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St Patrick gets the party, but there are many saints to honour in Ireland
By Helen O’Neill
St Patrick may have banished snakes and brought Christianity to Ireland, but perhaps his greatest feat was one of sheer endurance. After all, there were hundreds of other future saints roaming Ireland at the time, but Patrick is the one who gets the party.
On March 17, Guinness will flow from Malin to Moscow, the Chicago River will run green and parades will be held worldwide to celebrate the fifth-century preacher and patron saint of Ireland.
"St Patrick's legacy is pretty impressive," says historian Brian Lacey, "especially considering he wasn't even Irish."
While his exact birthplace and date of birth is not known, it is believed he was born around 375AD in Scotland. His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa, were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. When he was in his teens Patrick was captured by a band of raiders and brought as a slave to Ireland. For six years he tended sheep on a remote mountain in Co Antrim and wrestled with visions from God. After escaping, he went on to become a bishop who travelled throughout Ireland building churches, baptizing converts and performing countless miracles along the way.
In recent years there have been calls to rein in the revelry and reclaim the religious aspects of the national holiday. Some are even attempting to boost the name recognition of other saints (early Irish records list as many as 1,700) and bring their stories to the attention of the world.
There are hundreds of holy wells, sacred round towers and monastic remains all over Ireland and it seems every town and village boasts its own special miracle maker.
St Kevin of Glendalough, Co Wickow
At Glendalough (valley of two lakes) in Co Wicklow, visitors can wander through the remains of a monastic settlement that for 500 years was one of Ireland's greatest centres of learning. Founded by Kevin in the sixth century, the soaring round tower, churches and gravestones, as well as "St Kevin's Bed" a man-made cave carved into the rock high over one of the lakes create a strikingly evocative scene and almost mystical sense of the past.
Tour guides offer tales of how Kevin cast a monster into the upper lake, rebuked an ardent woman suitor (one unlikely legend has him hurling her from his cave into the depths below) and once, while fasting, allowed a blackbird to build a nest on his outstretched hand. The story goes that he kept his arm outstretched until the chicks hatched.
There are endless such yarns woven around the saints. At the time Ireland was dubbed "the Island of Saints and Scholars" and monastic settlements had to compete for pilgrims and patrons causing in-house scribes to pen ever more dramatic tales of saintly powers.
St Brigid of Kildare
Brigid, for example, is said to have turned water into ale, diverted rivers from their courses and conjured up extra bacon for unexpected guests. When she decided to build a monastery in Kildare in the fifth century, she needed land from a local chieftain. He grudgingly agreed to give her as much as her cloak would cover. Miraculously, the cloak kept spreading for as many acres as she wanted.
Today, a round tower and cathedral mark the spot in Kildare where Brigid's abbey once stood. On the outskirts of the town is a tranquil park with an ancient well, said to have healing powers, next to a tall bronze statue of the saint wearing a cross and holding a flame.
St Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly
In neighbouring County Offaly, visitors can explore the magnificent remains of the sixth-century monastic site founded by Ciaran in Clonmacnoise. It includes the ruins of a cathedral, two round towers, three Celtic crosses and the largest collection of early Christian gravestones in Western Europe.
Ciaran's path to sainthood was launched as a young man, when he supposedly restored life to a dead horse just one example of his way with animals. Legend has it that a fox carried his psalter (psalm book) and a stag held his books on its antlers while he studied.
After performing the usual round of miracles, Ciaran decided to build a monastery at Clonmacnoise, smitten, he said, by the beauty of the lush green plains and sweeping views of the river Shannon. First though, he had to settle a boundary dispute with a neighbour who offered him land as far as he could throw his cap. After uttering a prayer, a gust of wind swept Ciaran's hat across the fields. To this day, a sudden squall in the midlands is sometimes called "Ciaran's wind." The neighbour was eventually made a saint as well St. Manchan.
St Declan of Ardmore, Co Waterford
Farther south, at the picturesque seaside village of Ardmore, visitors can learn about St. Declan and how he crossed the sea on a huge flagstone which ran aground on a local beach. High on a hill above the village are the spectacular remains of his fifth-century settlement, including an ancient church decorated with intricate stone carvings, one of the tallest round towers in Ireland, and the remains of an oratory where Declan is buried.
