Members of Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on the eve with the Sierra Leone student Scholars here as part of the Irish Aid Fellowship Training Programme through Irish Council for Overseas Students. Here are two contributions from the gathering. The story of Patrick by Rev. Tony Murphy, United Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross and a poem to remember the people of Ukraine by Mr. Martin Rowan, Chairperson of SLIP.
The Story of St. Patrick
I have been asked to talk this evening to the ICOS students from Sierra Leone about St Patrick, the National Saint of Ireland and whose Feast day occurs tomorrow the 17th March . As the talk is aimed at people with little knowledge of St Patrick I am focusing the story on Patrick while recognising that other parts of Ireland attribute the origins of Christianity to their local native saints such as Declan in Ardmore, Colman in Cloyne etc.
We are extremely fortunate in looking at the life of Patrick that we have two documents which he wrote himself. After that there is a gap of 200 years before other writings appeared .These two writings are His Confessio or Confessions and Patrick’s letter to Coroticus .The Confessio was written as a defence against his detractors in Britain , from whence he himself came, but in outlining his defence he effectively told his own life story so we have effectively a partial autobiography.
Patrick was born in the year 386 in the modern era. All Muslims listening to this talk will understand that this was almost 200 years before the birth of Prophet Muhammad, Praise be Upon him, so this presentation is totally focused on Christianity .
About 50 years before Patrick’s birth the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire You might wonder what that had to do with Patrick but, while he was born in the West Of Britain, probably in what we call today Wales, he lived in part of the Empire which stretched as far North in Britain as the border with Scotland. Effectively Patrick and his family were Roman Citizens .
Story of Patrick’s Life :
Patrich grew up in a clergy family, his father Calpornius being a Deacon and his grandfather Potitus being a priest. Yet Patrick tells us in his Confessio that- despite hearing the word of God in his childhood– he did not pay much attention to it and did not know the true God.
When Patrick was 16 years old living on the West Coast of Britain he was kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave into Ireland. Sometimes I think we ignore the trauma of a young boy, who grew up in a totally Roman world, being trafficked to a country which—at the time was considered to be the end of the earth— unable to speak the language and being sent out to hills in the northern part of Ireland to look after sheep.
The most significant point of our story however was that it was in that desperate situation that Patrick found God. He tells us in his Confessio that in a single day he would say as many as a hundred prayers and almost as many in the nights, that he used to pray before daylight through snow, through frost, through rain and he felt no harm.
After 6 years Patrick managed to escape and after initially refusing him, he persuaded the captain of a ship to take him back to Roman Britain .
If you compare Patrick’s experience to freed slaves who were brought to Freetown in Sierra Leone, he had a better experience as he not only regained his freedom but was also able to return to his native land.
Having escaped from slavery in Ireland one would have expected that this would mark the complete end of any connection Patrick had with Ireland but this is not what happened.
Patrick had developed a strong spirituality in Ireland and had conformed his life to the Will of God. In his sleep Patrick had a dream in which he strongly felt that the Irish people were pleading with him to come back to them and teach them about the Christian God. He heard the voice of the Irish calling
“We ask you, holy boy, come and walk once more among us”.
This was not a simple choice. Ireland was the country where Patrick had been enslaved and indeed, as the most Westerly Country, one which many people thought in the 5th Century was at the end of the earth.
Not only that but when he decided to return to Ireland this decision was not met with full approval and in his Confessio he describes opposition to his appointment from within the British Church.
Despite these obstacles Patrick believed that he was following the will of God when he decided to return to Ireland. Obviously this could not happen immediately as Patrick had missed out on his education while he was kept in slavery. Patrick was always conscious that he lacked the polished Latin skills of many of his peers and described himself in his Confessio as “most unlearned”. This, however, was not the essential requirement. What was essential was a strong Faith and a determination to work through all the obstacles that he would face.
At this point I would like to pause for a moment. Those in our group who are Irish will be totally familiar with this story. However let us look afresh at Patrick’s Story as part of the Divine Plan .
