Biddy Early, St. Patrick & County Clare
Clare is the only county in Ireland that St. Patrick never set a foot in. He made several attempts to enter the territory but was repelled each time by the Clare druids. In 450AD, Patrick and eighty five monks marched through Kinvara and down towards the Burren. It was in late spring and the saint was buoyed by the conversion of Galway and the establishment of a monastery at Killnalicka. There was lots of hymns and chanting but when they approached the inlet of Kylesaile, (which marks the border between Galway and Clare) the procession was struck dumb. Not a tweet. Then they couldn’t move their legs, it was like they were rooted to the ground. The tide was filling and the muted monks started to panic, Patrick waved his crozier at the heavens, but God just told him to go back north when the tide turned.
The following year, Patrick tried to sneak into Clare through Tubber, but again he was outdone by a barrage of huge boulders which tumbled down from the Burren. Another time he thought to cross the Shannon from Tipperary, but twelve harpers on the far bank addled his head and his flotilla was swept downstream and ended up in Fenit, Co. Kerry.
In 468, Patrick was converting souls around Gort when he heard that Oisín had returned from Tír na n-Óg. He immediately sought out the old warrior and they met near Kilbeacanty where Oisín once had a lover. Forgetting what he was told in Tír na n-Óg — that it only takes one prick to burst a bubble, Oisín fell for the Saint’s plámás and got down off his horse. Once he touched the soil of Eire, he withered into a three hundred year old briar and babbled like a river. Saint P baptised him and the poor man immediately croaked and died.
What happened next is only known to the cognoscenti of Clare folklore: Patrick commandeered the horse that Oisín had rode from Tír na n-Óg on and headed for Clare. He figured it was a magical mount and he was right. He figured the Clare druids would be no match for the animal and that in a few days he’d convert the county. He was wrong. The horse had a mind of its own, took to the sky like a bucking bronco and kept going. That was the last anyone saw of St. Patrick and the date was March 17, 468 AD. Biddy Early used say that when Pat had 1500 years or more done orbiting the earth, that he’d return to Ireland a different man. She said he’d ride back on a white mare and carry gadgerty from the stars.
These prophesies danced around the head of Gertie Gorm as she approached the stranger in Haddocks Bar and Grocery one fine Saturday evening last May (see here for story background). A half glass of whiskey in her right hand, a shopping bag in the left. She said,
“Excuse me sir, but I know the face…”
“Hello,” he greeted, “I’m Patrick.”
“Well I’m happy to meet you, and tell me by any chance, did you come to town on a white mare?”
“Bloody Hell!” he laughed, “you got me in one! Are you clairvoyant?”
“I’m Clare through and through,” Gertie said, “born and bred for ten generations and more if anyone can count back that far.”
They shook hands, Gertie’s eyes brimming with tears,
“You’re the perfect man for the job,” she whispered, “perfect.”
Mr. Haddock set up another round of whiskey and went into the kitchen, where his wife and himself and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation in the bar.
“I can’t let Biddy down,” Gertie said, “you’ll have to help me.”
“There’s only wan Biddy — Biddy Early of course.”
“Okay, well…if there’s anything I can do, I will…I mean within the bounds of reason, time, energy and all that jazz.”
His phone flashed. A twitter from Uggi39: Ballytutu beat Castlegreen 2 – Nil.
“What d’you call that machine?” Gertie asked.
“That’s a Yphone…great workhorse, Jap job.”
“Japjob,” muttered Gertie, “Japjob. You have the right equipment.”
“Well that’s half the battle…so can you tell me what’s the job?”
Gertie looked around the empty pub and whispered in his ear. Mr. Saint looked stone faced for a few seconds and muttered “Jesus! I wouldn’t know where to start…I mean I could send out a few twitters and see what would happen.”
He held his phone and scrolled down to a tweet from Kayleeband: #PleaseHelp! Lost my Green Poodle in Stephens Green today. Ansers 2 Danzer. Reward.
“You can ask any question and get an answer on Twitter.”
“Twitter,” muttered Gertie.
“And if I don’t get an answer in Twitter, I just go to Google.”
“Google? You have great brains,” she praised, “I get anxious even on d’aul phone…Google and Twitter would give me the fits…”
Mr. Haddock politely ushered them from the premises when Patrick began playing saxophone notes on his Yphone. He linked Gertie Gorm towards the church. She was singing “Down by the Glenside…glory-oh, glory-oh to the bauld Fenian Men.”
He helped her up on the white mare, balanced her on the saddle.
“I live beyond in Scroppol,” she slurred, pointing west.
Mr. Saint led his mare from the car park as the worshipers washed out of the church after Saturday evening Mass. Some blessed them selves and sprinkled a double dose of holy water at the sight of Gertie Gorm on a white mare, Mr. Saint leading the horse by the bridle. They clip clopped slowly through the quiet street, Gertie smug as a raja on an elephant.
About a mile out the Scropal road there’s a bridge over the river and Gertie explained that Biddy said the first blow must be made over water. Patrick Saint halted the mare on the middle of the bridge and the animal snorted nervously. He fished the Yphone from his coat pocket, he had 4 bars of reception and he cautiously twittered: @patricksaint anybody know where’s Biddy Early’s magic blue bottle? #Ireland, #Irish, #Clare #BiddyEarly, #folkmedicine, #magic.
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