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Early Christian Ireland
In 431, Pope Celestine sent Palladius as first bishop to the Irish, Pallidus died shortly after arriving in Ireland. He was replaced by Patrick who landed in Ireland in 432, he become the patron saint of Ireland. Patrick was a native of [St Patrick near Downpatrick Co Down. Click for a jigsaw of this image.] Britain, the son of a wealthy official. When he was about 16 years of age, he was captured by Irish raiders (probably acting under the orders of the Irish king Niall Noigiallach 'Niall of the Nine Hostages') .And taken as a slave to Ireland. For six years, he herded sheep for his Irish master, it is said on Slemish mountain County Antrim. He escaped, legend is that he stowed away on a ship bound for England, loaded with Irish Wolfhounds. From England he went to France and studied under Saint Germanus. There he became a bishop and returned to Ireland with the intention of converting the pagan Irish to Christianity.
According to tradition in 432, Patrick landed at the mouth of the Slaney river which flows into Strangford Lough near Saul, in County Down, he made contact with the local chieftain Diohu who after a conversation with Patrick gave him his barn the Irish word for barn was sabhall, Patrick converted it and so it became his first church in Ireland. He was called before the high king, Laoghaire, at Tara, Laoghaire was impressed with Patrick and he gave him permission to preach. For thirty years he traveled the country, founding churches and ordaining priests. He died in 461 and was buried at Downpatrick County Down which had become the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland.
Modern scholars dispute this traditional account of St. Patrick's life and argue that a number of missionaries converted the Irish to Christianity, indeed it seems entirely possible that small pockets of Christianity existed brought to the island by traders. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Patrick story was invented entirely by the Catholic church, but all scholars agree that the people eventually accepted the new religion without much opposition. The early church in Ireland incorporated many of the Pagan ceremonies and rituals into their services and church calendar. It has been suggested that some of the early monastic sites occupied land previously used as druedic colleages and may have taken over from them. Certainly early church sites tended to be sited in or near oak groves, the oak was sacred to the Celts. This policy was eminently successful in making converts, and may have been one reasons which led the Irish church into conflict with Rome, the dating of Easter was a particularly contentious issue which was not settled until 703.
St. Patrick and other missionaries divided the country into dioceses and put a bishop in charge of each of them. In the years that followed, many monasteries were founded throughout the country. Gradually, monasteries became an important feature of Christian life in Ireland. The chief founders of Irish monasteries were St. Enda of the Aran Islands, St. Finnian of Clonard, St. Columba of Derry and Kells, who is also called Colmcille, St. Brendan of Clonfert, St. Brigid of Kildare, St. Comgall of Bangor, St. Finbarr of Cork, and St. Kieran of Clonmacnois. The monasteries became so important that the system of dioceses founded by St. Patrick broke down. Each monastery was independent, and the abbots of the monasteries eventually became more powerful than the bishops.