Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and recognized as our national apostle. He's the one credited with bringing Christianity to the Celtic people of Ireland.
If you’d like to hear a bit more about the history of Saint Patrick’s Day as a holiday, check out my previous post about how the way we celebrate it in America is different from how it was originally celebrated in Ireland.
Today I wish to share an easy retelling of the life of Saint Patrick so you can really internalize the story behind the holiday, and explain it to your friends and family to help them understand the rich culture and meaning related to the life of Saint Patrick.
If you would like to know the story, but don’t have time to read a full biography, this is for you!
The Early Years
Did you know? Although Saint Patrick is known as the patron saint of Ireland, he was actually born in Roman Britain! His father and grandfather were both in ministry, but faith and education weren’t a huge focus for his family in his early life.
His teen years are when everything became rocky. Patrick was kidnapped at the age of 16 by Irish pirates. He was taken as a slave and spent years tending his master's herd of swine on Slemish Mountain in County Armagh.
His master is said to have been an important druid in a pagan sect, and Patrick took this entire experience of captivity as a test from God.
He spent his time in slavery in Ireland growing his faith. In the Confession of Saint Patrick he talks of his time in County Armagh...
"The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."
He had many visions and dreams from God about his calling to share his love of God with the nation of Ireland, and how he would accomplish such a thing.
Saint Patrick’s Missions in Ireland
Six years later, Patrick finally got out of Ireland, and escaped. He first made it to England where he was captured and once again returned to slavery.
After two months in captivity he escaped to France. It was there that he studied under Saint Germain, the bishop of Auxerre, to obtain the education and qualifications necessary to become a priest.
The Confession of Saint Patrick talks about how he felt a deep calling to return to the island of his captivity. He tells us of a dream he had after he left Ireland. He was handed a letter by one he identified as Victoricus. This letter was entitled “The Voice of the Irish.”
As Patrick read the letter in his dream he felt he heard the Irish people begging him and beseeching him to return and walk in their midst. This dream deeply moved Patrick, but it was many years before he responded to the call of the Irish.
He first had to complete his education as a priest and eventually became a bishop before reembarking for the land of the Celts.
In 432 AD, he was sent by Pope Celestine as a missionary to bolster the small Christian community that was in Ireland and grow the Catholic church there. Patrick was preceded by Palladius as a missionary to Ireland who first brought the word of the Gospel to a small area of County Wicklow.
Patrick spent his life ministering to the people of Ireland. There's a mix of history and legends surrounding his life and missionary work.
He is beloved by Irish people and often called the apostle of Ireland. He's credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland, raising 33 people from the dead, and procuring miraculous food provisions for soldiers through prayer in later years.
He also defied the High King of Ireland at Easter to light a paschal fire on the Hill of Slane. When soldiers were sent to find him, he passed through them and found protection by reciting the words of Saint Patrick's Breasplate or the Lorica of Saint Patrick.
St Patrick will forever be known by Christian communities as the patron saint of Ireland, and his impact and presence in Irish culture are truly significant.
According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, nearly four out of five Irish people are Roman Catholic to this day, while there are also Protestants and people of other religions. The first Christian missionary's legacy has lasted for a long time after his death.
Important Symbols of Saint Patrick
There are many prominent symbols in Irish culture that point back to Saint Patrick. One is the three-leaf clover, otherwise known as a shamrock. There is a misunderstanding in American culture that shamrocks are four-leaf clovers, but the story behind it will help you remember.
As the story goes, Saint Patrick used three-leaf clovers to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish people. Shamrocks were easily accessible in Ireland’s greenery, so they were a convenient symbol of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being 3 separate entities, while also being one.
When Patrick died he was laid to rest near the town of Downpatrick in County Down. Irish people held a day of remembrance on the one year anniversary of his death. People wore shamrocks on their clothes to dress up for the church service. This is how shamrocks came to become the symbol of Saint Patrick that we know and love today.
Croagh Patrick is another important symbol of Saint Patrick in Irish culture. It is a mountain that is considered a holy site because Saint Patrick fasted there and asked God to exclude Ireland from the destruction that is explained in Revelation.
Every year, for a religious holiday called Reek Sunday, thousands of people make a pilgrimage up to the peak of Croagh Patrick to celebrate Saint Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland.
The Celtic Cross, a Christian cross with a circle around the crux, is another important Irish symbol that is rumored to have been created by Saint Patrick.
But did you know that Saint Patrick was never officially canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church? He has been nominated as a saint by popular acclaim and the love of the peope of Ireland.
Celebrating Saint Patrick's Day
Every spring, as the calendar turns to March, I can’t help myself but get excited for Saint Patrick's Day! If you’re gearing up for your own St. Patrick's Day celebrations by planning a feast day with green clothes, green food, and green beer, or attending a parade or Irish heritage event, I hope you have so much fun.
Which of these was your favorite part to learn about Saint Patrick? Share it in the comments below, and make sure to tell your friends and family about the significance behind St. Patrick’s Day.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade
I have been saying the Lorica of St Patrick every morning for years. It makes me feel so protected. Thank you for the lovely brief history of St Patrick. One of the most holy places I visited in Ireland is Clonmacnoise. I could feel the holy ground.
Irish American Mom
Hi Mary - What a beautiful prayer to say each day. Lovely to hear you feel protected by the words of Saint Patrick. Clonmacnoise is a truly spiritual place. Lovely to hear you got a chance to visit this old monastery beside the Shannon river.
All the best,
The Breastplate is beautiful. Some information here that I did not know before and the photos are beautiful!
Irish American Mom
Hi Bernadette - I'm delighted this little piece shared some new facts for you about Saint Patrick. Thanks for your kind words about my ramblings. Lovely to hear you like the photos I chose to illustrate this piece.
All the best,
I'm descended from my Irish great grandmother who was orphaned early in life and was sent to an orphanage in Canada. She told stories and sang songs of Kerry and St. Patrick. I love all the info you share... reminds me of her.
Irish American Mom
Hi Janie - Lovely to hear my recipes and ramblings bring back fond memories of your great grandmother from Kerry. Thanks so much for stopping by.
All the best,