Celtic Flames excerpt overviews St. Patrick’s call to Ireland and first encounter with the Druids. It is edifying to see how God worked in his behalf. It from a chapter in Kathie Walters book, Celtic Flames.
For background, Wikipedia provides good information on Celtic Christianity in Ireland. Welsh is an official language in Wales and Irish is an official language of Ireland and of the European Union. Welsh is the only Celtic language not classified as endangered by UNESCO. A druid was a member of the high-ranking professional class in ancient Celtic cultures.
“When Patrick was sixteen years old the Picts and Scots began to raid the coast, plunder and take hostages. One of the most victorious of these ‘Sea kings’ was Niall, surnamed, “Of the Nine Hostages” (because he took hostages from nine places). It was during one of Niall’s raids that Patrick was taken hostage one day, along with a maid-servant, his sister, Lupita, and some other companions.”
He was taken by ship to Ireland, somewhere along the coast of Antrim and sold as a slave to a petty king, Dalaradia. He was put in charge of a herd of swine and so spent most of the time out in the fields. But it was there that God was made real to him and as he said later, his eyes were opened and he was truly converted to Christ. All the Scripture which he learned as a child flooded his mind and heart and he decided then that somehow, he would become a servant of God.
One night after six years, he heard the voice of Victorious (who is the Angel over Ireland) which said, “Soon you shall return to your country.” A while later the same voice spoke to him again, “Go, your ship is ready.” He managed to escape, trusting God, and made his way to the coast. After a few days, he found a ship ready to sail, and after some hassles he was taken on board.
Eventually Patrick, after several months of journeying, arrived home. His parents had died but his relatives welcomed him.
One night he was awakened by the same Angel, Victorious, whom he had known in Ireland. He was standing beside Patrick’s bed holding many letters in his hand. He selected one and handed it to Patrick. It read, “The Voice of the Irish.” Then he heard many voices calling to him to come back to Ireland and bring the message of the Gospel.
Finally, God provided a way for Patrick to return to (Celtic people in) Ireland in 432 A.D.
So, the ministry to the Irish began, not without opposition from the Druids and wizards who tried desperately to keep Patrick away from the Kings, for they had prophesied of his coming. Patrick believed that if the Kings could be won for God, then the people would follow.
One of the main spiritual battles between Patrick and the Druids was fought at the Hill of Tara. In 433 A.D. The High King, Laeghaire, son of the renowned Niall of the Nine Hostages, had invited the sub-kings and nobles and bards to a lavish festival. It was to start with great bonfires, but until those fires were lit by the Druids, in honor of Beltane, on the Hill or Tara. It was forbidden for other fires to be lit before the Kings fire. Beltane was the fertility god of the Druids. Animal and human sacrifices were offered to Beltane for his favor.
King Laeghaire, in his efforts to hold his power over the lower kings had given himself to the power of the wizards, and skillful magicians and Druidic priests along with their idols.
Lochru and Lucat-Mael were his chief wizards, and being false prophets they had foretold that “An evil teacher would come from over the sea to their land: That a multitude would receive him, and that he would find love and reverence from the men of Ireland. He would cast out from their realms the evil Kings and Lords, and would destroy all the idols; and the worship established by him would abide in the land forever.”
No doubt the Druids knew of the progress of Christianity in Britain and Europe. Their brethren abroad had been discredited and they were afraid of the same fate. They were very much afraid of losing their influence and authority.
Patrick leaving the friendly hospitality of Dichu, sailed southward and arrived at Inver Colptha, the mouth of the river Boyne. There Patrick left his nephew, Lomman in charge of his boat. They followed the course of the stream, for about 12 miles until they came to the Hill of Slane, where Patrick proposed to celebrate Easter.
While they rested there on the hill, they saw the magnificent view beneath the river Boyne; to the north, far away were the purple mountains of Mourne, and to the south lay the beautiful hills of Wicklow.
Against this background, about 10 miles away, stood the royal Hill of Tara. The roofs of the palaces shining in the setting sun.
When the sun had set, Patrick prepared to begin the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It was the first time the Paschal fire was lit, never to be extinguished in the land.
Hardly were the Christian torches seen to blaze, when the attention of the High King, on the Hill of Tara, was drawn to the prodigy. The whole of Mag Breg, (the Beautiful Plain), was illuminated by the fires, while Tara was still in darkness. Angrily the King called his attendants and told them to find out who had dared to light the fires, and break the law he had made for the occasion of the festivals of Beltane and Samhain. They told Laeghaire that there was no need to send messengers to Slane for they knew what the fires were. “We see the fire,” they said, “And we know that unless it is quenched on the night in which it is made, it will not be quenched forever. He, who kindled it, will vanquish the Kings and Lords of Ireland, unless he is forbidden.”
