Once upon a time, when the world (and I) were young, o best beloved, it was all so easy:
That's F. Kingsmill Moore, 1914, interesting as an object in itself — an Anglican cleric going against the Unionist tide and (partly) recognising Irish history as a separate development.History proper commences in Ireland with the coming of St Patrick, AD432.
I wasn't invited much to question that all the way through two degrees — not, of course, that TCD and 'real' historians greatly bothered about the early stuff. Edmund Curtis (originally 1936) must have been a standard TCD text, for I have my 1960 paperback edition (12s 6d) right here. Curtis gave Patrick couple of pages:
J.C.Beckett (1952) could get away with a single sweeping sentence:At its request (i.e. the Church in Gaul), Pope Celestin sent one Palladius to convert Ireland in 431, but a sudden death removed him, and Patrick seemed the appointed man. The Church in Gaul consecrated him Bishop and sent him in 432 on the mission which was to fill the rest of his life. [...]
When Patrick died in old age about 461 he had laid the foundations of the Church in Ireland, but the house itself was long to build [...]
Under 440 the annals say, 'Leo was ordained bishop of Rome and Patrick was approved in the Catholic Faith'. Further proof of a papal commission we have not; it is enough that Patrick was a bishop ordained by the Church of Gaul and obeyed the call of Christ 'to go forth and teach all nations in my name'. From his Confession and what we know of the Church of his age, we cannot doubt that Patrick was a typical western Christian of his age, holding by the Latin Eucharist, the invocation of saints, the sacraments and the doctrine of the Catholic faith as held generally in his time.
Then, in 1967, RTÉ financed Moody and Martin's The Course of Irish History. Since mine is the original edition, and the book has been serially updated, your distance may vary. The chapter on The beginnings of Christianity was delegated to Tom Fee, An t-Athair Tómas Ó Fiaich, Professor of Modern History, St Patrick's College, Maynooth (and later Cardinal).According to the traditional account, St Patrick landed in County Down in 432 and died in 465, and within that brief period traversed almost the whole country, establishing churches and appointing bishops and priests.
And here start the doubts, as the historian Ó Fiaich departs from the clerical absolute to spin an extended paragraph of his doubts:
The essential problem is the punch-line to The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance:Most disputed of all the questions connected with the saint at present is the problem of giving definite dates to his Irish mission. We are certain that it began in the second or third quarter of the fifth century and lasted about thirty years. But did the saint arrive in 432 and die in 461 or did he arrive in Ireland in 456 and die about 490? The earlier dating fits better into the continental background and the saint's associations with Auxerre. The later dating agrees better with the fact that some of the saint's disciples in Ireland survived until well into the sixth century. It is this problem of dating the saint's work in Ireland which has brought forward the theory of two Patricks, a Roman missionary who came in the 430s, and a British missionary who arrived a generation later.
And that is what sources — most of them quite respectable — still do, and quite reasonably. Wikipedia quibbles.When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
None of this should greatly worry me. After all, there is one fact on which we can depend, as Ó Fiaich did: Patrick's epistle, #14, tells us the Franks were slave-taking pagans. Clovis converted in AD496 — so could Patrick refer to the slave-taking of the Franks after that date? So the epistle must pre-date 496, and therefore undermine the 'second Patrick' story? Christopher A. Snyder, An Age of Tyrants (1998), accepts that — so it is quite current.
But what if we cannot accept Clovis's conversion in 496-7? And that seems to be another notion: perhaps pushing the date back to 507. Re-enter the hypothetical second Patrick.
Any way, our 'knowledge' of early French history (and so the dating of Clovis) depends largely on Gregory of Tours and the fourth book of the Chronicle of Fredegar. I know we're not supposed to talk of 'The Dark Ages' any more, but relying on just those texts leaves it all pretty gloomy.
As Edward James put it:
And they gave up on the slaving business ... snap! ... like that?Clovis's descendants, the Merovingians ... emerge as typical barbarians, violent, deceitful, bellicose, yet at the same time energetic, lusty and effective rulers.
My starters for ten here:
- I'm interested in what, and how, other commenters were taught: was Patrick a 'definitive' figure', or at what stage in the educative or self-educative process did the mists of doubt creep in?
- What, as others see it, is the latest on St P? Or Sts Ps?
- Is this the ultimate object-lesson in convenient myth versus verifiable 'history'?