Tag Archives: history

Where was Saint Patrick born?

St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Armagh, where I was born, has two St Patrick Cathedrals, and St Patrick’s Day is celebrated across the world, by the Irish, and those who have even the tiniest of links to the Irish. Patrick was of course not Irish, but where was he born?
Wales, Britannia, Roman Britain, Cumbria – the man has more possible birthplaces than William Wallace, whose birthplace is also often disputed. But did they in fact have more in common? Was St Patrick also born in Scotland. Mike Haesler, archaeologist and researcher, certainly thinks so. Patrick, says Haseler, was not in fact born in Roman Britain, but in Scotland.
“Experts say he was born in Roman Britain” explains Haseler “and this is the popular belief. But evidence only shows that he used Latin words and had a Roman grandfather. St Patrick himself admitted to being poor at Latin, so it is unlikely he was born in Roman Britain. His father was a priest and his grandfather a local councillor, and his family were Roman, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he was born in Roman Britain.”
According to Mohrmann, author The Latin of St Patrick, Patrick’s writing was, “the most difficult Latin to understand and to criticise that I have ever studied.” Writing about St Patrick and his biographer in 1962 Professor Binchy described him as the ‘simple Patrick of the Confessio’, a writer of ‘stumbling barbarous Latin’.
Haseler believes that, for whatever reason, St Patrick’s family lived in Strathclyde. Whether it was by choice or by force, the natural exit from Roman Britain would have been to go north, as opposed to leaving by sea, so Strathclyde was definitely the easier option. There is considerable evidence of Roman coins being found in the area, particularly in the 4th century when Patrick was alive. Far from being two separate kingdoms which had no contact, it appears that some trading did occur. Romans moving out of Roman Britain is another reason for Roman coins being found elsewhere.
“His father was a deacon, his grandfather was aa priest” highlights Haseler. “So Patrick and his family could have been missionaries or refugees. Many of the early slaves were Christians and we know that runaway slaves would have headed north outside the empire.”
“One of the main arguments used against Old Kilpatrick being the place of St. Patrick’s birth is to use the argument that a Latin speaker could only have been born south of Hadrian’s wall, so it’s interesting to find out that Gildas, Britain’s first historian who wrote the Latin ‘De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, was born in 500AD and came from Strathclyde.”
Wales is often cited as a possible birthplace of St Patrick, as it is claimed he spoke Welsh and some Welsh believe that Bannavem Taburniae, where his grandfather lived, could be Banwen in Neath Port Talbot. But, argues Haseler, the language spoken in Strathclyde at the time was akin to Welsh and the Picts were known to have spoken a language which we would today recognise as Welsh.
Ravenglass in Cumbria is sometimes said to be the home of Patrick’s grandfather’s villa, the argument being that the nearby Glannoventa is in fact Banna Venta, or Bannavern, the ‘g’ having been mistaken for a ‘b’, but there is no further evidence to substantiate this claim, and claims Haseler, it is very unlikely that such an obvious mistake would have been made.

“Out of the five early biographies of St Patrick three state that he was born in Strathclyde” says Haseler. “In addition, the Gaelic hymn of Fiacc (written before 800AD) says that he was born in Nemhur or Nemturi. Nemthuri, or the early name Nemthus, is a place often linked to Old Kilpatrick.”
An unknown 11th century scholar tells us that Nemthur was near Alcluid, which Bede informs us was on the Clyde (usually assumed to be Dumbarton Rock). Probus’ fifth life of St Patrick states that St Patrick was sprung from the Britons of Strathclyde, and that Nemthur was the place or district of his birth. “De Britannis Alcluidensibus originem duxit Sanctus Patricius. Nemthur, quod ex vocis etymo coelestem turrim denotat, patria, et nativitatis locus erat”. The sixth life is Jocelyn’s, assigned to the year 1183, and it agrees with the others in stating that St Patrick was born in Nemthur of Strathclyde.
“The Aberdeen Breviary gives an explicit statement for Old Kilpatrick being the birthplace in ~1500, saying he was conceived in Dumbarton and born at Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde (Dumbarton = Dunbertane. Kilpatrick = Kilpatrik).”
Turner, writing in 1872, is adamant that Saint Patrick was born in Strathclyde.
“Four of the five perfect lives explicitly state that Saint Patrick was born in Britain; three of them add, in the district of Strathclyde! It is hard to imagine how anyone could be so audacious as to reject such a weight of ancient testimonies,”
There is much evidence to support Haseler’s claim. So why has there ever been any doubt?
“I presume that because the age of a church was important in setting the seniority of churches, that it suited the new churches close by to see Old Kilpatrick cast as a “doubted” place of birth of Saint Patrick,” says Haseler.
“Archaeological evidence suggests that after the Viking raid of 871, Dumbarton Rock was largely abandoned and that Govan replaced it as the chief place of the kingdom of Strathclyde. Given the Viking behaviour on Lindisfarne in 793, there’s little doubt the Irish-based pagan Viking kings Amlaíb and Ímar ravaged the area around Dumbarton and therefore Old Kilpatrick during their four month siege to Dumbarton Rock.”

