The Hymn of Fiacc is one of the few accepted primary sources for the life of St. Patrick other than his own writings. Although its exact date of composition is disputed, there is no question that it is extremely ancient, a document of the Irish Church before the Viking invasions.
Born about 415 AD, Saint Fiacc was trained as a bard. St. Patrick consecrated him bishop of Leinster, and Fiacc founded the church of Domnach-Fiech. After many years of austere life in this place, Fiacc was led by angelic command to move west of the Barrow, for there “he would find the place of his resurrection”. Here while built a large monastery, which he ruled as abbot while at the same time he governed the surrounding country as bishop. He reposed at a great old age about 520 AD. Saint Fiacc is commemorated on October 12.
This anonymous translation from the Old Irish was originally published in “The Ecclesiastical Record”, March 1868.
- Patrick was born at Emptur:
This it is that history relates to us.
A child of sixteen years was he
When he was taken into bondage.
- Succat was his name, it is said.
Who was his father is thus told:
He was son of Calpurn, son of Otidus,
Grandson of Deochain Odissus.
- He was six years in slavery;
Human food he ate it not.
Cothraige he was called,
For as slave he served four families.
- Victor said to Milcho’s slave:
“Go thou over the sea:”
He placed his foot upon the stone:
Its trace remains, it wears not away.
- He sent him across all the Alps;
Over the sea marvellous was his course,
Until he stayed with Germanus in the south,
In southern Letha.
- In the islands of the Tyrrhene Sea he stayed;
Therein he meditated:
He read the canon with Germanus:
It is this that history relates.
- To Ireland he was brought back
In visions by the angels of God:
Often was he in vision
Solicited to return thither again.
- Salvation to Ireland
Was the coming of Patrick to Fochlaidh;
Afar was heard the sound
Of the call of the youths of Caill-Fochladh.
- They prayed that the saint would come,
That he would return from Letha,
To convert the people of Erin
From error to life.
- The Tuatha of Erin were prophesying
That a new kingdom of faith would come,
That it would last for evermore:
The land of Tara would be waste and silent.
- The druids of Loegaire concealed not from him
The coming of Patrick;
Their prophecy was verified
As to the kingdom of which they spoke.
- Patrick walked in piety till his death:
He was powerful in the uprooting of sin:
He raised his hands in blessing
Upon the tribes of men.
- Hymns, and the Apocalypse, and the thrice fifty [psalms]
He was wont to sing;
He preached, baptized and prayed;
From the praise of God he ceased not.
- The cold of the weather deterred him not
From passing the night in ponds:
By heaven his kingdom was protected;
He preached by day on the hills.
- In Slan, in the territory of Benna-Bairche,
Hunger or thirst possessed him not.
Each night he sang a hundred psalms,
To adore the King of angels.
- He slept on a bare stone,
And a wet sack-cloth around him;
A bare rock was his pillow;
He allowed not his body to be in warmth.
- He preached the Gospel to all;
He wrought great miracles in Letha;
He healed the lame and the lepers;
The dead he restored to life.
- Patrick preached to the Scoti:
He endured great toil in Letha:
With him will come to judgment
Everyone whom he brought to the life of Faith.
- The sons of Emer, the sons of Eremon,
All went to Cisal,
To the abode of Satan;
They were swallowed up in the deep abyss,
- Until the apostle came to them:
He came despite the raging tempests:
He preached, for three-score years,
The cross of Christ to the tribes of Feni.
- On the land of Erin there was darkness;
The Tuatha adored the sidhe
They believed not
In the true Deity of the true Trinity.
- In Armagh there is sovereignty;
It is long since Emain passed away;
A great church is Dun-Lethglasse;
I wish not that Tara should be a desert.
- Patrick, when he was in sickness,
Desired to go to Armagh:
An angel went to meet him on the road
In the middle of the day.
- Patrick came southwards towards Victor;
He it was that went to meet him;
The bush in which Victor was, was in a blaze;
From the flame the angel spoke.
- He said: Thy dignity shall be at Armagh.
Return thanks to Christ;
To heaven thou shalt come;
Thy prayer is granted thee.
- The hymn which thou chosest in life
Shall be breastplate of protection to all.
Around thee on the Day of Judgment
The men of Erin will come for judgment.
- Tassach remaineth after him in Sabhall,
Having given the communion to him:
He said that Patrick would return:
The word of Tassach was not false.
- Patrick put an end to night;
Light ceased not with him:
To a years’ end there was radiance;
It was a long day of peace.
- At the battle fought around Beth-horon
Against the Canaanites by the son of Nun,
The sun stood still at Gaboan;
This it is that the Scripture tells us.
- The sun lasted with Joshua unto the death of the wicked:
This indeed was befitting;
It was more befitting that there should be radiance
At the death of the saints.
- The clergy of Erin went from every part
To watch around Patrick;
The sound of harmony fell upon them,
So that they slept enchanted on the way.
- Patrick’s body from his soul
Was severed after pains;
The angels of God on the first night
Kept choir around it unceasingly.
- When Patrick departed from life
He went to visit the other Patrick;
Together they ascended
To Jesus, Son of Mary.
- Patrick, without arrogance or pride,
Great was the good which he proposed to himself,
To be in the service of Mary’s Son;
Happy the hour in which Patrick was born.