The author of the Life and Writings of St. Patrick gives a rather vivid picture of the coming of St. Patrick into the Heart of Ireland, and recounts his adventures with the sons of Erc and his misadventures in the crossing of the River Boyle.
It is not so much to St. Patrick, however, .as to St. Attracta that the town of Boyle owes its origin, although both saints have a share in the honour of having given to Ireland, at Boyle, the Christian Symbol of Ireland-the Celtic Cross.
In connection with this saint we consider it best to let the writer of her life (in the Messenger of .the Sacred Heart series) speak:-
"Many of the influences which permeate the Irish Church at the present
time are due to the apostolate of Ireland's women.
...The materials of Irish history which supply us with so many facts and incidents concerning the lives of our national saints, tell us comparatively little of those devoted assistants of our first apostles, the Celtic nuns of Ireland. ...
"However, the story of their beautiful hidden lives might be told briefly, and in almost the same words as was the tale of Nazareth long ago. They were subject to their rule. ...
"From the lives of holy men who were their contemporaries, there is, however, a good deal to be gathered regarding the first communities of Irish Sisterhoods. To these most valuable sources we are indebted for the stray gleams of light that are here and there thrown on the life of one, whom we may style, the patroness of the west of ireland-St. Attracta.
"This remarkable saint-the first Irish Sister of Charity, as we may call her-was a contemporary of St. Patrick, and to his Tripartite Life we owe, in great part, the incidents we have collected regarding St. Attracta's career.
"The Virgin heroine was a native of Ulster and the daughter of a chieftain named Talchan, of the race of Ir. However, from the sequence of her life it is possible that Attracta was also closely allied to one of the noble families of Tireragh. The sites of her churches may be traced in the County Sligo; at Killaraght, in the barony of Coolavin; at Kilmactiegue, and also at Tuam. There are also many wells dedicated to her honour. Killaraght and Tobararaght are not far from Boyle. We are not told at what period the relatives of St. Attracta embraced the faith, but it is reasonable to suppose that they were converted at the time when so many were baptised, and crowds of candidates sought
"Having secured for her protection the services of an old and trusted servant, and bringing with her a devoted female attendant, Attracta stole away and journeyed to the plains of boyle. St. Patrick was preaching in this district at the time, and our saint made no delay in seeking an interview with the great apostle, and making known her desire of receiving the habit of religion and consecrating her virginity to God.
"St. Patrick, as we know from history, was particularly averse to incurring the displeasure of the native clans or their chiefs. However, as with so many others of the great missionary saints of the Church, his greatest achievements were due to the unfailing efficacy of prayer. Doubtless having heard Attracta's story, and filled with holy admiration for her virtues, he besought God that the heart of her ambitious parent might be changed, and his consent obtained for the step his predestined child had determined to take. Anyhow, her heaven-inspired vocation was fulfilled through the prayers and blessings of St. Patrick. Mitain -the faithful servant of Attracta, who had accompanied her from home-when the day came on which Attraeta was publicly to renounce the world-knelt beside her voung mistress as a companion to her sacrifice. This event took place at Gregraighe (the plain of the Greeks), near Lough Gara (Technet) whose surplus waters supply the River Boyle, and thence fall into Lough Key. The Book of Armagh (the oldest Book in Ireland) tells how, at the profession of St. Attracta, a veil of snowy
whiteness descended on the bosom of the Apostle. Taking the flowing Raiment in his hands, the saint proceeded to place it on the head of St. Attracta, for he knew it was intended by heaven for her. But with that sweet humility and charity for others which characterised her life, the young novice besought that the celestial gift might be conferred on her sister in Christ. St. Patrick, however, while he doubly blessed St. Attracta for her lowliness of heart, prayed her to accept it and bid her wear it till the coming of the heavenly bridegroom. The scene of this event is at Killaraght, where the memory of St. Attracta is still lovingly preserved in the crumbling walls of her little shrine- surrounded by clay of generations of those who loved her-in the yard that once surrounded her first church. .... This is within a short distance-a few miles-from Boyle. . : Nearby is her well.
