Ireland’s patron Saint Patrick was born a Son of the Rock
Happy St Patrick’s Day. Despite having his image on their flag, West Dunbartonshire Council have chosen more or less to ignore the existence of the great man.
People of vision would make much of the fact that one of the best-known saints on earth was born right here in Dumbarton. They would look upon it as a gift from God and ensure that it kept on giving.
Not here, however. Not us. No way.
Some years ago, Kirsty Wark arrived in the town to do a special Paddy’s Day programme for BBC television. She spoke to parents and grandparents meeting their children at the end of their day in St Patrick’s Primary School. I recall Kirsty asking one man who was wearing a cap with IRELAND emblazoned on it: “Did you know that St Patrick was born here?”
The man replied: “Naw he wisnae, no’ here. He was born in Wales.”
Next, she visited St Patrick’s Church in Strathleven Place, where she spoke to the then parish priest, Monsignor Des Maguire. Monsignor Maguire was coy when Kirsty put the question: “Do you believe that St Patrick was born in Dumbarton?” He replied: “Well, I am prepared to go as far as saying that he was born on the banks of an estuary somewhere on the West Coast of Britain.”
Kirsty congratulated him on his diplomacy.
However, perhaps Monsignor Maguire should have taken a leaf out of the book of his famous predecessor, Monsignor Hugh Canon Kelly.
At the celebrations to mark the foundation of St Patrick’s parish, which was established in 1830, Monsignor Kelly told a packed audience at a concert in 1931: “Of all the places where the feast ought to be celebrated, it is Dumbarton which surely has the greatest claim, because it was here Saint Patrick was born.”
The Monsignor was determined to insist upon that whether others liked it or not.
He was not going to say for certain in what part of Dumbarton the saint first saw light – whether it was the Vennel or Brucehill – but he was a strong believer in tradition, which had so often confounded its critics.
And tradition still pointed to the Dumbarton area as the most likely birthplace of Saint Patrick.
A year later, in 1932, the world would be celebrating the fifteenth centenary of Saint Patrick going to Ireland – “While a fitting monument to that great saint in the place of his birth should be a welcome burden on the whole Irish race, it was left to a few poor Irishmen here to erect what they recognised at any rate as a monument not unworthy of Saint Patrick.”
The monsignor was speaking of course of the landmark church of Saint Patrick, whose building he oversaw and whose magnificent furnishings and maintenance he cared for during his 50 years in Dumbarton.
It was left to me to explain to Kirsty Wark why Dumbarton – or at least the area between the world heritage site of the Antonine Wall at Old Kilpatrick and Dumbarton Rock – had been identified as the place of St Patrick’s birth.
The mix-up with Wales had come about because the names Clwyd and Clyde were so similar and the fact that the people in this part of the Ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde spoke Welsh around 400AD, the year St Patrick was born.
Their parents and grandparents and the members of West Dunbartonshire Council might be unaware of this illustrious history.
Or are there other reasons why they have chosen to ignore this and to tie it in with the Antonine Wall at Old Kilpatrick, which has been given World Heritage status, and market it on the world stage?
Our children know though, especially the ones who have in the past taken part in the ecumenical project called “Tackling Sectarianism Together”.
This story carries the imprimatur of the most respected ecclesiastical scholars.
Dumbarton Churches Together, supported by clergy and teachers of all religious denominations, have taught them that St Patrick’s father, Calpurnius, was a Roman decurion.
And that he lived in a villa around Gavinburn, where a treasure trove of Roman coins has been found and was paymaster for the legions attached to Dumbarton Rock and the Antonine Wall.
Patrick was fishing from the banks of the Clyde near Dunglass at Bowling when he was captured and kidnapped by pirates who took him to Ireland. The rest is history.
Dumbarton Churches Together have organised events to mark the connection between Dumbarton and saints such as Patrick, Columba and Andrew.
These visits began as part of an anti-sectarian initiative through Faith in Community Scotland, and boys and girls against bigotry.
The council should be flying their flag high over Dumbarton Rock on the Feast of St Patrick and telling the story of his birthplace to the world.
Tourism Ireland wouldn’t be happy, of course, but the Scottish Tourist Board should be rubbing their hands and doing something about it.
Don’t hold your breath, however.