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BellaOnline's Irish Culture Editor

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St . Patrick's Life

Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney

Legend in Ireland is nothing new, the country is built on its history, myth, and legend. The legends that surround St. Patrick are almost as mysterious as the man himself.

St. Patrick was born around 390 A.D., in Britian, though there is also speculation that he was born in Scotland or Wales as well. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat, son of Roman parents, Calpurnis and Conchessa. It was after his conversion to Christianity that he changed his name to Patrick.

When Maewyn/Patrick was a young man of sixteen he was captured by a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave. Once in Ireland, he became a slave for the Irish chieftain Milchu, a landowner in Antrim, where he worked as a shepherd in the Slemish Mountain. During his time as a slave, Patrick learned the Irish language and witnessed many of the pagan rituals of the time.

After being in captivity for about six years, Patrick heard a voice telling him it was time to escape. He traveled south for 200 miles until he reached Wexford, where there was a ship waiting to sail to Britain. Patrick made his way to Gaul, where he studied in a monastery under the bishop of Auxerre. He later returned to Ireland in 432 A.D. as a missionary.

Patrick was successful at converting the village pagans, though this didn't lie well with the high priests of the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times, but escaped each time. He traveled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries, churches and schools, which would aid in the conversion of the Irish people. Today there are about 60 churches and cathedrals named for him in Ireland alone. One of the most famous cathedrals is St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

He recorded his call to the vocation (and other dreams from God) in the Confessio, his spiritual autobiography which was written near the end of his life. It is one of his few writings that have survived. His only other writing to survive, "A letter to Coroticus" pleads the case for the Christian Irish at the hands of their British conquerors. A third writing ""The Hymn"( aka The Breastplate) has been closely linked with Saint Patrick, but was not written by his hand.

Patrick served the church and Ireland for nearly thirty years, after which Patrick retired to County Down. He died on March 17 in AD 461. Hence Saint Patricks Day, March 17th. In 2000, a center devoted to telling the story of Saint Patrick opened in Downpatrick County Down. The center is located at the bottom of Cathedral Hill, where the saint is reputed to be buried.

Saint Patrick has spawned many legends and a few tall tails. One traditional icon of the saint is the shamrock. And this stems from the Irish tale that tells how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used it in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day.

Saint Patrick has been credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland, well truth be told, there never were any snakes in Ireland, but what most scholars believe is that the reference was to the Druids and paganism.

One legend had him spend 40 days on a mountain in county Mayo, now known as Croagh Patrick. He was harassed by demons in the form of blackbirds, clustered so densely that the sky was black, but he continued to pray, and rang his bell to disperse the assailants. An angel then appeared to tell the saint that all his petitions for the Irish people would be granted, and that they would retain their Christian faith until Judgment Day. This remains to be seen.

Contemporary Irish Gift Ideas from Cashs of Ireland - Visit the New Collection




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Content copyright © 2014 by Mary Ellen Sweeney. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Mary Ellen Sweeney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Bee Smith for details.

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