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Bringing History to Life: The Mystery of St. Patrick

by Carissa Andrews  -  March 14th, 2014

People all over the world celebrate St. Patrick's Day with fervor, but few of us are aware of the mysteries surrounding the man. In fact, many mysteries surrounding the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland will never truly be answered with certainty. So before you take to the streets to celebrate with parades, don the color green or pin a shamrock to your lapel, blast the Irish folk music, indulge in Irish food and drink, or dye your local rivers or streams green, take a moment to learn a bit about the man behind the myth.

Here are intriguing 12 points to ponder:

1. What's in a name?

St. Patrick was born around the year 385 AD with the birth name Maewyn Succat, according to legend. It is described in historical documents that he changed his name to Patricius, or Patrick much later in life when he became a priest.

2. Noble St. Patrick.

St. Patrick was born to a semi-noble Christian family. His mother's name was Conchessa, and his father Calpurnius; who was a civil servant and deacon for the Christian Church.

3. Not an Irishman

St. Patrick wasn't born in Ireland. He was actually born in Roman Britain (which is far different from the Britain we know today). No one really knows for sure where in Britain St. Patrick was born, however. In his autobiography, Confessio, penned by the man himself, he states he was born in a town called Bannavem Taberniae. However, because Bannavem Taberniae no longer exists in the modern world and no ancient texts exist telling us where it was, we may never know the precise location of his birth. So far, scholars have only narrowed it down to Scotland, England, Wales - or possibly even France.

4. Kidnapped as a teen

At the age of 16, Irish Raiders kidnapped Patrick and then enslaved him for the next six years of his life. Presumably, Patrick was set to be a sheepherder until one day, legend tells Patrick had a vision telling him to escape. He walked for over two hundred miles until he was able to stow aboard a ship and travel back into Britain.

5. Christianizing Ireland

In later years, Patrick was called back to Ireland to bring the Christian faith to the land of his previous captors. It's said that he used the shamrock, or a three leaved clover, to describe to the local pagan Druids the holy trinity of father, son, and Holy Spirit. Thus began the tradition of shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day.

6. Symbology of snakes

When St. Patrick was in Ireland, it is fabled he eradicated all snakes from the island. There's only one minor problem; Ireland never had any snakes. The island itself is too cold for snakes to have ever migrated from Britain. This is an area where man/myth collide and we need to distinguish facts from fiction. In all likelihood, driving the snakes from Ireland was symbolic of putting an end to the local pagan practices.

7. Saint with a small s.

St. Patrick was never a religious man, despite his familial Christian upbringing. It wasn't until his enslavement that he began to lean upon his Christian faith. When he arrived back in Britain, he quickly joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to become a priest. Despite being credited with converting Ireland to Christianity, the Catholic Church never formally canonized St. Patrick, so he is a saint (small s) in namesake only. The reason being, there was no formal process for canonization in place when Patrick died. He was proclaimed a saint by popular acclaim, probably with the approval of a bishop. The official process for canonization did not come until about the 12th century.

8. Celebration

We celebrate the life of St. Patrick on March 17th because he is said to have died March 17th, 461 AD. Throughout the years, this date has always remained constant. St. Patrick's Day feast was celebrated as early as the 7th century AD. While it took some time for St. Patrick's legend to take root, one can't deny the way the legend has grown worldwide.

9. Green is the new blue

Here's an interesting side note; St. Patrick's color was originally blue, not green, say historians. The hue " St. Patrick's blue, which is a lighter shade " can still be seen on ancient Irish flags and was used on armbands and flags by members of the Irish Citizen Army. The use of green on St. Patrick's Day actually began during the 1798 Irish Rebellion, when the clover became a symbol of nationalism and the "wearing of the green" on lapels became regular practice. Wearing green soon spread to uniforms as well. That evolution, combined with the idea of Ireland's lush green fields, eventually made blue a thing of the past.

10. Beer was banned?

Ireland has been officially celebrating St. Patrick's Day since 1903, when Irish politician James O'Mara introduced a bill in Westminster that made it an official public holiday back in his homeland. However, it wasn't until the 1960s that you could find revelers celebrating at a bar. Ireland is heavily Catholic, and St. Patrick's Day falls during Lent, which means that although celebratory feasts and drinks were allowed, an all-night party seemed a bit too sinful. Fearing excessive drinking, Ireland introduced a law forcing all pubs to close on March 17. Luckily for beer makers, the law was repealed in 1961. The Irish are now free to get as drunk as the Americans who use the day to get drunk celebrating the Irish.

11. Guinness

Speaking of drinking - Did you know on any given day, 5.5 million pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout beer are consumed around the world? However, on St. Patrick's Day, that number more than doubles to 13 million pints, said Beth Davies Ryan, global corporate-relations director of Guinness.

12. Canada & St. Patrick

One of the longest-running and largest Saint Patrick's Day parades in North America occurs each year in Montreal, whose city flag includes a shamrock in its lower-right quadrant. The annual celebration has been organized by the United Irish Societies of Montreal since 1929. The parade has been held annually without interruption since 1824, However, St. Patrick's Day itself has been celebrated in Montreal as far back as 1759 by Irish soldiers in the Montreal Garrison following the British conquest of New France.


is an passionate author and freelancer from Minnesotan with a focus in creative writing.


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