"`Hospitality and charity towards all ' was one of the primary rules of the code of life prescribed by St. Patrick for Attracta and her nuns. The fame of her sanctity soon spread afar. . . . Crowds of noble maidens, in the first heat of their baptismal fervour, flocked round the saintly abbess of Killaraght, desiring to enrol themselves under her guidance and to imitate her manner of life. As was the case in every place where such patient public benefactors settled, portion of the land surrounding the settlement was given to the noble lady and her subjects, and the care of these worldly goods, as well as the general management of her material affairs, were entrusted to her man-servant, Mochain, who seems to have remained in the plains of Boyle so as to be near his chieftain's daughter. The name of the family derived from this man was long associated with Killaraght as Erenagh or Steward; it seems to have been hereditary, and at least one man of that name (modern spelling Mohan) was Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Boyle (the name is still common enough around Boyle and its vicinity). The neighbourhood of Boyle was then an important centre of traffic for the north west of Ireland. It lay not far from the source of the River Shannon, which was navigable to within a few miles of it, and which served as the main highway to the harbour of the Atlantic at Sligo.
"Roads were few, mere bridle paths cut through the forest- now bogs-and over the wild passes of the Curlew Mountains, travelling was attended by many dangers, while little accommodation was available for travellers. These circumstances led Attracta to form the design of erecting a hospice such as in former centuries were founded in Europe for the reception of pilgrims and travelling merchants. To this end the Abbess commissioned Mochain to explore the country around and seek a place where such an institution would be most desirable : and so, the beginning of boyle as a town came thus :-
"`In his wanderings Mochain came upon a place where seven
There may be some who object to this claim by saying that since " everybody was welcome and everything was free " such an establishment could hardly be looked upon as a commercial hotel in comparison with its modern successor, "the princess hotel." The proprietor of the hotel ought to be entitled to answer this objection, and he does so thus: In those days of Attracta there was no medium of exchange such as the coins and paper money of our days. The ancient medium of barter seems to have been so many head of cattle or so many ounces of gold. A currency that all Ireland understood, and one that made her name beloved throughout the world, was, however, ubiquitous- that was the currency of goodwill and the deep and true philosophy of life that " Man wants but little here below, nor wants that little long."
"The chief or head chieftain was not monarch of all he surveyed, but kept his place as the chief of his clan, and he gave to the friends of his clan what his clan desired that he should give for their own honour, benefit and convenience. When hospitality was a recognised virtue, in which all Ireland strove to excel, when the Cork man, coming with his train of attendants, was hospitably received here, and returned the kindness as host when the "Roscommon man visited Cork. It was a case of " fiftv-fiftv," as the Americans say; and when this understanding prevailed all over the country the tax levied upon the people for the upkeep of a Teach Ousta, Hospice or Hotel, was nothing more or less than the then equivalent of our more modern bill of fare or hotel tariff. Complicated systems of taxation, direct and indirect, an all too general importation of foreign commodities, and a consequent necessity of having a handy medium of exchange, have eventuated in the present commercial system, but the hotel-keeper to-day, just as in the days of St. Attracta, is there to benefi the passer-by and the travelling merchant. He receives in return from these merchants a contribution, just as in the old days (although the clientele is different, and the mode of paying the expenses quite different also). Before the clans were scattered the visitor was the guest of the clan, and received hospitality at the clan's expense. The hotel or hospice-keeper was but the servant of the clan, and for such service received
And now, since we are on the question of Attracta's residence in Boyle, we had better let another tell its story, as he drew it from the Book of Armagh and other sources. The writer of her life says:-- "Subsequently in her zeal for the development of the faith in this district, and encouraged by the success that attended her first efforts, Attracta proposed to build a church of large dimensions close to Drumconnell, where a bishop and relative of her own lived. In this neighbourhood there was a tradition that a church would one day be built, the fame of whose greatness would shine afar ' as a brilliant star.'"
