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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 11 July, 2020
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Column: Cardinal Rules - The real Book of Patrick

This week, the (not) Primate of All Ireland, shares some previously unpublished excerpts from a life of St Patrick… by his manservant Bran.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

To fully understand the story of St Patrick, one must turn to the most reliable source of all. I speak of course of “The Book of Patrick”, that legendary tome written by Patrick’s faithful manservant, Bran.

May5, 491AD

We are in a forest. Patrick and I have bumped into a group of travelling pagan mercenaries, and we are taking the opportunity to convert them to Christianity.

Patrick has already told them the basic tenets. There is a respectful silence, broken only by the sound of a bee buzzing. All told it is a very pleasant summery day. That said I can tell that Patrick is feeling the pressure. He is already coming up to the tricky section of his sermon. He licks his lips, and he has a light sheen of sweat on his brow. He tries to smile.

“Now then, we come to the really important part.”

Patrick takes a sprig of shamrock out of his cloak. He holds it aloft and clears his throat.

“There are three persons in the one God.”

There is silence as this sinks in. Patrick looks nervous. I smile by way of encouragement. The bee buzzes. A bird sings. Someone idly scratches their hair. This is always the awkward bit. Patrick clears his throat again.

“There is God the Fa-”

“How many legs has he got?”

The man scratching his hair has his hand raised. Patrick looks in his direction.

“I’m glad you asked me that question,” Patrick answers. (Patrick isn’t glad the man has asked him that question.)

“Six obviously,” says another man.

“Six how?” asks somebody else.

“Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? Three persons. That’s six legs. Like a spider.”

“Spiders have eight legs!” says somebody else.

An argument breaks out over how many legs spiders have. Somebody hits somebody else with a rock. This is followed by more hitting, and a general melee. Patrick drops his shamrock and sighs.

May 6, 491AD

“It’s getting harder, Bran.”

Patrick and I are walking along a road.

“It used to be that you could convert somebody like that,” he clicks his fingers. “Now they want it handed up to them on a plate, skipping the Holy Trinity and going straight to the ‘where do we go to when we die bit’. Then they change their minds and go back to worshipping the sun, or randomly chosen inanimate objects. I just don’t know.”

Later that day we arrive in a large village full of very attentive and enthusiastic people. Patrick has already explained the Holy Trinity and things are going brilliantly.

“Remember,” Patrick says “you can always pray to God and ask him for things.”

“Well that’s a lot easier than tying someone to a rock and gutting them I suppose,” says a man.

“Does it work?” asks a second man.

“Praying? Yes,” smiles Patrick.

“Does it work better than tying someone to a rock and gutting them?” asks the second man.

“Well, I’m sure…”

“We’d need statistics to make a comparative study before we’d decide on anything,” says the first man.

There are murmurs of agreement from the crowd.

“I don’t have any comparative statistics,” says Patrick looking slightly lost.

“Maybe if we just tried it for a weekend,” says the first man.

“You want to try Christianity for a weekend?” asks Patrick.

“Well, we tried worshipping a pebble for a weekend once, on the advice of Conal here.”

“Why’s everybody looking at me?” asks Conal.

“Well, it’s a pebble. It doesn’t do anything does it?” says the first man taking a pebble out of his pocket with a smiley face daubed on it. There are resentful grumblings from the crowd. Patrick is trying to speak, but no one is listening.

“In fact come to think of it, it didn’t do anything at all,” says the first man.

The crowd grumbles even more angrily.

“It made the sun shine,” squeaks Conal taking a step back.

“Oh yeah, like for two minutes,” says another man.

The crowd are irate now. I lean in to Patrick: “Maybe we should go.”

Patrick sighs and nods.

As we leave, the crowd are dragging Conal towards a large boulder. “I thought we were trying Christianity?” shouts Conal.
“We’ll do that tomorrow,” says the first man. Everybody cheers. Patrick beams and winks at me.

“But only on a part-time basis,” says the first man. Patrick’s smile disappears.

May 7, 491AD

Morning

Patrick and I meet a big hairy chieftain in his crannóg. “We used to worship snakes,” says the chieftain. “But all the snakes are gone.”

Patrick licks his lips nervously and looks at me. I turn away and pretend to inspect a clay pot.

“Well isn’t that terrible?” says Patrick in a high-pitched voice.

“It’s like somebody got all the snakes and just drove them all away,” says the chieftain stroking his red beard and flexing his muscles. “And I bet it was one of those Christians too.”

Patrick gulps. I start examining a turf sod.

“If I ever find the person who got rid of all our snakes,” says the chieftain as he mimes strangling somebody. Then he mimes kicking them. Then he takes his axe and mimes chopping them into little pieces. Then he mimes taking the little pieces and burning them.

“Anyway, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?” he asks. Patrick whips out a small stone from his cloak. “Have you ever considered worshipping pebbles?”

Afternoon

Outside the crannóg I show the pagan chieftain and his clan how to daub the pebble with some woad. Patrick is standing nearby looking impatient.
“See? Now he has a smiley face and he’s happy.”

Everyone is impressed.

“Now if you turn his mouth down, like so, he’s angry. Grrrr.”

For added effect I take the pebble and I shake it. Children hide behind their mothers. The pagan chieftain raises his arms and whimpers. “But will it make the sun shine and make the crops grow?” he asks. “Absolutely,” I say.

Out of the corner of my eye I can see Patrick waving at me to go.

I hand the pagan chieftain the pebble. “Don’t drop him now. He’ll get very angry.” The pagan chieftain cradles the pebble in the palm of his hands. We take our leave. For a while we walk along the road in silence. Then when I try to speak, Patrick raises his hand.

“Don’t say anything,” says Patrick. “It’s better if you don’t say anything.”

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About the author:

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

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