I first published this at Techography on March 17, 2007. I’ve reposted it here for posterity and your reading pleasure!- BS
I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.
St. Patrick, The Confessio
The person who was to become St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales about AD 385. His given name was Maewyn Succat, and he almost didn’t get the job of bishop of Ireland because he lacked the required scholarship.
Far from being a saint, until he was 16, he considered himself a pagan. At that age, he was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village. During his captivity, he became closer to God.
When he was about sixteen he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. He entered the church, as his father and grandfather had before him, becoming a deacon and a bishop. He later returned to Ireland as a missionary, working in the north and west of the island, but little is known about the places where he actually worked and no link can be made with Patrick and any church. By the eighth century he had become the patron saint of Ireland, mostly owing to clever propaganda by the monastery of Armagh which claimed to hold his relics.
The Irish monastery system evolved after the time of Patrick and the Irish church did not develop the diocesan model that Patrick and the other early missionaries had tried to establish.
His wishes were to return to Ireland, to convert the native pagans to Christianity. But his superiors instead appointed St. Palladius. But two years later, Palladius transferred to Scotland. Patrick, having adopted that Christian name earlier, was then appointed as second bishop to Ireland.
Patrick was quite successful at winning converts. And this fact upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times, but escaped each time. He traveled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries across the country. He also set up schools and churches which would aid him in his conversion of the Irish country to Christianity.
Pious legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, Ireland never actually had snakes; one suggestion is that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids of that time and place, as shown for instance on coins minted in Gaul , or that it could have referred to beliefs such as Pelagianism, symbolized as “serpents”.
Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of ‘three divine persons in the one God’ (as opposed to the Arian belief that was popular in Patrick’s time). Whether or not these legends are true, the very fact that there are so many legends about Patrick shows how important his ministry was to Ireland. Some Irish legends involve the Oilliphéist, the Caoránach, and the Copóg Phádraig.
The 12th century work Acallam na Senórach tells of Patrick being met by two ancient warriors, Caílte mac Rónáin and Oisín, during his evangelical travels. The two were once members of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s warrior band the Fianna, and somehow survived to Patrick’s time. They travel with the saint and tell him their stories.
His mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years. After that time, Patrick retired to County Down. He died on March 17 in AD 461. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.
Much Irish folklore surrounds St. Patrick’s Day. Not much of it is actually substantiated, sadly.
Some of this lore includes the belief that Patrick raised people from the dead. He also is said to have given a sermon from a hilltop that drove all the snakes from Ireland. Of course, no snakes were ever native to Ireland, and some people think this is a metaphor for the conversion of the pagans. Though originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into more of a secular holiday.
One traditional icon of the day is the shamrock. And this stems from a more bona fide Irish tale that tells how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used it in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day.
The St. Patrick’s Day custom came to America in 1737. That was the first year St. Patrick’s Day was publicly celebrated in this country, and in Boston.
Today, people celebrate the day with parades, wearing of the green, and drinking beer. One reason St. Patrick’s Day might have become so popular is that it takes place just a few days before the first day of spring. One might say it has become the first green of spring.
The day is the national holiday of the Irish people. It is a bank holiday in Northern Ireland, and a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Montserrat, and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In Great Britain, the United States, Australia and the rest of Canada, it is widely celebrated but is not an official holiday.
It became a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church due to the influence of the Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding, as a member of the commission for the reform of the Breviary in the early part of the 17th century.
Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated worldwide by Irish people and increasingly by many of non-Irish descent (usually in the US and Ireland), hence the phrase, “Everyone wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” Celebrations are generally themed around all things green and Irish; both Christians and non-Christians celebrate the secular version of the holiday by wearing green, eating Irish food, imbibing Irish drink, and attending parades.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin, Ireland is part of a five-day festival; over 500,000 people attended the 2006 parade. The largest St. Patrick’s Day parade is held in New York City and it is watched by 2 million spectators. The St. Patrick’s Day parade was first held in Boston in 1737, organized by the Charitable Irish Society. New York’s celebration began on 17 March 1766 when Irish soldiers marched through the city. Ireland’s cities all hold their own parades and festivals. These cities include Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Waterford. Parades also take place in other Irish towns and villages.
Fad saol agat, gob fliuch, agus bás in Eirinn.
“Long life to you, a wet mouth, and death in Ireland.”