Whether this traditional prophecy concerning Boyle has yet been fulfilled or not, none can say. We had, in after days, the great churches of Columkille at Eas mac Nere and Inis mac Nernin. We had the Canons Regular at Trinity Island (all of them near Boyle). We had the great Cistercian Monastery; we have had the present St. Patrick's Hall-the old church-and we have the present church of St. Joseph. All of these have had their share of illustrious children and superiors, but as there is, in the parish of Boyle, a locality known as Fainne h-Erinn or t( The Ring of Ireland," and as we have not yet built for the Irish race a national Basilica, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that with the Rome-inspired installation of the Sacred Heart as King of Ireland, the thoughts of the Irish race may turn once more to " the plain of the Greeks "-the plains of Boyle, where sleeps the first traditional coloniser of Ireland-Ceasar, who lies in her burial mound "Os Buille Missae." The name Baslic in an outlying district towards south Roscommon, is a reminder of the Basilica that St. Patrick raised in these same plains. We are told "that it was given into the custody of Patrick and his Coharbs forever." So say the Annals of Innisfallen, written by Ciaran, the son of Darerea or Der Searcaig (Sharkey), a Roscommon man; and so also says Colgan's Trias Thaumaturga: so that if it should be happily agreed upon that, in grand preparation for the holding of a Eucharistic Congress in Ireland a great Central Race Cathedral should be raised by the children of the Gael,' at home and abroad, no place in all
Ireland would be more suitable for such a central Home of "The King of Ireland," than in this neighbourhood where Ceasar, Dathi and a hundred other kings and queens of Erin found their last resting-place; where the men of Lisserdrea (the fort of the druids) went out to defend their land against the Formorians; where old Moytura links us with the dim distant days of our earlier life as a nation; where Patrick first confirmed his Irish converts at Ardcarne; where Ossian sang his last lay of Tir-na-n-Og; where O'Donnell conquered Clifford and his hosts; where Ethna and Fidelm, the patron saints of first Communicants, expired in an ecstasy of love unspoken; where Ireland found a long line of kings at Cruachan; where to-day the spirit of Irish-Ireland is well manifested in the annual contests in the Irish Catechism; where hundreds of children, from all the seven roads that lead to Boyle, muster to compete for the princely prizes of hundreds of pounds offered by the Most Rev. Dr. Coyne, the-late Bishop. The pictures of these gatherings, which we give, speak for themselves; but we would like to draw attention to the fact that there is no such picture as this in all Ireland. tt Good words are good, good deeds are better," is a motto fully demonstrated in this practical patriotism of the bishop who, yesterday, filled the See of Assicus, and it is no wonder, therefore, that Boyle is proud of her former parish priest.
The day may come (God alone can inspire us) when the unemployment and the emigration, the labour and the wage, and other problems may be solved by the spontaneous act of the whole house in giving the first fruits of the labour of the awakening to God, in the great fact and act of gratitude, reparation, and impetration involved in the building of a National Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Then when the marble quarries, copper mines, and sawmills of Erin ring with the happy laughter of righteous men, working for the glory of God and the honour of Ireland, mayhap he who lives may see the citizens of a nation under God, clad in their own woollens and shod in their own footwear; strong and healthy with the food grown in their own land, hurrying-by every one of the old seven roads-to that church of the prophetic tradition, which shines afar "as a brilliant star"
If such a glorious day should come to the oldest town in Erinn, and if these lines should meet the eyes of any bound for the home "of the king of Ireland's son," then, when in audience with the king, the compiler asks humbly "that you'll remember me," and pray for me.
We have digressed somewhat from the story of St. Attracta. We shall yet come to the incident, if the reader has only a little patience. The chronicler continues:-
"Hearing of St. Attracta's project for a new church, and fearing the revenues of his own little settlement would be
interfered with, Connell sent a holy man namd Dachonna to ask the Abbess to desist from her proposed undertaking. Dachonna had a church in the neighbourhood, also, and likely shared in no small degree the fears of his venerable friend. The site of Dochanna's Church was the present village of Assylin. Attracta easily surmised the real object of the request made to her, and, in deference to the bishop's wish, she promised not to build her church at Drum. She informed Dachonna that she would seek a site for it, half wav between his abode and that of Connell. This arrangement did not tend to lessen their anxiety. It is interesting to note, in passing, that if we divide the distance between Assylin and the present Drum we find almost exactly the site of the Cistercian Abbey, on the left bank of the River Boyle, founded A.D. 1168. From the annals of the abbey we learn that a church coeval with Patrician, existed there, the vestiges of which, with the ruins of a pillar tower, were long traceable beside the walls of this venerable abbey. The church of St. Attracta is said to have been on the right bank of the river, somewhere on the site of the present Convent of Mercy. Where the foundations of a new Convent Church are being laid as we write these lines."
