Saint Patrick. The grand man of the Irish! Green beer, green clover, green Puritan-style hats, green beer, wearing green…did I mention green? All the great Irish traditions as we celebrate the anniversary of his death on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. Except, he wasn’t Irish.
The Real Saint Patrick
Patrick lived sometime during the 5th century (400-499 A.D.) in Roman Britain and his father was a deacon in the Catholic Church and was a decurion of Rome, (member of the City Senate.) His grandfather was a Catholic priest, but Patrick was not a believer in the church at first.
When Patrick was sixteen he reports that he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland where he was made a slave. It is during his enslavement that his religious beliefs grew. After six years he said God told him that a ship awaited him. He escaped and traveled 200 miles to a port and convinced a captain to take him back to England.
Once back, he claims that he and the crew of the ship wandered for 28 days. Then desperate for food, he encouraged the group to have faith and they then came upon wild boar and the group feasted. He eventually returned to his family and studied the Bible and the Church’s teachings.
Patrick the Profiteer?
Patrick then returned to Ireland to convert the Irish to Christianity. In his writings, he defends himself against accusations made against him for apparently receiving money and gifts for religious favors (baptism, ordainment, etc.) He doesn’t specify what the accusations were, but he does deny receiving money or gifts.
As a Christian and a foreigner, he wasn’t well received by the wealthy and powerful of Ireland. He was apparently successful in converting some of the sons and daughters of significant Irish families, which likely added to his poor reputation among the royalty of Ireland.
Legends of St. Patrick
Over a thousand years after his death, (appeared in a writing of 1726,) Patrick was said to have used the three-leaf clover to represent the Holy Trinity during his teachings. There is no earlier written evidence of this and it is unlikely the story is true.
Snakes, I Hate Snakes
The story that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland is false. They were flown out in modern times. Maybe you saw the movie, Snakes On A Plane.
The Truth Doesn’t Matter As Long As There Is Beer
Historians even question St. Patricks own writings. Some don’t buy his kidnapping story. Some suggest that he was a con man that used religion to make money. All that doesn’t matter today because Patrick is our excuse to drink beer. Cheers to you St. Paddy!