Saint Patrick has become one of the worlds most popular saints who is a complex figure in terms of his history. St Patrick is a Patron Saint of Ireland and his feast day is celebrated on March 17th each year, his traditional date of death. Even though St Patrick wasn’t Irish his feast day is celebrated all over the world as an Irish cultural event.
Who was St Patrick?
Patrick (Patricius in Latin) was born into a Romano-British family. He was the son of Calpurnius, a deacon who was the son of the late Potitus from Bannavem Taburniae. The precise location of Bannavem Taburniae in Roman Britain is unknown but it is believed to be near the western sea.
Although he describes himself as a simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned, his use of Latin and the positions of his father, and grandfather, in the clergy would suggest they were a family of a particular social class. Patrick himself would have been skilled in public speaking as he was successful in spreading his message of God to the people of Ireland, he believed
“The wise person is known through speech, and also understanding and knowledge and the teaching of truth.”
When did St Patrick arrive in Ireland?
The precise date of Patrick’s arrival in Ireland is unknown but in his Confessio he does say that he was about 16 years old. He was kidnapped by bandits and brought to Ireland, along with thousands of others, to be sold as slaves.
He worked as a Shepard but his exact whereabouts remain unknown, although his writing do mention that he remained in a wooded area and on a mountain leaving many to speculate where this could be.
Patrick believed his captivity in Ireland was punishment for his lack of faith in God and the Lord was acting in anger but that it was also deserved. At this realisation Patrick turned his faith around and dedicated his life to God, a critical moment for the life of St Patrick. Tending sheep every day he would frequently pray throughout the day with his faith in God growing stronger and stronger. He would pray 100 times a day, before dawn, in snow, ice, and rain describing that he never felt worse for it or lazy.
The escape from Ireland
One night Patrick heard a voice in his sleep say “You have fasted well. Very soon you will return to your native country” and a short time later someone said to him “Look – your ship is ready.” This ship was hundreds of miles away at a port he had never been to but after 6 years of captivity in Ireland he escaped and made his way to the port.
After boarding the ship they sailed for 3 days until reaching dry land where they travelled for a further 28 days. By now food ran out and the people from the ship began to starve. The Captain, who was Pagan, turned to Patrick and said “What about this, Christian? You tell us that your God is great and all-powerful – why can’t you pray for us, since we’re in a bad state with hunger? There’s no sign of us finding a human being anywhere!”. Patrick replied that nothing was impossible for God and that he has abundance everywhere, at that moment a herd of pigs appeared allowing everyone to feed including their starved dogs. Patrick described that from this moment the people honoured him.
After a few more years travelling Patrick arrived home to his parents who pleaded with him to never leave them again.
Patrick returns to Ireland
Patrick, as a Bishop, returned to Slane in County Meath, 433 A.D. recorded in the Annals of Ulster as:
Bishop Patrick flourishing in the fervour of the Faith and in the doctrine of Christ in our province.
When he was in his 30’s he became one of the first Christian missionaries in Ireland. One legend says Patrick had met a Chieftain in Meath called Dichu who had tried to kill him but Patrick managed to convert Dichu to Christianity.
An assassination attempt was also made on St Patrick after he destroyed a pagan idol by the name of Crom Cruach. This angered an Irish chieftain by the name of Foilge Berrad who swore to kill Patrick. Luckily Patrick’s chariot driver learned of the threat and swapped places with Patrick before Foilge attacked. St Ordan was killed and became known as Ireland’s first Christian martyr.
St Palladius was the first Christian to come to Ireland and introduce Christianity to the natives of Ireland. However, it was St Patrick who had made the biggest impact in the country by converting thousands of people by preaching the gospel. It was Dichu (now known as Saint Dichu) that gave Patrick a gift of a large barn that was converted into his first Church, located in Sabhall, County Down in Ulster.
Patrick with his disciples, Beningnus, Auxilius, Iserninus, and Fiaac, travelled all over Ireland teaching his faith, converting clan chiefs, building churches, opening schools and monasteries and convincing many Irish to become monks and nuns. Patrick preached all over Ireland for 40 years mostly in poverty and died on March 17, 461A.D in his Church in Sabhall, County Down.
It was believed Saint Patrick used Shamrocks, a three-leaved Clover, to teach the people of Ireland the concept of the Holy Trinity but none of this was actually mentioned in his writings so it somewhat became part myth and folklore. The Shamrock has been associated with him and the Irish ever since.
Did St Patrick drive snakes from Ireland?
To begin with, Ireland never had any snakes as a native creative so it is believed by many that the snakes were a symbol of the druids or Paganism. This theory, however, is often debated because paganism still thrived for many years after the death of St Patrick’s death. He didn’t exactly convert everyone in Ireland to Christianity.
Irish Traditions on St Patrick’s Day
St Patrick’s Day is celebrated by parades across the world such as United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Russia. Although it is more common that on this day people can claim Irish heritage by ‘wearing of the green’ and drinking green beer it has become more of an event to celebrate the Irish culture. The United States boasts the largest parades such as the New York City St Patrick’s day parade and Chicago, where the river is dyed green.
This article was first published on 28-04-2010 and last modified on 30-03-2017.