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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

On the trail of St Patrick!

On St Patrick’s Day I tried to retrace the journey Patrick made in 455 from Kells in the Royal Province of Meath into north Leinster, the area less than ten miles from where I live.

His route is recorded in the Book of Armagh.

It states that he journeyed south to Kilglin, where he set up a community which still ‘was extant in 842’. It is mainly a farm area and I could find no trace of Patrick’s foundation unless it was at Balfeighan cemetery just outside Kilcock.

From Kilglin Patrick crossed over into Leinster and stopped at Killeighter where a Holy Well in the graveyard bears his name. I found the signpost for Killeighter graveyard but could go no further as an intimidating gate guarded its approach.

The Facebook ‘Killeighter Group’ make an annual visit to the graveyard on St Patrick’s Day but there was no sign of them that day. I hope they found a way in. From their photos it seem an interesting place, it even has an information board. Why is the entrance so emphatically blocked?

From there, according to the Book, St Patrick ‘went to the borders of the Laigenians (Leinster) to Dun Urchaille (Dunmurraghill, The Ridge of the Green Wood)) and placed there a “house of the martyrs”, which is so called. It is situated over the great road in the valley, and there is a rock of Patrick on the road.’

The ‘great road’ is the Sli Mor, one of the five roads to Tara which can still be traced in the area but no memory of a ‘stone of Patrick’ has survived.

The ‘house of the martyrs’ seems to be an early Celtic-Christian word for a graveyard. Maybe some Irish scholar can throw some light on that?

Patrick is recorded as spending time in the house of the local chieftain. That residence has been identified as a ring fort situated at what is now the Green Hills sand pit. Most of the fort was demolished in 1912 but enough remains to find the spot. The ‘house of the martyrs’ graveyard was situated on the northern slope of the hill.

There is nothing to draw attention to the historic site at Dunmurraghill except a sign for St Peter’s Well.

What has St Peter got to do with the house where St Patrick stayed in 455? There may be a clue in nearby Donadea, where Patrick built a church. More on that another day.

At least on this 17 March I was able to trace the trail Patrick took 1578 years ago. It was frustrating that there was little to see and photograph. The graveyard at Killeighter, with its well, was the most promising but all approaches to it were securely blocked.

My St Patrick’s Day explorations did show it is still possible to connect with the travelling St Patrick on the Meath-Kildare border even on a damp March day. However I accept it will take more than that to understand what exactly he was trying to do there and his contribution to what it means to be Irish today.


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