There is very little known about Saint Patrick, outside of the popular legends, and much about his life is disputed by various historians.  What is it about this Saint that causes world wide celebrations on March 17th -- the day marking his death?  Who was the man that became the patron saint of Ireland?
    Part of the mystery surrounding the true events of Patrick comes from the fact that he was born during the decline of the Roman Empire, sometime between AD 385-390 (or as late as 415).  It was this period, and long into the 5th Century that gave rise to the term "Dark Ages" as many written histories of the period lay undiscovered until very recently.  What is remarkable is that the two main writings from which we get most of our biographical information about Patrick came from this period, and his own hand.  The Confession and Letter to Coroticus, were written around the middle to late 5th Century, and most historians agree that they came from Patrick himself, but the problem arises that they were not written as biographies, and were written in a poor version of Latin.
    Patricius was born in Britain, to a family of some wealth.  His father was a deacon named Calpornius, and his grandfather, Potitus, a priest.  His mother was named Concessa.  A 7th Century biographer of Patrick named Muirchu maccu Machtheni says that Patrick was also called Sochet early in life.  So whether Patricius was a given name, or one he took later is also in dispute.  He was given several other names during his time of missionary in Ireland, including Magonus and Succatus.  One of the rumored birth places for the Saint is the town of Bannavem Taburniae, which is thought to have been located on the west coast of England, perhaps near Carlisle.  It was near this town that his father owned a farm or villa, and where Patricius was captured as a teenager by Irish raiders and sold into slavery.  Being from a privileged family in Roman Britain, it appears to be little surprise that when taken as slave to a primitive and Pagan Ireland, he turned to prayer and God, both of which he previously shunned, to help him survive the ordeal.  It is believed that he was held in the region of Killala in County Mayo.
    Patricius spent 6 years in captivity as a sheepherder when a voice came to him in a dream instructing him that he would return to his own country and that his ship was ready.  Shortly thereafter, at age 22, he escaped from his master and traveled about 200 miles to find his ship.  They set sail and eventually reached a "deserted land."  It was here that it seems Patrick performed one of his first miracles, praying to God for food and water so that he and his shipmates might survive the journey, and a herd of pigs appeared on the road before them.  It is also around this time that information about Patricius' travels becomes sketchy.  He seems to have returned to England, spent some time in Gaul, and studied at Auxerre, although most information from this point on comes from 7th Century historians and later, many of whom embelished Patricius' story.  It was during this period that he was instructed by God, again in a dream to return to Ireland and convert the masses to Christianity.  The instruction came in the form of a letter given to him in the dream which was headed the "voice of the Irish" and as he read the letter, he heard voices emploring him to return to Ireland.
    Before he returned, it seems he was ordained a Bishop, and more than likely was ordered by the church to Ireland, though the details of the dream and mission come from Patricius' own words.  He returned to the land where he was once prisoner around AD 432, though this date is in dispute as well.  Some accounts have him arriving some 25-30 years later and dying in 492.  This would give him a life span akin to that of Moses.  Some historians think this disparity might be caused by two different men performing the same type of duties.  The earlier, Palladius, who was also named Patricius, having died in 461 or 462 and another, the current Saint Patrick, arriving around this time and continuing the conversion, with the result of both men being melded into one myth.
    It seems that the Irish took to Christianity much more quickly and easily than other cultures; Patricius established his church at Armagh around AD 444-445 (again another disputed fact which does not make it's appearance until c. AD 700), with the approval of Pope Leo I, and within another 15-17 years, Ireland was Christianized.  Although it seems Patrick Christianized the island singlehandedly, it is more than likely that the church had already established itself in the Southern portions of the country, and Patricius worked the northern part, probably based in Ulster.
    Although adoring of his converts, Patricius still felt that he was in exile and a prisoner on the island.  His writings indicate that he would have preferred to have been doing the Lord's work in his own homeland of Britain.  He certainly was humble, and sincerely so, as in both the Confession and Letter, he states that he is unlearned and a sinner.  Through his own words we can glean that he believed strongly in his faith and his mission, since the Confession itself was written to rebut criticisms about how he was handling the mission to Ireland and the appropriation of certain funds.  He was a simple man who repeatedly stated was surprised that God choosen him for such a task.  The difference between the man named Patricius and the legend who is Saint is remarkable for many historians, and could reinforce that fact that the legend was indeed two men.  How could such a humble and unlearned man such as Patricius, who was not even a native of Ireland become it's patron saint, and be the cause of such a renowned celebration.  It is the myth and legend of the Saint Patrick that endures to this day.  The man who drove the snakes from Ireland and lit the Paschal fire at Tara, and brought symbolic meaning to a small three-leafed clover, now a recognized symbol of Irishness world-wide, though to this day, it still is not the official symbol of Ireland.
So, just what did Saint Patrick do?  Even today, many people know nothing about the Saint for whom they "drown the Shamrock" every March 17th.  The brief history of the legend continues here:  Saint Patrick
Since 3/16/00