The following describes the incident chronicled in the Book of Armagh:-
It is related that when St. Patrick came to Boyle to ordain priests and consecrate bishops for various missions he paid a visit to the new building of St. Attracta. The good woman was pleased to have this opportunity of having the place blessed by the apostle himself. We can easily understand that this would be much more pleasing to her because of her peculiar position between Connell and Dachonna, and so it must have. been a .great relief to her when the great man himself promised to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass for her, in her new building. It would appear from the narrative that the place was not rightly furnished. Bishop Assicus of Elphin was one of St. Patrick's smiths and is, therefore, the true patron of Irish Art. He possibly forgot to send a paten when the order came from Attracta, at any rate the story of the incident is : " When everything was in readiness it was discovered that the -paten, for the celebration of the Mass, was not at hand. St. Patrick was about to defer the ceremony when Attracta interposed, telling the saint to proceed and that God would provide the missing paten. He did so. The preparation for the Sacred Mysteries had hardly commenced when a golden disc appeared above the head of St. Attracta and gently rested on her shoulders as she bent in silent prayer. Taking the mysterious gift she reverently ascended the steps and placed it on the altar. The paten was found to be
incised with a cross, wrought within a circle. St. Patrick it is told, taking it in his hands, said:-' It is clear that the Lord God has listened to thy prayer, and it is evident that the image which this paten bears must be preserved, because it is given thee from on high. This holy cross shall receive its name from thee, and the Irish shall hold it in veneration, as thou hast surpassed so many others in sanctity. And now we consecrate it in the honour of God who hath sent it to us, and whose name be ever glorified.' " We are told that " The O'Mochains were .keepers of St. Attracta's Cross, in the Book of Lecain," and in O'Donovan's edition of Tribes of Ui Fiachrach there are other notes on this saint which we cannot find place for in our limited space here. The author of her life says :-" Like the royal nuns, of whom we read in the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers, Attracta seems to have been accorded that peculiar distinction which entitled her to rank with kings, bishops, and petty princes, to take part in .religious as well as national assemblies, as well as in those in which questions of civil importance were discussed
Hence in the Book of Armagh, we find an account of how this remarkable saint presided at a meeting which had, for its object, the cementing of friendship between the descendants of Awley, the people of Tireragh-and the descendants of Kien-the people of Leyney. Again we learn that on one occasion the chiefs of Leyney, having forced the King of Connaught to deliver up certain hostages, whom he held in bondage, were pursued by their foes on their march towards the confines of Lough Gara.
Being surprised, they found themselves hemmed in by their pursuers on one side, and by the waters of the lough on the other. One of the leaders, riding to the convent of St. Attracta, besought the Abbess to invoke the aid of Heaven on their behalf, and to save them from their desperate predicament. Coming forth, Attracta went through the beleaguered ranks, and then addressing the men of Leyney, she said:-" Be not afraid, but act as I counsel you. Trust only in God, who is the Creator of all things, Who is able to deliver you from all dangers, and Whose servant I am. Follow me and let no man look backward." She then knelt on the borders of the lough and gave herself up to prayer, whereupon the waters parted and afforded a dry passage to the men of Leyney, who passed over unharmed and were thus miraculously delivered from their enemies. One of their number, the attendant of a bard, happened to be drowned, but was afterwards restored to life through the power of the saint. His name was Foelan, and he afterwards devoted himself wholly to the service of God, and died a saint. He is honoured. in our Martyrologies on the 7th June.
The author continues:-"The foregoing incidents of our saint's life reveal so great an interest on her part in the affairs
of the chieftains and men of Leyney and Killala,. that we are inclined to assume that Attracta was connected, with their race."
