I returned to Co Down sixteen years ago. I was born and lived in Co Down till I was eighteen. I went to university in Coleraine eighty miles away from home and remained there to get married and rear my children. In those days I might as well have been moving to another country. God led us to live return to Co Down. This scripture spoke to us,
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Jeremiah 6:16 NIV)
Today, St Patrick’s Day, I am savouring the blessing of living along the shore of Strangford Lough. There is a small bay below our house where gulls play about on the water. The water is still. A lone heron stands on a stone for long periods of time looking out for food. A flock of Brent Geese fly in low over the water. They come to get some fresh water from a stream nearby that flows into the lough. My soul is at rest.
I am amazed that these Brent Geese’ only winter habitat is along the shores of Strangford Lough. Thousands land here after a long journey from Northern Canada in September. Most are to be seen along the sunny side of the Lough. They feed on Eel Grass and return in April to the tundra to have their young. The Brent Geese link me to the past. For generations they migrated here. Their generations back would have been here when St Patrick arrived as a migrant.
In the fifth century St Patrick came to these shores. The main means of transport in those days was by boat. A boat could access inland by river. He came to Ireland answering the call of God to go as a missionary. He would have sailed up the entrance to Strangford Lough and up the Quoile river. It is recorded that he settled in Saul near the river.
The tourist board of Northern Ireland has mapped out the St Patrick’s trail which helps visitors travel to areas where early Christians settled. I have lived in three sites that are along this trail. I lived in. Saul St, Downpatrick for sixteen years, one year in Bright, and now in Portaferry. I can imagine those early Christians coming ashore like the Brent Geese to get some fresh water after their sea journey. They could have built a shelter and fished from the sea that was teeming with fish in those early days. No pollution or over fishing then. They may have even built a settlement on this land where we now live.
St Patrick’s writings mention scriptures, dreams, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It is interesting that the Christian denominations, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Catholic all look to St Patrick as their patron in Ireland. At least we are united in the heritage St Patrick left us.
In Ireland we are blessed to have a Christian heritage for 1500 years. Ireland is known as the Land of Saints and Scholars. Many missionarys travelled from these shores into Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas. God is calling the Irish men and women to remember the God of their forefathers. I celebrate St Patrick today, not with green beer, leprechauns, or parades, but by being quiet on this ancient site remembering the God of St Patrick. He is the same God I worship, 1500 years later. Praise Him.