A well-known saint appears in a dream, speaking in several tongues, and confesses the many sins he committed against the Irish.
I did meet St. Patrick once: in a dream. At least I thought it was dream. ……..It was just after I had posted my piece ‘Debunking St Patrick’.
In the middle of the night I was woken with a start; someone had just hit me hard on the backside as I lay in bed. I sat up in shock to see this figure at the end of my bed in a long blue cloak. He was wearing a mitre and holding a crozier in one hand and a pint of Guinness in the other.
‘Wake up! Ye feckin’ pagan gobshite!’ he said.
We glared at each other for a while. I wondered whether to humour the dream or just wake myself up.
‘I can understand your annoyance,’ I said eventually. ‘But -.’
‘Ye haven’t seen me annoyed, boy,’ he interrupted before taking a swallow of Guinness. He spoke English, or an Irish form of it, with a strange accent. There was some Scots and maybe some French. ‘I’m the soddin’ patron saint of Ireland! I’m due some respect, n’est-ce pas?’
‘Aye, I’ve heard,’ I said.
‘C’est vrai… I mean, it’s all true,’ said Patrick.
‘What? You admit the cursing of people, even killing some, torching their homes, burning books!?’
‘That’s the censored version.’
‘Not very Christian, is it?’
‘Comment? Ye think I should love everybody like your man? Where’d that get him? Crucified, dead and buried by the time he was thirty-three, with nae a pot to piss in and a handfae o’ followers. Whereas I lived tae ninety, vanquished snakes, converted a whole country, with thousands taking holy orders. N‘est pas vrai?
‘But on the third day he rose again,’ I responded.
‘Oh aye, bien sur. Bringing the dead back to life. Nae bother.That’s an aul’ conjurin’ trick. Strange thing was only his friends seen him. Now if he had appeared to Pilate or Caiaphas or Caesar that would hae clinched it fae him, fae the whole world! Made my job an awfy lot easier. Non. I just dinnae buy it.’
‘You don’t believe in the resurrection!?’ I exclaimed.
‘Aren’t I here with ye now? Large as life? Fully resurrected in mesel’?’
He hit me again with the crozier to prove the point.
‘Strike me one more time with that stick and holy and all as you are I’ll wrap it round your neck,’ I said angrily.
‘Ha! That’s wha’ the High King of Ireland sez tae me. So I burnt his place down, cursed his children an’ killed his niece. This shack of yours would be wee buns,’ he said looking round. Then he fixed me with a glare. ‘Why’d ye write that shite aboot me?’
‘It’s the truth.’
‘The truth? The truth , is it!? Naebody wants the truth, mon fils. The people of Ireland love me. Why give ’em the truth? They could nae handle it. They want a good story an’ to be toul’ they’re miserable sinners: bampots the lot o’ ’em, if ye ask me.’
He finished his Guinness and looked around him. ‘Any whiskey?’
Getting out of bed, I cursed and got him a whiskey.
‘Bushmills? Feck. Have you nae Paddy?’
‘Take it or leave it,’ I said.
Taking a sip he said, ‘Bon! That’s the ticket an’ nae mishtake. Are ye havin’ wan yoursel’?’
‘At three in the morning!? You must be joking. I just woke up and I don’t know what the fucks going on.’
‘ Eh bien! Santé. Er…. Qu’est-ce que c’est ?... Sláinte!’
‘What is it with this French you keep speaking and the Scots accent too? They said you were Welsh.’ I said.
‘Welsh!? Dinnae insult me. Gaul via Scotland. Me faether left Scotland when the legions left Britain. It was nae longer safe. I grew up in Gaul. ‘Til those feckers frae Larne stoul me into slavery.’
‘The Irish believed in themselves until you came along,’ I observed sadly. I was determined to say my piece and not to let Patrick slide off the hook. ‘You destroyed their ancient culture and their history. Everything begins with you now and your bullshit mission.’
Instead of coming back at me, his anger suddenly faded and he looked crestfallen.
‘Ye want some truth, do ye?’ he sighed.
‘Truth is I was pissed most o’ the time. The drink got a hold o’ me. At the start I was braw. I was humble, lovin’ and kind, like it says in the Confessio. Just like Jesus in fact, y’ken? The people liked me. I had a nice wee mission. Nothin’ grand. A few gospel halls aroun’ County Down. I was even on good terms wi’ the Druids. They liked the Trinity an’ everlasting life stuff. Then the King o’ Ulster introduces me tae their beer an’ the roof came aff. I started speakin’ in tongues, cursin’ people, turnin’ them intae bats. I got this thing about snakes, startin’ fires, even killed a few princesses. I’m sure they put something in the beer.’
‘’They’? Who are ‘they’?’ I asked.
