[TN: Our readers will understandably be somewhat confounded at first by the extraordinary disproportion which exists between the rare historical documents available to us from the past, and the large developments posited by our modern historians. We must keep in mind that myths and legends do contain elements of historical truth’s within them; being different people’s perspectives of an event and their way of explaining it, we should therefore not readily dismiss everything that we read in them.]Translators Note
Let us see what the biographers of St. Patrick have to relate to history about the Druids.
A work published at St.Omer, in 1625, by John Heigham, has this story: — “One day as the Saint sayd masse in the sayd church, a sacrilegious magitian, the child of perdition, stood without, and with a rodd put in at the window, cast down the chalice, and shed the holy sacrament, but God without delay severely punished so wicked a sacrilege, for the earth opening his mouth after a most strange manner, devoured the magitian, who descended alive downe to hell.”
Again: — “A certain magitian that was in high favor with the King, and whome the King honoured as a god, opposed himself against S. Patricke, even in the same kind that Simon Magus resisted the apostle S. Peter the miserable wretch; being elevated in the ayre by the ministery of Devils, the King and the people looked after him as if he were to scale the heavens, but the glorious Saint, with the force of his fervent prayers, cast him downe unto the ground, where dashing his head against a hard flint, he rêdred up his wicked soule as a pray to the infernnall Fiendes.”
The Vita tripartita Sancti Patricii (Tripartite Life of St. Patrick) relates: “Lóegaire mac Néill possessed Druids and enchanters, who used to foretell through their Druidism and through their paganism what was in the future for them.” Coming to a certain town, the Saint, according to history, “found Druids at that place who denied the Virginity of Mary. Patrick blessed the ground, and it swallowed up the Druids.”
The book of 1625 is the authority for another story: — “Two magitians with their magicall charmes overcast all the region with a horrible darkness for the space of three dayes, hoping by that meanes to debar his [Patrick’s] enterance into the country.” Again: — “Nine magitians cospired the Saint’s death, and to have the more free accesse to him, they counterfeited theselves to be monks, putting on religious weeds; the Saint, by divine information, knew the to be wolves wraped in sheeps cloathing; making, therefore, the signe of the crosse against the childrē of Satan, behould fire descended from Heaven and consumed them all nine.” He is also reported to have caused the death of 12,000 idolaters at Tara.
St. Patrick contended with the Druids before King Lóegaire at Tara One, Lochra, hardened the King’s heart against the preaching; so “the Saint prayed that he might be lifted out and die, even as St. Peter had obtained the death of Simon Magus. In an instant Lochra was raised up in the air, and died, falling on a stone.” The Chief Druid Lochra had prophesied the arrival of Saint Patrick to Ireland:
“A Tailcenn (bald-head) will come over the raging sea, With his perforated garments, his crook-headed staff, With his table (altar) at the east end of his house,And all the people will answer — ‘Amen! Amen!’”
Anna Wilkes in her Ireland, the Ur of the Chaldees ventured to write: — “When the Apostle of Ireland went there, the people believed him, for he taught no new doctrine.” She thought Druidism not very unlike Christianity. John O’Donovan, in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, observes “Nothing is clearer than that Patrick engrafted Christianity on the pagan superstitions with so much skill that he won the people over to the Christian religion before they understood the exact difference between the two systems of beliefs; and much of this half pagan, half Christian religion will be found, not only in the Irish stories of the Middle Ages, but in the superstitions of the peasantry of the present day.” Todd sees that worldly wisdom in “dedicating to a Saint the pillar-stone, or sacred fountain.”
It is not necessary to discuss the individual Saint himself, around whom so much controversy has been created. Those who read between the lines of theology and old Irish history may be persuaded to doubt if such a person had ever existed, or if perhaps he may even have been a Druid himself, ancient records are often extremely obscure and language changes over the years adding to the confusion.
St. Bridget’s early career was also associated with the Druids. A miracle she worked with regard to making butter apparently caused her Druid master to convert to Christianity.
Colgan contended that St. Patrick, by “continually warring with Druids, exposed his body to a thousand kinds of deaths.” In The [Fáeth Fíada] Guardsman’s Cry of St. Patrick, or St. Patricks Breastplate declares “Patrick made this hymn,” we are informed that it was “against Incantations of false prophets, against black laws of hereticians, against surroundings of idolism, against spells of women, and of smiths, and of Druids.”
The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters mentions a number of stories relative to Irish Druids, then believed to have once ruled Erin. St. Patrick was a youthful slave to Milcho, a Druidical priest. Gradwell’s Succat, therefore, says, “He must often have practised heathenish rites In the presence of his household, and thus excited the horror of his Christian slave.”
St. Columba the Culdee, was considered much the same as St. Patrick in his mission work, and his confrontation with the Druids. He changed water into wine, stilled a storm, purified wells, brought down rain, changed winds, drove the devil out of a milk-pail, and raised the dead to life. All that tradition acknowledged as miraculous by the Druids had equally been attributed to Saints Columba and Patrick.
Adamnan of Iona tells some strange stories of his master. One tale concerns Brochan the Druid. “On a certain day, Brochan, while conversing with the Saint, said to him, ‘Tell me, Columba, when do you propose to set sail?’ To which the Saint replied ‘I Intend to begin my voyage after three days, if God permits me, and preserves my life.’ Brochan then said, ‘You will not be able, for I will make the winds unfavourable to your voyage, and I will create a great darkness over the sea.’ The wind rose, and the darkness came. But the Saint put off, and the vessel ran against the wind with extraordinary speed, to the wonder of the large crowd.”
The Saint wanted the Druid to release an Irish female captive, which he declined to do. But, Adamnan tells us, ‘’an angel sent from heaven, striking him severely, has broken in pieces the glass cup which he held in his hand, and from which he was in the act of drinking, and he himself is left half dead.” Then he consented to free the Irish girl, and Columba cured him of the wound.