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St. Patrick's Life

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He was a Christian missionary given credited with converting Ireland to Christianity in the AD 400s. So many legends surround his life that the truth is not easily found.

St Patrick was not actually Irish. His exact birthplace and date is not known. However it is believed he was born around 375AD in Scotland. His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa, were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies.

His real name is believed to be Maewyn Succat and he took on the name Patrick upon becoming a priest.

As a teen he was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland to herd and tend sheep on Slemish mountain, Co Antrim.

During his six-year captivity, he became fluent in the Irish language, he turned to God in prayer. He escaped after having a dream sent from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast where he would find a ship waiting to sail to Britain.

He is believed to have met up with his parents in Wales before travelling to France where he became a priest and later a bishop.

Patrick was sent another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him to come and walk among them once more.

He was set the task of teaching Christianity to the Irish. He travelled throughout Ireland, preaching the Gospel and converting many. He and his disciples preached and converted thousands and began building churches all over the country.

Patrick preached and converted all over Ireland for 40 years. The date cited for when Ireland was converted to Christianity is 432.

There is much debate over when and where he died. It is believed he died on 17 March, 460 at Saul, Downpatrick. That is why Saint Patrick's day is celebrated on March 17th. Some people suggest he was also born on 17 March.

The clans of Ireland began to bicker over who should receive the honour of having his final resting-place on their land. To avoid this sacrilegious end to his life his friends secreted away his body to bury in a secret grave. Many believe this to be in Downpatrick, County Down, where there is a permanent memorial.

Patrick's Profile

Name: Maewyn Succat (He adopted Patrick or Patricius upon becoming a priest)

Nationality: Roman Briton

Born: Around 415 AD

Travels: At the age of 16 he was brought to Ireland. He later returned to his home in Wales, travelled to France and eventually came back to Ireland.

Died: March 17th, 493 (Disputed)

Education: Very little in his early life. He later trained as a cleric in France

Occupation: Sheep herder for Milchu on Slemish Mountain in Co Antrim and later preacher, baptiser and bishop

Achievements: Posthumously became Ireland's patron saint Responsible for the conversion of the island to Christianity

Publications: Epistle to Coroticus Confessio

Hillwalking - once spent forty days of Lent on Croagh Patrick

Legacies: Pota Phadraig: Pota Phadraig (Patrick's Pot) is the name given to the measure of whiskey to be taken on Saint Patrick's Day. Tradition dictates that a shamrock be floated on the whiskey before drinking, hence the expression, 'drowning the shamrock'

The Shamrock: This was the tool reputedly used by Saint Patrick to illustrate the Holy Trinity to convert the Irish pagans Saint Patrick's Breastplate: Also known as The Lorica, this was the hymn said to have been sung by Patrick and his followers on their pilgrimage to Tara as they attempted to put a stop to the pagan rituals.

Saint Patrick's Day Parades: Contrary to popular belief, this tradition did not originate in Ireland. The first St. Patrick's Day celebration in America was in 1737 hosted by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. Today festive parades are held all over the world, for no more sinister purpose than raising a glass to the saint and celebrating Irishness.

The Reek: Every year thousands of pilgrims, many in bare feet, climb the 2,500 ft to the peak of Croagh Patrick, to pay homage to Saint Patrick's Christian mission in Ireland. Legend says that it was here that the saint rang his bell and the snakes of Ireland fled. Things you didn't know about Saint Patrick: At the age of sixteen, shortly before he was taken into captivity, "he committed a fault which appears not to have been a great crime, yet was to him a subject of tears during the rest of his life". (from Butler, Lives of the Saints) He was tremendously conscious about his lack of education and often refers to his inability to express his thoughts clearly in his Confessio.(from Simms, The Real Story of Saint Patrick)

Myths about Saint Patrick:

  • He used a shamrock to explain the Trinity: Not true but the shamrock was traditionally worn in Ireland as a symbol of the cross
  • He drove the snakes out of the country: Ireland never had snakes - but the snake metaphor was probably used later to represent paganism
  • He was the first to preach the Good News in Ireland: It is known that there were Christians in Ireland before his time
  • He is thought to have been born and died on his feastday, March 17th: Both claims are considered unlikely