Proposal for the Inclusion of Skerries on the Ancient East Trail.

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The ‘Bishop Window.’

Sent by Pope Celestine in 432 A.D. Patrick arrived with some few companions, at the island that still bears his name, close to the picturesque town of Skerries in Fingal. This was his first landfall on his return to Ireland, where he had once laboured as a child slave, tending sheep on the Hill of Slemish. He came to convert to Christianity, the people who had once captured him from his home in Roman Britain. The magnanimity and courage of this man, whose community had long been ravaged by Irish raiders, is astounding to contemplate. His earlier experience of Ireland had been one of suffering and loneliness. He survived by dint of faith in God and determination to escape. He returned as a bishop of the Roman church, not to exact revenge but to change Ireland forever. Wherever the Irish have settled around the world, the name of Patrick is honoured and venerated as the Apostle of Ireland. His mission began in Skerries.

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Of the many legends that grew up around the story of Patrick, the first one began here. The imprint of his foot can be seen in the rock at Red Island where he first stepped ashore to begin his work. A more colourful version is that he leapt in fury from his island, to challenge the Skerries people over the theft of his goat. Such was the force of his anger that his foot sank into the rock on impact. He was too late. The goat had been killed and eaten by the Skerries people. The thieves denied their guilt and all knowledge of the goat, whereupon the animal inside them bleated loudly, giving the game away.

This episode was a source of embarrassment to Skerries people for sixteen hundred years. The taunt “Skerry Goats” caused many an altercation with neighbouring villages over the centuries. In 1988 a plaque depicting the goat was placed on Saint Patrick’s Church in Skerries, by way of restitution to the saint for the theft and in recognition that the goat has become a much loved symbol of the town and its societies and clubs.

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Everything that was ours, was restored to us because of God and our invaluable friends.

Scholars maintain that the influence of the island church remained strong after Patrick’s time,despite it having been the likeliest location of the first Viking raid in 798 A.D. Saint Malachy convened a major synod on the island in 1148 A.D. to discuss re-integration of the Irish church with the Roman system of discipline and organisation. In the thirteenth century the monks moved to the mainland and rebuilt their monastery at Holmpatrick, beside the present Holmpatrick Church. An Ogham stone commemorates Peter Mann, the last abbot at the time of the Reformation and destruction of the monasteries.

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                                                                                                                                                               Holmpatrick Church.

Patrick’s last resting place is Downpatrick, nestling beside the Mourne Mountains, clearly visible from the island where he began his great mission. It is as if he had almost completed a full circle in his life’s pilgrimage.

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A sad footnote to the story of Patrick is the destruction of his crozier. It was long preserved at Ballyboughal, (The Town of the Staff) near Skerries. It was believed to have miraculous powers. It was removed to Armagh and later to Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin. In 1538 Archbishop Brown of Dublin ordered that the staff be stripped of its gold and jewelled ornamentation. He then publicly burned the wooden staff as a relic of old superstition.

Further suggestions for a Saint Patrick  Heritage Centre.

Map and images of places closely associated with Patrick’ mission, with lines radiating out from Skerries: Tara, Slane,Croagh Patrick, Lough Derg, Armagh etc.

Panoramic map of the world, with radiating lines showing how his influence started in Skerries. Show world landmarks ‘Greened’ for Saint Patrick’s day.

High definition images of early Christian churches and relics, as a compendium of the Christian influence introduced by Patrick and others.

Images of High Crosses, The Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts.

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Patrick at Tara.

CGI images and model of the ruined monastery on the island.

Aerial views of Skerries Islands.

Live camera feed from nesting sites on the islands.

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Arrival of the clergy and plenary session of the Synod of 1148 (file pictures)

With the development of an Ancient East Trail, based partly on the historical riches of Ireland’s Early Christian Monuments, it would be logical to celebrate Skerries as the starting point and fulcrum of Patrick’s mission to change the Irish people. Without his efforts the ‘Island of Saints and Scholars’ might never have come about and our history would have been  the poorer.

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Rockabill Lighthouse. Abel Rock.

