Most school children know that Saint Patrick came to Ireland in the year 432 AD. We know from ecclesiastical history that he travelled to the west of Ireland. After visiting Elphin and Croghan, he came around the north of Loch Techet, the ancient name for Lough Gara, through the present townlands of Cuppenagh and Templeronan . It is said that he went to Gregraidhe of Loch Techet. The Gregraidhe (horse people) or Gregory comprised the baronies of Coolavin in Sligo and Costello in Mayo. According to an entry in the Annals of Tigernach (AU 665) Cummeni, Abbot of Clonmacnois, was of the Gregraige of Loch Techet.
Patrick’s two ‘Lives’ by Muirchu and Tirechan written possibly between 661-668 and 665-680 claim to be using oral tradition from known people such as St Ultan of Ardbraccan, Co Meath. Both ‘Lives’ are preserved in the ‘Book of Armagh’. The ‘Tripartite’ Life (‘3 parts’, for public reading) is dated c 895-901.
St. Patrick spent many years in Ireland although exactly how long we do not know. During this time he travelled extensively. He writes: ‘I journeyed among you, and everywhere, for your sake, often in danger, even to the outermost parts beyond which there is nothing, places where no one had ever arrived to baptise or ordain clergy or confirm the people’. When the tribe responded to the Gospel, an enclosure would be set aside, with boundaries and ‘termon’ crosses, sometimes with a ditch, sometimes with a wall, clearly marking out to everyone that the area was sacred. Within it a tiny church of wattle and daub would be built.
Many monasteries were built at tribal meeting places or on tribal boundaries. As monastic communities grew they attracted a resident local community. The monasteries provided for the spiritual needs of local families and taught the children. The monastery and the village grew together. The monks undertook tasks such as the creating and copying of literature and highly specialised metal-ware.
This was a time when tribal chiefs donated land for monasteries and the abbots appointed by them were still to a degree controlled by those chiefs. The organisation of Irish society at this time was rural and based on the extended family. For example, a family might live in isolated farmsteads, defended by ditches and banks evidenced by the large number of ringforts found throughout Ireland. Several extended families formed a clan, which in turn, formed a small kingdom. Each clan had its warriors, druids and slaves. Neighbouring tribes were often related by blood. The main occupation was cattle-breeding and cattle raids were common. Fighting and violence were prevalent in this tribal society.
An account of St Patrick’s missionary activities was written sometime around 680AD by Tirechan, the Bishop of North Mayo. According to Tirechan, Patrick came from the plain of Mirteach, between Castlerea and Ballaghaderreen, to a place called Drummut Cerrigi or Drumad of the Ciarraige. This is now the townland of Drumad in the Parish of Tibohine. It is said that he dug a well here and no stream went into it or came out of it, but it was always full. The well was named Bithlan (i.e. ever full).
Here, the saint found two brothers, Bibar and Lochru, the sons of Tamanchend, fighting about the division of their father's lands. St. Patrick reconciled them by a miracle, and he blessed them and made peace between them. The brothers gave their land to Patrick and he founded a church there.
Patrick then went to Aileach Esrachta which was at Telach Liac or Telach na Cloch, which later became known as Tullaganrock in the Parish of Kilcolman. It is said that local people were afraid of the stranger and the eight or nine men accompanying him, so they decided to kill him. The crowd was restrained by a brave man named Hercait of the race of Nath i. Hercait and his son Feradach were babtised and Feradach joined St Patrick. Patrick gave Feradach a new name calling him Sachail. He eventually became bishop and was associated with a famous church called Basilica Sanctorum which is now known as Baslik - a parish between Castlerea and Tulsk.
The area south of the Lough Gara was called Airteach in the early medieval period. Situated in this area are the remains of an early ecclesiastical site, Kilnamanagh. This site is classified as an early church by Gwynn and Hadcock (1970, 394), who make a reference to Tírechan’s Life of Patrick and connect the church with St Patrick and Bishop Do-bonne (Dabone).
He afterwards founded Cill-Atrachta, in Gregraidhe. St Attracta, Talan’s daughter, received the veil from Patrick's hand. Patrick left a teisc and chalice with Atracht, Today, this church, founded by St. Patrick for St. Attracta, is known as Killaraght. The Feast of Saint Attracta is celebrated throughout the diocese of Achonry on the 11th August.
St. Patrick visited the area of Boyle (Mainistir na Búille). Here, it is said that he was received badly, the people gave a deaf ear to his instructions and even carried off his horses. The Saint denounced their hardness of heart, and having a foreknowledge of their future punishment said: "Your seed shall serve the seed of your brother for ever."
Patrick decided to revisit some of the churches which he had founded in Tyrerril and Gregraighe, and to preach the Gospel again to the people dwelling on the river Buill (Boyle) and through Moylurg. While crossing a ford on the river, his chariot was upset and he was thrown into the waters. This ford was called Ath Carbuid, or the ford of the chariot (vadum quadrigae).
The area around Lough Gara is rich in monastic sites including: Monasteraden, Templeronan, Killaraght and Kilnamanagh. Other ecclesiastical nearby are: Cloonshanville and Tibohine to the south; Kilcolman to the west and Carrowntemple and Kilfree in the north. Not all of these Early Christian sites can be directly linked to St. Patrick but his influence has been enormous and lasting, despite the many challenges of the twenty-first century.