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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The holiest place in Ireland


The slab of stone that marks the spot where the mortal remains of Patrick, Brigid and Columcille (of Bangor) were buried in the 12th Century. The legend says that "Three Saints in one grave shall lie". This stone is from the 19th Century and replaced an earlier marker. At the dissolution all Reliquaries were seized and the remains within them destroyed. The Reliquary that had held Patrick, Brigid and Columcille was among those stripped and publically burned, the Commissioner, Lord Grey, signing a declaration later that the bones were a mixture, some resembling those of beasts.

It is my belief that the Monks had taken precautions and removed the saints themselves long before the Commissioner arrived and secretly reburied them, filling the reliquary itself with any spare bones they could find, possibly even some from the kitchens. One thing is certain, within a very short time people had begun to circulate the rumour that Patrick, Brigid and Columcille had not been destroyed and remained hidden. I can tell you that there is a special feel to this place, a tranquility that is comforting even on a wet and stormy day.

In Patrick's day the drumlinn on which the cathedral stands was an island surrounded by water and marshes. It had to be approached across a causeway and was the stronghold, or Dun, of Daire. Daire ruled the local area and gave Patrick the first building to use as a church, home and base, four miles away at a place now called Saul, an Anglicisation of the Irish word sciobol which means "barn". The site of this barn, probably a small wattle and daub structure in an enclosure is today the site of a tiny church, built in the 1930's on the site of the ruined monastery, itself built on the site of the community where Patrick died in 461. The Dun of Daire became very quickly the Dun of Patrick and that in turn has become Downpatrick.

The grave is situated to the south of the little cathedral which is itself the restored remains of the Quire of the medieval monastery. To me, this is without doubt the holiest place in Ireland.

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