Geography of Patrick


Sean MacAirt refers to the fifth century as the "lost century" because of the absense of any historical information. There are two documents with no dates given.

The problem is compounded by the fact that 200 years had passed between the time in which Patrick actually lived and the time he was first written about. Daniel Binchy remarks that the quest to uncover the acta of the historical Patrick is "much labour and little profit". He argues that "the most essential pieces of the Patrick puzzle are lost and are unlikely to be rediscovered."

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Bannavem Taburniae

Three locations concern us when considering Patrick's geography which are, Bannavem Taburniae, Silva Focluti and Gaul. Many attempts have been made to locate Bannavem Taburniae. The Roman place name no longer exists. Three criteria must be met in determining the location of his home.

It would have to be close to the West coast of Britain in order to facilitate easy access for Irish raiders. Patrick had a strong sense of his Roman identity, which means the location of his home would need to be in a strongly Romanised part of Britain. Patrick's father, Calpurnius, was a decurion. To hold this job, he must have been living near a town with a civil administration centre.

Muirchu tells us that Bannavem Taburniae was identifed as Ventre. Bieler takes this into account when he reconstructs the name as Bannaventa Taburniae. If there was a place called Bannaventa, the name of this settlement was then taken and given to a place just outside Daventry.

Dumbarton has been suggested which would be too far removed from Roman influence, and even Boulogne in Northern France.

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Bannavem Taburniae

Charles Thomas believes the only area to fulfill all three criteria would be the North West corner of Britain. The home of Patrick was a vicus therefore this would need to be close to a large town, which would have had a civil adminstration centre in which Calpurnius might have worked. Thomas concludes that the only place in the North West at this time would have been Carlisle.

He argues that this solution "entirely outweighs that of Daventry, Dumbarton or elsewhere". It is also far enough north to explain the poor quality of Patrick's Latin. This vicus was identified as Bewcatle, six miles north of the wall, or Birdoswald, which is fifteen miles from Carlisle.

Some take a lingustic approach, breaking the name up into compounds. This would mean it is a small settlement, south of Hadrians wall, on or near a mountain pass. May be an idea around Greenhead Pass.

Dark warns us tjhat any attempt to locate Bannavem Taburniae is based on assumptions and can never be conclusive. Bannavem Taburniae is indeed somewhere in the Severn Valley.

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Silva Focluti

Bury, Hanson and O'Rahilly all assume this is the place of his captivity. The use of the word "again" implies a return to this area. The two suggested locations are Mayo and Slemish. It could of been a place Patrick had heard of, but never been to as is the view of Bieler.

Tírechán identifies Silva Focluti as an area around modern Killala in County Mayo. Patrick gives one clue in the Confessio as to the location of Silva Focluti. It was near the Western sea.

In the escape story Patrick tells us he had to travel to a ship that was perhaps 200 miles away. If we accept that he was returning to Britain then if he were in the West of Ireland he may have came from Wicklow or Wexford.

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Silva Folcluti

We know that Patrick's captivity was on a mountain. Hanson argues that this would not 'fit' the evidence of the escape story. An escape from Slemish would have involved a walk of twenty or thirty miles rather than two hundred. Muirchu, however does believe that the place of Patrick's captivity is Slemish.

Meanwhile, Bury, Hanson and O'Rahilly all reject the location of Slemish as being part of the Armagh legend. Cocannon and Philbin suggest a compromise. Both localities can be accepted because Patrick changed master. Healy and Newport White offer a simliar compromise by suggesting an escape from captivity in the north-east to the west of Ireland. The conclusion is we cannot know for certain.

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Scholars are in disagreement as to the location of Patrick's training. Some believe it was Gaul but others have argued Britain.

Patrick said that he wished to visit the brethen. Perhaps to visit friends he had made during his training. Binchy believes this was merely a desire to visit the holy men of Gaul, of whom he had heard much. The escape from Ireland involved three days sailing therefore more likely to be Gaul. Carney disagrees that Patrick was in Gaul at this time. Muirchu, tells us of Patrick's stay in Gaul for some 30 years. O'Rahilly argues that this is actually a confused account of the training and ordination of Palladius.

Mohrmann believes the colloquial expressions in Patrick's Latin are from the continent before 450. Binchy claims that if he had trained on the Continent for a long time, it was unlikely that the British bishops would have been so critical of him.

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It is very difficult to determine the location of Patrick's hometown in Britain. Most accept it is somewhere in the Severn valley. Silva Focluti is the only place mentioned by Patrick and he also mentions Gaul and his desire to visit there.

Some of the deatils of the life of the historical Patrick are forever lost to the historian. Others may well argue the most important aspects of the person of Patrick are preserved for us for enternity in his own writings.

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