“…Science would appear suitably advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic.” –Arthur C. Clarke
The miracles of St. Patrick were, in fact, instances of his exceptional understanding of, and relationship with, dogs. Contemporary revelations regarding the potential for rapport between dogs and humans demonstrates that the actual happenings attributed to the magic of faith were probably the fruit of a gentle approach to dogs and their nature.
Patrick was a Scot, born in 387 AD, to the name Sucat. His mother was a devout Catholic, and Sucat was given a Christian education. Around 403 AD, Sucat was captured by Irish marauders, transported to Ireland, and sold into slavery. Sucat was bound to an Irish Chieftan named Milchu, who assigned him the job of shepherd. For six years, Sucat worked as a solitary shepherd, his only company the dogs which assisted him in his duties, and the sheep which were his charges. Sucat, probably because of his natural rapport with his sheepdogs, excelled at his assigned duties, and was trusted with his master’s herds and dogs for weeks at a time. While supervising Milchu’s herds, Sucat practiced his Christian teachings by reciting them to his dogs, and in order to gain fluency in the local dialect, he did so in Celtic. After six years of a mostly ascetic and solitary life, Sucat had a vision: While sleeping, he dreamt that his favorite sheepdog took the form of an angel and told him he would find freedom by abandoning his post and heading to the coast. This was Patrick’s first Divine Inspiration. The next day, Sucat instructed his dogs to return the flock to their home village, and set off for the seashore.
Among the most valuable animals in 5th century Europe were the giant hounds of Ireland. The modern Irish Wolfhound is only remotely related to the primitive hounds of that time. Their appearance, at least, was similar, though the ancient Irish Hounds were even larger, averaging some 175 pounds. Hunting and guarding were critically important canine occupations, and the Wolfhound was one of the most valued breeds for these tasks. When Sucat reached the coast, he came upon a band of marauders very similar to the ones who had captured him six years earlier. This time, however, the pirates had a full cargo they had stolen from Ireland in order to take back to the mainland. Their cargo was a pack of 100 Irish Wolfhounds. Terrified, huge, and savagely violent, the hounds were so overwhelming that the pirates could not even make sail. Sucat approached the ship and made a deal with the captain: if Sucat would calm and care for the dogs, the captain would deliver Sucat unharmed to the continent. Within an hour, Sucat had the pack of 100 giant dogs calm and docile. The ship set sail right away, with the captain and crew in awe of Sucat, and his seemingly miraculous rapport with the dogs.
After only a few days at sea, the ship was swept to shore in a storm and crashed upon the northwest shore of Gaul. Their food lost with the ship, the crew, the dogs, and Sucat were soon starving. Naturally, the crew wanted to eat the dogs, but Sucat objected. He made a deal with the captain: if he could find food for the crew within 24 hours, no dogs would be killed. He knelt at the edge of a nearby forest and prayed loudly to God and Jesus, the pack of 100 hounds lying peacefully around him. The pirates, being pagans, laughed and jeered at him, but Sucat was resolute. He ignored the pagans’ taunts and kept praying, his calm demeanor no doubt soothing the ravenous pack of 100 dogs lying at his knees.
Sucat prayed all that day and through the night. At dawn the next morning, a large sounder of wild pigs ventured out from the forest. Sucat set his pack of hounds upon them. The ship’s crew awoke to find the dogs in the act of killing dozens of swine, and by full daybreak Sucat, the crew, (and the dogs) had eaten their fill of bacon for breakfast. Sucat attributed their fortune to the will of God, and the captain and crew all converted then and there. This was St. Patrick’s first miracle. Any thoughts of selling him into slavery again were abandoned, and he was treated as an apostle by the pirates. When they reached civilization, Sucat was paid as a full member of the crew and was wished well by the captain.
For twenty years, Sucat wandered Europe and studied Catholic doctrine. He became ordained as a priest, and took the name Patrick. Patrick demonstrated a keen intellect and a gentle way with people that led to countless conversions. He studied with, and was mentored by, St. Germain , the Bishop of Auverre, who recommended Patrick to Pope Celestine I as an emissary of the Church to Ireland. Patrick, who was familiar with local customs, and fluent in the language, was a perfect choice. Contrary to common belief, there was already a Christian population in Ireland, but it was small and subject to regular persecution by the pagan majority. Patrick’s assignment was seemingly impossible: he was to enter Ireland with a small band of other priests, administer to the few Christians already there, convert as many others as possible, and (as if these first assignments weren’t difficult enough), build a church.
In 433 Patrick arrived in Ireland by ship, accompanied by 9 priests, and at his insistence, no military detail. Patrick and his entourage met with local shepherds and fishermen, and began the business of conversion. This quickly drew the attention of the local warlord, Dichu, a devout Pagan. Dichu refused Patrick’s requests for parley, and instead decided to simply kill the Christians outright. Dichu’s methods were simple, and infamously effective. He would identify the leader of his opponent’s force (in this case Patrick), sic his Wolfhound Luath on him, and he and his men would pick off the panicking remnants.
If this seems too easy or simple, consider the different physiology and mentality of that time. Humans were smaller then. A man who was 5’ 6” and weighed 150 lbs would have been considered a giant (in fact those are the actual statistics of the real John Little, about whom the mythological friend of Robin Hood, Little John, is based). Horses were exceedingly rare, and an actual bred and trained warhorse was unheard of in Ireland. Irish Wolfhounds at the time averaged 150-175 lbs, and were not the docile and trustworthy house pets of today. They were bred and trained to hunt and kill wolves and other large prey. Dichu’s favorite dog, Luath, was described as a giant within a giant breed, and the most savage and effective war dog on the island. Dichu had outfitted Luath with a spiked collar, and boiled leather body armor. Dichu was a gifted, if primitive, dog trainer, and Luath was trained to attack and kill whomsoever Dichu identified as prey, knocking down his opponents with his sheer mass, and then ripping out their throats with his powerful jaws.
Dichu stood with his small army on a hilltop overlooking the fishing village where Patrick and his priests had landed, and were spreading the Word. When Dichu had identified their leader, Patrick, he pointed him out to Luath, and gave him the command to kill. Dichu’s troops prepared to descend and kill the panicked priests. Patrick saw Luath bounding toward him, and, knowing more than most about dogs and how they are trained, did not run, or make any attempt to defend himself. Instead, he simply knelt and bowed (a dog cannot jump up on a man who is already prostrate), tucked his chin to his chest (a dog cannot go for the throat of man who is not exposing his throat) and, calmly and reverently, prayed (dogs tend to respond calmly to calm voices). Luath had never encountered a target which neither fought nor ran. He didn’t know what to do, and so he sat in front of Patrick, and then nuzzled Patrick’s outstretched hands. Dichu had raised his arm, in preparation for commanding his troops to attack, but was so stunned by Luath’s reaction to Patrick, he seemed frozen in place. Dichu was impressed enough by Patrick’s ability with dogs that he granted Patrick a barn to be converted into a church, and commanded his troops and vassals to allow Patrick and his priests free travel across Ireland. This was Patrick’s second miracle, and his first on Irish soil…
Note from Michael: If this story challenges your credulity, I congratulate you on your discernment and intelligence. I spent days poring over legends of St. Patrick, and culled the versions of stories that included dogs. All of the happenings in this story were presented in several versions, most without mentioning dogs at all. I did not make up any of this from scratch, but I did put my spin on all of it. St. Patrick, Dichu, and Luath really did exist, and St. Patrick really did face Dichu and Luath in battle. Some of the accounts of St. Patrick were possibly a conglomeration of more than one real person. There were never any snakes in Ireland.