St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain sometime around 389 A.D. What we know about his life comes mostly from his own writings. When he was 16 years old, a group of Irish raiders kidnapped Patrick and sold him as a slave to an Irish chieftain. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland, and escaped after six years. Back home, he began to have dreams and visions. Patrick said he heard the voices of the Irish people calling him back.
He studied hard, became a missionary and returned to Ireland. He set up his original church in Armagh, because he considered that to be the stronghold of “Pagan Ireland”.
His religious zeal knew no bounds, and he converted people from one coast to the other. (Christianity had already reached Ireland, but the priests of the time were far less bothered with dogma than Patrick thought proper.) By the beginning of the eighth century—300 years after his death—Patrick had become a legend, and that legend carried two powerful messages.
First, he drove the snakes out of Ireland. This was symbolic of Patrick driving the ancient religions out. In one story we hear that Patrick was swallowed by a serpent and chewed his way out, thus killing the serpent. It is also said that in exchange for a forty-day fast he was given the gift of getting rid of the pagan spirit of Ireland in the form of a Giant serpent. He was not entirely successful in this particular mission.
His other claim to fame was his ability to explain the idea of the holy trinity by the use of the shamrock; three separate parts, but all one leaf. An enthusiastic baptizer and miracle worker, he converted the King of Cashel using the shamrock analogy. It is believed that Patrick died in County Down in Downpatrick in the year 461 A.D.
Hundreds of years after his death, an ancient manuscript called the Book of the Lismore was found hidden in the cathedral walls of Lismore, Waterford County. This manuscript contains conversations recorded between St. Patrick and two of the Fianna—the soldiers of destiny.
When first hearing of St. Patrick’s God, one of the young heroes was horrified. “Hell!?,” he cried. “Who could imagine such an unjust notion?” He swore that if anyone landed in such a place, that his own leader, Fionn, would go straight away to hell, as a matter of honor, and rescue them. Fionn was a good man to have on your side.
But… We promised you a tale of pubs and music and wild, good times going back to the days of Rome and how this is connected with modern St. Patrick’s Day. Some priests today believe St. Patrick’s Day should be reclaimed as a church festival; that the party has gotten out of control. But, were he able to speak to the Church, Bacchus would disagree. He might even remind those who worry about such matters that music and wine, sacred to the deity Bacchus, were celebrated in the Roman festival of the Bacchanilia. And by a strange coincidence – or is it? - the date of this celebration was March 17th.
As we like to say at Authentic Ireland, a good time bears remembering throughout all time!
Yes, that is exactly the kind of thing you are likely to overhear at the water cooler in our office, though at this time of year you are also likely to hear shouts of: HAPPY PADDY’S!