13

Mar 2020

Saint Patrick's Day

Who is the real Saint Patrick and what did he do?

St. Patrick is one of the major patron saints of Ireland. He was born in Cumbria, Wales or Scotland, into a wealthy Romano-British family, son of a decurion and grandson of a priest.

At Essential Ireland tours we love to party and celebrate on St. Patrick's Day and we also love learn the history of this great iconic figure in Irish history.

Much of what we know about Patrick comes from his own writings. He says that he was captured by pirates at the age of 16 and sold into slavery in Ireland where he spent six years working as a shepherd. He writes that his sojourn in Ireland was fundamental to developing his relationship with God and his eventual conversion to Christianity. A more recent interpretation suggests that as the son of a decurion he would have been obliged to serve on the town council but instead decided to flee his responsibilities abroad. Perhaps this account of capture and slavery was meant more metaphorically than literally.

Sheep grazing in the West of Ireland

Patrick studied in Europe where he was ordained a priest. Following the vision he described in his writing, he returned to Ireland landing in Wicklow to begin his mission to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. It is said that he probably settled in the west of Ireland where he became a bishop and ordained priests.

Saint Patrick on Croagh Patrick

Nevertheless Patrick is associated with many Irish legends including the popular banishing of the snakes from Ireland. The absence of snakes was noted a century before and is probably due to how the ice retreated after the last ice age. Although many consider snakes in this context to be a stand in for the native druids who he “drove out” with Christianity.

Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh

Patrick is said to have taught the pagan Irish about the Trinity through the use of the shamrock. It would have been an easy concept to grasp for the Irish as there were many triple deities including Brigid for her fires of inspiration, hearth, and the forge. The story first appears in 1726 which is a little late for historical accuracy but makes for a great tale.

As he wandered around Ireland teaching the Irish about Christianity, he is said to have banished the Oilliphéist or giant sea serpents like the Loch Ness monster, and slew Caoránach the mother of demons and devils at Lough Dearg in Donegal.

Children of Lir Sculpture near Ballycastle in Antrim

Whatever the legends, there’s no doubt but that he was successful in his mission to Christianise Ireland with more than 300 churches built and over 100,000 Irish baptised by the time he died on 17 March.

Stained glass image of Saint Patrick

His popularity as a symbol has only grown with the Irish diaspora especially in the United States and Canada. His feast day of 17 March is famous throughout the world and is celebrated by the Irish, those of Irish descent and those who claim it for the day ;-) There are parades, celebrations and revelries in which people wear green and pin the shamrock to their breast in memory of Patrick.

Saint Patrick's Day Street Parade in Dublin

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