The Most Rev. Dr. Healy, in "Life and Writings . of St. Patrick," says, quoting from The Tripartite;-
"After that he founded Killaraght and be .placed therein Talan's daughter, who took the veil from his .hands." He also refers to the incident of the giving of The Celtic Cross thus:- " He left a paten and a chalice with her." Dr. Healy says that Attracta was " the sister of St. Coemhan of Airtne, which some take to be the most easterly of the three islands of Aran." " This island was always known as Ara Coemhan, because he was its patron saint," says Dr. Healy, " and if we are to accept the authority of The Tripartite, he was not a brother of St. Kevin of 'Glendalough, as O'Flaherty says, but rather of St. Attracta of Lough Techet," Then Dr. Healy, who holds that Talan actually lived in the near north, goes on to claim that the patron saint of Aran was also from the Heart of Ireland.
He says :-
"We must assume, therefore, that he was born in that neighbourhood, and that his father was Talan, chief of the district round the lake. Both Attracta,.. then, and her brother Coemhan were children of Talan, a chief of the Gregraide of Lough Techet.
" This tribe was descended from Cufinn, otherwise called Aengus Finn, a son of the famous Fergus Mac Roy. The modern half-barony of Coolavin takes its name from the descendants of this ancient hero, and represents the territory round Lough Gara."
He thus explains the statement that Talan was an Ulster chieftain:-" The Greagraidhe had migrated into this territory from Ulster, for they were descended from Aengus Fionn, who was a king of that province, in the first century," and we come on to the explanation of St. Attracta's interest in the men of Killala, in the next sentence:-"Another colony of the same tribe were settled on the right bank of the Moy."
In reading the Letters of John O'Donovan, written from Mayo, the
compilers of this volume were surprised to come upon the reference,
given below, to The Celtic Cross, but when we find the above-mentioned
fact concerning the relationship between the men from The Moy-the
problem is solved. O'Donovan's letter is a very interesting addenda to
the facts already given from The Book of Armagh, and The Tripartite,
confirming the tradition that The Celtic Cross was given to St.
Attracta at Boyle. The letter runs into many pages; we give only the
extract touching on this matter:-.
Ballina, May 17, 1838.
The very cross inscribed by St. Patrick on the rock (lia) is still to be seen, and the graveyard within which the rock is
shown, proves that there was an ancient church at the place. It lies immediately on the hill, above the ancient church of Kilmore, to the south west, and is now called simply, Liag, or the churchyard of Liag. The Liag or Leac, itself, is a very large, irregular, flat rock, having on its south-west face, which is smooth and nearly perpendicular, a beautiful cross, well sculptured. THIS CROSS IS ONE OF THE OLDEST CHRISTIAN MONUMENTS IN IRELAND: and will remain here aere perennius, a genuine witness (evidence) which no scepticism can invalidate, of the truth of Irish history;' It nearly resembles the ancient cross which is sculptured on the stone over the door of the old church of St. Fechin, at Fore, but-it is larger and better executed. The figure of the cross is surrounded by two concentric circles, of which the exterior is about 16 inches in diameter. The cross, itself, is 11 inches in diameter.
I do not remember any instance of St. Patrick having erected or inscribed a cross in any place where either he or his disciples did not erect a church. Be this however, as it may, certain it is that there was a church at Lia-na-Manach, now Liag, lying immediately above the church of Kilmore-Moy.
Life of St. Patrick says:-"Turning (from Lough Deale) towards the east, Patrick came to the place called Leac-Fhionnbhaile, which is above the church of Kilmore at (near) the upper bank of the River Muacus, and there erected (recte inscribed) the cross of Christ, the triumphal banner of Our Religion. But that began afterwards to be called Lia-na-manach, petra monachorum, from the monks who afterwards possessed it."-Trip/Triad, p. 141.
" There (at Lia-na-manach in Tirawley) ' also, St. Patrick baptised a chief, Eochodius (the well is pointed out on the side of' the road near Kilmore in which he baptised him), the son of Dathi or David, who was the son of Fiachra, and at the ford, which lies before- the door of the church of Kilmore, restored to life his wife, Ectra by name, who had, a short time before departed from the living. This ford is called, from her name, Ath-Echtra-vadum Ectra-and at it lies the sepulchre of this woman, which also taking name from her is called "Fert-Echtra, tumulus Ectra, as those skilled in the antiquities of the country relate from constant tradition."-Tria/Trid p. 137.
