On St. Patrick's Day, almost everyone is a lot or a little bit Irish, especially in my family of American Heinz 57 types. We wear green, drink green beer (don't drink and drive!) and eat corned beef and cabbage (Mine is cooking-yum!) and tell Irish jokes or stories. Some of us even try out a wee bit of an Irish accent. In other words, we have fun. But St. Patrick was a real person with a real history. I thought I'd share a bit of the information I've gathered here and there then, in the tradition of fun, I've included the Legend of the Leprechaun and His Pot of Gold. Enjoy!
Saint Patrick's Day was made an official feast day in the early seventeenth century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheran Church. For Christians, the day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. However, it has gradually become more of a secular celebration of Irishness and Irish culture.
The day generally involves public parades and festivals, céilithe, and wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians also attend church services and the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day.
1. St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was a Romano-Briton, a descendant of the Romans and native Celts who had intermixed during the four hundred years that Rome had occupied Britain.
2. His Latin name was Patricius, a name that means “noble” or “well born.” Incidentally, the name of St. Augustine’s father was also Patricius. But Augustine lived in Roman Africa, not Britain.
3. Patrick was from a slave-holding, affluent family.
4. Patrick’s father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest. The rule of clerical celibacy wasn’t strictly enforced until the eleventh century, and clergy enjoyed certain tax exemptions under Roman law.
5. He was kidnapped by an Irish war band when he was sixteen years old and brought to Ireland as a slave.
6. Patrick was a slave on a farm in northwest Ireland for six years.
7. Patrick wasn’t the first Christian missionary sent to Ireland by Rome. That was a bishop named Palladius who was sent to Ireland in 431. And there was already a small community of Christians living in southern Ireland when Palladius arrived who were probably slaves taken from Britain. Claims of Christianity in Ireland before the third century are dubious.
8. Patrick almost certainly didn’t arrive in Ireland in 432, a year after Palladius. That date was chosen by later writers probably to diminish the influence of Palladius and make it seem like Patrick evangelized the Irish from the very beginning. This also explains why they backdated his birth to 390 when, in fact, it’s more likely he was born during the early fifth century. Accordingly, Patrick could have arrived as a missionary in Ireland as much as a generation after Palladius.
9. The most reliable information we possess about Patrick’s life are two letters written in Latin by Patrick himself. They are his “Confession” and a letter to a British warlord named Coroticus wherein Patrick condemns Coroticus for taking his Irish Christian converts as slaves. Incidentally, Patrick was a terrible writer of Latin because he missed out on a full education due to his enslavement in Ireland.
10. And finally, Patrick didn’t really banish all of the snakes from Ireland. There were no snakes in Ireland to begin with.
Legend of the Leprechaun
and His Pot of Gold
Legend tells us the wee Irish folk called leprechauns make fairy shoes for a living. They are said to stash their gold in a pot at the end of the rainbow. The best way to find a leprechaun is to follow the tap of a shoemaker’s hammer. If you catch him and can keep him in sight, he must take you to his treasure. If the leprechaun can trick you into looking away, he will vanish along with your hopes for finding his treasure.
Have a Blessed Day!
Have a Blessed Day!