With March 17th fast approaching and Dublin City Council already making preparations for cleaning up the deluge of white foamy piss and green/orangey puke overflowing the gutters in the streets, Blather.Net’s Archaeologist of the Damned and Resident Graverobber, Ender Wiggan, unearths the truth behind the blow-in from Britain; in whose honour the annual national stereotype perpetuation festival is held. The first of a six-part series, “I Patrick” is a vast, sprawling epic tale of war, slavery, religious fundamentalism, rape, murder and dying empires. Or, it could just be a load of begorra, begob, musha man divil alive paddywhackery.
This is the story of a small Island nation, situated on the fringes of Europe during a time of tumultuous change. An underdeveloped country with a predominantly young and highly intelligent population, whose increasing economic ability, disposable income and prospective markets became the focus of international attention. A country targeted by a multinational organisation aiming to bring it into the wider European fold, with localisation specialists dispatched to supervise the transition and pave the way for the opening up of the country. New technologies, practices and educational opportunities were provided to nationals; alongside training acculturation and integration skills enabling foreigners to operate within the indigenous socio/political climate.
As time went on, initial successes were met with complications. Increasing profits led to a change in the national working ethos. Cheap foreign labour became an issue. Racial tensions worsened. The threat of a European economic downturn increased concerns of the future. Accusations of widespread profiteering, and insider trading arose. Followed by accusations of financial irregularities and improper accounting procedures. Followed by accusations of sexual misconduct and abuses of privileges. Resulting in an actual tribunal of enquiry.
Still sound familiar?
If I told you that the multinational organisation was the Roman Catholic Church, it probably wouldn’t take a giant leap of faith to believe me. If I told you that the country was Ireland, would it really be a surprise? And if I said that all the above happened in the past, would you be that amazed?
I probably don’t need to tell you this story at all, seeing as you’ve already heard it before. But you may just interested to know that all of the above actually happened in Ireland, not once, but twice. And I’m not talking about the recent past: I’m talking about a much greater distant one.
Roughly sixteen hundred years ago.
These are just some of the events in the real-life story of a man called Patrick. Nowadays he comes with a title before his name, a national day of drunkenness, a feast day of obligation, a green pint of Guinness in his honour and a plethora of paddywhackery. But back in the fifth century, he wouldn’t have ever dreamed it would be so. He wouldn’t even recognise the name actually. He called himself Patricius.* And his is one of the most remarkable stories ever told.
Remarkable in that his actual words have survived to the present day. Remarkable in that they are the earliest writings known to have been written in this country. Remarkable that out of all of the voices from Ireland and Britain throughout the fifth century A.D., his is the only primary source that survives. Truly remarkable, in that out of the whole literature of the ancient classical world, he is the only man to have been enslaved in another country, managed to escape, return to his homeland and survived to tell the tale.
Forget everything you’ve ever heard about shamrocks, snakes, green robes, druidic battles, Easter fires, holy wells and whatever else Ireland Inc. is promoting nowadays. The real story of Patricius, the young slave, the adult escapee, the middle aged missionary and the elderly bishop – is far more interesting.
I, Patrick: Puke the first
By his own admission, Patrick was a middle class muppet; a spoiled brat growing up on the fringes of a crumbling Roman Empire in a place that he called Bannaem Taburniae. Though the exact place name has never been historically or archaeologically identified, it is more then likely somewhere on the western coast of Britain (I prefer somewhere near Carlyle, an important settlement location in late Roman Britain). His grandfather was a priest called Potitus and his father, Calpornius, was a decurion (deacon): a designated clerical class, though in reality, more likely held for taxation reasons, the clergy being exempt from tax. His family owned an estate just outside the town (Think of all those countryside Villa’s unearthed in Time Team and you’re on the right track) and had multiple servants working for them.
Essentially, they were a Romano-British * family of Fianna Failer’s holding important local council positions; while simultaneously running a family estate business; looking after their economic interests and successfully avoiding paying tax. Religion played no great part in their lives, despite the nominal connections provided by their paternal ancestry. Patrick seems to have had a happy childhood, free from worries, hardship or formal study. As a teenager, he seems to have focused on more ‘worldy pursuits’. He’s the epitome of all those blokes you knew in university, farting around, missing lectures, chasing girls, drinking ‘daddies grant’, never taking anything seriously. Because they they didn’t have to. They had a job sorted out already. Life was a playground. And Patrick had the keys to it.
