Muirchú moccu Machení, Life of St. Patrick[Preface; Chap. title]

Source: translated from Latin by Ludwig Bieler in The Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh, Scriptores Latini Hiberniae, Vol. X (Dublin: DIAS 1979), pp.62-123; extract given in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, ed. Seamus Deane (Derry: Field Day Co. 1991), Vol. 1.]
Cf. variant translation quoted in Oliver St. John Gogarty, I Follow St Patrick (1938) [infra].

(1) Considering, my Lord Aed, that many have attempted to write this story coherently according to the traditions of their fathers and of those who were ministers of the Word from the beginning, but that the great difficulties which the telling of the story presents, and the conflicting opinions and many doubts voiced by many a person have prevented them from ever arriving at one undisputed sequence of events (2) I might well say that, like boys making their first appearance in the assembly (to quote a familiar saying of ours), I have taken my little talent - a boy’s paddle-boat, as it were - out on this deep and perilous sea of sacred narrative, where waves boldly swell to towering heights among rocky reefs in unknown waters, [a sea] on which so far no boat has ventured except the one of my [spiritual] father Cogitosus. (3) However, far from giving the impression that I want to make something big out of something small, I shall [merely] attempt to set forth, bit by bit and step by step, these few of the numerous deeds of holy Patrick, with little knowledge [of traditional lore], on uncertain authority, from an unreliable memory, feebly and in poor style, but with the pious affection of holy love, in obedience to the command of your sanctity and authority […] I 10 (9).

(1) In the days when this took place there was in those parts a great king, a fierce pagan, an emperor of non-Romans, with his royal seat at Tara, which was then the capital of the realm of the Irish, by name Loiguire son of Niall, a scion of the family that held the kingship of almost the entire island. (2) He had around him sages and druids, fortune-tellers and sorcerers, and the inventors of every evil craft, who, according to the custom of paganism and idolatry, were able to know and foresee everything before it happened. (3) There were two of these whom he preferred above all the others, whose names are these: Lothroch, also called Lochru, and Lucet Mael, also called Ronal; (4) and these two by their magical art, prophesied frequently that a foreign way of life was about to come to them, a kingdom, as it were, with an unheard-of and burdensome teaching, brought from afar over the seas, enjoined by few, received by many; it would be honoured by all, would overthrow kingdoms, kill the kings who offered resistance, seduce the crowds, destroy all their gods, banish all the works of their craft, and reign for ever. (5) They also described the man who was to bring this way of life and to win them for it, and they prophesied about him in the following words, in the form, as it were, of a poem which these men often recited, and especially during the two or three years immediately before the coming of Patrick. (6) These are the words of the poem - not very intelligible, owing to the peculiarity of their language: “here shall arrive Shaven-head, with his stick bent in the head, from his house with a hole in its head he will chant impiety from his table in the front of his house; all his people will answer ‘Be it thus, be it thus.” (7) In our own language all this can be expressed more clearly. ‘When all this happens’ (the druids would say) ‘our kingdom, which is a pagan one, will fall.’ And so it happened afterwards: when Patrick came the worship of idols was abolished and the catholic Christian faith spread over our whole country. Enough of this; let us return to our subject […] I 15 (14).

(1) It so happened in that year that a feast of pagan worship was being held, which the pagans used to celebrate with many incantations and magic rites and other superstitious acts of idolatry. (2) There assembled the kings, satraps, leaders, princes, and the nobles of the people; furthermore, the druids, the fortune-tellers, and the inventors and teachers of every craft and every skill were also summoned to king Loiguire at Tara, their Babylon, as they had been summoned at one time to Nabuchodonosor, and they held and celebrated their pagan feast on the same night on which holy Patrick celebrated Easter. (3) They also had a custom, which was announced to all publicly, that whosoever, in any district, whether far or near, should have lit a fire on that night before it was lit in the king’s house, that is, in the palace of Tara, would have forfeited his life. (4) Holy Patrick, then, celebrating Holy Easter, kindled the divine fire with its bright light and blessed it, and it shone in the night and was seen by almost all the people who lived in the plain. (5) Thus the fire from his tent happened to be seen at Tara, and as they saw it they all gazed at it and wondered. And the king called together the elders and said to them: ‘Who is the man who has dared to do such a wicked thing in my kingdom? He shall die.’ They all replied that they did not know who had done it, but the druids answered: ‘King, may you live for ever! Unless this fire which we see, and which has been lit on this night before the [fire] was lit in your house, is extinguished on this same night on which it has been lit, it will never be extinguished at all; (6) it will even rise above all the fires of our customs, and he who has kindled it and the kingdom that has been brought upon us by him who has kindled it on this night will overpower us all and you, and will seduce all the people of your kingdom, and all kingdoms will yield to it, and it will spread over the whole country and will reign in all eternity.’ I 16 (15).

