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gates to Tara. He found the men of Meath in great distress because the pirates had landed and were spreading over the country. "Then," we read, "the cleric's nature rose against them, so that sparks of blazing fire burst forth from his teeth." Led by the saint roaring his incantations, the men of Meath rushed against their assailants and exterminated them, "slaying their gillies, burning their ships, and making a cairn of their heads." In return for this service Findchua was granted a dun, with the privileges that went with the possession of such a fortress, also the King's drinking horn, to be delivered to him every seventh year.
When war broke out against Leinster, the aid of Findchua was again invoked; and we are expressly told that he was sent for only because the Druid, whose proper function it was to curse the enemy, was too old to do the job. The King of Leinster was in his dun at Barrow; Findchua advised him to march against the enemy, and he himself would lead the van. Then a prophetic fury seized on him, "a wave of Godhead " it is termed, and he thundered forth a metrical incantation that began—
"Follow me, ye men of Leinster."
Then "wrath and fierceness" came on the saint. The result was that victory declared for the arms of the men of Leinster. The leader of the enemy, Cennselach, threw himself on the protection of Findchua, and surrendered to him "his clan, his race, and his posterity." In return for his services, the King of Leinster granted the saint a hundred of every kind of cattle every seventh year.
We have, in the case of Findchua, not only an instance of getting possession of a dun, but also of becoming the tutelary saint over an entire tribe—that occupying Wexford.
Again war broke out, this time between Ulster and Munster, and the King of the latter sent to Findchua for assistance. "Then Findchua drove in his chariot with his staff in his hand, without waiting for any of the clerics, until he got to the dun," where the King was. Again he marched at the head of the army, brandishing his crozier, and again victory was with those who trusted in him. For his aid he was granted a cow from every farm, and a milch-cow to the clerk who should carry the crozier in battle, thenceforth, whenever it led to battle. The King of Munster, moreover, agreed to rise up before Findchua's comarb.14
We need follow the story no further. Suffice it to say that in later life the saint got a glimmer of thought that being mixed up with so much bloodshed was not quite in keeping with the new religion so imperfectly assimilated, "and he repented of the battles which he had fought, and the deeds which he had done for friendship and for love of kindred," and, we may add, for very liberal payment.
14 " Book of Lismore," Anecdota Oxoniensia, Oxf. 1890, p. 241. The title given to S. Findchua was " The slaughterous hero," p. 240.
When Diarmid Mac Cearboil went to war against the Clan Niall of the north, whom S. Columba (Columcille) had stirred up against him—although he was a Christian, he took with him in his campaign a Druid to perform enchantments and pronounce curses on the enemy; and the Hy Niall had the saint with them to work his counter charms and deliver his counter curses.15
The office of cursing originally formed part of the duties of the Druid. He was a functionary called in likewise at the conclusion of contracts. When two individuals entered into a compact, the Druid was present to utter imprecations on him who should break the agreement. Beside the Druid, the file or poet was called in, and he gave a guarantee that he would compose a lampoon against the transgressor. This was part and parcel of a process that was legal. When S. Patrick, S. Carantoc, and the rest of the Commission revised the laws of Ireland, the least possible interference was made with existing social and legal systems.
As the Druid ceased to be esteemed, insensibly the Saint stepped into his functions. He had thrust on him the duties formerly discharged by the Druid. From being professional curser of the tribal foes, it was but natural that the saint should take on him to curse those who interfered with the privileges of his monastery, broke sanctuary, or even gave him personal offence.
It was held that a curse once launched could not be recalled, it must fall and blight; if it did not strike him at whom it was directed, it recoiled and smote the saint or bard who had pronounced it. For instance, S. Cieran of Clonmacnois encountered King Diarmid Mac Cearboil, who had offended him, and he cried out against him, "I will not deprive thee of heaven and earth, but a violent death I wish thee, by wound, by water, and by fire." The king at once offered to pay any price desired by the saint to escape such a fate. "Nay," said S. Cieran, "the missile that I have delivered, by that same I myself would be hurt to my death, if it fell not on thee." 1S
Columba visited S. Loman with the White Legs, who hid his books lest his visitor should ask to have them as a loan. Thereupon Columba cursed the books that they should no more profit the owner, and when Loman went for them he found that the wet had so stained them that they were well nigh illegible. S. Patrick cursed Brenainn that he should have neither son nor successor. A saint's curse by no means struck only the living; it affected after generations. Thus S. Patrick cursed the sons of Ere for stealing his horses, that their descendants should fall into servitude.17 S. Malo cursed a man to nine generations who had spoken abusively of him.18
15 O'Donovan, Tribes and Cast, of the Hy Many, 16 Silva Gadelica, ii, p. 78.
Some jugglers performed their tricks before Patrick. He had no food to give them, so he sent to King Loman hard by for some meat. At the time Patrick's deacon, Mantan, was cooking the King's dinner. Loman and Mantan declared that they would not spare any of the meat for those mountebanks. Thereupon Patrick cursed them, that Loman's race should never after produce a king or a bishop, and that Mantan should never become noted as a saint, but that sheep and swine should run over his grave.19
In the same way David cursed Joab: "Let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread." 20
When we consider that at least some, if not all, of the non-Semitic inhabitants of Canaan belonged to the same stock as that which formed the substratum of the population in Ireland and Great Britain, we need not be surprised to find the same ideas relative to the force of a curse prevalent in Palestine as in Ireland. A curse, once launched, as already said, could not be recalled. If wrongfully pronounced, then it reverted and fell on the head of him who had pronounced it; but no amount of repentance, no amends made, could render it innocuous. S. Patrick cursed the Hy Ailell because his horses were stolen. The bishop he had set over them implored his pardon. He wiped the hoofs of Patrick's horses in token of submission, but all in vain. The curse must fall.
