The History of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He died at Saul, Downpatrick Ireland, on the 17th of March 460 AD, and every year, on this day, Ireland and many other parts of the world celebrate their Irishness.

Knowledge of St. Patrick's life is a combination of his spiritual writings in the 'Confessio' and the myths and legends that have been passed down through time. St. Patrick was born in Kilpatrick, Scotland 387 AD under Roman rule. His parents were Romans, Calpurnius and Conchessa, and his name at this time was 'Maewyn Succat'. At the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Niall of the Nine Hostages and brought to Ireland, which at that time was a land of paganism and druidism. He was sold as a slave to Meliuc, a landowner in Antrim, where he worked as a shepherd in the Slemish Mountain. During this time he became fluent in the Irish language and was also extremely knowledgeable in druidism as his master was a druidic high priest. His life as a shepherd was a solitary one, and in the Confessio, he wrote that he prayed many times and found solace in the Christian faith. One night, after being in captivity for many years, he heard a voice telling him it was time to escape. He traveled south for 200 miles until he reached Wexford, where there was a ship waiting to sail to Britain. At first he was refused passage but eventually, after much prayer, he was allowed on board.

He first visited St. Martin's monastery at Tours and then went to Lerins monastery. Under the guidance of St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre in France, he was ordained a priest and helped St. Germain combat heresy and Paganism. He became bishop in 432 and Pope Celestine conferred him with the name "Patercius" or "Patritius" (derived from two Latin words 'pater civium' meaning the father of his people). He was subsequently set the task of teaching Christianity to the Irish. He arrived in Ireland under the patronage of a landowner named Dichiu who was one their first converts.

Patrick knew that he would have to gain the support of King Laoghaire, the High King of Tara, in order to establish the freedom he would need to take his message throughout Ireland. On March 25, the traditional start of spring, Patrick built a fire in front of the Kings domain, an act of which was strictly forbidden. On seeing this, King Laoghaire was infuriated and went out to see the group who had challenged his command. The contrast between the affluence of the king and the unembellished simplicity of Patrick was noticed and the king listened to Patrick's explanation of what his plans were. Even though the king refused to accept Christianity, he gave Patrick the freedom to preach his message. Gradually the people of Ireland were converted to Christianity.

However, Patrick first had to make the people understand the doctrine of the Trinity, that there are three persons who make up one divine God - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He drew an analogy by plucking a shamrock from the ground and showed that the three leaves were on only one stem. The shamrock is still very much associated with St. Patrick and is traditionally worn on St. Patrick's Day. It is also Ireland's national emblem. The shamrock is considered a good-luck symbol by many people worldwide.

His knowledge of Gaelic, the Irish language, made it simple for him to spread the word of the Gospel. It took him several years to destroy paganism in Ireland. One of the many legends surrounding St. Patrick is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. Snakes were a symbol of paganism, therefore the legend explains that he expelled paganism from Ireland.

St Patrick encountered many hardships, and many attempts were made to sway him from achieving his mission, including threats on his life, however he overcame all obstacles and finally succeeded in converting almost the whole population of Ireland.


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