New light on St Patrick’s birthplace

Rediscovering St Patrick: A new theory of origins by Marcus Losack (Columba Press, €16.99 / £14.50)

At the start of this new look at St Patrick, I should confess that I have long been of the opinion that he came from somewhere in what is now modern Somerset, and that his traditional association with Glastonbury is evidence of this. But modern scholarship prefers a Roman settlement in Strathclyde; or perhaps in Wales. In any case somewhere in Britain.

However Marcus Losack rejects Britain in favour of Brittany in this most interesting, but not uncontroversial book.

The author is an Anglican priest, based in Annamoe, who taught for a time in the Irish School of Ecumenics in Trinity. He is also a Senior Lecturer in St George’s College in Jerusalem. His confessional outlook has in one way affected his views in this book.


He recounts that the earliest Irish sources of St Patrick, aside from his own writings, were heavily manipulated to favour Armagh and those churches that claimed to have been founded by the saint. For a long time little in fact was said about St Patrick. Perhaps only in the 7th Century, as Ireland came under increased continental influences that he was elevated into the status of Apostle of Ireland. This, the author suggests, was part of a process of “Romanisation” that went on down to and after the Norman invasion.

The idea that the ‘Celtic Church’ was ‘independent’ of the Pope has some small truth in in; but it was, of course, the fundamental view of the Church of Ireland at the time of the Reformation that it was restoring that independence rather than creating an alternative confession. This was once a heated topic that thankfully we hear little of today.

Chance discovery

The author was inspired to write this book by a chance discovery in Brittany of a local claim that St Patrick was associated with a place west of St Malo. He was visiting the Chateau de Bonaban at La Gouesnière, now a country house hotel, when he read in their brochure that it had been identified as the birthplace of St Patrick, the ‘Bannavem Tiburniae’ of the Confession no less.

He immediately set out to confirm this in the library at nearby St Malo and began following a long trail of research which has lead him to re-examine all that was thought about St Patrick.

His idea is not strictly new, as he admits. It was mentioned specifically  by  exiled scholar Colgan in the 17th Century when he had his colleagues collected other manuscript sources for St Patrick that seem to contradict what head been established by Murchú and other early but partisan biographers.


This book then is a thorough investigation of the idea in the light of recent scholarship. The case is argued out in by Losack in fascinating detail. This location brings Patrick into more immediate contact with St Martin of Tours, of whom his mother was said by tradition to me the grand niece. 

Other cruxes in the history of St Patrick and the early Church in Ireland are discussed, and some revolved. The ‘Wood of Foclut’ from which Patrick said he heard the voice of Ireland calling, is now relocated from Mayo to the area too, the ‘western sea’ being actually the gulf at Cancale. 

Losack suggests that his father Calpurnius was a Scottish king who came to Brittany with his family, and that Patrick might have been conceived in Scotland but born in Brittany.

The papal mission of Palladius takes on a new significance here as Patrick is seen as being sent on his mission by Christians in Brittany and not by the Pope.

However towards the end of the book he tries to suggest that St Patrick had in fact even more interesting familial connection with the royal houses of Scotland, Brittany and France. Here again the author detects the manipulation of early documents.

This is a very controversial area. His case will not be helped among academics by his drawing on material from the late Laurence Gardner and from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Losack is well aware that tainted sources come in many forms, but these two are quite as mendacious as the medieval Irish hagiographers he rejects.   

Sensible views

But on the whole Marcus Losack expounds more sensible views. Moreover, the book is written in a fluent and accessible personal style, the author being an experienced lecturer and tour guide.

The author is in discussion with the new owners of the hotel about conducting an archaeological dig in their demesne, where Celtic and Roman remains have already been found, in the hope of uncovering more evidence.

Those who have already fallen under the spell of Brittany for other reasons will be delighted to have an additional reason for their love of the country, now being able to see it in the light of our national apostle’s true birthplace, revealed at last. Some will even applaud his appeal that Bonaban ought to become a new shrine of Patrician pilgrimage.