The Fascinating Legend and History of St. Patrick

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St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17.
St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17.

By Jan Larraine Cox                                              

As we all don our green clothing in honor of St. Patrick on Friday March 17, bear in mind that back in the day, the official color was instead, blue! We typically wear green because of the green stripe in the Irish flag and also since the nickname for Ireland is “The Emerald Isle.” A benefit to wearing green is that it makes a person invisible to leprechauns. So continue to wear green if you don’t want them to pinch you!

The legend begins: embedded in the parapet of Blarney Castle in Cork, the Blarney Stone is said to bless one with the skill of smooth talk and flattery, luck and eloquence to those who kiss it.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle, was born in Roman times in Scotland or Wales about 386 A.D. to wealthy parents. His consort Sheelah is now considered his wife.

Patrick was originally a shepherd. Legend has it that loneliness caused fear in him which led him to accept Christianity for solace. He later attempted to free the Christian slaves which he had converted. 

Legend also has it that he sought to drive out snakes from Ireland and chased them to the sea as he believed they were a symbol of the devil. Snakes had reportedly attacked him during a 40-day fast on a hill. But there is no sign of snakes in the fossil records of Ireland.

Captured by an Irish raiding party Patrick was sold into slavery across the Irish Sea. After six years he escaped and returned to his family and studies in other parts of Europe. Eventually he became a priest and surprisingly, felt called to return to the area where he was enslaved, this time as a missionary. In Ireland he spoke out against slavery in Western Europe.

He worked to make his adopted land of Ireland a better place, and fought against xenophobia, the hatred and fear of foreigners. While Patrick served as missionary to Ireland, he also served as a bishop there. He is considered to have brought Christianity to all parts of Ireland and thought to be at least partially responsible for the conversion of the Picts and Saxons.

St. Patrick died about 460 A.D. on the very day we celebrate him, March 17.  He was buried at Down Cathedral, which is the Church of Ireland cathedral, which stands on the site of a Benedictine Monastery.