Plenty of us mark St. Patrick’s Day with stew, colcannon and a pint of Guinness. But how much do we really know about the famed evangelist and his works in Ireland? Rachael Cottle fills us in.


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Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit! Or… Happy St. Patrick’s Day for Friday, March 17! It may be the greenest day of the year and suddenly everything you see is covered with shamrocks but where did it all start? Who was St. Patrick? and what did he do? As it turns out St. Patrick’s origin story is shrouded in mystery. It is thought that he was born in the late 4th Century in roman Britain. Although there are many suggestions as to the exact location.

The most common theory is that he was born in a place called Glannoventa, now Ravenglass in Cumbria. A man called Charles Thomas (writer of Christianity in Roman Britain to AD500) sited St. Patrick birthplace as Birdoswald, east of Carlisle on Hadrian’s wall. The Catholic encyclopaedia however states that he was born in Kilpatrick, Scotland. My personal favourite theory is that he was born in Northamptonshire in a roman town called Bannaventa. But as no one can agree i’ll leave you to decide which you think is most plausible.

As much as birthplace is important there is a lot more to St. Patrick’s story than just that. At 16, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates, separated from his family, and taken to Ireland where he would spend six years as a slave, shepherding. It’s at this time that his faith in God was strengthened.

At 16, St. Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates, separated from his family, and taken to Ireland.

While in the fields he had a dream about escaping on a boat. When God told him the boat was ready, he escaped from his captors and fled back to England. After escaping and heading back to England St. Patrick had another dream. In one of his essays “Confessio” he tells of the dream in which he received a letter calling him “The voice of the Irish”. At first, he was unsure of his ability to fulfil this role but after travelling back to Ireland his doubts soon vanished. He journeyed across the country baptizing people and spreading the Gospel. He was offered large gifts which he refused. On multiple occasions he was taken captive and cast into chains. The majority of his life was spent in constant threat of martyrdom.

Despite the danger, St. Patrick was able to bring the Christian faith to many people in Ireland. He is often described as having a humble nature and consistent heart of thanksgiving towards God.

Within his epic story there are a few “legends” that I think are too good not to share with you. If you have a fear of snakes, Ireland is your dream holiday destination. The country is completely snake free. During his ministry it is said that St. Patrick drove all the snakes in Ireland into the sea. He is also rumoured to have raised 33 men from the dead. Some of which had been deceased for many years. While travelling through a desolate area with some sailors he prayed for food and miraculously a herd of pigs appeared, and the group was able to eat.

St. Patrick is rumoured to have raised 33 men from the dead.

My favourite story about St. Patrick must be his link to the shamrock, Ireland’s national flower. The story goes that while in conversation with a non-believer St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the trinity. He described how each of the leaves represented; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but were still part of one flower. I think this is a beautifully simple image. Definitely one I’ll be using next time someone asks me to explain the supernatural concept.

St. Patrick was clearly a very brave, faithful man. Without complete trust in God’s call on his life there’s no way of knowing what Christianity in Ireland would look like today. Whatever you are doing this St. Patricks Day, I pray that you will be inspired by a man who, out of his love for Jesus, brought Christianity to a whole new nation.