Nuala Woulfe says Kildare’s long links with the reptile suggest it’s the ‘snakiest place in Ireland’
THE myth is that St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, but scientists will tell you Ireland has always been devoid of snakes. But what if the mythology is right? Irish author and filmmaker, Bob Quinn (www.conamara.org), says there’s truth in the snake tale and that Naas, in Co Kildare, whose symbol is the serpent, might have been the location of the showdown.
“When I was writing my book, the Atlantean Irish: Ireland’s Oriental and Maritime Heritage, I came across this gnostic sect, the Naasenes, who worshipped snakes. Before Constantine recognised Christianity (early 300’s AD), there were 156 sects and cults, which were interpreting the Christian message in their own way, and one of these was the Naasenes.” The Naasenes, from North Africa, didn’t recognise the ‘official Church’ and were facing persecution. Quinn believes the Naasenes settled in Ireland, far from the Roman Christian Church, and specifically in Naas, which has long used the snake as its symbol.
The Hebrew or Semitic word for snake is ‘Naha’s, which is not unlike Naas. Quinn, who is based in Connemara, says that Patrick, if he came to Ireland in 432, might have come to rid Ireland not of actual snakes, but of snake-worshippers. “I can’t prove this is true, but nobody has ever contradicted my theory on Naas, the Naasenes and snakes. There may have been an actual Patrick, who came to Ireland, or Patrick may just be a metaphor for the coming of Christianity to Ireland. Certainly, there were Christians in Ireland before the said coming of Patrick,” says Quinn.
The town motto of Naas is ‘Prudens ut Serpens’ (the Wisdom of the Snake) and snakes are a common symbol in Kildare. For example, they are the symbol of the Kildare Archaeological Society, the Naas Moat Club, and Naas Community School. Twenty years ago, the snake was banished from the Kildare County Council shield and it slithered off the Kildare football team jersey, but is making a comeback. The recently formed women’s Newbridge/Naas Rugby squad has been named the Black and Yellow Cobras, and Naas Rugby Club, unlike the GAA Lilywhites, has always proudly displayed a serpent on its jersey.
Kildare man and councillor, Paddy Kennedy, says there is a belief throughout the county that Naas and Kildare are associated with St Patrick, but he has never heard of the Naasenes. Naas stopped running its St Patrick’s Day parade 10 years ago, due to repeated bad weather, in favour of an Easter Parade, but Kennedy, an organiser of the Newbridge St Patrick’s Day parade, says Naas and Kildare being “the snakiest place in Ireland” may have great tourism potential for the county.
“Even when I was mayor of Newbridge, the chain of office had the snake on it. There’s a general feeling that this is a county St Patrick visited, this idea of the Naasenes being driven out as snakes is very interesting.” But some people don’t like snakes. This is why the snake was removed from the Kildare County Council logo and from the Kildare football jersey. “Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to drop things from the past that we don’t fully understand, the snake being one of them,” says Kennedy.
Local historian, Ronnie Kinnane, says St Patrick is rooted in Naas: “There’s an old well where St Patrick is said to have baptised the chieftain’s daughters and a very old church, which, up to the 12th century, was called St Patrick’s Church. There’s no doubt that Kildare, and Naas in particular, has a special connection with St Patrick. The snake is all over the place. The ancient silver Naas Mace, in the National Museum — even that has a snake on it”.
Although the mystery of whether St Patrick came to Ireland to drive out snakes might never be solved, Quinn says for thousands of years people have been coming by boat to Ireland from North Africa and from the Spanish, French and Norwegian Atlantean coast. The Irish have a more exotic past then they think — something to remember as St Patrick’s Day becomes more multicultural. “Our traditional shamrock, for example, comes from the Arabic Shamrakh — which means any three-leafed plant. There are 123 different languages in Dublin now. It’s like Manhattan 20 years ago and I think that’s great,” he says.
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