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Frederic William Burton - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
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The Real St. Patrick

stpatsgrave

St. Patrick's Grave - photo by Terry McKnight

by Suzanne Barrett

St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is not the boisterous, sometimes rowdy funfest we enjoy in the United States. There are parades, and there's drink, to be sure, but it certainly isn't green. Most likely, it's the dark, robust stout famous in every pub in Ireland. And if there's imbibing, it occurs late in the day.

The Irish version is primarily a religious and bank holiday, celebrated by relaxing at home with family and friends after Mass. In that spirit, let's concentrate on Patrick, the man behind the myth.

The facts of his life are relatively few. In actuality, there are more places named after him than provable deeds. He was one of the most celebrated missionaries of all time, and he is Ireland's patron saint, but no one seems to know where he was born or exactly where or when he died. Some say March 17, 461 AD, others believe 493 AD. His true burial place is unknown.

He set down many of his own views on his life and mission. His original writings have long since disappeared, but copies were made by faithful monks who kept civilization alive by copying manuscripts, and were well-known literature in the Dark Ages. By his own telling, he was born in Britain of well-to-do parents who farmed. He probably lived near the west coast because he was captured by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen and sold into slavery. He worked as a shepherd for six years until he escaped and returned to his homeland. However, visions and the "voice of the Irish" called him back to Ireland sixteen years after his escape, and he spent more than thirty years traveling, preaching, and establishing churches.

Insight into the character of Patrick is revealed through two documents written after a Welshman carried off several of his converts. The first is a letter to Corocticus demanding the return of his flock and later, a reply to his critics refuting an attack on his conduct.

St. Patrick is not the first to have brought Christianity to Ireland. Other sources show evidence of missionaries being sent to Ireland as early as 431 AD. Within two hundred years after St. Patrick's death, legends about his deeds had begun to proliferate until it is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. We can be certain that the number of churches established was closer to 90 than the 365 some attribute to him. What is known is that he exerted a powerful influence on Ireland, transforming her from a pagan country with many ancient religious practices and beliefs into a Christian community.

Until next time.

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St. Patrick's Day Links

St. Patrick's Day in Ireland

Irish Recipes for St. Patrick's Day or any Occasion

St. Patrick's Day Information
including a somewhat irreverant look at Ireland's Patron Saint



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