“There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were.”
Millions of people will celebrate all things green and Irish on March 17th. But how much do you really know about St. Patrick? Over the centuries, we have diluted the true meaning of the Christian holiday in a sea of green beer, leprechauns and the elusive pot of gold. How much do you think you know about St. Patrick?
Here 5 facts about St. Patrick:
1. St. Patrick was not Irish.
In St. Patrick’s book Three leaves of the Clover the Saint Patrick Story, St. Patrick describes being born in the village of Bannavem Taberniae in circa 385. The exact location of Patrick’s village remains debated; experts think his village was in England, Scotland, or Wales.
Patrick (probably not his birth surname) was born into a Christian aristocratic family. At sixteen, Irish raiders kidnapped him and forced into slavery for six years. The Christian faith instilled in him as a child, carried him through his captivity. As a slave he served as a shepherd and believed to have heard God telling him to escape. Patrick walked over two hundred miles to the east coast of Ireland and escaped on a ship bound for England.
Upon his return home, Patrick became a priest. Yet, the pagan people of Ireland were never far from his mind. He returned to Ireland to spread the hope we have in Jesus Christ. St. Patrick served as a missionary to Ireland for over forty years, converting the Celtic pagan country to Christianity.
2. Myth: St. Patrick drove out snakes from Ireland.
St. Patrick did not drive out the snakes from the island, because snakes were never indigenous to Ireland. Scientists consider the chilly waters surrounding the island are too cold for the reptile animals to migrate and survive. Ireland is not the only snake-free country. If you’re searching a premier snake-free vacation destination consider New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica.
3. St. Patrick chose the shamrock to symbolize the Holy Trinity.
While serving as a missionary to Ireland, St. Patrick used the shamrock as to symbolize the Holy Trinity. At the time, Ireland was a pagan country. Patrick explained the basis of Christianity and the Holy Trinity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit with the shamrock. This readily available three-leaved plant allowed for an excellent visual illustration of the Holy Trinity. Irish Christians placed a sprig of clover in the lapel jacket as an outward symbol of their belief in Christ and the Holy Trinity and in honor of St. Patrick the missionary who converted the Emerald Island.
4. St. Patrick defied the King.
King Laoghaire of Tara lit a fire each spring symbolizing the beginning of the pagan festival. King Laoghaire ordered no one to light a fire before him. One night before Easter, St. Patrick defied the king and lit his prayer candles, anyway. St. Patrick was passionate about God and wanted his light to shine in the face of pagan darkness. King Laoghaire was so impressed by Patrick’s brave defiance he continued to let St. Patrick’s light shine.
5. St. Patrick was the inspiration behind the hymn Be Thou My Vision.
Dallen Forgaill, an 8th-century monk, originally penned the renowned hymn Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile, in the Old Irish Gaelic language. (Click the link to listen in Gaelic.)
Rob tu mo bhoile,
a Comdi cride.
Ni ni nech aile,
acht ri secht nime …
In 1905 Mary Elizabeth Byrne, an educator, and linguist translated the prayer, Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile, to the English prose we know as Be Thou my Vision. In 1912 songwriter, Eleanor H. Hull arranged the lyrics to an ancient Irish folk tune called Slane. (Click the link to listen in English)
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Whether you are Irish or wish you were (like me), we can celebrate the real life of St. Patrick, by allowing our light for Christ to shine defiantly in a dark world.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
~April Dawn White
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