St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. His feast day is celebrated on 17th March every year and there are parades held on this day right across the world. There are many known facts about the man but there are even more myths and legends that have gathered up over the years. Generally the Irish are a superstitious people and even though we know most of these myths not to be true, you will be hard pushed to find anyone in Ireland who will actually openly deny that to be the case.
Saint Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin’s Church, Kilbennan, County Galway, Ireland. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.
Who Is Saint Patrick?
I will begin with the facts that we do know of. He was actually born in Scotland and was also known to have wealthy parents called Calpurnius and Conchessa who were Romans. Nothing is clear from history of the precise year in which he was born but it is estimated that this was around 385 AD. Between the age of fourteen and sixteen years of age, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who took him to Ireland where he spent six years as a slave in captivity. The precise location is not recorded but many claim this to be at Mount Slemish, near to Ballymena in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is also known he worked as a shepherd.
Slemish, County Antrim. Photo by Albert Bridge.
He did escape when he was around 22-23 years of age. After that and according to his own documented writing God spoke to him in a dream and told him he had to leave Ireland and then when he returned to Britain he had a second dream that he was to go back to Ireland as a missionary. St Patrick began his religious training, and it lasted more than fifteen years. He was ordained as a priest by St Germanus, and then sent back to Ireland with the task of ministering to the few Christians already in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish to Christianity. He was later made a bishop.
Ireland at that time was a country full of pagan beliefs and strong fixed cultures. Patrick would have been aware of this and also fluent in the Irish language. Rathern that fight against that he incorporated his Christian teachings with their old beliefs. An example of this was the creation of the Celtic Cross where he added the sun in the centre of the standard Christian cross. He also used the common growing shamrock to explain concept of the Holy Trinity. Its three leaves represented God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, A classical myth is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, but the reality was that they never existed in Ireland in the first place. All I can tell you is there are no snaked in Ireland, so read from that what you will.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on the 17th March and is believed to be the date of his death though again this is not officially recorded anywhere. Historians believe he died at Saul which is near Downpatrick in Northern Ireland around the year 461.
Enda McLarnon is an avid reader of anything to do with the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland in particular. This includes the Northern Ireland Troubles. If you want to find out more then please visit his site at Northern Ireland History.