Emerald Isle

Saint Patrick at the Hill of Tara

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

The old pagans see the light when Saint Patrick goes to the Hill of Tara

On Easter Sunday morning, in anno domine 433 it was that Patrick came face to face with the beating heart of the old religion at Tara, and did battle with the Druids. Although some might dispute the miraculous nature of the events that took place on that day, few argue they didn't happen, so take from that what you will!

Laeghaire the king and his Druids had returned from their journey to Slane and had sat hungry to a lunch in their great hall, when who should walk in but Patrick himself, along with his companions. The king had previously set traps, snares and ambushes for Patrick, who had escaped them all, and so the king was much surprised to see him enter, but the laws of Irish hospitality were among the most important, and so Patrick sat as an uneasy guest.

The Druids brought him his wine but craftily dropped a dose of poison from an ebony ring into his cup just before passing it to him. Patrick didn't notice this but made the sign of the cross over the wine, turning the poison into a lump and spilling from the cup as he raised it to his lips, so he drank unharmed.

Infuriated by this turn of events, the chief Druid stood up and challenged Patrick to a battle of wonders on Tara hill. He cast his spells and worked his ancient magics, weaving eldritch powers into a call to hag-devils of the frozen north who slumbered uneasily, causing a fall of deep snow all over the plain below.

Patrick asked him then to remove it, but he could not, for his magic was useful only for evil and destruction, so Patrick blessed the land and the snow vanished.

Incensed, the Druid howled into the sky, calling upon grim powers of old, the elder and most potent sorceries; the earth trembled and the sky was covered with a lowering darkness. Even the sun was dimmed and hell-winds skittered across the fields, blowing leaves from green trees and browning the tall grass.

Again, Patrick bid him undo what he had done, and he could not, so the Saint made the sign of the cross and the darkness turned to light in an instant, the sun warming all beneath its pleasant light.

The Druid was beside himself with rage, but the king was starting to have his doubts, so he lifted with one hand the Gospels and with the other the age-blackened hide scrolls of the Druids and said "We'll put these into the river and see which survives!"

But the Druid said no, for water was the God of Patrick.

"Fair enough," said the king, "let's burn them and that will decide it!"

Again the Druid demurred, saying that fire was also Patrick's God.

Wanting to put an end to the contest, Patrick said to the Druid, "Well, if that is the case then I will give you my cloak and you go into a house and we'll set it ablaze. My own cleric here shall also go in, wearing your own cloak, so we'll see who is favoured most."

Although the Druid was reluctant he had little choice but to agree since the onlooking king, chieftains and noblemen seemed to think it a fair game. He craftily conferred with Laeghaire beforehand though and had his part of the house built of green wood, while Patrick's man was to sit in a room made of old, dry wood.

A wonder was seen by all then - the green part of the house burned mightily, and not a smudge was found on Patrick's cloak, although the Druid died a horrible death, while Patrick's cleric was untouched by the fire, despite the Druid's cloak being turned to ash around him.

The king was wroth and ready to strike Patrick down, but God stayed his hand and further slew many of his men that day. A great fear came upon the king and he bent the knee to Patrick, but he stayed part heathen all his life and was buried as a heathen himself, although his people saw the great works of Patrick and became believers. Still long yet did paganism linger in Ireland, but the light of Christianity had been seen and the word was spreading.

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