Saint Patrick's Visit to Coney Island

By Eily Kilgannon


O Patrick! For a hundred years

An evening on the glimmering sands,

Beside the piled-up hunting spears,

Those now outworn and withered hands

Wrestled among the island bands.

O Patrick! For a hundred years

We went a-fishing in long boats

With bending sterns and bending bows.

And carven figures on their prows

Of bitterns and fish-eating stoats

Saint Patrick:

Be still: the skies

Are choked with thunder, lightening,

And fierce wind,

For God has heard, and speaks His angry mind;

Go cast your body on the stones and pray,

For he has wrought midnight and dawn and day.

In the Bay of Sligo there is an Island which in olden times was called Inis Coinin - the Island of the rabbits. The name of Coney Island is well known now because an area, including a beach near New York, is called after our Coney Island.

But long before Columbus discovered America, Saint Patrick discovered Ireland. He travelled the length and breadth of the country telling the people about Christ and Christianity and baptising the Irish race so that most of them became members of the church of Christ. Everywhere he went he found old customs and old rituals which were followed by everyone he met with diligence. And so instead of outlawing the old ways, Saint Patrick gave them a new Christian meaning. He was welcome as a guest wherever he went.

The old Celtic rules for honouring and welcoming a guest were very strict, and usually guests were treated royally. Saint Patrick arrived on Coney Island, and was welcomed on the shore. He preached the gospel of Christ and baptised the island people. He hoped that one day it would be possible to build a church there.

He was invited to eat with one of the island families. The lady of the house - her name was Stoner - was in quite a fuss, as she did not have any rabbit available to cook. However, strangely enough, all sat down to eat what looked like a delicious rabbit stew. Saint Patrick blessed the food and the hands that made the food. He lifted his knife to begin to eat when suddenly a dog appeared at the door of the house, and with that there was a stir on his plate! Whoops! A cat jumped up from his plate and bounded out the front door. The lady of the house had a very red face and Saint Patrick glared around and jumped to his feet and said: The people of this island must never forget what happened to Saint Patrick when he visited you. Never, therefore, shall a church be built on the island. Seeing the dismay on the faces of the islanders as he strode out into the sun, and casting his eye across the bay he added one thing: One thing I will guarantee to the people of Coney Island is that on every Sunday of the year forever it will be possible to cross the seas to go to church on the mainland. Neither tide nor storm can ever prevent you from travelling to do homage to God on any Sunday.

And so it has been. No church was ever built on the island. Islanders can either cross the seas by boat to Rosses Point, or cross the strand when the tide is low to Strandhill. Whatever the storm it has always been possible for the Coney Islanders to reach a church on a Sunday, without getting their feet wet, and this is Saint Patrick's legacy to them.

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