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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Two St Patricks? Or one?

Were there two St Patricks or just one? And does it matter? (besides when it comes to deciding when to begin the celebrations!).

I believed there was only one until recently I read ‘The Two Patricks’ by Thomas F. O’Rahilly (1957) of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. James Dillion, the politician, is said to have remarked in parliament (the Dail) that all the Institute had achieved was ‘to prove there was no god and two St Patricks.’ At least that put the two St Patricks on the map.

O’Rahilly’s theory was that there were two Patricks, both with the name Palladius. The older Patrick arrived in 432 and died in 461 while the ‘younger’ came in 461 and died in 492.

This solves a long-standing problem. Patrick was said to have arrived in Ireland in 432 and the annals state he died in 492. That means he would have been well over a hundred. There were also a number of prominent bishops who were associated with him but they belonged to different generations.

According to O’Rahilly, Palladius the ‘older’ came from Gaul, sent by Pope Celestine in 431, and brought Roman practices with him. The ‘younger’ (the writer of the ‘Confessions’) came from Wales and introduced their customs.

Patrick is thought to have concentrated on the north of the country since many areas in the south had a Christian presence before he arrived. However I have found traces of him around Kildare where I live. Nearby there are two churches said to be founded by him: Donadea and Donaghcumber.

The name of both places begins with ‘Dona’ and the Irish for Donadea is Domhnach Dheá. All churches beginning with the word Domnach, meaning Sunday, were said to be founded by St Patrick (on a Sunday!).

That a Patrick visited Kildare, and areas further south, at such an early period would suggest that indeed there were two St Patricks and it was the earlier one who was in our locality.

Does it matter? It does if you want to understand the real Ireland and its heritage. There is far more to be known about them than we were told and what appears in popular media. It’s by going around places like Donadea and Donaghcumber that we are challenged.

By the way, 17th March is the feast day of the ‘younger’ St Patrick.


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