If Patrick indeed managed to establish himself in such a manner – as a publicly recognized high status figure (and related Christian ‘kindred’) within insular Irish society – then he could have opened up an entirely different revenue stream quite apart from the previously mentioned gifts, offerings and even perhaps, any potential seed funding or external support from British Christian supporters.
As we have seen, in the later law tracts, a noble was entitled to receive his rightful portion of his clients shares and profits. As a Christian leader/Bishop Patrick would have likely expected occasional offerings from his more wealthy converts. As a ‘lord’ over ‘base clients’ however, he would have possibly been in a position to act as an initial seed funder himself – lending funds/goods/agricultural stock (on a favorable basis) to fledgling Christian clients in return for future shares/dividends/surplus. This in turn could have provided a regular ‘revenue stream’ to fund the expense of his larger missionary efforts.
Quid pro quo – the more converts/clients brought in, the more revenue increases; the higher the increase in revenue, the higher the amounts he had to spend; the more he spent, the more converts/clients he could bring in. Its essentially business marketing/localization 101 – early medieval Irish style. A self sustaining system, reliant on the flow of ‘funds’ from one level to the next.
So what could have the historical Patrick meant when he said that he paid out ‘the price of fifteen men/persons’? And what could that potentially tell us about early Irish Christian communities in fifth century Ireland?
“You yourselves however, are not lacking in how much I expended/paid out to those who judge in all of the regions I visited often. I reckon/assess that I truly distributed a minimum worth/price/value of fifteen men…in order that you enjoy/have the benefit from me and that I always enjoy/have the benefit from you in God. I am not sorry, nor am I satiated, moreover I will still spend and spend more besides, as long as I am able. God is powerful and may yet grant/let me spend myself for your souls.”
March 17th is almost upon us – and so time enough to indulge in another exploration of the historical (St) Patrick’s own words in honour of the man himself. In keeping with recently established blog tradition, this year I thought that I would take a forensic look at one particular portion of his text where he discusses issues involving payments, protections and expenditure – on his part – towards that of native authorities. In particular, at his famous referencing of his own ‘price’ of ‘fifteen men/persons’ (Confessio 53).
By doing so, I hope not only to illustrate how his mission may have come under suspicion from fifth century British Christians, but also highlight implications which may point towards his possible modi operandi within insular Irish society. If correct, these same aspects may also provide a fragmentary insight into the economic and social organisation/makeup of some of the earliest Christian communities in Late Iron Age/Early Medieval Ireland.
Cover: Jarlath Hayes/Garry Jordan (Four Courts Press)
Int. Lecture Hall – Day
It was just another wet day in a wet week (in a wetter Ireland) but I remember it well. Crowded lecture hall filling up with babbling undergraduates. Messy desks, discarded papers and empty coffee cups from the previous lecture (the type of subject that produces students with hungover frowns and disaffected scarves). The white noise of several hundred history students shoving their way in – past those exiting – talking over each other whilst looking for pens and refill pads down the bottom of soggy bags. The smell of wet canvas runners. The smell of socks just beginning to turn a dryer shade of kale.
I was one of them. It was probably my own feet.
We sat there, idly watching the lecturer set up for the class, part of a general introduction to Medieval Europe. The topic was the Conversion of Ireland. Or something. Up came a pretty awful stereotypical picture of the national saint in bright green and then a single sentence: ‘Would the real St. Patrick please stand up?’ People started to take notice. Some even wrote it down, blindly. What followed over the next 40 minutes or so was the stuff of movies of what university should be like, but rarely is.
Image: National Library of Ireland / Flickr Commons (NLI Ref: P_WP_3910)
For the day that’s in it, I bring glorious tidings of a recently unveiled fantastic new historical & archaeological resource, wrapped up with a festive angle for good measure. Dúchas.ie is a new website of an incredible project (work in progress) which holds the long-awaited & venerable task of digitizing the National Folklore Collection of Ireland – ‘one of the largest folklore collections in the world’ – and ultimately making it available online for all. In the last two weeks, it has released its first fruits, 80% (c. 64,000 individual items) of handwritten folklore material from four counties in the Schools’ Folklore Collection (Dublin, Donegal, Mayo and Waterford) all beautifully digitized, readable, and zoomable on a clean, clear interface.
