Saint Patrick’s Day, however, is not only
about the green-wearing, beer-drinking celebrating that we
have come to expect. It is essentially a religious holiday,
which is how it is celebrated in Ireland, to honor that country’s
patron, St. Patrick.
Patrick began his life as a pagan, born near Dumbarton in Scotland
in 387. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland at
the age of 14. As a sheepherder on Slemish Mountain, he spent
many years alone, talking to himself and the Christian God of
One night, he heard a voice calling to him, telling him that
his ship had come. Patrick walked 200 miles south to Wexford,
where he found a ship returning to Britain.
After another brief time as a slave of brigands, Patrick again
escaped and made his way to Europe, where he traveled for seven
years before deciding to become a priest and to spread God’s
message throughout the world.
Patrick studied at the Lerin Monastery, on an island off the
Cote d’Azure, and after becoming a priest, he returned
to Britain. One night a voice in his dream said, “We beseech
thee, holy youth, to come and walk once more amongst us.” He
recognized the voice as that of the Irish people, and he realized
that his mission in life was to bring Christianity to Ireland.
Despite the discovery of his life’s purpose, Patrick was
not sent to Ireland immediately. He first studied at the Monastery
of Auxerre in France, where he was known for his dedication.
The monastery decided to send a mission to Ireland during his
time there, but he was refused for the first Christian mission
to Ireland. Although disappointed, he waited patiently, and was
sent to Ireland a couple of years later, in charge of the mission.
Patrick and 25 others arrived in Ireland in the year 432 during
the winter. In spring, Patrick planned to meet with King Laoghaire,
the High King of Tara. The missionaries broke the law in order
to do this, by building a large fire on March 25, the traditional
start of spring. No one was allowed to light a fire before the
king on that day, and upon seeing it, the king and princes of
Ireland raced to the spot of the rebels.
Upon meeting the king, Patrick addressed him, telling him of
the group’s mission. The king was impressed by Patrick’s
composure, and invited him to the Royal Court at Tara. Although
they were greeted with extravagance, Patrick humbly approached
the king and said, “Here I am.” The king then took
his hands and kissed Patrick on the cheek.
The druids present in the throne room were threatened by Patrick’s
friendship with the king, and knew that should the king convert
to Christianity, they would no longer be allowed in the palace.
They demanded that Patrick make snow in order to prove the validity
of his religion. Patrick replied by saying that it was only God’s
place to determine the weather, and then it miraculously began
to snow. The snow only ceased after Patrick made the sign of
King Laoghaire was impressed by this and asked Patrick to explain
his religion. His use of the shamrock to explain the Trinity
is why we have come to associate that plant with Saint Patrick.
The king himself did not convert, but he did allow Patrick to
freely travel Ireland and spread his message. As Christianity
spread throughout Ireland, it drove out the “snakes” of
When Patrick was 50 years old, he was tempted by the devil,
but resisted. God sent an angel to reward Patrick, and he
Ireland be spared the horrors of the Day of Judgment, and that
he be able to judge them himself. He also asked that Ireland
remain Christian for all time.
Patrick passed away at the age of 76 on March 17, in the year
461 in Saul, Downpatrick in Ireland. The clans of Ireland fought
over the right to bury him on their land, but before any blood
was shed, Patrick’s friends stole him away and buried him
The feast of Saint Patrick falls every year on the anniversary
of his death, March 17. Because of the great Irish diaspora
in the 19th century, it has become a day celebrated in
So while you are out dressed in green, remember the real reason
we all become Irish for a day on March 17, and make a toast
to Saint Patrick.