(1) When the king heard this he was greatly alarmed, as once was Herod, and all Tara [was alarmed] with him. And the king answered and said: ‘It will not be so, but we shall go and see what is going on, and restrain and kill those who are doing such a wicked thing against our kingdom.’ (2) Loiguire ordered thrice nine chariots to be equipped, according to the tradition which they had received from their gods, took with him the two druids who were most powerful of all in a contest, that is, Lucet Mael and Lochru, and towards the end of that night went out from Tara to the burial place of the men of Fiacc; they turned the faces of the men and horses to the left, as was befitting them. (3) As they went along, the druids said to the king: ‘King, do not yourself go to the place where the fire is, lest perhaps you afterwards adore him who lit it, but stay outside, and that man will be summoned to your presence so that he may adore you and you be his lord, and we and that man shall dispute before you, O King, and in this way you will test us.’ (4) The king answered and said: ‘You have devised sound advice; I shall do as you have said.’ And they came to the above-mentioned place and dismounted from their horses; and they did not enter the perimeter of the place that was illumined by the light, but sat down beside it. I 17 (16).

(1) And holy Patrick was summoned to the presence of the king outside the illumined place, and the druids said to their people: ‘Let us not rise when he comes, for whosoever rises at his coming will believe afterwards and reverence him.’ (2) When Patrick rose and saw the great number of their chariots and horses, he fittingly recited with his lips and his heart the verse of the Psalmist: ‘Let others [come] on chariots and on horseback, we shall go our way in the name of the Lord our God’, and went to them. (3) They did not rise at his coming; there was only one man who, with the help of the Lord, refused to obey the command of the druids, that is Ercc, son of Daig, whose relics are now worshipped in the city called Slane. He stood up, and Patrick blessed him, and he believed in the eternal God. (4) Then they began their dispute, and one of the druids named Lochru provoked the holy man and dared to revile the catholic faith with haughty words. (5) Holy Patrick looked at him as he uttered such words and, as Peter had said concerning Simon, so with power and with a loud voice he confidently said to the Lord: ‘O Lord, who art all-powerful and in whose power is everything, who hast sent me here, may this impious man, who blasphemes thy name, now be cast out and quickly perish.’ (6) And at these words the druid was lifted up into the air and fell down again; he hit his brain against a stone, and was smashed to pieces, and died in their presence, and the pagans stood in fear. I 18 (17).

(1) The king with his companions was furious with Patrick over this incident and he tried to kill him and said: ‘Lay hands on this fellow who is about to ruin us.’ (2) When holy Patrick saw that the pagans were on the point of attacking him he rose and said with a loud voice: ‘May God bestir Himself, and may His enemies be routed and His illwishers flee before His face.’ (3) And at once darkness set in, and there was a dreadful uproar and the infidels fought among themselves, one rising up against the other, and there was a big earthquake which caused the axles of their chariots to collide with each other, and drove them violently forward so that chariots and horses rushed headlong over the plain until, in the end, a few of them escaped barely alive to Mons Monduirn (4) and by this disaster seven times seven men perished through the curse of Patrick before the eyes of the king as a punishment for his words, until there remained only he himself and three other survivors, that is, he and his queen, and two of the Irish, and they were in great fear. (5) And the queen went to Patrick and said to him: ‘O just and powerful man, do not bring death upon the king! For the king will come and bend his knees and adore your lord.’ (6) And the king came, impelled by fear, and bent his knees before the holy man, and pretended to do him reverence though he did not mean it; and after they had parted and the king had gone a short distance wishing to kill him by any means. (7) Patrick, however, knew the wicked thoughts of the wicked king. He blessed his companions, eight men with a boy, in the name of Jesus Christ, and started on his way to the king, and the king counted them as they went along, and suddenly they disappeared frorn the king’s eyes; (8) instead, the pagans merely saw eight deer with a fawn going, as it were, into the wilds. And king Loiguire, sad, frightened, and in great shame, went back to Tara at dawn with the few who had escaped. I 19 (18).

(1) On the following day, that is Easter Day, when the kings and princes and druids were at table with Loiguire - for this was their greatest feast day - eating and drinking wine in the palace of Tara, some of them talking, and others thinking about the things that had happened (2) holy Patrick with only five companions entered through closed doors, as we read about Christ, in order to vindicate and to preach the holy faith at Tara before all the nations. (3) As he entered the banquet hall of Tara, none of them all rose in order to welcome him, except one man only, Dubthach maccu Lugir, an excellent poet. With him was then in that place a young poet named Fiacc, who afterwards became a renowned bishop, whose relics are worshipped in Sleibte. (4) This Dubthach, as I have said, alone among the pagans rose in honour of holy Patrick, and the holy man blessed him, and he was the first on that day to believe in God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. (5) When the pagans had perceived Patrick they asked him to eat with them in order to put him to the test as I shall relate. He, however, knowing what was to come, did not refuse to eat. I 20 (19).

