A voyage from the west coast of Ireland to the Clyde would take the
Saint a very unnecessary journey of 200 miles by land to the port of
embarkation, and from thence an equally unnecessary voyage by sea, from
the west around the northern coast of Ireland, past North Antrim - the
county from which he started, - in order to reach Dumbarton, Kilpatrick,
or Hamilton on the Clyde.
There are some indications which suggest that St. Patrick, when
returning to his native country, sailed from Killala Bay. Although
Killala is only 130 miles distant from Mount Slemish, as the crow
flies, the Saint would have had to travel around Slieve Gallion, and
make a circuit around the mountains of Tyrone, which stood directly
across the path of a direct route. Lough Erne, in the County of
Fermanagh, and Lough Gill, in the County of Sligo, and the inland flow
of Killala Bay would add to the obstacles to be encountered, sufficient
when all taken together to account for the 53 miles difference between
130, as the crow flies, and 183 English or 200 Roman miles which had to
be travelled before he joined his ship.
Moreover, the woods of Foclut were situated within five miles of
Killala, and St. Patrick in his "Confession" speaks in familiar terms
of the inhabitants who dwell in the neighbourhood of the woods, whose
voices sounded familiar to his ears when far away in Gaul.
This, indeed, would suggest that the Saint had made acquaintance with
them during his flight, for he distinctly states when alluding to the
place of his embarkation: "I had never been there, nor did I know any
one that lived there" ("Confession"). His acquaintance with the
inhabitants of Foclut must have been made after he had journeyed there,
and previous to his embarkation.
Readers of the "Confession" will remember how touchingly he described
the cordial manner in which he was welcomed by his relatives, who, to
use the Saint's own words, "received me as a son, and besought me that
then at least, after I had undergone so many tribulations, I should
never depart from them again. Then in the middle of the night, a man
who seemed to come from Ireland, whose name was Victoricus, the bearer
of innumerable letters, one of which he handed to me; and I read the
beginning of the letter, entitled 'The Voice of the Irish.' As I was
reading the beginning of the letter, I thought that I heard in my mind
the voices who dwelt near the woods of Foclut, which is near the
Western sea, and they cried out: 'We entreat thee, O holy youth, to
come and walk still with us.' My heart was deeply touched; I could read
no more; and I awoke" ("Confession").
Being then in his thirtieth year when he had this vision, St. Patrick
could not be called a youth. He was a youth, however, at the time when
he escaped from his first captivity, and became acquainted with the
inhabitants of Foclut, who appealed to him in the vision as the youth
they had formerly known. They, consequently, besought him to come and
abide with them as he had done formerly, for this is the obvious
meaning of the words "We entreat thee, O holy youth, to come and walk
still with us."
It is probable, therefore, that St. Patrick sailed back from Killala
Bay, the nearest port to the woods of Foclut. It may readily be
surmised that if the saintly youth, so full of holy zeal, had to remain
for a few weeks, or even a few days, whilst the ship was completing its
cargo, he would have time to make friendly acquaintance with the
inhabitants near the woods, who doubtless received the friendless
stranger with kind hospitality.
This gives a simple solution of the difficulty proposed by Professor
Bury, who, relying on St. Patrick's friendly acquaintance with the
inhabitants of Foclut, states that Croagh Patrick, which is not far
from Foclut, and not Mount Slemish, was the scene of the Saint's
If the ship's cargo consisted chiefly of Irish wolfhounds, so greatly
appreciated in Gaul, as Professor Bury suggests (p. 30), it would take
more than "a day or two" to collect a sufficient number for
exportation. There is nothing stated in the "Confession" to limit the
time that St. Patrick had to wait before the ship, sailed away from
Moreover, in the solitude of Mount Slemish, absorbed in prayer and in
guarding his flock, the saintly shepherd had no opportunity of making
any acquaintance whilst in slavery. "After I had come to Ireland I was
daily attending sheep, and I frequently prayed during the day, and the
love of God and His faith and fear increased in me more and more, and
the spirit was stirred; so that in a single day I have said as many as
a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that I remained
in the woods and on the mountain. Even before the dawn I was roused to
prayer in snow, in ice and rain, and I felt no injury from it, nor was
there any want of energy in me, as I see now, because the spirit was
then fervent in me." These certainly are not the words of a youth who
was in the habit of journeying from Croagh Patrick to Foclut to make
the acquaintance of the inhabitants. It is, on the contrary, easy to
imagine what a powerful effect a Saint, so stirred by the Spirit of God
as his words express, would have on all with whom he came in contact
after he had been freed from his duties as a shepherd. St. Patrick's
history of himself suggests at least that his acquaintance with others,
except those of his master's household, must have been made after his
escape from captivity.