One would expect that the person most likely to succeed in bringing the word of God to Ireland would need a strong desire to work in this Mission field and be sufficiently educated. I’m sure more than a few people could satisfy these requirements, but there was only one person who additionally knew the culture of the country and critically could speak to the native people in their native tongue—that was Patrick .
It is always interesting to see how God works through human deeds.
It may also interest our students from Sierra Leone to realise that we were evangelised by a person able to speak our native language.
Patrick’s mission was very successful, he had a political as well as a religious mind and worked with local rulers by paying an honour price for the privilege of entering their territory. He established monasticism for which Ireland later became famous as the Island of Saints and Scholars and established Christianity firmly in Ireland.
Before I conclude could I be permitted to mention to our friends from Sierra Leone that while Patrick is our National Saint, the Irish Church once established had a profound effect on Christianity in Europe particularly after the Fall of the Roman Empire.
Two personalities stand out whose contributions can be seen as on a par with Patrick and perhaps it is good that we are not known for only one Saint.
The first of these was called Colmcille or Columba. He was born in 521 about 60 years after Patrick died. Colm in Irish means dove and Cille means Church -Colmcille means the Dove of the Church.
In another of these Providential events Colmcille left Ireland after a horrible situation. While he was a monk he had supported his tribe in a bloody battle and –as an act of self-imposed penance for the mess he had caused at home– he left for Scotland .
It was from this disastrous situation however that Colmcille established a monastery in the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. From there he began converting the Picts of Scotland to Christianity and indeed also the Northern part of England and for which in these territories he is greatly honoured. It is worth recalling that this was nearly 50 years before Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine to Christianise the Anglo Saxons in the South of England.
While Colmcille worked in Scotland and England, the Second saint had a European Mission. His name was Columbanus– the Word Bán in the Irish Language means white, so Columbanus means the White Dove. He was born later in 540, about 80 years after Patrick.
Columbanus was a monk in Bangor County Down in the North of Ireland. He left this monastery and established foundations in France, Germany , Austria, Switzerland and finally Bobbio in Northern Italy where he died in 615 and where he is buried.
When statesmen after the second World War looked to unify the former warring countries in Europe Columbanus was seen as a symbol of European unity. In 1950 during a major tribute in France to mark the 1500th anniversary of his birth the head of the Irish Government at the time paid the following tribute
“All statesmen of today might well turn their thoughts to St Columban and his teaching. History records that it was by men like him that civilisation was saved in the 6th century.”
Equally Robert Schuman, one of the founders of the European Union, in 1951 described him as the Patron saint of all who now seek to unite Europe.
Hopefully friends this short presentation gives you some picture of the real Patrick and the legacy he left in this country .
Go raibh maith agaibh.
Rev. Tony Murphy
The Back Door By Victoria Melkovska
Traditionally, Ukrainian houses have only a front door.
Where I come from
Winter drowses on the window ledge,
scratching glass with bristle,
lies in wait for a slightest chance
to stick its foot in the door,
to slither inside,
twirl in for a second
and stay forever.
The leather-upholstered door
with a constellation of studs,
chained like a dog,
my childhood Land of Plenty
against minus twenty.
‘If not for a random storm
Irish winters are mild and warm.
Come to visit this Christmas,
She sighs, ‘Not this year. Another.’
gapes at the weird ensemble:
grass covered lawns,
the cherry-tree blossoms fall,
a hare under a palm tree –
all in the midst of December.
But to her
is the strangest of all.
Not my ceiling-mounted windows no.
Not stepping on the pleasantly heated floor.
She wonders at something so trivial:
my back door.
And her fingers smelling of dill
tremble turning the key,
to let in
the thrush song,
as if winter,
left many miles away,
could catch on
and invite itself in.
I smile into a watermelon slice:
A bowl of raspberries on the ledge,
Crispy apples, soft pears
Just where the winter slept.
My son’s honeyed kiss
Lands on a pancake of his grandma’s cheek.
A new backdoor to the garden swings
the chirruping whirl,
the flies too,
the smell of barbecue)
and bangs behind him.