[Image: Write on New Jersey]
Saint Patrick’s Day falls on March 17th, the day the world-renowned Patron Saint of Ireland died (Note: Ireland has two other Patron Saints, Brigid of Kildare and Colmcille, but they are far less well-known).
Much of St. Patrick’s life is unrecorded; fortunately, two of his letters survive (the Declaration, and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus), which afford a glimpse of his life.
He was born into a wealthy family in Briton near the end of the fourth century. When he was sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland where he was put to work as a shepherd.
After more than six years as a prisoner, he heard God’s voice in a dream telling him it was time to go home. He escaped by walking over two hundred miles to the coast and secured passage on a ship back to Briton, where he had another dream in which voices asked him to return to Ireland as a missionary.
Fifteen years later, Patrick was ordained as a priest, and, as he was well versed in the language and culture, he was dispatched to Ireland as a minister and missionary.
To ensure a successful establishment of his religion, he integrated established pagan rituals into the Christian messages. For example, he designed the Celtic cross (a sun — a significant Irish icon — overlaid on the cross) to ensure a natural reverence for the symbol. He also taught the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by using the tri-leaved shamrock, which is why it is a traditional symbol of Saint Patrick’s Day.
To pacify his flock, he declined all gifts; as a consequence, the Irish royalty was insulted, and he was refused protection and was sometimes beaten, robbed, and shackled. But he baptized thousands, ordained priests to lead the emerging community, and converted the sons of kings, and wealthy women (some of whom became nuns).
There are also some legends regarding Saint Patrick that are more difficult to verify; chief among these is that he banished snakes from the island. According to the legend, during a forty day fast at the summit of a hill, snakes attacked him and he drove them into the sea. It’s an intriguing tale; however, scientific data indicates that ‘post-glacial’ Ireland never had snakes (nor did New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland or the Antarctica).
Fortunately, after a few pints, any lyrical Irish myth is far more believable than the sober analysis of scientific malarkey.