Professor Bury, however, is the latest convert to the opinion that St.
Patrick fled to Gaul, and not to the Island of Britain, after his
escape from captivity in Ireland. The Professor narrates that
considerable regions in Gaul were a desolate wilderness, according to
contemporary rhetorical and poetical evidence, from A.D. 408 to 416,
and, therefore, it might be argued, Gaul suits the narrative of St.
Patrick in his "Confession." He and his companions reached land three
days (_post triduum_) after they left the coast of Ireland, so that our
choice lies between Britain and Gaul. The data do not suit Britain. We
cannot imagine what inland part of Britain they could have wished to
reach which would necessitate a journey of twenty-eight days _per
desertum_. Suppose the crew disembarked on the south coast of Britain,
and that the southern regions had been recently ravaged by the Saxons,
yet a journey of a few days would have brought them to Londinium, or
any other place they could have desired to reach from a south port.
Moreover, if they had landed in Britain, Patrick, when he once escaped
from their company, could have reached his home in a few days, whereas
he did not return for a few years. His own words exclude Britain.
Having mentioned his final escape from the traders, he proceeds:
"iterum post paucos annos in Britanniis eram cum parentibus meis." I
believe that "post paucos annos" has been interpreted by some in this
sense: "a few years after my capture." But this is an unnatural
explanation. The words naturally refer to what immediately precedes,
namely, his escape. The only thing that can be alleged in favour of
Britain is the intimation in the dream that he would "quickly come to
his native land" (_cito iturus ad patriam tuam_). "This, of course,"
continues the Professor, "represented his expectations at the time of
his escape. But the very fact that he fails to say that the promise was
literally fulfilled, and glides over the intervening years in silence,
strongly suggests that his expectation was not realised" (Appendix C,
pp. 339 - 340).
Professor Bury, being a Protestant, treats the Divine admonition given
to the Saint as a dream; not as the voice of God speaking to His
servant, but as an ardent desire on the Saint's part which met with
disappointment. Catholics, on the contrary, fully believe that God's
promise was fulfilled, and that St. Patrick did actually return to his
own native country, which the Professor very satisfactorily proves was
Gaul and not Britain. The Armorican theory of St. Patrick's birthplace
affords a very natural and easy explanation of the difficulty which the
Saint's return to Gaul from captivity must present to all who try to
prove that he was a native of Great Britain.
ST. FIACC'S NEMTHUR WAS SITUATED IN THE SUBURBS OF BOULOGNE.
Natus est Patritius Nemturri
Ut refertur in narrationibus,
Juvenis (fuit) sex annorem decem
Quando ductus est sub vinculis.
Succat ejus notnen in Tribubus dictum,
Quis ejus Pater sit notum,
Filius (fuit) Calpurnii, filii Otidi,
Nepos deaconi Odissi.
Fuit sex annis in servitate,
Excis hominum (Gentilium) non vescebat,
Fuit ei nomen adoptivum Cothriagh
Quatuor Tribubus quia inserviit.
Dixit Victor(ei) servo
Milchonis, Iret trans fluctus.
Posuit suos pedes supra saxum,
Manet exinde ejus vestigia.
[Picture: CALIGULA'S TOWER, CALLED NEMTOR BY THE MARINI.]
Profectus est trans Alpes omnes,
Trans Maria, fuit faelix expedition
Et remansit apud Germanum
In australi parte australis Lethaniae.
The following beautiful free translation of these verses is taken, with
kind permission, from Monsignor Edward Watson, M.A.'s, translation of
St. Fiacc's ode:
"At Nemthur, as our minstrels own,
Heaven's radiance first on Patrick smiled,
But fifteen summers scarce had thrown
A halo round the holy child,
When captured by an Irish band
He took their Isle for fatherland.
Succat by Christian birth his name,
Heir to a noble father's fame.
Calphurnius' son, of Potit's race,
And deacon Odis' kin and grace,
Six years of bondage he must bear
With faithful fast from heathen fare.
And Cothriagh now his name and due,
Who holding high allegiance true,
Yet served four little lords of earth
(God's servant he of forefold worth)
Till Victor bade him Milchu's slave
To fly across the freeman's wave.
He fled, but first upon the rocky shore
His footprint set a seal for evermore.
