Early Celtic Saints and their Angels

A Book of Saints and Wonders, Lady Gregory, [1906], BOOK THREE

St Patrick and St Columba are among the first of the Celtic saints to have brought Christ to the staunchly Druidic Celtic fringe. They were aided by Angels in their work.


The Four Households
There were many great saints among the Gael, but Patrick was the bush among them all. It was beyond the sea he was born, and his mother was a sister of Saint Martin of Tours; and he dreamed in Rome, and walked all Ireland barefoot. It was in his young youth he was brought from France to Ireland as a slave, and he was to set to serve four households, and he did his work so well that every one of the households thought him to be servant to itself alone and it was by an angel the ashes used to be cleared away from the hearth for him.

He gets his Freedom
He was sent out after a while minding swine & he went through great hardships; but Victor the angel used to come to visit him and to teach him the order of prayer. And he had no way to buy his freedom, but one time a wild boar came rooting in the field, and brought up a lump of gold; and Patrick brought it to a tinker and the tinker said "It is nothing but solder, give it here to me." But then he brought it to a smith, and the smith told him it was gold and with that gold he brought his freedom. And from that time the smiths have been lucky, taking money every day and never without work; but as for the tinkers, every man's face is against them and their face is against every man, and they get no ease or rest, but are ever and always travelling the world.

The Man and Woman that were always Young
After that he went out to sea with foreigners and he went back to his own country, and his people asked him to stop there with them. But he would not; for always in his sleep he could see the island of the Gael, and he could hear the singing of the children of the Wood of Fochlad. He went over the sea of Icht then, and he fasted in the islands of the Torrian sea, and then he went to learn from Germanus, and after that again to Rome. And then he and his people went out to sea, nine in all, and they came to an island where they saw a new house, and a young man and a young woman in it; and they saw a withered old hag by the door of the house. "What happened this old woman?" said Patrick. "It is great her weakness is" "She is my own grandchild, old as she is," said the young man. "What way did that happen?" said Patrick. "It is not hard to say that" said the young man; "For we are here from the time of Christ" he said "and he came to visit us when he was here among men, and we made a feast for him and he blessed our house and be blessed ourselves, but the blessing did not reach to our children. And this is the way we will be, without age coming upon us, to the Judgement. And it is a long time your coming is foretold to us" be said "and it is the will of God for you to go and to preach in the country of the Gael; and Christ left a token with us, a bent staff to be given to you."

Patrick goes back to Ireland
Patrick took the staff with him then & went back to Germanus. And Victor the angel came and said to him "It was God's bidding to you to go back and to teach in the country of the Gael." But Patrick was not willing to go and he complained to God of the hardheartedness of the Gad. And God said "I myself will be your helper." Then Patrick went back to Rome and he was made a bishop, and when they were making a bishop of him the three quires answered to them, the quire of the people of Heaven, the quire of the Romans and the quire of the children of the Wood of Fochlad. It was in the east of Ireland he landed, at Inis Patrick; and three times before that the druids had foretold his coming, and it is what they said, "Adzeheads will come over an angry sea; their cloaks hole-headed; their staves crooked; their tables to the east of their houses; they will all answer Amen." At the time he landed it was the feast of Beltaine, and on that day every year the High King lighted a fire in Teamhuir, and there was geasa, that is a bond, upon the men of Ireland not to kindle a fire in any place before the kindling of that fire in Teamhuir. Patrick, now, struck the flame of the Paschal fire, and all the people saw it and it lighted up the whole of Magh Breg. "That is a breaking of bonds" said the king to his druids; "and find out for me" he said "who was it kindled that fire." And it is what the druids said, "Unless that fire is quenched before morning in the same night it was kindled, it will never be quenched." And when the fire was not quenched in that night, there was great anger on the king.

He is Waked by the Angels
When the time came for Patrick to die it is to Ardmacha he had a desire to go. But Victor the angel went to meet him on the road at midday and said "Go back to the place you came 'from, to the barn, for it is there your death will be. And give thanks to Christ" he said "for your prayers are granted; it is to Heaven you will soon be going." And when his soul parted from his body, there was no candle wasted with him, but it was the angels of God kept lasting watch over him until the end of twelve nights, and through all that time there was no night in Magh mis with the light of the angels. It is that was a long day of peace! And after his death there was near being a great battle between the men of Ulster and the Ua Neil, fighting for his body. But at the last it seemed to them that his body was brought by each of them to his own country, and so they were separated by God.


The Golden Moon
It is noble indeed was the race of Columcille as to this world; and he had a right through his blood to the kingship of Ireland but he put it from him for the sake of God. One time Fintain had a vision, and he saw in the vision two moons that rose up from Cluan Eraird, the one a silver moon and the other a golden moon. The golden moon went on towards the north till it lightened Scotland and the northern part of Ireland; and the silver moon went on till it stopped by the Sionnan and lightened the middle part of Ireland. ColumclUe now was the golden moon with his high race and his wisdom; and Ciaran was the silver moon with the brightness of his virtues and his pleasant ways. And the place where he was born was Gortan in the north; and it was on a Thursday he was born, that has from that time been a lucky day. And indeed it was a wonderful child was born that day, Columcille son of Fedilmid son of Fergus son of Connall Gulban son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. There was not a man of higher race or of greater name born of the Gad. And he was brought for baptism to Cruithnechan the noble priest; and it was he fostered him afterwards at the bidding of an angel; and it was angels that gave him his name.

