Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and curiosity about who St. Patrick was, really, after all the myths about him are stripped away, led me on a Google search. I found plenty of blarney….and good info too. In the US today, Irish descendants and non-descendants alike celebrate by wearing green, posting shamrock pics, drinking green beer and eating corned beef and cabbage, all in honor of a man who didn’t drive the snakes from Ireland (there were never snakes in Ireland), who didn’t, apparently, use the shamrock to explain the Trinity, and who wasn’t even Irish.
Most actual facts about this man come from his autobiographical document Confession. Patrick was born in the UK, most probably Wales or England, and at the age of 16, was kidnapped, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave. Six years later he escaped from his owner and returned home. However, in a dream, he heard the Irish people begging him to return with these words, “We ask thee, boy, come and walk amongst us once more.” He studied for the priesthood in France and returned to Ireland to minister as he felt called to do.
For the next 30 years he founded churches, monasteries and schools, ordained priests and baptized the people of Ireland. His was a quiet conversion with the Irish being the only people in Europe to convert to Christianity peacefully. Patrick’s influence in Ireland ended slavery, human sacrifice and clan warfare. He died on March 17, 461. Although there is some dispute about the year of his death, all accounts agree on the date in March.
Statue of St. Patrick
By the seventh century, Patrick had become the Patron Saint of Ireland. March 17th has been observed as a religious and cultural holiday in Ireland for centuries, celebrated with more solemnity there. It is the Irish Americans who have made St. Patrick’s Day the boisterous occurrence that it is here. Irish immigrants first celebrated the day as a holiday in Boston in 1737 and the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York in 1762. Today St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity for many in the US to express their pride in their Irish heritage and an excuse for the rest to drink or wear green or create green sweets and treats.
I share freely about my Scottish heritage. I am of Irish descent as well, through my mother’s side of the family. The McCools and the Gregorys both came from Ireland long ago. I can say that I flew over that country last August, as my airliner approached Scotland. From the air Ireland looked green and lush and beautiful. The country is definitely on my list of places to visit and I look forward to learning more about my Celtic roots. Today, I celebrated by delivering green gift bags to my grandchildren, filled with simple, fun items. (Two grandsons received their gifts over the weekend.) It is the first time that I’ve done this. However, granddaughter Aubrey reminded me recently that St. Patrick’s Day IS a holiday. She’s right. And it is an acknowledgement of our family’s culture and heritage. As the grandkids get older, perhaps we can uncover more about this verdant country and discover which regions and villages our ancestors came from. For now, it is enough to give them wee gifts, to remember, and to dream of Ireland.