Imagining the story of St. Patrick from the Irish farmer who enslaved him.
There are tricks in every trade, is what my father told me when he handed our estate below the Slieve Mish mountains in Antrim over to me about the year 400 or thereabouts.
Hello to you all from across the valleys and peaks of many years. As a matter of fact my name is Milchu and I succeeded in the farming business for many years largely because I took my father's advice back then, especially in the management of the slaves we used as shepherds for our flocks above on Slieve Mish.
Those shepherds were valuable to us for reducing the mortality rate amongst the thousands of sheep up in the high and chilly mountains.
My father was a man of his time and had a lot of wisdom. I never forgot what he told me when I collected my first shepherd slave after taking over the place.
"These are like dangerous animals, especially the Scottish lads like the one you are getting,” is what my father told me.
"Try to never be alone with any of them and never turn your back on them or you could get skulled with a rock and they will run away. Never show them any kindness or affection at all or they will take advantage of you. Give them a good strong kick up the arse every now and again just to remind them who is the boss. That's important, very important."
But he knew how to look after his stock. He told me to feed the young shepherd well enough with cheap oatmeal and husks to keep him able for work.
And I was surprised, I remember, when he told me to supply the young Scottish slave with a couple of thick warm tunics with hoods. He explained this by saying that it was very chilly up on Slieve Mish in the dead of winter and a lot of the slaves froze to death inside the first couple of years. A dead shepherd slave was a bad investment for both man and beast and led to a loss of far more valuable sheep and goats.
I followed his advice to the letter. The young slave was a strange wiry class of a lad without a word of Irish in his mouth when he was delivered.
They said he was called Patrickus and spoke only Latin if he spoke at all. He had wild blue eyes in a closed face.
I brought him up to the flocks, gave him his clothes and the bag of food and before I left I gave him the first of many's the good kick up the arse as well.
It knocked him down on his face and eyes. He put on the thick tunic I gave him, I recall, but put it on over the green tunic he had been captured in off the coast of Scotland.
All his time on Slieve Mish he always wore that same tunic even when it was falling apart. I did not know why until years later, five or six years, before he escaped from us.
I did not see him all that often during his shepherd years. My servants checked him out for me.
They said he did his work well, the sheep and goats were fond of him, he was odd and wild-looking but not violent, he still wore the old tunic of his own under the clothes he was brought by them. He had learned our tongue and did not use Latin any more.
He was hardy, in his early twenties by then, and it is a fact that all the other shepherd slaves my neighbors put on the mountain at the same time he was put there were all dead, usually frozen or starved, by the time he escaped.
Through the peddler Donnacha I heard how he escaped in the end. He went over the high crags all the way to a port in Mayo.
He sought passage on a boat back home, and Donnacha told me that when the skipper of the boat asked for payment that Patrickus bargained and haggled for a lower price. When he got that he borrowed a dagger to hack open the hem of his old green tunic and produced from there a gold coin that was his passport to freedom. That is what the peddler told me.
I'll tell you a tail to this yarn you will find it hard to believe, but it is true. Years later we heard up hereabouts of a strange wandering preacher who was spreading a new belief called Christianity through the whole island. I went down to Downpatrick, as it is called now, to check him out.
These wandering zealots often cause wars and rebellions you know. There was a huge crowd there when I arrived, but dammit I recognized the preacher straightaway as our escaped slave shepherd.
I called out to him, "Patrickus the shepherd, I know you!" And he looked at me with those strange blue eyes and replied, "I know you too Milchu. Come out here to me.”
And I did at once. There was some kind of powerful presence about him.
And when I stood before him in a small cleared circle in the crowd he just said, "Turn around Milchu the farmer."
And I did that, and then he gave me a good strong kick in the arse, like all the ones I had given him in the past, before embracing me and forgiving me for that past.
I converted to his Christianity message that day and I followed him for the rest of my days the way my sheep had followed him on Sliabh Mish in the cold winters and summers of a different world than now.