Then far away beyond the seas,
In happy flight o'er many a land,
O'er many a mountain on he flees
To face Lethania's southern strand,
Nor rested long upon the road
Until he gained Germain's abode."
St. Fiacc states that the Apostle of Ireland was born at Nemthur -
Nemthur, as all commentators agree, is not the name of a town, but of a
tower. "Neam-thur Hebernica vox est quse coelestem, sive altam turrim
denotat." "Neamthur is an Irish word which denotes a heavenly, or a
high tower" (Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores Veteres, Tom i., p. 96 -
Assuming that St. Patrick was born in the suburbs, and close to the
town of Bononia, or Banaven, as it has already been proved from his
"Confession," St. Fiacc's declaration that his Patron was born at
Nemthur admits of a very lucid explanation. Nemthur was situated in the
suburbs and close to the town of Bonaven. St. Fiacc gives the name of
the district, but St. Patrick gives the name of the town near which he
Singularly enough Caligula's famous tower on the sea coast of Boulogne
was called Turris Ordinis by the Romans, but Nemtor by the Gauls, as
Hersart de la Villemarque clearly proves in his "Celtic Legend" (p.
213), and the tower itself has given its name to the locality where it
once stood, which is called even at the present time Tour d'Ordre - the
French translation of "Turris Ordinis."
The history of this tower, on account of its close connection with the
history of St. Patrick, cannot fail to be interesting. Caligula, or
Caius Caesar, who died A.D. 41, meditated a descent upon Britain, and
with that object marshalled his troops at Bononia. Fearful, however, of
the dangers and fatigues of a long campaign in that inhospitable
island, and full of childish vanity, he determined at length, as
Suetonius humorously observes, "to make war in earnest; he drew up his
army on the shore of the ocean, with his ballistse and other engines of
war, and, while no one could imagine what he intended to do, on a
sudden commanded them to gather up sea shells and fill their helmets
and the folds of their dresses with them, calling them 'the spoils of
the ocean due to the Capitol and the Palatium.' As a monument of his
success, he raised a lofty tower, upon which, as at Pharos, he ordered
lights to be burnt in the night time for the guidance of ships at sea"
("Lives of the Twelve Caesars," Caligula, p. 283).
"It seems generally agreed," writes Forester, the translator of
Suetonius' Lives, "that the point of the coast which was signalised by
this ridiculous bravado of Caligula, somewhat redeemed by the erection
of a high house, was Itium, afterwards called Gessoriacum and Bononia
(Boulogne), a town belonging to the Gaulish tribe of the Morini" (note,
For many centuries this tower called Turris Ordens, Turris Ardens, or
Turris Ordinis by the Romans, and Neamthur by the Gauls, spread its
light over land and sea on the north-eastern cliffs of Boulogne.
A description of the tower is given in the "Memoirs of the Academy of
Inscription," quoted by Bertrand in his "History of Boulogne," as
follows: "The form of this monument, one of the most striking erected
by the Romans, was octagon. It was entirely abolished about a hundred
years ago, but, fortunately, a drawing of it, made when the lighthouse
was still perfect, is still in existence, and has been exhibited to the
Academy by the learned Father Lequien, a Dominican monk, native of
Boulogne. Each of its sides, according to Bucherius, measured 24 to 25
feet, so that its circumference was about 200, and its diameter 66
feet. It contained twelve entablatures, or species of galleries, on the
outside, including that on the ground floor. Each gallery projected a
foot and a half further than the one above it, and consequently their
size diminished with each succeeding gallery. On the top fires were
lighted to serve as a beacon to vessels at sea. A solid foundation was
formed, not only under the lighthouse, but for some distance beyond the
external walls. It was constructed of stones and bricks in the
following manner: first were seen three layers of stones, found on the
coast, of iron grey colour, then two layers of yellow stone of a softer
nature, and upon these two rows of hard red bricks, two inches thick,
and a foot and a half long, and a little more than a foot broad"
("Bertrand's History of Boulogne," pp. 13, 14).
"Caligula's tower was built on the north-eastern cliffs, about half a
mile from the sea, but within the suburbs of Boulogne. The constant
encroachment of the tide had reduced that distance to 400 feet in 1544,
when Boulogne was captured, and fortifications built around the tower
by the English troops. Still, however, the merciless waves rushed
onward to the coast, undermining the cliffs more and more, until at
length, on July 29th, 1644, Caligula's tower fell headlong with a crash
into the sea.