The Feart Echtra, or grave of Echtra, mentioned in the Tripartite as lying near a ford opposite the church of 'Kilmore is still in existence. It lies in the townland of Kilmore to the right' of the road as you go from Ballina to the old Church of Kilmore, about 20 perches from the latter.
The holy well of Tobar Patraig lies on the side of the road directly opposite it, and on the stream of which the ford of Ath-Echtra flows at the foot of the hill, on the side of which the
grave is to be seen. This grave is now much destroyed, but as much of it remains as will satisfy the antiquarian that it is of that class of sepulchres which were used in Ireland in pagan times, such as the Bed of Clann Mor, near Slieve Calann, in Derry.
Only the east side of this grave remains, it is formed of large stones laid perpendicularly. The west side and the flags, which were laid horizontally from side to side, have been removed, and the interior is filled up with stones and rubbish. It is now called by tradition Leaba Leabadoir, and believed to be the grave of a giant called Leabadoir, who was killed by another called Conan, but this is a fabrication of the story-tellers of modern times.
The old church of KIlmore is now so patched up with repairs of various
ages that it is not easy to learn its ancient size and form. The
greater part, however, of the south and north walls are in the
primitive style of the ancient Irish Churches, being formed of massy,
square stones, and resembling in every particular the walls of Kilroe,
near Killala, and Bishop Mel's Church at Ardagh.
One more extract from the writer of her life and we have done with the founder and patroness of Boyle:-"In one of our Martyrologies, St. Attracta is commemorated as the liberator of captives and the deliverer from pestilence. She died in the early part of the sixth century, and her festival is observed on the 11th August. On the 28th July, 1864, Pius IX raised her feast to the dignity of a double of the second class for the diocese of Achonry. The celebration of her festival has since extended to the whole of Ireland."
The Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. 11 p. 62) says;-" Colgan (Ada S. S. Hiber (1645) 1 277-282) gives an account of the Cross of St. Attracta, which was famed during the Middle Ages, and of which the O'Mochain family were hereditary keepers. A striking confirmation of the existence of this relic in the early years of the fifteenth century, is afforded by an entry in the ' Calendar of Papal Letters ' (VI. 451), from which we learn that in 1413 the cross and cup of St. Attracta (cruz ac Cuach Aiacht) were then venerated in the church of Killaraght, in the Diocese of Achonry. By an indult of July 28, 1864, Pius IX authorised the Office and Mass of St. Attracta, which had lapsed into desuetude, to be again celebrated in the Irish Church.
"The feast of St. Attracta on 11th August is given special honour in the Diocese of Achonry, of which she is the patroness. The prayers and proper lessons for her office were drawn up by Cardinal Moran." In the article on Cross (C.E. IV. 537) it is said:-"With regard to the great Celtic Stone Crosses, particularly in Ireland, we may note the tendency conspicuous in so many specimens to surround the cross with a circle. It is
"It often appears as a symbolic sign in the hands of the goddess of Sekhet. From the earliest times also it appears among the Hieroglyphic signs symbolic of life or of the living, and was translated into Greek as Ansa; but the meaning of this sign is very obscure, perhaps it was originally like the swastika, an astronomical sign. The ansated cross is found on many and various monuments in Egypt.
"In later times the Egyptian Christians, attracted by its symbolism adopted it as the emblem of the Cross."
The Abacus, or staff of office of the Order of the Knights Templars, bore the Celtic Cross. It is thus described:-" The upper part of the staff is gilt, usually of metal, with a Templar's Cross, enamelled red and edged with gold, within a circle. Upon the centre of the cross a block shield bearing a silver square; on the circle there is the motto of the Order in Hoc signo vinces. Among the early Templars this staff bore a mystic symbolism, and was held in high veneration by members of the Order."
"We are told by the Tripartite," says Dr. Healy, " that Patrick had a special devotion to the Cross, and that he was in the habit of signing himself with the sign of the Cross a hundred times a day and night. And when driving or riding through the country on his missionary journeys, wherever he saw a cross he would go and visit it, even though it were a thousand paces from his road." We know that all these old crosses were of the Celtic design.