And a happy St. Patrick’s Day to you to be sure, to be sure. Join us for the latest thrilling instalment of the tale of the young St. Patrick, as the young Welshman (yes, he was Welsh) saddles up with a galloping gang of leather-cloaked horsemen with half-shaved heads, armed to the teeth with swords, spears and assorted cooking implements of destruction who set off about Ireland with the express intention of learnin’ us Paddies some manners. Or something.
There’s a scene near the start of ‘The Mission‘, with Jeremy Irons alone and vulnerable, dangerously clambering up a gigantic waterfall in order to reach a new native territory; watched anxiously by his fellow Jesuits below. After some time, Liam Neeson asks (in a big potato-head accent) â€œCan you see him?â€, to which his friend slowly shakes his head in response.
Patrick disappeared beyond his own waterfall, beyond ‘the ends of the earth’ according to fifth century perspectives. Alone and without a supporting mission base or resupply from Britain, and with his own inheritance as seed money. His peers probably thought he’d be dead in a week, or run out of the country at the very least – given what we know about the spectacular initial failures of later missions sponsored by Rome, to England, Ireland and Germany. A lot of priests came back in a hurry, no doubt sporting quite a few bite-marks. His achievement alone in staying put, let alone establishing his own place amongst the tribal nations, is remarkable. He gives us no coherent chronology as to how he did it, and how long it took.; yet he throws us a few snippets throughout his documents that hint at some of the events that hindered and helped him.
Patrick’s previous experience meant he knew the delicate cultural dance steps involved in ingratiating yourself into a new tribal society. Those of us who watch discovery channel documentaries at four in the morning, know that you don’t just walk into a village and set up your stand; it takes time and patience, with a couple of visits to the chief or head man, a liberal sprinkling of gifts and gradual introduction to more and more people and spaces.
Patrick actively sought out the native priestly/judicial classes paying vast amounts of money for permission to roam through certain territories. He used donations to his mission as ‘presents’ (in the same vein as Bertie Ahern’s “political donations” for “personal use”) to petty kings that guaranteed his security under their protection. Not that it worked all the time, at one stage he was shackled and stripped of everything for two weeks, before the local ‘protection’ muscle intervened and free him. As a backup, he paid the younger sons of Irish Chiefs (The Wild Ones, remember?) to ‘accompany’ him heading out into regions where no missionary had gone before.
Forget any images you may have of sack-clothed, sandled saints, plying the roadways with crosiers in hand. The reality would have been closer to â€œRawhideâ€ meets â€œMad Maxâ€. A galloping gang of leather-cloaked horsemen with half-shaved heads, bristling with weapons and cooking implements, carrying everything they needed with them; constantly mobile, sleeping outdoors when necessary, roaring loudly around campfires, farting and spitting, cursing and fighting.
And amongst them, Patrick; leader, paymaster, envoy, missionary.
He actively targets young people, particularly the sons and daughters of the ruling class. After all, get the mothers onside and the children of the next generation will follow. Not only do they provide social legitimacy, but also further material support (‘What, you say you need a big house to have a large bible meeting?…sure, use MINE’)
At the same time, he also concentrates on slaves and lower class women, who suffer the most under the native system. Who better then Patrick, to identify with their plight. Who better then those, to warm to a new philosophy where material slavery is transcended by immaterial hope. He even hints that when budgets allowed, he ‘bought’ slaves and turned them loose; fucking with the social system from within.
Imagine former slaves, breaking bread with former slave-owners, sharing a common lifestyle and living in a new self styled community.
Despite obvious success, he and his converts constantly faced dangers and hostility to themselves. He presents an image of a precarious position, on the fringes of native Irish society; barely tolerated by others more powerful, continuously treading water carefully, so as not to upset the local warlords ‘too much’. He repeatedly asserts that any day could be his last, and firmly believes in the possibility. He walks a knifes edge between peaceful co-existence and ultra violence, forever looking over his shoulder (Hey you… â€œI’m going to pull your head off, because I don’t like your headâ€).
Such a situation arose following a baptismal service, in which a large number of newly baptised converts were captured by a marauding British based privateer called ‘Coroticus’. Patrick had apparently just left them, and had to run back to see the absolute carnage; bodies everywhere of those they had left behind. Coroticus was apparently a well known slaver in the area, and he was known to regularly capture and sell slaves to the highest Irish, British and Pictish bidders.
‘Slaves…get de last of de slaves there now… five for fif-teeeeeee’
To put it mildly, Patrick was outraged. The loss of life, the memories, the flashbacks would have bad enough, let alone the potential setback if the practice caught on locally (‘Those mad christian bastards up there? Sure they’re sitting ducks man, come on and we grab a few’). But to have a British slaver, a nominally ‘Christian and Roman’ citizen, rob and kill one of his ‘own’, that just takes the biscuit, so it does.
He was so mad, he put pen to paper, giving us the first of his two documents, which is a formal ecclesiastical denouncement basically calling them total and utter cunts of the highest order; and wishing them a speedy journey towards hell and high water. Imagine the most hotheaded, self important blogger in the world, getting shafted and what he would write in his blog the next day. That’s how vitriolic it is.
An ‘open letter’, sent out to all, to proclaim the news of what had happened and to disgrace Coroticus in the most public way.
Most important, is Patrick’s sense of authority and justification of his position in Ireland. He declares himself a bishop, anointed by God. He speaks of his success so far in conversion despite the many pitfalls. He lambastes British Christians, communities and leaders for their inaction and non-support. He suggests that they don’t consider them the same ‘type’ of Christians, because ‘WE’ are Irish. The only time he doesn’t consider himself a foreign exile among barbarians.
To a British audience, his former peers and elders, receiving and reading such jumped up ‘encyclicals’ coming out of barbarian Ireland, by a jumped up renegade priest. A loose ‘canon’, so to speak.
Just who the fuck does this guy think he is?
And what the hell is this ‘WE’ business, paleface?