Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is celebrated on March 17 every year. It is a great day of parades, pub going and general shenanigans.
Children get the day off school and if you have sacrificed anything for lent the general consensus is you can indulge on St. Patrick’s Day and resume your offering up to God on March 18 until Easter arrives.
Irish people are very proud of St. Patrick and the traditions that go hand in hand with his celebratory day. Guinness is flowing, and communities gather to watch parades in cities and towns.
Sprigs of shamrock are often pinned to lapels and leprechauns can be spotted weaving in and out of the crowds (sinking a few pints help!)
But there are a few facts not everyone knows about St. Patrick. Read our top 10 things about the patron saint of Ireland, and you are sure to get a pint or two bought for you in his honour next month.
10. He wasn’t Irish
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He is most popular for converting the pagan Irish people of the fifth century A.D. to Christianity. But although a clear apostle of Ireland Patrick was actually British.
Born and raised in the village of Banna Vemta Burniae Patrick acknowledges Britannia as his country in his writings. But where his birthplace was actually situated is still unsure. Some say it was lowland Scotland while others suggest it sat in Wales. But one thing we can be sure of, it was across the Irish Sea where our patron saint originated.
9. He spent his early years in Ireland as a slave
Slave traders captured Patrick as a teenager, along with thousands of others. They were all brought to Ireland and sold. Patrick ended up being put to work with sheep and pigs in Co. Antrim.
He later wrote that he had deserved to be captured at the time. He believed it happened because of his lack of faith in God. He remained a slave in Ireland for six years during which he prayed many times a day.
His commitment led to a strong faith and this was the reason he returned to Ireland. He later explained his decision as one “to repay such blessings.”
8. He once refused to ‘suck a mans breast’
After escaping slavery Patrick fled to the East of the Emerald Isle where he boarded a ship to Britain. The captain of the ship tried to force the young Patrick to acknowledge his position in a common gesture of the time.
The act of sucking the captain’s breast was a ritual often demanded of passengers believed to need authority during the crossing.
But despite Patrick refusing to conform he was still allowed on board and spent the journey preaching to the crew instead.
7. Patrick heard voices and had visions
During his time tending sheep in Co. Antrim, Patrick prayed to God a lot.
As his faith grew stronger he started hearing voices and was once told, “Your ship is ready!” by an unfamiliar presence. He knew it was time to make his escape.
Once home safely he was visited by an angel with a message from the people of Ireland to return and save them. “We beg you, Holy Boy, to come and walk again among us,” he reported her saying.
6. There were never any snakes in Ireland for him to banish
Legend suggests that while our patron saint was enduring a 40-day fast on top of the hill of Tara a load of slithering snakes appeared and started attacking him.
Brave Patrick however fought back and drove them all into the sea, banishing them to British soil.
Evidence suggests otherwise. Ireland was far too cold for any type of snake to be remotely interested in visiting our fair land during the fifth century.
The ice age kept the Emerald Isle cool until a mere 10,000 years ago, after which the surrounding seas were enough to deter any unwanted reptilian guests.
5. He had a dirty secret
Patrick believed his missionary work in Ireland as penance for something he did in his younger years. He was often punished for spreading the word of God up and down the country, but it never stopped him.
In his writings, he revealed that someone had disclosed his early sin to the other bishops. “They brought up against me after thirty years something I had already confessed … some things I had done one day – rather, in one hour, when I was young,” Patrick wrote.
He never elaborated on what the specific deed had been, and we can only imagine what he might have got up to at an earlier age. But it only makes him more charming, giving comfort that not even Saints are perfect.
4. He never wore a shamrock
Children up and down the country of Ireland are taught that St. Patrick used the Shamrock to explain the holy trinity to the heathen Irish.
The small green clover has three leaves, representing The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. So it is very common to pin some pretty seamróg (young clover) to your coat on St. Patrick’s Day before you head off to the parade.
But history suggests St. Patrick did not use the shamrock to explain his Christian beliefs. There is no mention of the plant in any of the stories from that time, and it was only referred to later on by English writings about the common myth.
3. He didn’t wear green
Every year people dig out anything green to wear on St. Patrick’s Day.
The country is awash with green hats and scarfs, green outfits, even green water in the rivers that run through our cities. But early evidence of our patron saint suggests the man himself actually wore blue.
Since then, however “St. Patrick’s Blue” has been replaced with green and it looks very unlikely to change.
The green stripe in the Irish flag, the emerald fields that smother our landscape and the lucky shamrock is worn on the day all play a part in the popular colour choice.
Not to mention the fear of being pinched by a cheeky leprechaun if you don’t wear their favourite emerald shade.
2. Patrick was in his forties when he brought Christianity to Ireland
Once back on British soil Patrick decided to embrace his faith and train as a priest. He studied for several years before he felt ready to return to Ireland as a missionary.
He returned as the country’s second bishop and taught Christianity to thousands. He was often punished by pagan chiefs, but by now he was in his forties and had worked so hard on his faith he was willing to suffer anything. He also believed any challenge to be punishment for his earlier sins.
1. Patrick means ‘nobleman’
Needless to say the name Patrick is very popular in Ireland. It comes from the Latin name Patricius meaning ‘nobleman’.
But our popular saint was actually given the name Sucat at birth and only later given the name Patrick.
Ireland is now full of Patrick’s, Padraig’s and Paddy’s, among other derivatives of the name, but it was only after the 17th-century people began calling their children after our famous patron.
Before that, it was believed to be too sacred a name to be used for the common Irishman.