The saint still has a cult following in Co Waterford, which he Christianized before St. Patrick. The waters of St. Declan's well are said to possess healing powers, especially for aching joints and backs. And every year pilgrims flock to Ardmore to celebrate his feast day on July 24 and throw a week-long party in his name.
There are hundreds of other saints and saintly shrines. At Fenit harbour in Co Kerry in southwest Ireland, a large bronze statue depicts St. Brendan, the sixth-century navigator who set off on an epic voyage across the Atlantic in a wooden boat covered with ox hides. Brendan is said to have landed in Newfoundland, and to this day his followers claim the saint was the first to discover America.
Relics of saints also abound. The preserved head of St. Oliver Plunkett who was hanged, drawn and quartered in Britain in 1681 for his Catholic faith is housed in an elaborate shrine at St Peter's Church in Drogheda, a port town north of Dublin.
For centuries St Laurence O'Toole's 900-year-old heart was on display at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin until, shockingly, it was stolen in 2012 and has not been recovered.
And, though he wasn't Irish, St Valentine's third-century remains also ended up in Dublin, preserved in an elaborate reliquary at the Carmelite church on Whitefriar Street.
Still, Patrick remains the star. This year Dublin will host a four-day extravaganza including beer fests, ceilis (Irish folk dancing), street performances and a lavish parade in honour of "La Fheile Padraig" (St Patrick's feast day). Downpatrick in Northern Ireland, where the saint is reputedly buried (and which has a huge visitor centre dedicated to all things Patrick) is throwing a nine-day program of events.
All this for a man who famously described himself as "a sinner, the most unlearned of men, the lowliest of all the faithful, utterly worthless in the eyes of many."
If you go ...
GLENDALOUGH, CO WICKLOW (ST. KEVIN):
www.glendalough.ie/. Visitor centre open daily. Adults, 3 euros; seniors and groups, 2 euros; children/students, 1 euro; families, 8 euros. Guided tours of St. Kevin's monastic site available.
CLONMACNOISE, CO OFFALY (ST. CIARAN):
www.offalytourism.com/businessdirectory or www.heritageireland.ie. Monastic heritage centre offers 30-minute video and tours. Open daily.
ARDMORE, CO WATERFORD (ST. DECLAN):
KILDARE, CO KILDARE (ST. BRIGID)
www.kildare.ie/kildareheritage/?page_id=65. Check with tourist office on walking tours to St. Brigid's Cathedral and directions to St. Brigid's well on town outskirts near the Black Abbey.
DOWNPATRICK, CO DOWN (ST. PATRICK): www.saintpatrickcentre.com Saint Patrick Centre, open Monday-Saturday (Sunday afternoons in summer only). Adults, 5.50 British pounds; children, 3 pounds; family, 13 pounds.
Reprinted with Permission of the Associated Press
St Patrick: The NE Journal of Aesthetic Research/St Patrick's Day Parade in South Boston
St Kevin : Trek Earth/John Gonzo
St Brigid: From Ireland
St Ciaran: Renown House B&B
St Declan's round tower: Frosted Poet
St Brendan & Monks Image: Holy Family Catholic Church
Thu, Apr 20, 2017
Fungie, the Dolphin of Dingle Bay
The dolphin is one of Ireland’s most fascinating mammals and Fungie is the most famous. He is a fully- grown bottlenose who is 13 feet (4 meteres) long and weighs about 500 lbs or around one-quarter tonne.
Fungie was first noticed in 1984 when Paddy Ferriter, the Dingle Harbour lighthouse keeper, began watching a lone wild dolphin escort the town's fishing boats to and from port.
Later that year, it became officially recorded that Fungie was a permanent resident of the entrance channel to Dingle and the self-appointed “pilot” of the fleet.
Over the years Fungie has developed from a timid but inquisitive observer of the human visitors into a playful, though mischievous, companion. From observation of marks on his body, it seems that he does 'interact' with other whales, dolphins or porpoises, proving perhaps he is neither hermit nor outcast from his own kind, but rather that he is simply content to spend most of his time in and around Dingle Bay.
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