Let us see what the biographers of St. Patrick have to relate about the Druids.
A work published at St. Omer, in 1625, by John Heigham, has this story:--"One day as the Saint sayd masse in the sayd church, a sacrilegious magitian, the child of perdition, Stood without, and with a rodd put in at the window, cast down the chalice, and shed the holy sacrament, but God without delay severely punished so wicked a sacrilege, for
the earth opening his mouth after a most strange manner devoured the magitian, who descended alive downe to hell."
Again:--"A certain magitian that was in high favour with the King, and whome the King honoured as a god opposed himself against S. Patricke, even in the same kin that Simon Magus resisted the apostle S. Peter; the miserable wretch being elevated in the ayre by the ministery of Devils, the King and the people looked after him as if he were to scale the heavens, but the glorious Saint, with the force of his fervent prayers, cast him downe unto the ground where dashing his head against a hard flint, he rêdred up his wicked soule as a pray to the infernnall Fiendes."
The Triptartite Life of St. Patrick relates:--"Laeghaire MacNeill possessed Druids and enchanters, who used to foretell through their Druidism and through their paganism what was in the future for them." Coming to certain town, the Saint, according to history, "found Druids at that place who denied the Virginity of Mary. Patrick blessed the ground, and it swallowed up the Druids."
The book of 1625 is the authority for another story:--"Two magitians with their magicall charmes overcast all the region with a horrible darkness for the space of three dayes, hoping by that meanes to debar his (Patrick's enterance into the country." Again:--"Nine magitians conspired the Saint's death, and to have the more free accesse to him, they counterfeited thēselves to be monks putting on religious weeds; the Saint, by divine information, knew thē to be wolves wraped in sheeps cloathing; making, therefore, the signe of the crosse against the childrē of Satan, behould fire descended from Heaven and consumed them all nine." He is also reported to hay caused the death of 12,000 idolaters at Tara.
St. Patrick contended with the Druids before King
Laeghaire at Tara. One, Lochra, hardened the King's heart against the preaching; so "the Saint prayed that he might be lifted out and die, even as St. Peter had obtained the death of Simon Magus. In an instant Lochra was raised up in the air, and died, falling on a stone." This Lochra had, it is said, previously foretold the Saint's visit:--
"A Tailcenn (baldhead) will come over the raging sea,
With his perforated garments, his crook-headed staff,
With his table (altar) at the east end of his house,
And all the people will answer--'Amen! Amen!"
The authoress of Ireland, the Ur of the Chaldees, ventured to write:--"When the Apostle of Ireland went there, the people believed him, for he taught no new doctrine." She thought Druidism not very unlike Christianity. Dr. O'Donovan, upon the Four Masters, observes:--"Nothing is clearer than that Patrick engrafted Christianity on the pagan superstitions with so much skill that he won the people over to the Christian religion before they understood the exact difference between the two systems of beliefs; and much of this half pagan, half Christian religion will be found, not only in the Irish stories of the Middle Ages, but in the superstitions of the peasantry of the present day." Todd sees that worldly wisdom in "dedicating to a Saint the pillar-stone, or sacred fountain."
It is not necessary to discuss the question as to the individual Saint himself, around which so much controversy has raged. They who read theology between the lines of old Irish history may be induced to doubt whether such a person ever existed, or if he were but a Druid himself, such being the obscurity of old literature.
St. Bridget's early career was associated with the Druids. A miracle she wrought in the production of butter caused her Druidical master to become a Christian.
Colgan contended that St. Patrick, by "continually warring with Druids, exposed his body to a thousand kinds of deaths." In The Guardsman's Cry of St. Patric, which declares "Patric made this hymn," we are informed that it was "against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of hereticians, against surroundings of idolism, against spells of women, and of smiths, and of Druids."
The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters mentions a number of stories relative to Irish Druids, then believed to have once ruled Erin. St. Patrick was a youthful slave to Milcho, a Druidical priest. Gradwell's Succat, therefore, says, "He must often have practised heathenish rites in the presence of his household, and thus excited the horror of his Christian slave."
St. Columba, the Culdee, was much the same as St. Patrick in his mission work, and his contests with Druids. He changed water into wine, stilled a storm, purified wells, brought down rain, changed winds, drove the devil out of a milk-pail, and raised the dead to life. All that tradition acknowledged as miraculous in the Druids was attributed equally to Columba as to Patrick.
Adamnan of Iona tells some strange stories of his master. One tale concerns Brochan the Druid. "On a certain day, Brochan, while conversing with the Saint, said to him, 'Tell me, Columba, when do you propose to set sail?' To which the Saint replied, 'I intend to begin my voyage after three days, if God permits me, and preserves my life.' Brochan then said, 'You will not be able, for I will make the winds unfavourable to your voyage, and I will create a great darkness over the sea."' The wind rose, and the
darkness came. But the Saint put off, and "the vessel ran against the wind with extraordinary speed, to the wonder of the large crowd."
The Saint wanted the Druid to release an Irish female captive, which he declined to do. But, says Adamnan, "an angel sent from heaven, striking him severely, has broken in pieces the glass cup which he held in his hand, and from which he was in the act of drinking, and he himself is left half dead." Then he consented to free the Irish girl, and Columba cured him of the wound.