Which brings us (finally!) to the matter at hand. In the light of all the above considerations – what does the historical Patrick actually say about his origins in his own writings? As previously noted, Patrick uses the term ‘Britanniis’ a total of three times. One of those examples is not entirely specific as to his origins, although it does infer the location of his clerical background in later life, and the location where his family apparently pleaded with him not to leave – just prior to his setting off for Ireland. I include here anyway:
A recent exchange in the letters page of the Irish Times concerning the historical (St) Patrick’s origins has compelled me to wade into the mire of modern-day Patriciana. Quapropter olim cogitaui scribere, sed et usque nunc haesitaui…
The exchange originated between Rev. Marcus Losack, a pilgrimage leader and spiritual guide, and Dr Elva Johnston of the School of History & Archives, UCD, Dublin. Rev. Losack, who has been promoting a book on the subject for a while now, took exception to a letter by Dr. Johnston in which she noted flaws within his recent rehashing of an old argument – Patrick being a Breton, from Brittany – as opposed to the historically attested view of his being a Romano-Briton.
‘Ooh La La’
The response by Rev Losack is a tour de force in historical misinterpretation, misappropriation and selective ‘reasoning’. In it, he expresses (in an impressively accomplished display of vaudevillian histrionics) a misplaced ‘sense of dismay and disappointment at the tone of Dr Johnston’s letter’ and castigates her as taking an ‘extremist position’ by ‘refusing to countenance any alternative theory’. He asserts that such a view ‘reflects a certain academic arrogance and authoritarianism which does not do justice to the complexity of the subject’. After then implying that the Royal Irish Academy’s current rendition of a key linguistic term is influential enough to lend favour in some way towards a quasi-national (dare I suggest, illuminati inspired?) academic plot designed to hide the original meaning – he then finishes by channelling the words of that world-renowned heroic denizen of historical accuracy & wisdom, Dan Brown, towards the possibility of the ‘experts in Dublin’ being in error.
Seeing as today is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, I thought I’d share the earliest contemporary historical reference to pagan Irish sun-worship which is found within Patrick’s Confessio, written sometime in the fifth century AD. It occurs at the very climax of the document as Patrick is signing off and declaring his deep Christian faith and belief in his ‘children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ’…
The townland of Boheh, Co. Mayo contains one of my favourite examples of outdoor prehistoric rock art in Ireland. Along a narrow side road, hidden away behind derelict housing and high hedgerows, lies a large natural outcrop of rock flecked with quartz strains, known as ‘St. Patrick’s Chair’. Upon its surface (spread out over 4 m2 ) over 250 individual petroglyphs are carved. They take the form of isolated ‘cup’, ‘cup and rings’ and ‘keyhole’ motifs (archaeological designations); and altogether form quite an impressive sight when viewed in the right seasonal and lighting conditions.
Both April 18th and August 24th are two such occasions.
Should you ever chance to find yourself at the site on either the above dates (weather permitting) you may be treated to the prehistoric equivalent of a ‘light show’. Standing at Boheh Rock/St. Patrick’s Chair on the dates above, looking west, the sun appears to set right on the peak of Croagh Patrick itself. Not only that, but it then subsequently appears, to an observer standing at Boheh ‘rock’, that the sun ‘rolls’ down the north side of the conical peak itself.
One of many interesting facets of Patrician history and hagiography is the role that the saint has played in the creation and maintenance of both religious and cultural identities throughout Ireland and the rest of the world. Due to the enigmatic nature of his writings and the wholesale absence of ‘fixed’ historical & geographical points within them; Patrick has always been seen as an everyman figure for anyone who wishes to claim him.
Various religious identities in Ireland and Scotland have, at one stage or another, claimed legitimacy and descent from a church allegedly founded by him (Some still do!). Irish emigration in the eighteenth & nineteenth centuries used him as a vehicle for the expression of both ethnic and martial identity abroad. Irish independence in the twentieth century and more recently, increasing devolution within the United Kingdom has resulted in even more cultural avenues that occasionally seek to reach out and connect with him across the centuries.
Allowing for over-simplification, its easy to see why: Patrick was a (fifth century) Briton, most likely from an area bordering modern-day Scotland; who grew up speaking a form of early Welsh (Brythonic); who then spent considerable time in Ireland, speaking Irish, and writing to fellow Christians elsewhere in Latin. To any modern-day audiences seeking to view him in such a light; the historical Patrick offers up the very epitome of an early medieval multicultural mongrel. Continue reading →