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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.