It is worth while to show how the conviction of the efficacy of a curse remains unshaken to the present day.
George Borrow, in his Wild Wales, mentions his encounter with an Irish woman. "When about ten yards from me, she pitched forward, gave three or four grotesque tumbles, heels over head, then standing bolt upright, about a yard before me, she raised her right arm, and shouted in a most discordant voice—' Give me an alms, for the glory of God !'" On entering into conversation with this woman, he learned that she had been a well-to-do respectable widow with a farm and two sons. One day she refused charity to a beggar woman, who thereupon cursed her. In vain did she send after the mendicant to entreat her to remove the curse, and promised to reward her if she would ; this was refused. "All the rest of the day I remained sitting on the stool speechless, thinking of the prayer which the woman had said, and wishing I had given her everything I had in the world, rather than she should have said it." Thenceforth all went ill with her, the family, the farm. She became as one possessed, and in chapel "I would shout and hoorah, and go tumbling and toppling along the floor before the Holy Body." Her sons took to drink, one was convicted and sent to prison, she lost everything and became a homeless pauper.21
17 Tripartite Life, p. 109.
18 " Vita l01* " in Bulletin de la Soc. Arch, d'llle et Vilaine, t. xvi, p. 304. 19 Tripartite Life, p. 203. . ,0 2 Sam. iii, 29.
In Wales, till not so long ago the Holy Well of S. Elian was employed for invoking a curse on offenders. In Brittany, those who have been wronged appeal to S. Yves to this day to punish the wrongdoer.
We must not be too shocked at this cursing as practised by the Celtic saints. It was a legal right accorded to them, hedged about with certain restrictions. It was a means provided by law and custom to enable the weak, who could not redress their wrongs by force of arms, to protect themselves against the mighty, and to recover valuables taken from them by violence. A man who considered himself aggrieved, and could not forcibly recover the fine, went to a Druid in Pagan times, to a saint in Christian days, and asked him to "illwish" the wrong-doer, just as now he goes to a lawyer and solicits a summons.
We will now pass to a feature in the lives of several of the Celtic saints that needs explanation. This is the practice of "fasting against " an offender. There was a legal process whereby a creditor might recover from the debtor, or the wronged might exact an eric or fine from the wrong-doer; and this was by levying a distress.
In Wales, as in Ireland, there was no executive. The law could be ascertained, and the amount of the fine decreed, but the creditor or aggrieved was left to his own devices to obtain the redress adjudicated. The court did nothing to enforce its judgments. Consequently, a man who could not enforce the penalty vi et armis was left to choose between two courses: either he might get a saint to curse the debtor or wrong-doer, or else he might take the matter into his own hands by "fasting against " the offender.
The process was this. He made formal demand for what was due to him. If this were refused, and he were unable otherwise to enforce payment or restitution, he seated himself at the door of the debtor and abstained from food and drink.
21 Borrow, Wild Wales, Lond. 1901, pp. 691-702. VOL. I. c
In India the British Government has been compelled to interfere, and put down this process of dharna. The fact of the levy of a fast against a man at once doubled the eric or fine due for the offence. In India it was the etiquette for the debtor to fast also; but in Ireland the only means that one man had of meeting a fast against him without yielding was to fast also. The fast seemed to have extended to the whole family; for when S. Patrick fasted against King Laoghaire, the king's son ate some mutton, to the great scandal of his mother. "It is not proper for you to eat food," said the Queen. "Do you not know that Patrick is fasting against us?" "It is not against me he is fasting," replied the boy, "but against my father." 22 Hardly ever did any chief or noble dare to allow the fasting to proceed to the last extremities, because of the serious blood feud it would entail, as also because of the loss of prestige in the clan that would be his.
S. Patrick boldly had recourse to the same method to obtain his demands from King Laoghaire. Again, he found that Trian, an Ulster chief, maltreated his serfs. Trian had set them to cut down timber with blunt axes, and without providing them with whetstones. The poor fellows had their palms raw and bleeding. Patrick remonstrated with their master, but when he would not listen, he brought him to a proper sense of humanity by fasting against him.23
We find the same thing in Wales. S. Cadoc was offended with Maelgwn Gwynedd. Some of the king's men had carried off a very beautiful girl from his land, the daughter of the steward of the establishment. The men of Cadoc's ecclesiastical tribe went in pursuit, and in revenge massacred three hundred of Maelgwn's attendants. The king, "in raging and furious anger," marched against Cadoc's tribe to wreak vengeance. Cadoc could not resist by force of arms, so he and all his men instituted a fast against the king, who at once gave way.24
An odd story is that of the men of Leinster, who sent a deputation to the great S. Columba to obtain of him the promise that they should never be defeated by any foreign king. Columba demurred to giving them this assurance, whereupon they undertook a fast against him, and he gave way.25
S. Caimin of Iniskeltra, being engaged by the King of Ulster to
"Tripartite Life, p. 557. "Ibid., p. 219.
"Cambro-British Saints, p. 94.
"Book of Leinster, quoted in Anecdota Oxon. The Book of Lismore, p. 308.