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Teachings from the Ancient Celts: Bravery and Courage

Teachings from the Ancient Celts: Bravery and Courage

In this post Christian author Mark Fisher looks at the attribute of bravery and courage among the ancient Irish Celts and how this trait helped St. Patrick in his mission to the ancient Irish.

St. Patrick’s Bravery

In his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill  writes:

“We can also be sure that the Irish found Patrick admirable according to their own highest standards: his courage—his refusal to be afraid of them—would have impressed them immediately; and, as his mission lengthened into years and came to be seen clearly as a lifetime commitment, his steadfast loyalty and supernatural generosity must have moved them deeply. For he had transmuted their pagan virtues of loyalty, courage, and generosity into the Christian equivalents of faith, hope, and charity.”

Courage in the Face of Danger

Courage. Bravery in the face of personal danger. These were things the Irish highly valued. When Patrick approached the Irish, he was a Roman entering a foreign culture. For years before he escaped back to England, he’d lived among them as a slave. So he knew the Irish and their ways. But bringing the gospel to such a people was dangerous. The only ones who could safely travel the lands between the Irish kingdoms were druids, poets, bards, and the nobility. And no doubt the latter traveled with an armed escort. Between the kingdoms roamed bandits. So when Patrick appeared before the clan leaders speaking of a new God, he risked capture, slavery, and even death.

His Enemies—The Druids and Some Princes

One of his enemies was the druid class. When they heard Patrick’s message of the one God, they knew instantly this Christian religion brought trouble. Weren’t the spirits of the druids in the forests, rivers, lakes, and streams? Did they not exist in their mythical ancestors with names like the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danann? And they were not also in the gods Danu, the earth mother, Manannán mac Lir, god of the sea and the Otherworld, and in Lugh, god of many things? Their gods were fickle, dark, and ever demanding. Patrick’s one God—and a God who loved!—threatened all this. More than once they tried to poison him.

Another enemy, at times, was the nobility of the regions. To a region mired in ancient tradition, Patrick brought change, and change was always threatening. Once, the princes of a region even beat him.

Yet he walked into this danger without hesitation. He preached his message of salvation for all with bravery and courage. And for this most of the Irish gave him admiration and an audience.

A Warrior of a Different Kind

For wasn’t it courage that upheld the warrior when he went into battle against his foe? When the raiders came, trying to steal cattle, grain, or women, the Irish went out to meet them with swords and spears held high and a battle cry on their lips. To go into battle was to admit that you might, at any moment, go into the next life. A fierce warrior, unafraid of death, was a feared and respected combatant. Thus was Patrick. He was a warrior of a different kind, fighting a spiritual, not an earthly enemy. And for this, the Irish greatly respected him.


Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient, Celetic Ireland at the time of St. Patrick. To learn more about his book, click on the link.

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