St. Patrick

Bell Shrine of St Patrick

The parish of Kilpatrick is said to be the birthplace of St. Patrick, born in the late 4th century, the date around 384 AD. The old pre-reformation church had a shrine and bell dedicated to him - in the parish till 1798, now both in Dublin, Ireland - adjoining the church is St. Patrick's well, believed to have sacred and healing waters. Strathblane parish also has a well in his name. The chapel of Dumbarton Castle was dedicated to him .

Kilpatrick at the time would have been part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, the capital being Ail- Cluathe or Dumbarton. The natives were Celts, probably romanised in part. They spoke a Celtic language similar to Welsh or Breton. Most of them would have been Christian, converted by missionaires of the Culdee church.

That St. Patrick is reputed to be from the Lennox is well attested in the Statistical Accounts of the area, both the 1791 and 1845 accounts note the longevity of these traditions; one such tradition even accounting for the formation of Dumbarton Rock, supposedly flung at Saint Patrick by angry witches! Doubtless this tradition was a Christian reworking of an earlier Celtic myth about the creation of the rock, implying that Saint Partick was known to have been from the area by the local populace.

As already noted both the bell and shrine were taken from Kilpatrick to Dublin in 1798. They were at that time kept by a local family. John Bruce's History of the parish of West or Old Kilpatrick explains: "The bell and shrine were in the custody of the family of Mulholland until the year 1798, when it was gifted by the then holder, a poor schoolmaster, Mulholland by name, to a former pupil, Mr. McLean of Belfast. They are now among the greatest treasures of the museum of the Royal Irish Academy."

St. Patrick writes in his Confessio : "I, Patrick, a most untutored sinner and lowest of all the faithful and the most despicable in the eyes of many, am son of Calpurnius, a deacon who was the son of Potitus, a priest, from the village of Bannavem Taberniae, who had an estate near it, where I was taken prisoner. At the time I was about sixteen years of age, I had no knowledge of the true God and I was borne away into captivity in Ireland with thousands of people ..."

Raids by the Scots of Antrim were frequent. Gildas, born in Alclut (Dumbarton), refers to them as "anniversarias predas." The closeness of Ulster backs Kilpatrick's case, although these Ulstermen no doubt infrequently terrorised the whole of the west coast of Britain.

I.M.M. MacPhail's Dumbarton Castle notes that the village of Bannavem Taberniae has other candidates: "Cumbria, South Wales, or south-west England." and explains the view of R.P.C. Hanson detailing the main objection: "There is no evidence whatever that Roman villas ever existed in the area which later became the kingdom of Strathclyde, of which Dumbarton was the 'capital'." Cumbria is oft sited:- Edwin Sprott Towhill's The Saints of Scotland: "If Patrick was a Briton taken to Irish captivity from Cumbria we would expect the traditions to be most numerous and most reliable in Ulster, especially in parts facing the Scottish coast. This is exactly what we do find. Not only are traditions about the saint more plentiful about that part, they also sound more authentic and primitive." I agree, but surely those traditions may have easily come from Strathclyde as Cumbria. And why the facing Scottish coast not Cumbrian? This point must detract any southern localities. Alistair Moffat in his Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms also suggests Cumbria but mentions his letter to Ceretic, the King of Strathclyde, based at Dumbarton where "Patrick addresses him as 'fellow citizen'". Although it is true that Cumbria was probably part of the British kingdom, it lends weight to the claim of Old Kilpatrick; a closer locality to Dumbarton would be preferred, otherwise Patrick would have not been sure his letter would be delivered. Then what of Hanson's villas? In light of the many Roman forts in the area, one at Old Kilpatrick at the end of the Antonine Wall, a famous Roman bathhouse nearby in Bearsden, and that the Damnoni were part of the Roman foederati earlier discussed this objection seems nonsensical; Dumbartonshire could hardly have been a better setting for a roman-type villa. (The fact that one has not been uncovered yet is not conclusive, though it would strengthen Old Kilpatrick's already robust case. The Castlehill fort at Drumchapel was being excavated at Peel Glen Road as recently as 1981, so perhaps there is still time yet.) A.A.M. Duncan's Scotland: The Making of a kingdom agrees "Of the many possible early homes for St Patrick with his decurion father, Strathclyde seems to fit the sources best; as its ruler, Ceretic had been responsible for a massacre and for selling Christians into captivity among the Scots and the Picts, thereby making himself and his men socii Scottorum atque Pictorum apostatorumque. In another place Patrick repeats the same epithet: 'apostate Picts', which surely must be taken as evidence confirmatory of Bede's account of Nynia - that he had converted the southern Picts, that is some of those south of the Mounth."

The historian J.A. Wylie in History of the Scottish Nation Volume II has no doubt that Strathclyde held roman - type villas. He asserts that Strathclyde has the best claim, but gives a case for Hamilton before settling on Kilpatrick: "Fiacc, one of the earliest and most reliable of his biographers, tells us that Patrick "was born at Nemthur," and that his first name, among his own tribes, was Succat. Nemthur signifies in Irish the lofty rock; and the reference undoubtedly is to All-Cluid, or Rock of the Clyde, the rock that so grandly guards the entrance of that river, now known as the Rock of Dumbarton, which then formed the capital of the British Kingdom of Strathclyde. Here too are the yet unobliterated vestiges of a Roman encampment, and one of much greater importance than any on the southern shore, for here did the Roman wall which extended betwixt the Firths of Forth and Clyde terminate. This must have led to the creation of a town, with suburban villas, and Roman municipal privileges, such as we know were enjoyed by the community in which the ancestors of Patrick lived. Tradition, moreover, has put its finger on the spot, by planting here 'Kilpatrick,' that is Patrick's Church. Here then, on the northern shore, where the Roman had left his mark in the buildings, in the cultivation, in the manners, and in the language of the people, are we inclined to place the birth of one who has left a yet deeper mark on Scotland, and one infinitely more beneficent, than any left by Roman."