His Helpers the Angels
After he left his fosterer he went from place to place for a while until he came to where Fintain was at Cluan Eraird, and he built a cabin there. And at that time every one of the twelve saints of Ireland used to take his turn to grind meal in a quern through the night; but it was an angel of God in heaven used to grind for Columcille. That was the honour the Lord gave him because of the nobleness of his race beyond the others. For as to angels it is often they were about him, and it is often they helped him from the beginning of his life until the end. One time he was put Out of the brotherhood for no just cause, and the brothers were all gathered together at Tafiltin holding a meeting against him, and he himself came to the meeting. And Brenden that was there rose up when he saw him coming and when he came near he kissed him with great respect. Some of the old men in the gathering took Brenden on one side then and they were faulting him and saying "Why did you rise up before a man that has been put out of the brotherhood and why did you kiss him?" And it is what Brenden said "If you had seen today what the Lord thought fit to show to me, you would not have dishonoured him that God holds in such honour." "What was it you saw?" said they. "It is what I saw" said Brenden "a very bright pillar with fiery hair about it going before this man
that you make little of; and the company I saw travelling over the plain with him were the angels of God." One night a very beautiful young man in shining clothes came to Columcille in the night time and said "God be with you, and be strong now and steadfast, for God has sent me to keep you for ever and always from all the sin of the world." But Columcille was afraid, and asked him who he was. "I sin Axal" he said "that is a helper, an angel of the Lord; and it is to help you and to protect you from every danger and trouble of the world I am come." And from that time there were many angels used to be coming to his help, but it is likely Axal was the one that was always at hand. One time Columcille was sitting in his little cell, and he writing, and of a sudden his looks changed and he called out "Help! help! "Then two of the brothers that were at the door asked the cause of that cry. And Columcille told them that of a sudden he had seen one of the brothers falling from the highest point of a high house that was being built in Doire. "And I bade the angel of the Lord" he said "that was just now standing among you to go to his relief. And with all the land and sea that lay between" he said "the angel that had but left us as he began to fall was there in time to support him before he reached the ground, so that there was no hurt or bruise upon him at all. And that was wonderful help" he said "that could be given so very quickly as that."

His Strange Visitor
One time Columcille was at Cam Eolairg on Loch Febhail and there came a beautiful young man to him having a golden shoe upon his foot, and whatever foot he would put down it is on it the shoe used to be. "Where do you come from young man?" said Columcille. "I am Mongan son of Fiachra" said the young man "and I am come from countries unknown and countries known. And I am come" he said "to compare my knowledge and wisdom with your own, and to know from you the place where knowledge & ignorance were born, the place where they die and the place of their burying." "A question to you" said Columcille, "what used this loch we are looking at to be in the old time?" "I know that" said the young man. "It was yellow, it was blossoming, it was green, it was hilly, it was a place of drinking, it had silver in it and chariots. I went through it when I was a deer before deer, when I was a salmon, when I was a very strong seal, when I was a wild dog. When I was a man I bathed in it, I carried a yellow sail, a green sail, it drowned a red sail under blood, women called out to me. Though I do not know father or mother I speak with the living and the dead." Then Columcille said to him. "What is there beneath those islands to the west of us?" And it is what the young man said: "There are underneath them tuneful long-haired men; there are well-shaped people both men and women; there are cattle, white, red-eared, their lowJ.flg is sweet; there are herds of deer, there are good horses; there are the two-headed, there are the three-headed, in Europe, in Asia, in an unknown green country from its border to its river mouth." "That is enough so far" said Columcille. And then he went apart with the young man to ask him the secrets of heaven and earth. And they were talking together from one hour on that day to the same hour on the next day, and Columcille's people were looking at them a long way off. And when the talk came tuan end they saw the young man vanishing from them all of a minute, and it is not known where he went. And when they asked Columcille to give them news of his talk it is what he said, that he could not tell them one word of all he had heard; and he said it was a right thing for men not to be told of it.

Columcile keeps the Feast of Pentecost
And at last one day in the month of May, Columcille went on a cart to see the brothers that were ploughing in the north of the island of Hii; and he was comforting them and teaching them. "Well" he said "at the Easter that went into the month of April 1 was ready to go to Heaven, but I had no mind you to have sorrow or trouble after your heavy work, and so I have stayed with you from Easter to Pentecost." When his people heard those words they were very downhearted; and Columcille turned his face westward and blessed the island, and drove away from it every bad thing. And then he came to his cell, and it was not long till there came the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of Sunday. And when he lifted his eyes he saw a great brightness, and an angel of God waiting there above him. And after that he went out, and his servant Diarmuid, whose life he had lengthened with his prayers one time he was sick, with him; and he blessed the barn and two heaps of winnowed wheat that were in it. And then he told Diarmuid he had a little secret word to tell him, that on this very night of the Sabbath of rest he would go to his own rest, on the invitation of the Lord Jesus. And he Sat down on the edge of the path, for all the length of his years came upon him. And there came to him the old spent white horse that used to be carrying the milk vessels from the cowshed in the island to the brothers, and it cried tears into his breast till his clothes were wet. And Diarmuid his servant would have driven the old horse away, but Columcille said "Leave him Diarmuid till he cries his fill, keening me. For you are a man having reason" he said "and you know nothing of the time of my death but what I myself have told you. But as to this beast that is without reason, God himself has made known to it in some way that its master is going to leave it." And he gave his blessing to the horse then, and it went away very sorrowful. And on the night of the Sunday of Pentecost, Columcille was the first in the church and he knelt and prayed. And the brothers came in with their candles, but the whole church was full of light, and Columcille opened his eyes wide and looked about him on every side with a great blush in his face, and they knew he was looking at the angels. And the light of the angels filled the church on every side, and he blessed the brothers, and the life went from his body, and there was a welcome before him in the household of heaven. But there are some that say he was not old when he died but young, because he had made requests of Axal the angel one time, and one of the requests was that he might die in his youth. "For in old age" he said "the body is ugly." And the angel granted him that and many other things.


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