Tuesday, August 11, 2020

St Patrick, the Annals of Ulster, Sir Samuel Ferguson and the Dumbarton birth traditions

"... The Annals of Ulster contain one of the earliest references to a Christian community in Dumbarton. In 314AD it records that three bishops accompanied by a deacon represented Alcyuyd at a conference in Arles, the former capital of Burgundy in south-east France... In the 6th century Modwenna, an Irish princess, endowed a chapel, dedicated to St Patrick, on the south side of Dumbarton Castle. "
So says Wikipedia. This is very interesting as it looks like a further corroboration of the St Patrick traditions from Scotland which say he was born around 386AD near Dumbarton at the extreme west of the Antonine Wall, at the Roman fort, the most remote outpost of the Roman Empire. In later centuries the site was named Old Kilpatrick.

Patrick had a Christian heritage, he was extremely well-read in the scriptures as demonstrated in his own writings which lift significant forms of words directly from the Bible. He was the son of a deacon named Calpurnius, and grandson of Potitus, a presbyter - which are two positions in a local congregation or church community. So were Patrick's family members among those present in Arles?

Sir Samuel Ferguson's very last writings were about Patrick; he agreed with the Dumbarton story. His Remains of St Patrick - The Patrician Documents: the Confession and Epistle to Coroticus is online here, published posthumously by his wife, which she described in the fascinating introduction as 'my husband's last contribution to the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy'

The Patrick Dumbarton traditions were acknowledged as the most likely origin story right across the denominational spectrum, including this 1905 book by Most Rev Dr John Healy, Archbishop of Tuam (my thanks to the friend who directed me to that source a few months back).

That these traditions were once well-known, and published by the Royal Irish Academy and the Roman Catholic Church, but have been largely forgotten is due to many factors. The dividing up of the family of islands that Patrick lived on - and which we now live on, must be the most erosive one. Simplified branding and national messaging, and the geographically-limited remits of tourism promotional campaigns, haven't helped.

As Neil Oliver said in a Radio Ulster interview with Gerry Kelly in October of last year, our archipelago is "one fascinating landscape".