St. Patrick's Bell
St. Patrick's well, Old Kilpatrick

The place where St. Patrick was captured is reputed to be near the site of the old Erskine ferry at Ferrydyke; St. Patrick's Rock is where he was fishing before being carried off to Ireland by freebooters. The village of Bannavem Taberniae would have been close by. Joseph Irving in his History of Dunbartonshire says this on the matter: "Jocelin of Furnes, who wrote a life of the Apostle about the end of the twelfth century, describes his birthplace particularly as the town of Nempthor, with which the modern Kilpatrick exactly corresponds, and states that the territory generally was called Taburnia from its being a Roman station. Another tradition affirms that St. Patrick was buried as well as born in Kilpatrick, but rests on but indifferent authorithy, and has never obtained general credence."

As Old Kilpatrick was indeed the site of a Roman camp, its naming of Taburnia may be a reasonable assumption. Tom Begg's The Kingdom of Kippen notes that ".. the very earliest British churches were often located within the sites of Roman army encampments. This was probably done partly for reasons of security, but presumably also because the earliest Christians would have been local people who had been at least in contact with the troops." As already mentioned in the entry for the Damnoni tribe, St. Patrick's father was traditonally a local decurion.

After his capture and around 6 years later, St Patrick returned home to Kilpatrick and was welcomed back by his family but a vision convinced him to go back to Ireland and preach the gospels.

The Britons were subject to raids by Picts from the north and Saxons to the east. St. Germain writes of a battle when the Picts and Saxons joined forces against the Britons in 429.

St. Patrick was scathing of the Picts calling them "worthless, evil and apostate" and accuses them of buying Christian slaves. The use of the word "apostate" implies that the Picts had already been given to Christianity and then denounced it, perhaps linking them to an earlier mission of St. Ninian (as noted by A.A.M. Duncan) St. Patrick was said to have died in 468.

The derivation of the name Kilpatrick obviously hints at the true location of St. Patrick's birthplace. In Tom Begg's The Kingdom of Kippen he notes a differnce between Gaelic and British versions of 'Kil' recorded by W.F. H. Nicolaisen: "... Nicolaisen has pointed out that the Gaelic term developed from the British 'kil' meaning a church or graveyard or at least a hermit's cell. He also concluded that 'kil' names have a more restricted distribution than the Gaelic version, that there are few in areas not close to the Clyde or Solway and that most are connected to Christian sites which are not younger than c. 800." Obviously then, Kilpatrick is part of the Clydeside grouping of 'British' placenames with an ancient Christian pedigree. This implies that Kilpatrick was known as the birthplace of St. Patrick before 800 AD and surely secures Kilpatrick's claim. For yet more evidence of Kilpatrick as St. Patrick's birthplace see the entries for The Damnoni, King Alexander II and Queen Mary.

A now lost but famous Irish record 'The Harrying of Strathclyde' recounts the accession of the last pagan king of Ireland, Nathi and his assaults on Strathclyde. W.J. Watson in his Celtic Placenames of Scotland negates the argument of this harrying taking place later; in 871 the vikings terrorised Strathclyde but this is not likely to form an Irish chief's tale. Instead mentioning St. Patrick's birth earlier he reasons: "If, therefore, he was born at or near Dumbarton, as Irish tradition states, there is good ground for believing that he was taken captive on the occasion of this same expedition of Dathí [Dathi is just an alternative for Nathi]. What was implied by such a foray is illustrated by Patrick's words, 'I went into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of persons, according to our deserts, because we departed away from God, and kept not his commandments, and were not obedient to our priests, who used to admonish us for our salvation.'"

Having secured Kilpatrick's claim as the birthplace of Saint Patrick, it is likely that he would have known the ancient site of Drumchapel very well. As we have already seen Drumchapel had a bronze age site, the Knappers Henge, doubtless reused by ancient druids. It seems that early Christians tried to marry druidic traditions with their own; we read in Adomnan's Life of Columba, the saint's nostalgia for ancient traditions: My Derry, my little Oak Grove, the Oak Grove's being sacred to druids. These ancient traditions are also preserved in Drumchapel by the naming of one of the ridges that give Drumchapel its name Drum Choppuill; the ridge of the horse, the horse being a sacred animal to the Celts. As we shall see the naming of the other ridge as Drum Righ gives the site a royal significance. These were the lands that Saint Patrick would have called home.

When Patrick was taken to Ireland, the homesick Saint set up a church in Armagh on a druid's sanctuary. The Ui Neill clan had an nearby hill, Eamhain Macha, as a seat of their power. Ian Finlay's Columba states: "... there was a strong tradition in this tribal society that their kings should take Macha, the earthgoddess, as their ritual bride, so to ensure the fruitfulness of their realm." Finlay also states: "... Macha being probably a pagan goddess connected with a horse cult. It had been a sacred place since the Bronze Age." All of this Patrick would have recognised from Drumchapel. In Armagh, he found another Kilpatrick; another home.