Welcome back for part three of the latest blather.net “Diggin’ in the Dirt” epic, “I, Patrick. Puke the Third”, coming to you this week from the darkest bowel of a 5th century Irish slave ship. Ender Wiggan, our Graverobber in residence, takes you through the story of how the slave became a general, who became a… no, wait. That’s not quite right. The slave who became a call girl, who became a… arse, hang on. I can do this…
Havent read “I, Patrick: Puke the First”? Click here.
Our Own Mothers
There isn’t a single Early Irish historian or archaeologist who wouldn’t crawl twenty miles over broken glass, before giving you their wallets, rings and the shirt of their backs…in order to have Patrick’s account of his journey across Ireland, of several hundred miles, in the fifth century. Most frustratingly, he tells us nothing about it.
It wasn’t important to him at the time, but don’t for one second believe it was simply a matter of walking over fields, hitch-hiking lifts from passing wagons, and sleeping in hay-sticks with his road buddy Huckleberry O’Finn. How he managed to pass through so much territory, without getting robbed, cut up, slotted, diced and hung out to dry; what he saw, what routes he traveled and how long it took is something we would all sell our own mothers for.
But somehow he did. It is another one of many testaments to the man’s abilities, character and fortitude.
He managed to get to a ‘port’ somewhere on the east coast, where he talked his way onto a ship. He wasn’t successful at first. He was refused, because of who and what he was. They particularly despised him for being a Christian, something he probably couldn’t hide, seeing as he most likely engaged them in their native British tongue (Ptolemy’s map of Ireland, the earliest one in existence, from a few centuries before, lists all geographic places on the east coast in a British dialect: which scholars have interpreted as coming from secondary information provided by British seafarers and merchants: the ones plying the coasts on a regular basis.).
Perhaps they knew what his request represented: a Romanised Briton, asking to work his passage out of there, would have screamed ‘escaped slave/fugitive’. Perhaps they didn’t want the trouble. But for some reason, they had second thoughts and changed their mind. Perhaps they took pity. Perhaps they needed an extra man. Perhaps they thought, ‘Fuckin’ nice one, another poxy immigrant who’ll work for next-to-nothing on the ship and once we’re at sea, there’s no law or land that can touch us, Muuuuu-Haaaaaaaa-Haaaaaaaa-Haaaaaaaa!”
Just like Irish Ferries Ltd.
They offered him an indigenous form of ‘formal protection’, an ancient ritual act symbolising his subservience to them in return for their superior friendship…they offered him their nipples to suck.
No really, they did.
Had a Hibernia (you see what I did there? ed.)
The early church fathers had a hernia over that one, let me tell you. But Patrick, now a hard-boiled action-man, wise to the world, proud, headstrong and probably somewhat of a hothead after crossing the country by himself, refused to do so, under religious grounds.
And for some reason, they still took him. (Hey Pauly, the kids got moxy, I tells ya, I likes his Chutzpah!)
What follows is one of the most obscure passages in his account, one that has puzzled historians for centuries and provided much angst and argument over times, distances and locations. But until now, perhaps, scholars have not seen it for what it most likely represents (metaphorically and biblically). In describing his adventures (very briefly) with the ships crew, he uses it as a rhetorical device to implant justification and biblical exegesis to a later audience.
Leaving aside fifth century scriptural references and a confusing dreamlike description of events… Patrick seems to have sailed with the crew to the continent, (Gaul or northern Spain); gotten lost in inhospitable country for weeks; almost died when their food ran out; and then stumbled upon people who helped them. It seems at this stage he took his leave of the crew and may have decided to enter religious orders in Gaul. Even if not there, he became a deacon somewhere, and after a process of some years, he finally makes it back to his family and relatives in Britain, who can’t fucking believe their eyes, and most likely had to get back all his stuff they had gotten rid of, and probably his bedroom that had been doubling as a ‘study’/playstation room.
It was while he was back home, safe and sound, with his delighted family, that he starts having a series of intense dreams, calling him back to Ireland, to the place of his captivity (The bit we all remember from school). He interprets this as a mission from God, (a la John Belushi in Blues Brothers, but without sounding like James Brown) but I like to think that, faced once again with his old life, seen under new eyes and a new appreciation of life and death and everything else he had been through, caused him to question his reason for living. (I suppose, nowadays, we’d call it ‘survivor guilt’.) The dreams scare him, he doubts himself, and puts it to the back of his mind, hidden, but not forgotten, throughout the next few decades.
And this is where we get to the kernel of the man.
Having gone through everything he had been through; having suffered and toiled, and finally achieved safety, comfort and a religious calling that led to a clerical career in Britain (and probably Gaul); on the verge of being promoted to the rank of Bishop, it finally catches up with him. He starts to think about, and then puts in motion, a plan for giving it all up again and going back to Ireland.
His prospective mission raises more then a few eyebrows. There was no official doctrine on active conversion at that stage in Christianity, even within the empire, let alone outside of it, amongst barbarians. People begin to talk. His religious elders begin to tut. They convene a formal hearing into his request, (at a time when he is absent from the country on other business); during which, shock, horror…a hint of sexual scandal is raised… by, shock, horror, shock…one of his best friends.
I’m telling you, the Daily Star couldn’t make this up.
Thirty years previously, before he had been made a deacon (Presumably when he was still training to be one)…he confessed a certain ‘sin’ to his friend; a ‘sin’ he had committed in one day, “nay, not even in one hour” as a 15 year old youth (Just before he was captured). He doesn’t elaborate any further, but whatever it was, it was enough to be bought up again after 30 years, to be held up in public as a scandalous piece of evidence that he was not fit for the position of bishop or indeed, missionary.
What could any man, any boy, do in one hour that would be so bad?
Well put it this way: it was a time when priests were commonly sexually active; married; or had children, if they were inclined to do so (Patrick’s own father and grandfather did). Celibacy was a monks concern, not a priests. So it can’t have been anything sexual, right?
At least not anything, sexual. Involving a woman, like.
Ender Wiggan and Paddy St. Patrick Patricius P. Whackery shall return in part four of the Blather.net special ‘I, Patrick: Puke the Fourth”
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