Continuing with Blather.net’s in-depth investigation of the infamous fifth-century thug and womaniser, our grave-robber in residence Ender digs deeper into the history of Niall of the Nine Hostages and discovers some good old-fashioned Irish skullduggery.
For historical accuracy we must be very careful in giving any credence, to anything, written before the seventh century. This is when native Irish chroniclers started to write things in the margins of Easter Tables contemporarily, as was the fashion in Europe. Before this, they had to introduce and teach a foreign language like Latin, to a native ecclesial population who had no previous written form of their own spoken language, and not much experience of speaking the new written one. (Think TEFL courses, with lots of half bald men in robes, sitting around calfskin tomes. â€œConailâ€¦Iâ€™ve had enough of your messinâ€™, get to the back of the beehive hut. Ah ahâ€¦no buts.â€)
Only then could they create a written form of Irish, based on the Latin alphabet, and through this process, we can trace and hazard guesses at dating certain documents and writings. The insular development of a uniquely Irish way of using Latin. Which influenced their own version of the earliest written Irish.
Chronicling like the bejaysus
Where the hell am I going with all this? Grab another cup of tea and bear with me.
So we have an explosion of ecclesial recording, and interest in chronicling, starting on the cusp of the seventh century; which also happens to correspond with a series of recurring plagues that seemed to have devastating effect of the population and agriculture.
If ever there was a time to record â€˜the old waysâ€™, before everyone dies off, it was now.
Co-incidentally, if ever you wanted to re-invent â€˜historyâ€™ without anyone knowing the better, oh say, like a cementing and legitimizing a new religion, and itâ€™s founders by, oh I donâ€™t know, writing your popular patron saint into the record and while youâ€™re at it taking the opportunity to ingratiate yourself and your buddies into the favour of the new rising powers such as the UÃ NÃ©ill: by telling the country all about the time St. Patrick was kidnapped by Niall of the Nine Hostages, back in the day, but sure that was only a misunderstanding really and sure didnâ€™t he make it up with Niallâ€™s son, King LoÃguire when they were hanging out at Tara.
Oh yes, thatâ€™s right, the UÃ NÃ©illâ€™s have a long line of High Kingship, going all the way back to the fifth century, donâ€™t you know, sure isnâ€™t that why our church Armagh, you know, the one thatâ€™s arguing for primacy over the whole Island, yeah that one, sure why do you think we set up, sorry, PATRICK set up shop there? Sure didnâ€™t the UÃ NÃ©illâ€™s sort us out with the land and everythingâ€¦
If ever you did want to do something like that, then such a time might be now.
Prosper of Acquitaine
So. There they are, working out of major monasteries/semi urban settlements like Armagh and Kells, getting friendly with the new bosses and finally getting around to some seriously heavy duty writing, now that theyâ€™ve mastered Latin; developed their own Irish; advanced far beyond the European continent in terms of astrological computation of Easter; and in the process developing a ferocious desire to read everything biblical ever written in classic antiquity before then.
And what do they discover?
An earlier chronicle by Prosper of Aquitaine, written contemporarily in Rome, with an entry for 431 A.D. that says: â€œConsecrated by Pope Celestine, Palladius is sent as the first bishop, to those Irish, believing in Christ.â€
Oh bugger. (Remember that thought you were holding? About Patrick and his writings? You can let it go now.)
Wait a second, lets check our chronicles, yeah, the ones that go way back before the coming of the lordâ€¦yeah, the ones for the centuries before there was any form of literacy in Ireland, but sure arenâ€™t they reliable anyway, because the church in other countries was keeping an eye on things, and we got it from them. All right, get them out and lets check. Ah, ok. You see what it says here? A bloke called Palladius WAS sent by the pope in 431 A.D. but sure an awful thing happened to him when he got here. He went and died. Terrible stuff really. But it was grand, because look what happened the following year, in 432 A.D. Patrick was dispatched back to Ireland to spread the good word.
He fits in
So thatâ€™s OK then. He fits in with Niall of the Nine Hostages, which fit in with the conversion of the UÃ NÃ©ill kings, which fit in with the rising political power of said UÃ NÃ©illâ€™s now, God bless them all, which fits in with all the other churches monasteries and convents founded by Patrick on his travels (And look, we just happen to have a list here), which fits in with Armagh being Patrickâ€™s chosen legacy, which fits in with all the other churches owing us allegiance in that case: just like all other kings owe allegiance to the UÃ NÃ©illâ€™s. Which fits in very nicely overall, thanks very much for asking.
Niall of the Nine sausages and Ender shall return in further articles
Full Diggin in the Dirt series
Niall on BBC
Niall on Wikipedia
The TÃ¡in BÃ³ CÃºailnge
Annals of the Four Masters
Artwork by miss w. tod