"Passengers from Folkestone to Boulogne gaze with reverence or
curiosity on the Calvary on the northeastern cliffs, which fishermen
salute with uncovered heads when sailing out to reap the harvest of the
sea. Close to the Calvary there is a mass of ruins overhanging the
cliff, which is all that remains of the fortifications built round
Caligula's tower by the English conquerors. The tower itself once stood
over the site occupied by the Hotel du Pavillion et des Bains de Mer,
opposite the place for sea bathing" ("Bertrand's History of Boulogne,"
pp. 15, 16).
"The Celtic Legend," published by Hersart de la Villemarque in 1864,
clearly shows how the history of Bononia and of its celebrated tower is
connected with his - St. Patrick's - life. One of the legends is entitled
"St. Patrick," and commences as follows: "On the shore of the channel
separating England from France, near the famous place from which Caesar
embarked for the Isles of Britain, a fortified enclosure was erected
overlooking and protecting the coast and territory which formed part of
the possession of the Morini Gauls. This important strategic point was
called in Latin, Tabernia, or the 'Field of Tents' (Le Champs du
Pavilion), because the Roman army had pitched their tents there. About
a mile distant, a group of buildings formed a fairly-sized village,
which at first was called by the Gauls Gessoriac, _then Bonauen
Armorik_, and afterwards named Bononia Oceasensis by the Roman Gauls,
and finally Boulogne-sur-Mer by the French.
"A light-house, or Nemtor, as it was called in the Celtic language,
kept watch during the night over the camp, village, and sea, preserving
the Gaulish frontier from piratical incursions.
"At the foot of the light-house stood the residence of a Roman officer
named Calphurnius, who had the supervision of the fire in the tower,
amongst the more costly and ornamented houses than the others, where
the free-and-easy life and customs of the Romans found a last refuge.
He lived there attended by domestic and military servants. He had
fought under the Imperial flag and attained the rank of a Decurion (p.
354). . . .
"Forgetfulness of God, disobedience to His laws, which are also the
best laws of human society, led to the ruin both of the colony of
Bononia and of St. Patrick's family. One day a mutiny, from which the
servants of Calphurnius could not have kept aloof, broke out amongst
the soldiers in the camp, just at the time when pirates, who had come
from different parts of the Irish coast and formed themselves into a
fleet so as to plunder the towns on the sea coast of Gaul with greater
security, took advantage of the dissensions amongst the inhabitants of
Boulogne and besieged the town. Fine furniture, carpets, and valuable
garments, vessels of gold and silver, arms and instruments of every
kind, everything that they could seize in the houses, in the town, in
the camp, in the rural dwellings close by, in the stables, in the ox
stalls, in the sheep pens: horses, cows, pigs, cattle and sheep were
carried off and placed on board the ships. Those who attempted any
resistance were put to death, whilst others, undergoing the fate of
domestic animals, were sold into slavery. Amongst the defenders of the
colony who perished were Calphurnius, his wife, and many of his
household. St. Patrick was numbered amongst the captives. The corsairs,
having set sail, landed him in Ireland, where they sold him to a small
chieftain in Ulster named Milcho" ("La Legende Celtique," par le
Vicomte Hersart de la Villemarque, Membre de 1'Institut Paris, 1864,
Librarie Academique. Dedier et Cie., Librarie Editeurs, 35 Quai des
There is a constant tradition that St. Patrick was a native of
Boulogne, and that tradition is expressed in the Celtic Legend just
quoted. Even the present "Guide Book" of that town (Merridew's, 1905)
volunteers the following information, which, although erroneous as to
dates, is interesting as referring to St. Patrick's connection with the
city: "About the year 249 St. Patrick arrived in Morinia, and for some
time resided at Boulogne" (p. 10). Feather Malbrancq, in his "History
of the Morini," quotes the "Chronicon Morinense," "The Life of St.
Arnulphus," and "The Catalogue of the Bishops of that See" to prove St.
Patrick's connection with the town. Although it is certain that St.
Patrick never presided over that See, the fact of his being numbered
amongst the Bishops admits of an easy explanation if he was a native of
ST. FIACC DESCRIBES ST. PATRICK'S FLIGHT FROM IRELAND TO ARMORICA.
ST. FIACC poetically describes St. Patrick's flight to his-own native
country in the fifth stanza of his hymn:
"Then far away beyond the seas,
In happy flight o'er many a land,
O'er many a mountain on he flees
To fair Lethania's Southern strand,
Nor rested long upon the road
Until he gained Germain's abode."