“This shall not be!” Cried the king, “But we will go down and slay this man who kindled the fire.”
The horses were made ready in haste. Meanwhile on the Hill of Slane, Patrick had begun with the others, the celebration of the Easter festival, singing and worshiping God.
And so the camp of Christ (Messiah) and the camp of satan were drawn up in rivalry. Demons hovered over Tara while the Angelic host kept guard over Slane. Patrick, with Victorious, the Angel who was the guardian of Ireland, had no need to fear for the result of the contest.
It was late when nine chariots, bearing the King and Queen with two chief wizards and a number of nobles came thundering toward Slane.
The wizards began to fear lest the King might fail by taking a hasty action. As they drew toward the Christians, the wizard spoke to King Laeghaire, “You should take heed”, they cautioned the King, “Not to go down to the place where the fire was made, and thereby give reverence to the man who kindled the fire. Rather stay outside and let him be called out to you, so that he will know that you are the King, and he is the subject.” The King was flattered and agreed.
They drove to the place called, “The Graves of Fiacc’s Men,” and they un-yoked the horses. The King and his nobles sat in solemn state, and the warriors stood with their shields erect in front of them, with their chins resting on the top of their shields. In the light of the fires they looked fierce. The King forbade anyone to rise to greet Patrick or any of his company (contrary to the custom of the Irish).|A messenger was sent to fetch Patrick to the King.
Soon a bright procession appeared descending the hill. As Patrick advanced, all eyes were fixed on him. Calmly he sang as he approached the King, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.”
As Patrick’s clear strong voice resounded, a feeling of awe filled the minds of the warriors. One man. Erc, the son of Deg, rose to greet Patrick. By grace, in a moment, he believed in God; and Patrick blessed him. Later on he was baptized and eventually became the first Bishop of Slane. And Patrick prophesied to him, “Your city on earth will be high and noble.”
After a formal greeting between Laeghaire and Patrick, the wizard, Lochru, attacked him angrily with contention and shouting. He became malicious and hostile, and even violent, blaspheming the Holy Trinity. Patrick’s anger was roused and he called upon God, “O Lord, Who can do all things, and on whose power depends all that exists, You have sent us here to preach Your Name to the heathen. Now let this ungodly man, who blasphemes Your Name, be lifted up and let him die.”
No sooner had Patrick finished speaking than a supernatural force raised the wizard in the air. He fell heavily down, his head striking a stone. And so he died in the presence of those assembled. The heathen seeing their own subdued, and realized that Patrick had more power than the Druids and were very impressed and afraid.
But the King was enraged at the fate of Lochru, on whom he had greatly depended on in all his difficulties. He then wanted to take the life of Patrick. “Slay this man,” he cried to his guards, But Patrick stood firmly in his place. With flashing eyes and a resonant voice he said, “Let God arise and His enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Him flee from before His face! As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish away: as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.”
By this time the sun had begun to rise and the morning splendor bathed the earth. But at the words of Patrick, darkness crept back over the sky and the ground shook with an earthquake.
The swords and spears of the warriors clashed against their shields and it seemed to them that sky was falling down, and there was no hope of escape from impending destruction. The frightened horses galloped away in wild confusion, and the wind blew so fiercely that the chariots moved.
Because of the confusion and fear the warriors began to fight among themselves and some were killed. Realizing their mistake, they fled, leaving only three people with King Laeghaire and Queen Angas.
The King remained sullen and silent but the Queen rose and approached Patrick. She spoke to him with respect. “O just and mighty man,” she said, “Do not destroy the King. He shall come to you and he will do your will and he will kneel and believe in your God.” Her influence prevailed and because the events of the past few hours had shaken him, the King kneeled before Patrick, offering peace. It was a false gesture, designed to allow him to avoid the present situation.
King Laehaire designed a plan in his mind to try and kill Patrick on the way to his castle. “Come after me, Cleric,” said the wily King, “And at Tara I may believe in your God in the presence of the men of Ireland.”
Patrick consented and Laeghire gave orders to his servant that an ambush should be set on several paths between Slane to Tara. The chariots were yoked once more by the attendant who had now returned, and the royal party set out for the palace. They were very weary and discouraged after their disastrous night with Patrick.
Patrick and his company continued the interrupted Easter Day celebration with hearts full of gratitude to the risen Lord who was so wonderful to them. Then Patrick selected his companions and blessed them before setting out. And the story continues in the book “Celtic Flames”.
Kathie shows us clearly that the early Celtic Christians had an awesome relationship with God. Accounts of the supernatural ministries of Patrick, Brigid, Cuthbert, Brendan, Kieran etc. Read how these Celtic christians in the 4th-5th-6th centuries demonstrated the power of God and won the hearts of the people for the Lord Ruth Ward Heflin