You can read more on his website http://roman-britain.co.uk/nemthur.htm which explains his research in much more detail.


Why study history?



train with smoke
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A far from wise person once said to me that there is no point in studying history. His argument was that the past had no relevance and should stay there – in the past. I read and learn about history because it fascinates me. There is a huge amount to learn, endless information, and no end to the supply of stories. When I am watching films I am always more interested in the plot if the film is based on a true story. Who isn’t? So reading history books is equivalent to this.  Imagine the reaction of fans if it was suddenly revealed that Harry Potter was a true story and that there was an actual Hogwarts somewhere? OK, I know I am pushing things a bit here, but you know what I mean.

But as well as enjoyment there is a lot we can learn from history. In the same way that children learn past experience, so do we as humans and as a society. From history we can learn that if a nation or group of people are mistreated they will eventually rebel, that wars are not the answer to solving disputes and that they are more likely to results in large numbers of death than peace. We learn dictators can be very hard to overthrow, and that changes in society such as the vote for women often take a long time to materialise and can be very hard to achieve.

But do we always learn from history? Do we as humans learn from our own mistakes? Sometimes yes, sometimes not. Wars are still happening, minority groups throughout the world are still powerless and we are still allowing bullies the power they don’t deserve.

Should we stop reading history? Certainly not. Like any parent teaching a child how to behave we should not give up because we are not always listened to. Then of course there is the pleasure we get from reading and learning and learning about the people, the places, events, traditions, everyday life……

The jigsaw we will never complete

assemble challenge combine creativity
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I am a member of several history Facebook groups and two things have amazed and impressed me. The first is just how many people there are who love history, and in particular British history. Many live outwith the British Isles, and some of these people have British ancestors. As a history author this is a delight to me. The market for my books is worldwide. And of course, like anyone who discovers a large group who share the same interests as them, it has simply reinforced what I already knew – history is fascinating.

But secondly is the depth of people’s knowledge. It astounds me sometimes the amount of information people have on various aspects of history. These are people who are not academics, but have simply researched and learned more about the subject they love in their spare time.

I am currently researching weddings for my next book. There are so many questions I have about weddings in the 15th and 16th century. What were weddings like royalty and the aristocracy? What  were the rituals? How religious was the marriage ceremony? Who attended? The process is made  hard by the fact that I imagine weddings of the rich would have been different from those of the poor.

But like the members of the Facebook groups I consider this part of the fun and pull of history. The potentials for learning are infinite. Added to this is the fact that some details we will never know for certain. What we think we know is sometimes disproved as more information comes to light. The jigsaw puzzle is never finished.

James IV of Scotland

James Iv pic 2
King James IV of Scotland


This is my first blog post, so welcome to the blog. My book – The King with the Iron Belt – is the first history book I have written, having been a writer for 17 years now. I really should remember when I first became obsessed with King James IV but I can’t really. I remember my husband buying me Macdougall’s book in 1998, just before we got married, so it must have been some time before then.

My love of history goes way back and I have an impressive book shelf of history books, mostly nonfiction , with some fiction. Generally British history interests me the most, particularly Scottish history, although obviously Scottish history links with the history of other countries, and currently I am reading Philippa Gregory’s book The Lady of the Rivers. I also have a passing interest in the Habsburgs and was impressed when a Hungarian friend told me that occasionally one of the Habsburgs is interviewed on Hungarian TV.

Social and Royal history interests me and I have to admit to enjoying watching Catherine Cookson movies for the insight they provide on 19th and 20th century history around the UK. Military history holds no interest to me and is probably the reason I gave up history at school at the age of 16. Wars are a part of history that I am not interested in.

So what is it about James IV that I find so fascinating? Of all the kings and queens who have ruled these isles I feel that James IV is one who has been unfairly glossed over the most. Yes. Mary Queen of Scots, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are very interesting, but so too is James IV. The more I read about the man the more I became intrigued by him. The story of his romance with Margaret Drummond would make a great film, and he was quite a unique character, with his interest in science and alchemy. He also appears to have been a good king, a caring king, who was down to earth and made efforts to get to know the people he ruled.

Yes, he can be criticised for Flodden and this battle certainly had a huge impact on the country, but I do believe this was a much more complicated situation than it initially seems.

Searching through bookstores and online I was surprised how little there was written about this great figure, taking into account that it was his marriage to Margaret Tudor that eventually led to the joining of the two kingdoms. What I did find tended to be academic in nature, or, in the case of Mackie’s biography of him, more than fifty years old.

With this in mind I set out to write a biography that would appeal to the average person on the street who was simply interested in history not necessarily looking to study it. As my book shows, James IV had so many positive qualities, it seems a crime not to tell people about them. The result, I hope, is a book that people can learn from, at the same time being entertained.

I intend to blog here on a regular basis, both about my own writing and on history topics in general. Please feel free to follow, share and retweet.