St. Patrick made captive by Niall of the Nine Hostages

Rev. William Fleming
St. Patrick made captive by Niall of the Nine Hostages

Gibbon narrates that about the middle of the fourth century the “sea coast of Gaul and Britain were exposed to the depredations of the Saxons” (vol. 1., p. 739); and Bertrand, in his “History of Boulogne,” admits that the city was plundered by the Saxons in the year 371, but that the invaders spared Caligula’s tower and lighthouse on account of its usefulness for their safe navigation.

The silence of local history concerning two raids made by the Irish Scots into Armorica in the years 388 and 402 is not surprising, seeing that French writers admit that there is practically no history of Armorica for more than a century after the Saxon raid in the year 371.

Gibbon, however, in his history of the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” narrates that “the hostile tribes of the North, who detested the pride and power of the King of the World, suspended their domestic feuds, and the barbarians of the land and sea, the Picts, the Scots, and the Saxons, spread themselves with rapid and irresistible fury from the walls of Antoninus to the shores of Kent” (vol. 1., p. 744).

Keating supplements this information by describing the two raids made by the Irish Scots into Armorica; the first of which took place in the year 388, and the second in 402, or about that time.

This Irish historian is considered by Professor Stokes to be a most trustworthy authority.

“Keating,” writes the Professor, “had access to the Munster Documents, which are now lost. He gives a long account of the Irish invasions of England and France exactly corresponding to the statements of the Roman historian, Amianus Marcellinus, and to the ‘Annals of the Four Masters’” (“Ireland and the Celtic Church,” p. 38, note).

Of the raids of King Niall into Armorica the first is the more interesting, for it proves, first, that St. Patrick was born in the year 373, and, next, that he was captured neither in North Britain, nor Wales, but in Armorican Britain.

To escape from these conclusions, Doctor Lanigan, who held that St. Patrick was born in the year 387, writes as follows:

“I find in Keating but one expedition of Niall to the coast of Gaul, during which he says, in another place, that St. Patrick with two hundred of the noblest youth were brought away. … This event occurred in the latter end of Niall Naoigiallach’s reign, and not as early as the ninth year of it. … We have no authority,” continues Lanigan, “for his having visited Gaul at any time until the period already given, and which is clearly marked in Irish history. Our Saint’s captivity may be assigned to 403, and to a time not long prior to King Niall’s death. Thus the date of his birth and captivity, considering the circumstances now mentioned, help to confirm each other, and, combined with his age at consecration, authorizes his birth in 387” (“Eccl. Hist. of Ireland,” vol. 1., pp. 137, 138).

Contrary to what Dr. Lanigan has just stated, a close study of Keating’s “History” will prove that King Niall made two raids into Armorica, the first in the ninth and the second in the twenty-seventh year of his reign, and the account of the two expeditions is clear and unmistakable. “There is an old manuscript in vellum, exceedingly curious, entitled ‘The Life of St. Patrick,’ which treats likewise of the lives of Muchuda Albain and other Saints, from which I,” writes Keating, “shall transcribe a citation that relates to St. Patrick.

“Patrick was a Briton born and descended from religious parents,” and in the same place is the following remark:

“The Irish Scots, under Niall the King, wasted and destroyed many provinces in Britain in opposition to the power of the Romans. They attempted to possess themselves of the northern part of Britain, and, at length, having driven out the old inhabitants, these Irish seized upon the country and settled in it.”

The same author (of the manuscript) upon this occasion remarks that from henceforth Great Britain was divided into three kingdoms, that were distinguished by the names of Scotia, Anglia, and Britia.

This ancient writer likewise asserts that when Niall, the hero of the Nine Hostages, undertook the expedition for settling the tribe of the Dailraida in Scotland, the Irish fleet sailed to the place where St. Patrick resided:

“At this time the fleet out of Ireland plundered the country in which St. Patrick then lived, and, according to the custom of the Irish, many captives were carried away from thence, among whom was St. Patrick, in the sixteenth year of his age, and his two sisters, Lupida and Darerca; and St. Patrick was led captive into Ireland in the ninth year of the reign of Niall, King of Ireland, who was the mighty monarch of the kingdom for seven-and-twenty years, and brought away spoils out of England, Britain, and France.”

“By this expression it is supposed,” continues Keating, “that Niall of the Nine Hostages waged war against Britain or Wales, and perhaps made a conquest of the country; and it is more than probable that, when the Irish Prince had finished his design upon the kingdom of Wales, he carried his arms in a fleet to France and invaded the country at the time called Armorica, but now Little Brittany, and from thence he led St. Patrick and his two sisters into captivity.

“And this I am rather induced to believe, because the mother of St. Patrick was sister of St. Martin, the Bishop of Tours in France; and I have read in an ancient Irish manuscript, whose authority I cannot dispute, that St. Patrick and his two sisters were brought captive into Ireland from Armorica, or Brittany, in the kingdom of France. It is evident likewise that when Niall, the King of Ireland, had succeeded with the Britons, he despatched a formidable fleet to plunder the coast of France, and succeeded; and that he carried away numbers of captives with him into captivity, one of which, it is reasonable to suppose, was the young Patrick, who was afterwards distinguished by the name of the Irish Saint.

