Cratloe: johnryancratloe@eircom.net



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