The English Kid Who Became an Irish Saint

I learned of the true history of Saint Patrick from an Irishman in an English pub in London. I asked him why Saint Patrick’s day is celebrated. He told me that it wasn’t celebrated until the 1970s when the Irish-Americans turned what was a minor holy day in Ireland into a revenue generating holiday in the States.

“Did we Americans invent the Irish Saint Patrick as well?” I asked.

He took a long draw from his beer. “If you buy me another one of these, I’ll tell you the whole story, includin’ the part about Patrick…” He leaned in a little closer and spoke in a hushed tone. “The thing of it is, Patrick was a Brit.”

Around 390 AD Patrick was born to a well-to-do Christian family in England. He grew up caring little for religion. When he was sixteen years old he was kidnapped by Irish marauders who often raided the English coast looking for young men to enslave and put to work on the Irish isle. Patrick was sent out to the mountainous countryside to tend flocks of sheep for his master. It was here during many cold, wet and lonely days that Patrick found God. After six miserable years, it is said that Patrick heard a voice in dreams telling him how to escape back to England on a pirate ship.

Patrick was reunited with his family and became a priest. Then the same voice that told Patrick how to escape his bondage in Ireland returned and told him to go back and convert the Irish people to Christianity. Patrick was the perfect candidate for the job. His six years there gave him an understanding of the language and the tribal system that existed in Ireland.

Patrick cleverly overlaid the idea of the one Christian God over the many gods that were worshipped in Ireland at the time. Legend tells of Patrick introducing the symbol of the Christian cross on top of the symbol of the Irish moon goddess which is why the Celtic cross has its distinctive circle. The often told tale of Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland is a metaphor. In Patrick’s time evil was often portrayed as a snake. The introduction of Christianity to Ireland cast off the evil and false gods of the island. Ironically Ireland doesn’t have any snakes.

Patrick’s quest of converting Ireland to Christianity was not an easy one. He was beaten, harassed and forgotten for a while after his death on March 17th 461. In wasn’t until many years later that a mythos formed around the legend of Patrick. And centuries after his death he was raised up as the patron Saint of Ireland.

So if you go out tonight hoist one for Patrick. The Englishman who had a rough ride to become the Saint of Ireland.