St Patrick

Academics pin down saint’s  birthplace to Old Kilpatrick on the Antonine Wall

Patrick image in stained glass

Stained-glass image of Saint Patrick, the Scot from Dunbartonshire who became Ireland’s patron saint.

By Bill Heaney

A new research paper confirms Saint Patrick’s birthplace as Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire.

The academic paper Saint Patrick’s birthplace & the names of the Roman forts along the Antonine Wall states that new Roman period place names assigned to four places along the Antoinine Wall, which was constructed around 142 AD by the Romans, confirms St Patrick’s birthplace.

The four name places include three forts along the Antonine wall (VOLITANIO (Mumrills), MEDIO (Balmuildy), NEMETON (Old Kilpatrick) and one settlement beyond the wall SUBDOBIADON (Dumbarton).

According to the researchers, a link found between the Roman names on the wall and St Patrick’s birthplace securely ties the saint’s place of birth to Old Kilpatrick.

It proves St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, was born in the year 387 at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton.


Patrick tells us that he grew up in Bannavem Taberniae, but efforts to locate this place precisely have so far failed.  He tells us elsewhere that he was a Briton, and a Roman citizen

One place suggested for this has been south-west Scotland, which would be close to Ireland for raiders, and would also explain how Patrick knew Coroticus, who is named as king of Dumbarton in the fifth century in Welsh annals.

As a teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and enslaved as a shepherd for several years. He attributed his ability to persevere to his faith in God.

His birth name was Maewyn Succat — it wasn’t until he was in the Church that it was changed to Patricius, or Patrick.

Old Kilpatrick is located at the western end of the Antonine wall, making it the seventh of the main forts along the wall – SUBDOBIADON.

Yet, the Gaelic hymn of Fiacc records Nemthur as the birthplace of Saint Patrick. The paper explains the mismatch between SUBDOBIADON and Nemthur.

This is an excerpt from the paper, which emanates from scholars and teaching staff at the University of Cork:

If we postulate a mistake by a copyist joining MEDIO and NEMETON, we obtain not only a good match for Old Kilpatrick, but for three successive entries on the Ravenna Cosmography:

  1. between the new 6th entry MEDIO and Balmuildy (Gaelic for Town of Muildy), the previous big fort,
  2. between the new 7th entry NEMETON and Nemthur, and
  3. between the new 8th entry SUB-DOBIADON and Dumbarton, the next obvious place with a Roman association and the likely port serving the wall.

MEDIO can be translated as “cultivated” or “meadow”, which best fits the site at Balmuildy, as this is the only large fort on a river in arable land.

“Nemeton” is generally agreed to mean a sacred place, which would suit the religious background of Saint Patrick.


The missing “M” in Dumbarton versus Roman “Dobiadon” may be explained by the local Welsh-like language in Strathclyde. If we postulate that “do” in “Do-biadon” is the same as Welsh douu/dom, with the meaning “settlement associated with (another)”, then SUBDO(M)BIADON can be translated: “Sub (Latin Under) + dou(m) (settlement associated with) + Biadon/Bia-don (the fort or hill of Bia). A weak “M” in the local dialect would explain the missing “M” in SUBDOBIADON compared to Dumbarton.

 “M” may also explains the extra “M” in Nemthur compared to the local place name of (Dou)notyr, now Dalnotter, a site located [off the A82 at Old Kilpatrick] above an important ford of the Clyde.

This ford was undoubtedly always an important location and likely to be settled in the Roman period. Thus it is an obvious candidate for the original location of Old Kilpatrick.

Finally, if we accept a variant reading of an inscription at found Mumrills fort, this inscription confirms Mumrills was VOLITANIO, the second entry of the Ravenna Cosmography.

In the field of British Roman place names, Roman names have often been allocated to places based on far less evidence than even one of these matches. So to have three names in a run is exceptionally good evidence, as it is very unlikely to occur by chance.

This compels us to conclude that Old Kilpatrick is the NEMETON of the Ravenna Cosmography, Nemthur of Saint Patrick, and that this name is likely retained in the name “Dalnotter”.

The research paper can be found in its entirety here.

Flag of WDC

A decision was made some years ago to put an image of St Patrick on the flag of West Dunbartonshire, pictured above, but the Council has been slow to use that connection to promote tourism, despite the fact that it was raised by former councillors, Danny McCafferty and George Black.

However, with this newer and harder evidence, it may be time to cash in on it to the benefit of Old Kilpatrick and West Dunbartonshire as a whole to promote the village as St Patrick’s birthplace.

Or even to tie the saint in with the already widely accepted fact that the Romans occupied Dumbarton Rock, where there is still a chapel which was dedicated to the saint by the Earls of Lennox.

A celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of the inscription of the Antonine Wall will take place next month.

The Resdiscovering the Antonine Wall project organised the event to promote the site’s fascinating history and celebrate the ongoing involvement of the communities along the Wall.

The community conference, which is being led by West Dunbartonshire Council in partnership with Glasgow City Council, East Dunbartonshire Council, North Lanarkshire Council, Falkirk Council and Historic Environment Scotland, is taking place on Saturday 29 September.

The free conference will see a range of academic and community speakers talk about the unique history of the World Heritage Site.

Attendees will also be offered optional guided tour of particular parts of the wall, part of which lies within Goldenhill Park, Clydebank.

Councillor Jim Finn, Convener of Planning, said: “The Antonine Wall is such an amazing attraction to have on our doorstep and we hope this conference encourages residents to take full advantage of that.

“It is one of just a handful of World Heritage Sites we have in Scotland and the conference will be a rare opportunity to get expert insight into its rich history.”

Last year, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £97,000 to the project, and a range of improvements were planned.

They included five new replica distance slabs (similar to that in Bridgeness, Falkirk); new interpretive play spaces with themed equipment merged with digital content to create exciting new learning environments; a series of arts/performance events designed and delivered by local communities; and the recruiting of a ‘21st century Legion’ to help promote the Antonine Wall in local areas.

The event will take place at Glenskirlie House & Castle in Banknock, near Falkirk.

Registration is from 9:15am with the conference starting at 10:00.  Optional tours and afternoon workshops will finish at 5:00pm.  Lunch and refreshments will be provided. The conference is free to attend. However booking is required.  To book your place, please visit



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