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Patrick and the pagans

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

In the Fifth Century a stranger who returned to Ireland did would go on to change the outlook of this island forever. Having been blown up the Irish Sea in a storm Patrick came in through the Narrows of Strangford Lough, then known as Loch Cuan, the lough of the harbours. Passing along its southern shore he found a safe harbour at the foot of the Slaney River. Overlooking this is a fort where one of Dichu’s soldiers lived. When Patrick was spotted Dichu was sent for.

The mouth of the River Slaney, the fort is on the hill behind.

When Dichu arrived his ferocious dog was snarling at Patrick. As Patrick disembarked from the boat the dog became calm. Surprised by this Dichu raised his sword above his head. As he was about to strike out he felt an intervening force stopping him. It was as if his arm was turning to stone, frozen. Realising something else was at work he became gentle and allowed Patrick to baptise him. Dichu went on to give Patrick a barn which he used as his first church.

Depiction of Patrick's Landing at the Slaney in Saint Patrick's RC Church , Saul.

While all of this may seem too simple we need to look back on the facts of Patrick's life up to this point. He had been enslaved in Ireland from the age of 16 for six years. During this time Patrick would have learned many things about the people of the island. These would have included their language, their customs, and how to pass yourself with them.

In fact, a read through Saint Patrick's Confession reveals that Patrick did come up against barriers. He, though, was a person of influence and was able to overcome these by paying his way through tolls through his devoted followers.

Saint Tassach as depicted by Harry Clarke at Saint Patrick's RC Church, Saul.

Another string to Patrick's bow was his dedicated team of craftsmen. He had blacksmiths to make him bells but his most important supporter was Tassach, his confident who administered the last rites and heard Patrick's dying confession. It was Tassach that gave Patrick the signs of his wealth and power through items like chalices but most importantly his crozier. Tassach through his skill with precious metal and stones gave Patrick the status which convinced those in power he was worth listening to.

Saint Tassach's Church was literally built on an Iron Age enclosure as a symbol of the conversion of the pagans.

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