The history of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, born in the second half of the 4th century, is quite sketchy to say the least.
His birth year is questionable, with some scholars claiming 373 while others claim 390.
Even his birth place can't be confirmed. It is said that he was raised near a village called Banna Vemta Burniae but its location has never been pinpointed. It may have been lowland Scotland but is equally likely to have been Wales, then under Roman control. This leaves so many possibilities.
Patrick's real name was probably Maewyn Succat (pronounced: May Win Su Cat). This also is suspect since Maewyn is traditionally a female name. His father, Calpornius, was a Roman-British army officer and a deacon in the church. Remember, the Catholic Church would be 400 years old by now. Even though his family was involved in the church, the young Maewyn was not a believer. His life was ordinary, and completely unexceptional until the age of 16.
He was kidnapped, along with many others, by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. According to his autobiographical Confessio, which survives, the next six years were spent imprisoned in the north of the island and he worked as a herdsmen of sheep and pigs on Mount Slemish in co Antrim.
Isolated and alone, he became increasingly religious. He considered his kidnapping and imprisonment as a punishment for his lack of faith and spent a lot of time in prayer. He was able to escape and stow away on a boat bound for Britain and eventually return to his family.
There he had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to Ireland to tell them about God. He didn't feel adequately prepared for a life as a missionary. His studies took him to France where he was trained in a monastery, possibly under St Germain, the bishop of Auxerre and it was some 12 years before he returned to Ireland.
The rest of the story is better known than his earlier life. He landed at Strangford Loch, co Down, as a bishop sent with the Pope's blessing. He was not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland. An earlier mission had seen Palladius preach to the Irish.
Patrick's success lay in the scale of his conversion of the native Irish, most of whom were pagans. After living with the Irish for six years during his captivity, he most likely learned to speak Irish (yes there is a distinct Irish language) and was now able to communicate with them so convincingly.
Many myths abound about St. Patrick such as driving the snakes from Ireland, and adding the pagan symbol for the sun to the Christian cross to create the Celtic Cross.
For the next twenty years he travelled the length and breadth of the island, baptizing people and establishing monasteries, schools and churches as he went. But every path has some bumps and turns, and St Patrick’s is littered with arrests and brief periods of imprisonment when his teachings had upset local chieftains or Celtic Druids, but he was able to escape or gain his freedom by presenting his captors with gifts. Of course there is the myth that he may have created the sport of "throwin' the blarney".
St. Patrick died, on March 17th 461 (or 493, depending on which date you started your calculation), he left behind an organized church, and an island of Catholic Christians. He was buried either in Downpatrick, co Down, or in Armagh.
It's no myth that March 17th has traditionally been commemorated in modern times as Saint Patrick's Day and is widely celebrated in the United States and of late in Ireland.
A final myth to bust, Corned Beef is NOT a traditional Irish meal. Potatoes and cabbage are.
Whether you believe the myths or not, we hope you all have a very Happy Saint Patrick's Day, and beware of leprechauns bearing gifts.
"Erin Go Bragh"