St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated each year on March 17. Although St. Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland, many people assume the role of being Irish for the day and participate in the revelry of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Many of these revelers celebrate without fully understanding the man behind the holiday.
Despite having such strong links to Ireland, St. Patrick did not begin his life on the Emerald Isle. St. Patrick was born to wealthy parents in Britain in the fourth century. His given name was Maewyn. His father was a Christian deacon, but there is no evidence that theirs was a particularly religious family. It is surmised that the role of deacon was more for tax benefits rather than a holy calling. Some history suggests that Patrick considered himself a pagan in the early years of his life. At age 16, after being taken to Ireland as a prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate, Patrick began rethinking his religious beliefs.
While working alone as a shepherd, he turned to religion for solace and adopted the name Patrick. He began dreaming of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity. According to his historical writings, he heard a voice in a dream, which he believed to be God. God told him it was time to leave Ireland.
Patrick escaped his captivity after six years by walking 200 miles to the Irish coast. He boarded a ship and fled back to Britain. Patrick had another holy revelation that he was to return to Ireland as a missionary. To prepare, he began to study at a monastery under the authority of St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre for 12 years. He was ordained a minister and traveled back to Ireland with the purpose of assisting Christians already living in Ireland and to converting the Irish to Christianity.
Patrick had an intimate knowledge of Irish culture due to his captivity. He was also familiar with traditional rituals. Therefore, instead of trying to remove all that was customary to the Irish people, he began working some of their rituals into his Christian teachings so they would seem more natural to the Irish. He managed to convert many pagans, and he and his disciples preached and converted many more. Patrick helped to build churches all over Ireland.
By the end of Patrick’s life, the majority of Ireland embraced Christianity. He lived the life of a wanderer and endured much suffering and poverty. Patrick died March 17, 461.
Because the Irish descended from a long line of storytellers who had a rich tradition of oral legend and myth, there are many tales of Patrick that abound, many of which are untrue. He did not scare actual snakes out of Ireland nor did he take part in many of the embellished tales. He did succeed in making a big historical impact, which is why he entered into sainthood and had the date of March 17 established in his honor.