Saint Patrick’s Day commemorates the Christianisation of Ireland in the 5th century by Maewyn Succat, a Scotsman who came to evangelise the island. If this name doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s quite normal: this Scotsman is rather known as Saint Patrick. It would be thanks to his action that Ireland would have converted to Christianity. Among his many “exploits”, he would have succeeded in convincing the King of Ireland by using an Irish clover: the plant would have allowed him to present the concept of the “Holy Trinity” (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).
Today, History and Myth are intrinsically linked when it comes to talking about the saint. But it is also an opportunity for the Irish to celebrate every 17th of March, to pay tribute to his work.
Here’s what the Irish know about him…
Saint Patrick, whose real name was Maewyn Succat, was born around the year 385 in Scotland, son of a Roman centurion from Great Britain. Kidnapped at the age of 16 by pirates, Maewyn was then sold as a slave to a druid in present-day Ulster in Ireland. For 6 consecutive years, he was a shepherd for an Irish clan chief. At this time, he discovered religion and became a practising Christian.
In 409, he managed to escape after God asked him, in one of his dreams, to go ashore and embark on a boat. He thus reaches the English coast and makes the decision to become a priest.
A few years later, he went to the islands of Lérins, near Cannes in France, and settled in the monastery of Saint-Honorat where he devoted himself to theological studies for 2 years.
It was then that Pope Celestine I contacted him and ordered him to return to Ireland. The objective is clear: he must evangelize the country, face the druids, and convert the Irish to the Christian religion. Faithful to his commitments, he accepted his mission and returned to Ireland in 411 to try to evangelize its inhabitants and to get the Irish out of their druidic “wanderings” to convert them to Christian precepts.
In order to do this, he met many influential personalities of the Irish country, including King Aengus. According to the writings, St. Patrick then tried to explain to the king the concept of the trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) using a clover.
The three-lobed plant is in his view a perfect illustration of the Christian religion, an illustration that convinced King Aengus and marked the beginning of his conversion. (The metaphor was so striking at the time, that Ireland decided to make the shamrock its national symbol, a symbol that still persists to this day.
This act resonates throughout Ireland: the evangelisation of the king was a major step in the work of Christianising St Patrick and the spread of the Christian religion very quickly took on a new dimension. Legend has it that it was at this time that St. Patrick drove out all the snakes from the country, an action that symbolizes the conversion of the Irish people to Christianity. He was soon ordained a bishop and took the name Patricius (Patrice or Patrick in Latin).
After long years of evangelism, the evangelist retired to Downpatrick where he died on March 17, 461.
He is buried next to Saint Brigitte and Saint Columcille, both also patron saints of Ireland. At his death, the whole of Ireland was Christian: St Patrick had ensured the overall conversion of the country. A titanic task.
His role was considered so decisive in the religious life of Ireland, that the Irish people dedicate a national holiday to him every year, baptized as “St. Patrick’s Day“. On the program, many festivities, parades, evenings drenched in Irish beer, and cultural events that enchant the population every year! This festival has even gone beyond the borders of Ireland: it is celebrated in the United States (by a strong local Irish community), but also in other countries around the world.
Thousands of travellers even travel to Ireland to celebrate March 17th with the Irish people. The event is always eagerly awaited, and an opportunity to celebrate the History of St. Patrick’s Day, as well as Irish culture.