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No God and Two St Patricks

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

I began this exploration in Spring 2021 and one of my first surprises was at an-easy-to-pass mound at Killeen, Co Kildare.

From the road there is little to indicate that this was an important pre-Christian burial site. Seven ogham stones, seven pillar stones and two cross slabs, if you can spot them, hint otherwise.

This is what I posted on Facebook at that time.

Where could you find a message in both ogham and Latin on a stone slab, the grave of Cormac MacArt and the place where the ‘First St Patrick’ left the relics of St Peter and Paul that he had brought from Rome in 431?

The answer is Cillin Cormac, near Moone in Co Kildare.

When King Cormac MacArt, the celebrated High King of Ireland, was killed in a battle nearby in 253 AD his body was brought back to Tara on the road that passed Cillin. Near the mound, which was already an ancient burial site, his favorite dog jumped from the coffin to the top of the hillock indicating that he should be buried there. His paw print can be seen on the stone where he landed.

Almost two hundred years later another noted figure paused here. He was the first missionary to Ireland but it was not St Patrick.

Shortly after a National Institute for Advanced Studies was established in Dublin in the 1940s, the distinguished politician James Dillon accused it of doing nothing except ‘proving there was no God and two St Patricks’. He was referring to the recent finding that Patrick was not the first evangeliser sent to Ireland. A bishop named Palladius had been dispatched by the Pope in 431 ‘to the Irish believing in Christ’. However when a movement spread later to make Patrick the predominant figure in the Irish Church it presumed that Palladius was actually Patrick, only someone has got the spelling wrong!

Palladius, the ‘first St Patrick’, had landed in Wicklow and founded churches in Tigroney (near Avoca), Donard, Moone and Cille Fine, now known as Cillin Cormac.

Today there are only the ancient gravestones, and the rock with the dog's paw, to see seen on the small hillock in the middle of a field occupied by a herd of very inquisitive cows.

Yet there are so many memories there: pre-Christian burials, the resting place of a High King and the dwelling of the first missionary to Ireland. They are links in a tradition that defined Irish national consciousness, at least until recently.

If you pass Cillin Cormac take second look and, if you stop, you might stumble across some Celtic-Irish roots.

Rating for 'Forgotten' or 'Ignored': 9 out of 10.

For Surprise Impact: 6 out of 10.


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