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A man at Speakers’ Corner told a sad story; “When I was a young lad goin’ to school in Dublin long ago.” he said, “I learned trigonometry. Do y’know what trigonometry is?”  I kept my head down. Of course I know what trigonometry is, but I have a mortal fear of street performers of any kind. Didn’t I give some of the best hours of my young life to Tan a over 2, Sines and Cosines, Logs and Antilogs? I even painted the Cosine page in my log tables red, to avoid a tendency to read the Cosine instead of the Sine. That could result in my space probe failing to rendezvous with the comet, Giotto, by several million miles and probing the Bog of Allen instead.  ‘It’s Tan a over 2. Stupid boy!’  I never quite cracked the language of mathematics. Napier filled a whole book with page after page of numbers and it became a best-seller. Pure genius.  ” It’s all about angles and triangles,” explained the man. “I learned how to measure the height of any tree or a lighthouse or a skyscraper. It was amazin’. I decided to get a job measurin’ lighthouses, but when I left school I found out that all the lighthouses in the world had already been measured. That cured me of ambition. I’ve never worked a day in me life since then”.

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As a child, I suspected that Rockabill was a ship. It has a chimney. It has a tender for the coal, just like a steam engine. It definitely moves, shunting up and down the horizon, depending on where you are standing. You need to keep your eye on it to see how it moves. Walk along the coastal path and it follows you, sometimes hiding behind the islands and then slipping out suddenly to surprise you with a new vista. I painted a picture of it and was roundly abused by a man who could see it when he was shaving every morning.  “Where’s the gap?” he challenged me. “There’s a gap between the two rocks.”  “Not where I was standing,” I replied lamely. “I was further to the south. Everything depends on your point of view.” He snorted derisively. “You’re wrong, you know,” he insisted. “There’s a gap.”  There is a gap.  A German U Boat sat up on that gap at low tide to effect repairs. It then went on to torpedo the mailboat Leinster  with great loss of life. My father missed that boat, because he went on the beer. Who says that beer is bad for your health?

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How could you do trigonometry anyway, with all those noisy neighbours? The rocks are covered by clouds of kittiwakes, terns and gulls, shags and cormorants. Look at your man showing off, the king of the castle. Little guillemots bobbed and dived on the calm surface of the water.  There is abundant guano, often deposited in elegant triangles, the apex pointing to the nest. The British War Office appointed the artillery branch of the army to begin the great Ordnance Survey of Ireland. Ordnance relies on mathematics for accuracy. They began at Poolbeg Lighthouse in Dublin Bay, fixing the Ordnance Datum (OD) at a low  spring tide and triangulated from that point, covering the whole island with a web of triangles. They then went on to anglicise all the place names, e.g.  Skeheenarinky. It sounds like gibberish. It was Sceachín an  Rinnce , the little thorn bush of the dancing—The Little People dancing  at midnight in the moonlight. Be wary of the Little People.  There are stories and myths in the old Irish place names, if you have the time and patience to tease them out. The Ordnance Survey nailed everything down. Now they use GPS and satellites to keep everyone in their sights. Even the OD has moved to Donegal. We have come up in the world.

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Alice took us around the rock in a gentle curve. The islands swam from one point to another. The birds screamed at our intrusion. Perhaps they knew that Mike was about to catch some of their fish. We spliced the main brace to christen Michael’s new boat. A porpoise rolled on the surface. He shrugged and went below. Porc pisces —sea pigs?  A gannet dived like white lightning. We noted a few brown jellyfish drifting languidly in the tide. Alison and Margaret took time out. Where else would you rather be?

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I looked out this morning to check on that gap. The Rockabill was gone. There was a sea mist. Maybe, of course, it had merely gone walkabout. There was a time when it warned us of fog. Waw wah, waw wah, like a sick cow. It was a comforting sound when you lay in bed at night. Someone was keeping watch. Then it changed to Woop woop, woop woop. It had become a destroyer, steaming out of harbour to hunt for U Boats. Now it is silent. There is no need for watchers on the tower or foghorns to talk to the ships. All is electronic and of course, infallible.Tara, Rockabill, Harbour  end 065

There is a groove on the garden wall where the lighthouse keepers rested their telescope.  They focussed on the white wall of Flower and MacDonald’s coal yard. I was talking to a lady about this one time, when suddenly, to my surprise, she went into a spasmodic dance, waving her arms about like a mantis. I thought it might be because of some hypnotic power that I might have over women—but no. “What was that all about?” I asked. “I was saying goodnight to my Daddy,” she said. “We used to talk by semaphore at the  the coal yard wall.”

How the image  in the lens, of his little girl with her flags, must have warmed his heart , during his lonely vigil on Rockabill.