Back in the 5th century, a young teenager Maewyn Succat lived on the west coast of Britain, maybe in Wales or Scotland. He was born to a wealthy family who had been Christian for at least three generations. His father was Calpurnius, a Roman cavalry officer and Christian deacon but Maewyn himself wasn’t a believer.
When he was 16, he was kidnapped from his home in Britain by pirates and taken to Ireland, where he worked as a slave minding sheep. During captivity he started to pray and became a believer. After 6 years, he managed to escape and return home. He decided to study to become a priest and return to the land of his former captors, to convert them. He was given the name Patricius, ‘father of the citizens’, which we now call Patrick.
By the time of his death, he was a bishop and had established monasteries, churches, and schools in Ireland. Many legends grew up around him, one that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, another that he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity.
He converted the King of Munster to Christianity, making himself unpopular with the Celtic Druids who could see their power receding. He was captured several times but managed to escape.
In his old age, he wrote Confession of St Patrick in which he tells his life story. It is the only surviving written testimony that was written by a Romano-British Christian and shows his humility and wisdom.
Ireland came to celebrate 17th March as his feast day. Now it is celebrated in many parts of the world.
It’s a public holiday in Ireland but this is not where the tradition of the St Patrick’s Day Parade started. Until the 1970s, it was a religious holiday only. Dressing up in green and drinking Guinness or green beer actually have their origins in North America. There are many symbols used on the day; shamrocks, leprechauns, horseshoes to indicate the luck of the Irish, the tricolour flag of Ireland and anything green.
St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in locations as far-flung from Ireland as Japan, Singapore, Australia and Russia. St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, Nigeria and the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Many early settlers came from Ireland to Montserrat in the 1600s, servants, prisoners or plantation landowners, and brought with them their devotion to the famous saint.
Many cities around the world celebrate St Patricks Day, probably more so than any other saint. My mother, who was Irish, had a father and brother called Patrick and then a grandson, my son Patrick.
The Irish version of the name is Pádraig, (such as the Dublin-born champion golfer Pádraig Harrington) also Pat, Paddy or Patsy.
A little-known fact about St Patrick is that he is also the patron saint of engineers. Coming from Roman Britain to Ireland, he brought with him new building methods such as building churches from clay and also building arches using lime mortar instead of dry masonry.
So although he wasn’t Irish himself, and Patrick wasn’t his original name, he is probably the best-known Irishman in the world.
Happy St Patricks Day and Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh ar fad. (Blessings of St. Patrick’s Day to you all.)