|Fig.1: Like most Irishmen, |
Saint Patrick never left the
house without a shamrock.
First, let me drop a bomb on you. One of the few definitive details we know about Saint Patrick is... *deep breath* ...he wasn't Irish. That's right, the posterboy of Irish culture was among the first of many Britons to meddle in the affairs of their westward neighbor (if you don't count Merlin's supposed theft of Stonehenge). The sources aren't specific as to his homeland; clues range through various sites in England, Scotland, and Wales. But get over it, folks: Saint Patrick was a Limey through and through. But how did he end up in Ireland? There are two letters believed to have been written by Patrick; the most notable is called the Confessio (short for Confessions of a Teenage Drama Missionary). In it, he says that when he was sixteen and innocent, he was walking down a path, minding his own business, when these ten-foot-tall Irish raiders with horns on their heads and fangs for teeth grabbed him and stuffed him in a burlap sack, where he went months without food or water (he always liked to exaggerate details, as burlap was unknown to Europe then). For six years he was enslaved as a shepherd, counting sheep to actually stay awake. He claimed that it was during this time that he strengthened his relationship with God, which helped, along with his "Hang in There" kitten poster (fig.2), to keep his faith alive.
|Fig.2: From Julius Caesar, to Joan |
of Arc, to Abraham Lincoln, this
image has kept up the spirits of
many great figures in history.
That is everything we definitively know about Saint Patrick. Everything else you've heard about the man is a myth or legend, created long after after his death (which could be anywhere between March 17, 450 AD to March 17, 500 AD depending on which myth-maker you talk to). This includes the famous story of Patrick using a shamrock both to describe the holy trinity to Irish pagans, as well as the three-times-tables to Irish pagan eight-year-olds. The whole "driving the snakes from Ireland" thing is yet another tale constructed to heighten Patrick's image. Zoologists agree that snakes never existed on Ireland to begin with, a fact consistent with other islands around the world (which is why Indiana Jones spent his retirement hopping between Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand). It is possible that the "snakes" are meant to represent non-Christians, and that his missionary work succeeded in converting the entirety of the population into his fold (making beer and Jesus the only two things all Irishmen agree on).
|Fig.3: Supposedly thanks to Saint Patrick, the Reptile House |
at the Dublin Zoo really feels like it's missing something...
|Fig.4: Things always got weird and Parent Trap-ey when |
Patrick (left) and Palladius (right) crossed paths.
Despite the authenticity of his character or deeds, Saint Patrick has had a huge impact on the Irish people and nation, and it's a small wonder why his feast day is used as an excuse to celebrate the heritage of the folks he helped during his lifetime. Through his efforts, Ireland remains one of the most staunchly Catholic places outside of the Vatican's backyard, and even Protestants on the island argue that he better represents their beliefs (seriously, what don't Catholics and Protestants in Ireland argue about?). While we don't know too much about his life, we can figure that he was a sound bloke, certainly no amadan, and always knew where the craic was. So have a drink or seventeen in praise of good old Saint Paddy, at least until you pass out and forget about everything you learned about here (I'll give it eleven minutes).