All this at a time when Roman Britain was supposedly in severe decline, following the withdrawal of the legions, leaving the local inhabitants to ‘look to their own defences’. If he were growing up somewhere in the south of the country, it would perhaps make sense, being securely entrenched in four hundred years of Roman administration and security. But he’s not. He’s somewhere near the frontier, which had for generations previously become increasingly under pressure from foreign raiding parties from the northern Picts and the eastern Scotti (Otherwise known as the Irish).
The Irish raids are particularly spectacular, seeing as they’re coming from across the Irish sea. Hit and run tactics mixed with an element of amphibious warfare. (Imagine modern day Irish invasions for Man Utd/Liverpool matches, where instead of having a few pints and getting a taxi back to the airport…we rob a few gaffs, throw a few women over our shoulders and bring the lot to a waiting ferry/paddywagon) In, out, no messing about. A fifth century loot gathering/transportation enterprise that would rival anything Michael O’Leary could manage today.
Not that he doesn’t try his best, bless.
It is this very spirit of ‘freemarketeering’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ and the enormous profits gained from such expeditions that were most likely a primary factor in fifth century Ireland’s massive social/political upheaval. After four centuries of being the poor undeveloped cousin of her rich neighbour, now that she was in decline and undefended; any fucking eejit who managed to throw a few boats and men together, could seriously inject a bit of new found wealth, status and extremely cheap slave labour into their immediate tribal family. All of a sudden, the old dynasties were under pressure from newer jumped-up punks on the block. These were truly the first ‘celtic tigers’ (TM). Organising bigger and better expeditions and as Bono would say, ‘bringing it all back home’. (Unless that is, it entails paying tax to your government: in which case, they would have most likely brought it to Holland. Had it existed).
Now, I don’t know about you, but If I were living out in the ‘wild west’ like Patrick’s family was, at a time when all the above was rampant. I probably wouldn’t leave the security of the nearest defended town. I certainly wouldn’t have all my ‘money’ in an estate outside the walls. And I probably wouldn’t have my lands and servants sitting out in the open, like sitting ducks. I most certainly wouldn’t let my young precious teenager, apple of my eye, and future heir run riot around such a hinterland.
Unless I was incredibly naive. Or incredibly clever.
If I was paying for some sort of protection money to an Irish racketeering gang (an old institutional practice) to leave me alone, I probably would. If I was trying to indoctrinate my future heir, who was a bit of a tearaway, into being a good Fianna Failer type, I might make him work in junior management, so he could get an appreciation of it all. I might even, send him out every now and then, to supervise the servants in the estate.
Patrick makes no mention of any of this. He’s just fat, dumb and happy on his fathers estate at the age of sixteen. I’m filling in some blanks from external reports and the archaeological record. I’m also taking a little bit of narrative license. Perhaps someone upped the price. Perhaps they were just unlucky. Perhaps it was just their turn. Perhaps the Irish figured they could afford to lose a few ‘lessers’. Whatever the reason, Patrick just happens to be out there on the day it actually was raided.
Barbarians of the starboard bow, starboard bow…
He certainly didn’t expect it. The shock is palpable in his words. He finds himself rounded up with his fathers servants, both male and female…most likely shackled and chained together, and transported overseas to a terrifying barbarian country, lying on the edge of the known world beyond the limit of Romanitas. (Imagine a D4 head rounded up while sitting at the pavilion in Trinity College, and transported to deepest darkest Africa, before being sold as a slave).
Loike, total focking noightmare, loike.
*I shall use ‘Patrick’ for two main reasons. One, for familiarity and ease…Two, for historical secularism. ‘St.’ Patrick is a religious figure to many and an object of devotion. This article has no bearing on his (much later) religious hagiography. This is about the historical Patrick. The man, without a milena of myths. Please adjust any religious (in)sensibilities accordingly.
*The term ‘British’ in this case and time has no relationship to the modern meaning associated with the same word. It is a convenient descriptive term for the ancient ‘Britons’ (Preton, Pretani; the Painted ones) the indigenous ethnic group in place before the coming of the Angles, Saxons, Vikings or Normans. Fused with ‘Romano’, the term is used to distinguish between pre and post Roman contact. It does not infer, Englishness, Britishness (both of which are a fair few centuries in the future), Welshness or Anythingness. Please adjust any political (in)sensibilities accordingly.
Part 2 of Ender Wiggan’s latest opus, ‘I Patrick, Puke the Second’, will appear shortly.
Read “I, Patrick”. Puke the Second
See the full Diggin’ in the Dirt category of articles