Did Saint Patrick Really Banish All The Snakes From Ireland?

The story of St. Patrick banishing all the snakes from Ireland enthralls my children.  I love to watch their eyes open wide when they hear how the good saint charmed the nasty snakes right into the sea.

I heard my seven year old recounting the tale to his younger brothers and sister today.   He proclaimed the “facts” of their banishment with an air of Irish authority and pride in his voice.  I dared not suggest credit should be given to the weather and not St. Patrick, for accomplishing this legendary snake extermination feat.

http://vintagerio.com/saint_patricks_day_g102-saint_patrick_s_day_p14569.htmlImage Credit

And how could we Irish ever doubt St. Patrick’s snake charming abilities?  Did we not grow up listening to the old traditional song “St. Patrick Was A Gentleman” which clearly confirms he “banished all the vermin”?  Written around 1820 by Henry Bennett, the chorus goes like this:


“Success to bold Saint Paddy’s fist,

He was a saint so clever

He gave the snakes and toads a twist

And banished them forever.”



Snake Saturday - The St. Patrick's Day Parade In North Kansas City

 Image Credit

My favorite verse makes no bones of the fact that St. Patrick used every trick in the book to eliminate them all:


“There’s not a mile in Eireann’s isle where dirty vermin muster

But there he put his dear forefoot and murdered them in clusters.

The frogs went plop, the toads went flop, slapdash into the water

The snakes committed suicide to save themselves from slaughter.”

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/ddfic/456580434/in/photostream/Image Credit

Who could argue with plopping frogs, flopping toads and suicidal snakes?  I suppose only a geologist or scientist would dare to take on this legendary myth?

Ireland is an island today and totally snake free.  Grass snakes can be found in the neighboring island of Britain (the countries of England, Scotland and Wales).

But Ireland was not always an island!

Millions of years ago it was joined to Scotland, and probably at that time a few snakes slithered around on the Emerald Isle.  Then a great Ice Age covered northern Europe in glaciers killing all the snakes.  By the time the Irish ice finally melted 15 thousand years ago, a great channel of water separated Ireland from neighboring Scotland, preventing any snakes from finding their way back onto Ireland’s shores.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/3386704194/in/photostream/Image Credit

So there’s the scientific explanation of the whole snake saga.  But still when I hear the words to our old song about St. Paddy and the snakes, a little part of me just can’t help but believe in the legend:


“Nine hundred thousand reptiles blue, he charmed with sweet discourses,

And dined on them at Killaloe in soups and second courses.”


Forget about the corned beef and cabbage on St. Paddy’s Day.  I think snake soup should be on the menu next year.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.



Slan agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom


  1. St. Patrick. He really was a person who even though he was a slave in Ireland went back to Ireland and brought them not just any little gift, but CHRISTIANITY! I wish on St. Patrick’s day, there could be a bit more about him and the reason he is considered a saint. In Georgia, the day is associated with a few parades (a big one in Savannah) , drinking green beer and wearing green clothing…

    • Kay – The partying aspect of St. Patrick’s Day has overshadowed the true meaning of the day here in America. When I was growing up in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was primarily a religious holiday. We wore green St. Patrick’s Day badges on our coat lapels and always started the day off by going to Mass. The parade in Dublin was a family affair, and there was very little emphasis on drunken partying. I often wonder if this has changed in Ireland in the past twenty years.


      • I wonder how many people even know who St Patrick really was and what he actually did. You already have a great blog…I think you should write a book about Ireland!
        Happy St. Patrick’s Day and may the goodness of the Saint be in your Irish heart for always.
        (Just made that up just for you!)

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