Emerald Isle

The Cry of the Deer

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Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle

Saint Patrick's Breastplate

During the darkness of pagan times, the High King of Ireland was a man known as Laoghaire, known for his merciless fury and great strength, and he sat upon the seat of the High Kings in Tara. However, unknown to him, Saint Patrick had landed in a little boat at Colpe in the Boyne estuary, travelling to a place called Ferta fer Feic, or the burial place of the men of Fiacc, and was making his way towards the Hill of Tara.

It was at the beginning of the festival of Beltane and people had come from all corners of Ireland to join the festivities, so the druids had commanded that no fires were to be lit on that night, save only their own, which was to be lit by the king himself and no other. This was their ancient tradition and sacred rite, and it was enforced with terrible punishments!

But only a few miles away at the Hill of Slane, burial place of the great Fir Bolg King Sláine, who had cleared the forests so that Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth could be raised, Patrick had been told by the Holy Spirit that he was to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Easter with a fire of his own, the holy Paschal fire!

Not being far off,  Laoghaire and his druids couldn't believe their own eyes when they saw a fire lit on that day of days, before a spark had touched their own. Two of the druids then spoke of a prophecy they knew, and told Laoghaire that

“If that fire which we now see be not extinguished tonight, it will never be extinguished, but will over-top all our fires: and he that has kindled it will overturn thy kingdom.”

Well the king set out that very minute in great wrath, and bought with him nine other chariots. Through the gloaming night they rode, red sparks spitting from the iron rims of their wheels, horses frothing with the scent of their masters' rage upon them. They were intent on avenging their injured pride, and the druids smiled!

But when they reached the summit of Slane, the king dismounted and shouted for the interlopers to come forth, and that none of his men should rise from their place. Despite this, upon seeing the Saint, Erc son of Dego rose up and saluted, which caused King Laoghaire to pause. They conferred and it was agreed that Saint Patrick and his men should visit Tara on the morrow, and away they went to their festival, as all the while the fires burned on Slane, where later was built a monastery.

The druids of course were beside themselves with rage and plotted an unpleasant surprise for Patrick when he travelled to Tara the following morning! A strong band of armed men of the sort who'd do anything for enough money were dispatched to kill the Saint and his company as they went, but the Saint raised a prayer and when the bandits beheld them, they saw nothing but deer followed by a faun.

And so Patrick was held safe, and went on to be given permission to preach throughout Ireland! The prayer is known as The Deer's Cry, or the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, and was in the form of a lorica, which is a prayer for protection, where the petitioner invokes all the power of God as a safeguard against evil in its many forms.

The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the boat,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

The Hill of Slane may be seen on the map below!


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Irish fairy tales, Irish folklore