It is evident from this that St. Patrick fled direct to Lethania after
his escape from captivity in Ireland, having received the angel's
promise that he should return to his native land. O'Conor testifies
that the Irish called not only Armorica, Lethania, but all Western Gaul
as far as the Diocese of Auxerre. ("Lethaniam appellabant Hiberni non
modo Armoricam sed et occidentalem Galliam usque ad diocesim
Antisiodorensem") ("Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores Veteres Tom," L, p.
THE SCHOLIAST PRACTICALLY ADMITS ST. PATRICK'S BIRTH IN ARMORICA.
THE Scholiast, who annotated St. Fiacc's "Metrical Life of St.
Patrick," flourished in the eleventh century, according to Professor
Bury. The scholia of the Scholiast, however, should be received with
great caution, as Lanigan points out: "The scholia of the Scholiast,"
he remarks, "are not the composition of one person. For instance, in
scholion 5, the Letha mentioned in the hymn is properly explained by
Armorica, or the maritime tract on the North-West of Gaul; while in
scholion n it is interpreted of Latium, in Italy. In scholion 9 we read
that on a certain occasion St. Patrick said, 'Dar mo dhe broth,' which
is explained, 'God is able to do this if He choose'; and yet
immediately after it is added that 'Dar mo dhe broth' was a sort of
asseveration familiar to St. Patrick, signifying 'By my God, Judge, or
judgment.' On the whole, it is evident that the scholia, as we have
them at present, are a compilation of observations, some more, some
less ancient, extracted from various writers" ("Eccl. Hist, of
Ireland," vol. L, c. iii., p. 81).
The scholion (i) on St. Fiacc's opening words: "Natus est Patritius
Nemturri" - "St. Patrick was born at Nemthur" - is as follows: "Nemthur
is a city in the Northern parts of Britain, viz. Alcluid (nempe
Alcluida)." By comparing this scholion with the scholion given later on
(c. iii.), it will be seen that the same pen has not written both
scholia. The scholion referred to is this: "The cause of St. Patrick's
captivity was this: His father, Calphurnius, and his mother, Conchessa,
and his five sisters, Lupita, Tigris, Liemania, and Darerca, Cinnena
was the name of the fifth, and his brother deacon, Senanus, all
together travelled from Britain Alcluid southwards over the Sea of
Ictium to Armorican Lethania, or Britannia Lethania, both on business
and because a certain relative of theirs dwelt there, and the mother of
the above-named children, namely Conchessa, was of the Franks, and a
near relative of St. Martin. At that time, however, seven sons of
Fachmad, King of the Britons, broke loose from Britain and plundered
Armorican Britain in the territory of Letha, where St. Patrick happened
to be living with his family. They slew Calphurnius there, and carried
off St. Patrick and his sister Lupita captives to Ireland. They sold
Lupita 'in Connallia Murthemnensi' [a territory in Ulster], and Patrick
in the northern parts of the territory of the Dal-aradia."
The contradictory nature of the accounts given by the Scholiast as to
St. Patrick's supposed birth in Alcluid, or Dumbarton, and his capture
in Armorica will be seen by comparing them with the statement made by
the Saint himself in his "Confession": "I, Patrick, a sinner and the
most uncultured and humblest of all the faithful, had a father named
Calphurnius, a deacon, the son of Potitus, a priest, who hailed from
the suburban district of Bonaven Taberniae, for he possessed a little
country seat close by from whence I was led captive." This statement of
the Saint disproves the assertion of the Scholiast that Calphurnius and
his family were on a friendly visit to Armorica when all the calamities
befell them, for the Saint distinctly states that his father hailed
from Bonaven Taberniae, and that he himself was actually residing at
his father's little country seat in the suburbs of that town at the
time when he was forced into captivity.
It is evident, therefore, from the Scholiast that Bonaven Tabernise was
situated in Armorican Britain; and from St. Patrick's "Confession,"
that the town from which he was led captive was his own native town.
The Apostle of Ireland could not, therefore, as the Scholiast suggests,
have been born at Alcluid, or Dumbarton. It is curious to observe how
unconsciously the Scholiast connects Calphurnius and his family with
Boulogne. Calphurnius and his family are made to sail from Dumbarton,
over the Sea of Itius or Ictius, to Armorica. Hersart de la Villemarque
has already identified Bonaven under its various names as Bononia or
Boulogne. It was called Itius or Ictius by Caesar, Bononia by the
Romans, and Bonauen Armorik by the Gaulish Celts. The Scholiast,
therefore, when he directs the course of Calphurnius and his family
across the Sea of Ictius, seems to be steering their ship directly to
Nemthur cannot possibly be the name of the town near which St. Patrick