He pointed earthward and put a finger to his lips. ‘De danaan,’ he whispered. ‘They wanted revenge for being forced underground by the Gaels. I became their pimp. Fae forty years I was a man possessed. How dae ye think I covered so much ground, all those holy wells from Waterford tae Fermanagh? All the magic?’
‘De danaan?’ I asked.
He held out his glass for another whiskey. I decided to join him. This was getting interesting.
‘That’s why everyone gets pissed on 17th March,’ he said. ‘Deep down they ken the truth aboot me. Drink. That’s why Rome would na’er canonise me. The bastards! After aw I did fae them!’
‘But you said you were working for the tuatha de danaan.’
‘Keep your voice down!’ He looked around and whispered. ‘They’re clever feckers the de danann. They have the powers, sacre bleu! They knew Rome would fuck the Gaels up good an’ proper. My mission had laid the ground fae them, y’ken. The entire island was hypnotised. The Irish no longer believed in themselves, in their old ways, in natural laws. I’d shattered aw that wi’ Christianity. Taught them that they were sinners, bog trotters, that everything of good came from o’er the seas includin’ their new religion. It was aw downhill from my mission.’
He laughed a hollow laugh and taking off his mitre sat on the bed beside me.
‘Oh, they became great Christian scholars, missionaries an’ writers, richt enough, but I got aw the credit.’ He shook is head. ‘The truth is they already were great scholars an’ writers long before I came along; just nae Christian. It was aw a great con an’ I was the conman, y’ken?’
He fell silent and wiped a tear or two from his sad old eyes.
‘Laisse-moi expliquer. Your scholars today never stop tae consider naebidy had conquered Ireland for twa thousand years, no’ even the Romans; ’til I came along wi’ nae army just this oul’ schtick an’ conquered the whole lot in a few year! Wan man wi’ a schtick an’ a few magic tricks! I ask ye.’
‘Unbelievable,’ I said.
‘Oui. Alors, once I had the groun’ work done, Rome brought in the English an’ wi’ them came the bankers: the enslavement of an entire people.’
His voice trembled.
‘Don’t blame yourself,’ I said lamely.
‘Ha! Dinnae blame mesel’, he says!’
Patrick empties his glass and holds it out for a refill.
‘It’s aw hidden in plain sight; boy, even though, I an’ the Roman church, did a good job o’ destroyin’ the evidence. None o’ these clever fellas in the universities stops tae consider how a supposedly barbaric people can overnight become ‘the land of saints and scholars’.’
‘They say it was all your doing,’ I said.
‘Mon dieu, I’m guid, but nae that feckin’ guid; even wi’ the de danaan at me back. So now I’m condemned tae walkin’ the world attendin’ St Patrick Day parades. Me only consolation is that they love me in the Holy Land.’
‘Well that’s something at least,’ I said, trying to cheer the old boy up. ‘You must get some peace from all the sacred places there.’
‘Comment? Peace? Sacred places? Non! The Holy Land is in Belfast. It’s a kip, ye eijit.’
‘Oh. I see what you mean.’
‘Jaysus, but they can party, n’est-ce pas?’ he said.
We sat for a while in silence. There didn’t seem to be much more to say. How could I begin to lift his old saint’s enormous karmic debt to the people of Ireland? Instead we watched the dawn break.
I couldn’t bring myself to ask him to leave. So as the drink took hold of us, a wild notion took hold of me. I introduced Patrick to the drinking game, Cardinal Puff. I thought it might appeal to his clerical background.
To those who don’t know it involves a cardinal, a number of novitiates and a litany. So here was I, as the cardinal, instructing my novitiate, St Patrick in the litany.
‘Say: “I drink to cardinal Puff for the first time tonight”,’ I told him.
‘I drink tae cardinal Puff fae the first time tonight,’ he repeated.
‘With your left hand, using index finger and thumb, grasp the top of a full glass. Take one sip. Place it back on table with a knock, without spilling any! Tap the top of table in this order, with one finger: Left, Right. Tap the bottom of table in this order, with one finger: Right, Left. Stand up and sit down one time. Take a sip. If you make a mistake in the litany, you must drain the glass and start again. Then the next person – me in this case – says: “I drink to cardinal Puff Puff for the second time tonight”, uses two fingers and does everything twice. Make a mistake and you drain the glass and start again. And so on.’
‘Fantastique! It’s better than sayin’ Mass. God, I wish I’d had this fae those feckin’ cold dark nights on Lough Derg,’ said Patrick.
The craic was mighty. Patrick could drink and was of course good at the litany. I’ll give him that. I think we got to the fourth round, before I collapsed.
Next thing I know I was waking up in my bed with no Patrick standing at the end of it. But there was a full glass of whiskey and a Guinness on the bedside table with a bunch of shamrock floating in each glass and a bruise on my backside.