St. Patrick: fact and fantasy

 - St. Patrick is supposed to have driven the snakes out of Ireland. Certainly, there are no snakes in Ireland — but there are none in New Zealand either and St. Patrick never visited there. The story that St. Patrick banished the snakes is more likely to have been invented in the 12th century by a Northumbrian monk named Jocelyn.

 -  A blind man once visited St. Patrick seeking a cure. As he approached he stumbled several times and fell over, and was duly laughed at by one of St. Patrick’s companions. The blind man was cured. The companion, however, was blinded.

-  The first St. Patrick’s Day parade on record was held in New York in 1762 and seems to have been primarily designed as a recruiting rally by the English army in North America. Nowadays, St. Patrick’s Day parades are held on almost every continent of the world.

-  The earliest recorded evidence of St. Patrick’s Day being celebrated outside of Ireland, other than by Irish soldiers, is provided by Dublin-born Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift. In his Journal to Stella he notes that in 1713 the Westminster Parliament was closed for St. Patrick’s Day and the Mall in London was so full of decorations he thought “all the world was Irish”.

-  One legend has it that St. Patrick went straight to France after escaping youthful slavery in Ireland. On a visit to his uncle in Tours he had to cross the River Loire and used his cape as a raft. When he reached the other side he hung the cape out to dry on a hawthorn bush -  which immediately burst into bloom. To this day the hawthorn blooms in the winter in the Loire Valley, and St. Patrick is celebrated there on March 17 and on Christmas Day. 

-  Despite his saintliness, St. Patrick was not averse to bouts of temper. He was once denied use of a field to graze his oxen and he cursed the field, prophesying that nothing would ever grow on it. Sure enough, that day the field was overrun by the sea and remained sandy and barren evermore.
- St. Patrick’s Day is also a public holiday on the Caribbean island of Monsterrat. The origins of the island’s celebrations date back to the 17th century when Oliver Cromwell was instrumental in forcing quite a number of Irish immigrants to move there. Names like Murphy, Kirwan and O’Malley are still commonplace on the island. 

- Legend has it that St. Patrick used a three-leafed shamrock as a teaching aid to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan King Laoghaire.

-  The Shamrock predates the red poppy of Flanders fields as a sign of remembrance. In 1900 Britain’s Queen Victoria ordered that soldiers in Irish regiments should wear shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day in memory of fellow Irishmen who had been killed in the Boer War.

- Before he died an angel told St. Patrick he should have two untamed oxen yoked to his funeral cart and that they should be left to decide where he should be buried. The oxen chose Downpatrick.


 © 2009