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  • AW King

St. Patrick's Day and its Myths

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17, the date of Saint Patrick’s death. There are numerous legends surrounding the life of Saint Patrick. The son of a Roman British soldier/deacon, Patrick was born circa 373-390. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he served as a shepherd until he was able to escape 6 years later and make his way back to Britain. It was his belief that his enslavement was a punishment for a lack of faith. He devoted his life for the next decade to become a bishop before returning to Ireland to convert the Celts to Christianity. Although he was not the first Christian to arrive in Ireland, in his Confessio, he wrote that his return was spurred by a dream in which the Irish people were calling him back to teach them Christianity.


The Druids and chieftains were not fond of his teachings yet he travelled throughout Ireland for 20 years as an apostle finding unique ways to convert the people. It was difficult for them to grasp the concept of the trinity. In order to establish understanding, St. Patrick used a shamrock to depict the three parts of God represented by the three leaves of a single shamrock. It is believed this is what led to the shamrock becoming so representative of the Irish culture, and a symbol displayed on St. Patrick’s Day. He is also widely credited with designing the Celtic cross because he felt the Irish would find it easier to accept Christian images if they had Celtic images incorporated into them. In fact, the Celtic cross emerged around the 7th Century and was made popular in the age of Patrick.

Monasterboice Celtic cross
Monasterboice cross (sitomon)

A second legend is that of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. St. Patrick had spent 40 days fasting on the mountain Croagh Patrick when he came down, the legend says that he saw the snakes and drove them into the sea. To the Druids, snakes were sacred, there was even a serpent god named Nathair. Snakes represented wisdom and eternal life. However, there had been no snakes in Ireland since the last Ice Age and they were unable to return given that the land between Ireland and Scotland separated. The snakes were allegorical for the Pagan religion being driven out by Christianity.

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