I Am of Irelaunde: A Novel of Patrick and Osian
Returning at age forty to the place of his enslavement by Irish slave traders at the age of sixteen, Patrick struggles to understand why his God, the Three-in-One, has instructed him to return as a missionary to Ireland – a land which he despises and whose people he does not understand.
But Patrick – who first stubbornly denies his Irish name of Padraig and insists on his Roman name of Magonus Succatus Patricius – is not easily swayed from his fierce belief in the evil of Druid practices or of his own maleness. Osian, the son of Fionn Mac Cumail, is introduced as deus ex machina, and we are regaled throughout the book with glorious (and inglorious) tales of the Fianna told by the warrior-poet, dead some 200 years. Osian’s role in the book does not become clear until later, however, but his stories of Fionn and his compatriots, warriors of the third century A.D., become a central part of the novel’s structure. The tales, sprinkled throughout the text, are vivid and moving, and are the vehicle by which the mystery and magic of Ireland come alive.
Through the instruction and love of Osian, Patrick finally does accept that he is Padraig, God’s chosen one in Ireland, and he learns to love, accept and cherish that land and its people. The less Padraig rails against his former captors, the more people flock to be baptised in the religion of the White Christ.
The lesson of the book is clear, yet it is not this ultimate resolution which makes this book one of the best I have read in a long time. First-time author Osborne-McKnight, who is an accomplished folklorist and storyteller, demonstrates her great talent for unerringly weaving legend and myth into the real life, desires, passions, hopes and dreams of a man who lived during the fifth century and ultimately became Ireland’s patron saint. The author melds Patrick’s Confession and his Letter to Coroticus into the historical facts presented in the book, but as to all else, she admits that not much is known. It is here, however, that Osborne-McKnight soars artistically to capture the very soul of oral storytelling tradition.
By presenting Patrick so filled with agonizing self-doubt and paralyzing hatred, and thereby, by humanizing him so movingly, Osborne-McKnight successfully conveys Patrick’s longing to be a better, if not a perfect, man. After everything is said and done, it is not Patrick’s saintliness that we remember, but Patrick’s striving humanness. This is a wonderful read by a new author from whom I hope to hear a great deal more!