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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

 

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

Saint Patrick Ignites the Flame

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ March 17, 2020

About the year 425

Ireland

 

The April countryside slid past the little coracles gliding up the River Boyne. All was a patchwork of every imaginable shade of green, from the forest black of ancient hill junipers to the tinted yellow of newborn shoots of spring wheat. And around every rath and on every hillside, baby lambs bleated, tottering after their mothers. Rocks, trees, and clouds shaded the land with blue, purple, and gray shadows, and Patrick thanked God that he and his fellow missionaries should have arrived at this wonderful season of the renewing of life.

Patrick took a deep breath of the fresh, moist air and shook his head at the wonder that he should be returning here—to the very land where he had been held as captive; to the very people for whom he had labored as a slave for six years. Renewed life, indeed. A time of studying in a monastery in France had kindled his passion to bring the light of Christ to these people who once enslaved him. And here he was back in Ireland on the very eve of Jesus’ victory over death. Tomorrow would be Easter.

Tonight he and his companions would camp near a hill where they could light their Paschal fire as was always done to mark the rekindling of the Light by Christ’s resurrection. In the morning they would celebrate the most joyful, most holy, Mass of the year to inaugurate their mission.

Patrick turned to his bandy-legged little boatman who sat paddling with sure strokes in the back of the boat. “Do you know if King Niall is in residence at Tara just now?”

Righ, the boatman, shook his head. “Niall sleeps with his fathers these three years and past. Leoghaire, son of Niall, is now king in Tara.”

Patrick closed his eyes at the news. He had not thought of the changes that would have occurred in his absence. Leoghaire. Patrick remembered him— taller, broader, louder than his father. And he remembered the tales he had heard of his cruelty. Leoghaire did not take hostages as his father had; he killed all his enemies in the most painful manner he could devise.

“And who are his chief druids?” Patrick asked.

“Lochru and Lucetmal, as served his father.” Righ dipped his paddle into the water and slipped it skillfully through the smooth water.

Patrick nodded. He remembered their names. Men of great power. If he could reach these men, he could then preach anywhere in Eire. He looked across the garden patchwork of the countryside. Ahead and to their left, as on his first time here, Patrick saw the Hill of Tara crowned with ancient buildings. Closer, on their right, was another hill, slightly smaller, but open to view on every side. There could be no better spot to light their Paschal fire.

He knew of it from his time before—the Hill of the Slain where the mighty Cuchulain had slaughtered his foes. The bards of Eire still sang of the deeds before the feast-fires. Yes, here Patrick would also light a victory fire that would burn forever throughout the land.

He pointed. “We will camp there tonight. This is the eve of our greatest holy day. Tonight we will burn a fire on that hill in honor of the resurrection of our Lord, whose truth burns in our hearts.”

The boatman’s eyes grew large with fear, and his patchy beard seemed to bristle. At first, Patrick, who had gone these six years without speaking Gaelic, thought he had said something wrong, but then he realized Righ had understood perfectly. “On the Hill of the Slain? You build a fire? Tonight?”

Patrick nodded calmly. “I don’t understand your alarm. Fires on hilltops are common here—I remember well seeing them in the distance when I watched over the sheep in Slemish.”

“Ah, but not on that hill. It is forbidden. Only druids may go onto the Hill of the Slain. Only they are safe from the snakes.”

Patrick frowned, struggling to recall. Where had he heard that before? Ah, yes, he remembered. The druids kept all from the hill by calling it the habitation of snakes.

Righ nodded with such energy he broke the rhythm of his rowing as he urged his point. “The druids go there at the dark of the moon to make kill-offerings to Dagada that his cauldron of plenty will not fail our land. Only then the snakes will not harm them.”

Patrick shook his head. “Our God is stronger than Dagada. We are not afraid.”

The boatman persisted. “But not tonight. You must not light your fire tonight. There are no fires in all of Tara on this one night of the year.”

“And why is that?”

“Tomorrow is Leoghaire’s birthday. All fires save the king’s feast-fire are to be cold in Tara tonight until the High King himself sets the first blaze in the morning. Then all will light their fires in honor of the day that gave our king birth.”

“No. We will ignite our fire first, as do all Christians on this night, in honor of the day that God gave the new birth to mankind.”

The boatman leaned forward and gripped Patrick’s arm. “But it is a dying matter to disobey the king in this.”

Patrick had not expected such a violent confrontation to come so soon. But this solved one problem that had been puzzling him for days—how was he to gain admittance to the High King? Now, if he were to be brought before Leoghaire for judgment, he would have an opportunity to speak.

Patrick walked a bit apart from his men who were setting up their camp. Sitting at the foot of the hill, he repeated the words of the prayer song he had been forming for many days—ever since he knew he would be returning to Ireland. Half in his mind, half aloud he repeated: 

I bind unto myself today

The strong name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same

The Three in One and One in Three.

 

I bind this today to me forever

By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;

His death on cross for my salvation; 

Patrick paused and lifted his eyes to the top of the hill. He had uttered brave words, but was he truly ready for such an encounter? Was it possible that his mission should end in death after barely twenty-four hours? Then he saw his error. He had left Christ in his tomb.

He added another line: 

His bursting from the spicèd tomb,

I bind unto myself today. 

 

And now the words tumbled from him:

 

Against the demon snares of sin,

The hostile men that mar my course;

Against their fierce hostility

I bind to me these holy powers.

 

Against the wizard’s evil craft,

Against the death wound and the burning,

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger.

 

I bind unto myself the name,

The strong name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three.

After another moment, he stood. He was ready. Even if the death sentence followed, he would speak first. Leoghaire would hear God’s message.

For a full account of Saint Patrick's life enjoy my Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England.

Read Ireland's story from the Plantations to peace in our time in The Banks of the Boyne.

 

Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Reader Comments:

Reminds me why I love your novel, Glastonbury!
-Sheila Deeth, March 17, 2020

Thank you, Sheila! The top photo is one I took when visiting St. Patrick's Church in Toronto--research for the next Monastery Murder.
-Donna Fletcher Crow, March 18, 2020

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