Hymn of St. Patrick
The Catholic Layman Vol. 1, No. 2 (Feb. 1852), pp. 16-18
In the year 433 St. Patrick preached at Tara before Leogaire (or Laoghaire), then the supreme monarch of Ireland, on the celebrated hill of Tara, in the county of Meath, the chief residence of the Irish kings from the first establishment of a monarchical government in this country. The national convention or parliament was then assembled in that place, for the celebration of the great national festival of Tara, called “Baal’s fire.” The force with which St. Patrick urged upon them the truths of the Gospel, was such that, according to some accounts, the king himself became a convert to Christianity, and great multitudes of his subjects, including Dubtach, the arch-poet of the kingdom, and Conall, the King’s brother, soon followed his example. Whatever may have been the immediate effect, the preaching of St. Patrick before King Leogaire at Tara, is one of those facts on which all authorities concur.
On Easter Eve, St. Patrick arrived in the evening at a place called Ferta-fer-feic, now Slane. Having got a tent pitched there, he made preparations for celebrating the festival of Easter, and accordingly lighted the paschal fire about night-fall. It happened that at this very time the King Leogaire and the assembled princes were celebrating a religious festival, of which fire-worship formed a part. There was a standing law that at the time of this festival, no fire should be kindled for a considerable distance all around, until after a great fire should be lighted in the royal palace of Temoria, on Tara. St. Patrick’s paschal fire was, however, lighted before that of the palace, and being seen from the heights of Tara, excited great astonishment. On the king’s inquiring what could be the cause of it, and who could have thus dared to infringe the law, the Magi told him that it was necessary to have that fire extinguished immediately, whereas, if allowed to remain, it would get the better of their fires, and bring about the downfall of his kingdom. Leogaire, enraged and troubled on getting this information, set out for Slane, with a considerable number of followers, and one or two of the principal Magi, for the purpose of exterminating those violators of the law. It was immediately before, and in anticipation of the imminent peril in which he was placed when approaching the stronghold of his Pagan enemies, that a remarkable hymn was composed by St. Patrick, and is said to have been sung by him and his followers as a defence against the plots that beset his path. It is familiarly known by the name of “St. Patrick’s Armour” (Lorica Patricii) and is obviously a prayer for protection from the incantations of his Druidical opponents, who were determined on his destruction. And this is a religious armour to protect the body and soul against demons, and man, and vices.
The hymn is recorded in the celebrated M.S. Liber Hymnorum, preserved in the library of Trinity College Dublin. It is written in that ancient dialect of the Irish in which the Brehon laws, and the oldest tracts in the language are written.