(1) Now, while they were all eating, the druid Lucet Mael, who had taken part in the conflict on the previous night, was anxious even on that day, now that his colleague had perished, to fight against holy Patrick, and as a start he put a drop [of poison] from his cup into the goblet of Patrick while the others looked on in order to find out what [Patrick] would do. (2) When holy Patrick saw the kind of test to which he was being subjected, he blessed his goblet in the sight of all and the liquor froze like ice; then he turned his goblet upside down, and only the drop which the druid had added fell out. And he blessed the goblet again: the liquor resumed its natural state, and they all were greatly astonished. (3) And after a short while the druid said: ‘Let us work miracles in this vast plain,’ and Patrick replied, saying: ‘What sort of miracles?’, and the druid said: ‘Let us bring snow over the land,’ and Patrick said: ‘I do not want to bring about anything against God’s will,’ and the druid said: ‘I shall bring it about in the sight of all.’ (4) Then, uttering some spells, he brought snow, reaching up as far as [a man’s] belt, over the entire plain, and all saw this and were astonished. And the holy man said: ‘All right, we see this. Remove it now.’ And [the druid] said: ‘Until this hour tomorrow I cannot remove it.’ And the holy man said: ‘You can do evil and cannot do good. Not so I.’ (5) Then he blessed the plain all around, and in no time, without rain or mist or wind, the snow vanished, and the crowds cheered and were greatly astonished and touched in their hearts. (6) And a little later the druid, through the invocation of demons, brought a thick fog over the land as a sign [i.e. miracle], and the people muttered angrily. And the holy man said: ‘Remove the fog’; but again the other was not able to do so. (7) The holy man, however, prayed, blessed [the place], and the fog was dispelled at once and the sun shone again and all the people cheered and gave thanks. (8) After this contest between the druid and Patrick in the king’s presence the king said to them: ‘Cast your books into the water, and he whose books remain unharmed, him we shall adore.’ Patrick answered: ‘I will do so,’ and the druid said: ‘I do not want to undergo a test of water with him; for water is a god of his.’ He had heard, no doubt, that Patrick baptised with water. (9) And the king replied; ‘Agree [to ordeal] by fire.’ And Patrick said: ‘I am ready to do so.’ But the druid did not want to and said: ‘This man worships every second year in turn now water now fire as his god.’ (10) And the holy man said: ‘Not so: but you yourself, and one of the boys in my service together with you shall go into a divided and closed house, and you shall wear my garment and my boy shall wear yours, and so you two together shall be set on fire and be judged in the presence of the Highest.’ (11) And this plan was accepted, and a house was built for them, half of green wood and half of dry wood, and the druid was placed in the green part of the house and one of holy Patrick’s boys, Benineus [i.e., Benignus] by name, wearing the druid’s garb, in its dry part; then the house was closed from outside and in the presence of the whole crowd was set on fire. (12) And in that hour it so happened through the prayer of Patrick that the flame of the fire consumed the druid together with the green half of the house, and nothing was left intact except the chasuble of holy Patrick, which the fire did not touch. (13) On the other hand, happy Benineus, and the dry half of the house, experienced what has been said of the three young men: the fire did not even touch him, and brought him neither pain nor discomfort; only the garb of the druid, which he had donned, was burnt in accordance with God’s will. (14) And the king’s anger was aroused againSt. Patrick because of the death of his druid, and he was on the point of attacking him, wishing to take his life; but God held him back. For at the prayer and the word of Patrick the wrath of God descended upon the impious people, and many of them died. (15) And holy Patrick said to the king: ‘If you do not believe now you shall die at once, for the wrath of God has come down upon your head.’ And the king was in great fear, his heart trembling, and so was his entire city. I 21 (20).

(1) King Loiguire summoned his elders and his whole council and said to them: ‘It is better for me to believe than to die’, and having held counsel, acting on the advice of his followers, he believed on that day and became converted to the Lord the eternal God, and many others believed on that occasion. (2) And holy Patrick said to the king: ‘Since you have resisted my teaching and been offensive to me, the days of your own reign shall run on, but none of your offspring shall ever be king.’ I 22 (21).

Holy Patrick, however, following the command of the Lord Jesus, left Tara, going forth and teaching all peoples and baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with him and confirming his word by the miracles which followed […]

‘But these writers never attained to one sure track of history, on account of the extreme difficulty of the task of storytelling, and because of conflicting opinions, and the very many surmises of very many persons. Therefore, if I mistake not, as our popular proverb has it, “Like bringing boys into a council meeting,” I have brought the infantile rowboat of my feeble brain into this most dangerous and deep ocean of sacred story, where mountainous seas rage and swell, amidst sharpest rocks lying in unknown seas, an ocean on which no boat has as yet ventured, save only that of my father Cogitosus. However, that I seem not to make a great thing out of what is small, I shall essay, in obedience to the command of thy holiness and authority, to unfold, piecemeal and with difficulty, these few out of the many actions of St. Patrick. My skill is small; my authorities are uncertain [or anonymous]; my memory is treacherous; my intelligence is worn out; my style is poor; yet the feeling of my love is most pious.’ (Quoted in Oliver St. John Gogarty, I Follow St Patrick, 1938, p.vii.)

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