“Niall, encouraged by the number of his captives and the success of his arms in France, resolved upon another expedition, and accordingly raised a grand army of his Irish subjects for that purpose, and sent a commission to the General of the Dalraida in Scotland to follow him with his choicest troops and assist him in the invasion. Niall having prepared a sufficient number of transports and a full supply of provisions, weighed anchor with his victorious Irish, and steering his course directly to France, had the advantage of a prosperous wind, and in a few days landed upon the coast. He immediately set himself to spoil and ravage the country near the river Loire. Here it was that the General of the Dalraida found him, and both armies being joined, they committed dreadful hostilities, which obliged the inhabitants to fly and leave the country to the mercy of the invaders.

“The commanding officer of the Dalraida in this expedition was Gabhran, the son of Dombanguirt, who brought over with him Eochaidh, the son of Ena Cinsalach, King of Leinster. This young Prince had been formerly banished into Scotland by Niall, but resolving to be revenged when opportunity offered, he desired to be admitted as a volunteer in the service, and was by that means transported into France. The King of Ireland being informed of his arrival, would on no account permit him to visit him, nor suffer him in his presence. But Eochaidh soon found an opportunity to execute his design; for one day, perceiving the King sitting on the banks of the Loire, he hid himself secretly in an opposite grove on the other side, and shot Niall through the body with an arrow; the wound was mortal, and he died instantly” (“General History of Ireland,” pp. 311–313).

According to John O’Donovan’s translation of “Muir N’Icht,” Niall lived long enough to reach his fleet at Boulogne, where he expired.

Notwithstanding, then, Lanigan’s positive assertion, it is quite evident from Keating’s history that King Niall twice invaded Armorica; first, after he had devastated the Island of Britain in the ninth year of his reign, when St. Patrick was captured, and again in the twenty-seventh year of his reign, when he sailed directly from Ireland to Gaul and expired at Boulogne.

The events may be briefly stated as follows:

Niall succeeded Criomthan in the year 376. In the ninth year of his reign, or a.d. 385, he prepared an expedition against the Picts, who were harassing the Scots settlers in North Britain. Having completed his task, he overran England, and finished his raid by crossing over to Armorica, before returning triumphant to Ireland with St. Patrick amongst his captives.

Now St. Patrick, who was born in the year 373, passed his thirteenth and fourteenth years while King Niall was chastising the Picts in Scotland and ravaging Britain; but he had reached his fifteenth year in the year 388, when the Irish fleet sailed from Armorica to Ireland. The words of the Saint in his Epistle to Coroticus: “Have I not tender mercy towards the nation which formerly took me captive,” place the Saint’s capture by the Irish Scots beyond doubt, whilst they confirm Keating’s declaration that King Niall captured St. Patrick in his first raid to Armorica.

The capture of the Saint in Armorica is confirmed by the Scholiast, by the Tripartite Life, and by Probus.

St. Patrick, as we have already seen, was captured while residing at his father’s “villula” in the suburban district of Bonaven Taberniæ, or Bononia, where the Roman encampment stood.

This account harmonises with the “Celtic Legend,” which narrates that at that period, “when Bononia was invaded by the Irish pirates, a mutiny broke out among the soldiers in the encampment, which rendered the city an easy prey to the invaders. Calphurnius, the Roman officer defending Caligula’s tower, was slain, and his son Patrick was carried into captivity” (“La Legende Celtique per le Vicomte Hersart de la Villemarque,” p. 8).

According to the “Book of Sligo,” as has been seen already, the Apostle of Ireland first saw the light of day on Wednesday, April 5th; not on Wednesday, April 5th, 372, as Usher imagined, for, as Ware points out, April 5th did not fall on Wednesday, 372, but on Wednesday, 373.

There is overwhelming evidence to prove that St. Patrick died in the year 493, having attained the 120th year of his age.

Usher, Ware, the Tripartite Life, the “Vita Secunda,” the “Vita Quarta,” the “Leabhar Braec,” the “Annals of the Four Masters,” the “Annals of Innisfail,” the “Book of Howth,” the “Annals of Tigernasch,” the “Chronicon Scotorum,” the “Annals of Boyle,” Marianus Scotus, Nennius, Geraldus Cambrensis, Florence of Worcester, and Roger of Wendover all maintain this.

The year of the Saint’s birth may, therefore, be accurately obtained by subtracting 120 from 493, the date of his death.

This process will show that St. Patrick was born in 373, and captured in the very year of King Niall’s raid into Armorica, 388, when the Saint had attained his fifteenth year.

The great age of the Saint at the time of his death, although marvellous, is not incredible.

In Chambers’ “Book of Days,” quoted by Father Bullen Morris, instances are given of 2,003 centenarians, 17 of whom lived 150 years.

Father Montalto, a Jesuit, who was born in 1689, was present at the Church of the Gensu at Rome in the 125th year of his age, when Pius VII. re-established the Society of Jesus.

In 1881 the photograph of Gabriel Salivar was sent to the Vatican as the oldest inhabitant of the world. It was proved on convincing evidence that he had reached 150 years.

Thomas Parr, as is well known, attained the age of 152 years and nine months before he bade adieu to the world.

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