Saint Patrick : The Myths & the Legends

Saint Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland, often referred to as The “Apostle of Ireland” and “The First Bishop of Armagh”. He is a fifth century Saint who is of Romano-British origin and his Roman name would have been Patricius, who was the son of a Roman Decarion stationed in Wales.

At the age of 16 Patrick was captured by a band of Irish Pirates. He was held captive for 6 years during which time he worked as a shepherd. Patrick discovered his close relationship with God at this time. Being of Romano-British origin it is likely that Patrick was brought up in the Religion of the Ancient Romans. After his time in captivity he converted to Christianity.

As he tended to his flock in the mountains of Ireland, he is said to have heard a voice telling him he should return to his homeland. He escaped his abductors and after a long and difficult journey, returned to the land of his birth. It took him years and he had many adventures along the way. He eventually found his way to his home, where he continued to study the faith of Christianity.

It is said that while he was at home he had a vision. It is thought to be a vision of Saint Victirious, Bishop of Rome, who carried with him in his hand a letter that contained the words “The Voice of The Irish”. Patrick saw this as a sign that he must return to Ireland. He returned to Ireland after his ordination.

It took time for the Native Irish to accept Patrick and his teachings; he faced many hardships and trials on his mission to convert the Irish from their long held Pagan belief system to the faith of Christianity. He baptized thousands and his message started to spread throughout Ireland.

He began to ordain priests to carry out his teachings on Christianity. He converted Irish Kings and he travelled throughout the whole of Ireland to spread his word. The Confession contains some vague details of this travels around Ireland and the resistance he sometimes faced but he persevered and was successful in his mission to convert the Pagans to Christianity.

The Shamrock

At the time when Patrick was converting Ireland to Christianity, Ireland was a nation that was deeply rooted in Pagan Beliefs and the native Irish would have been mainly illiterate. To teach Christian Doctrine and explain the concept of the Holy Trinity, Patrick held up the shamrock, with its 3 leaves symbolizing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This was a very clever idea on Patrick’s behalf, as the Pagan Irish had a deep-rooted belief in the power of nature, as nature was central to their long held belief system. The Shamrock was sacred to the Pagan Irish due to The Shamrock’s regenerative powers, allowing Patrick to convert the Pagan Irish to Christianity through a symbol that was familiar to them and already had a sacred meaning to the Pagans.

The Shamrock has now become central to the legend of Saint Patrick. The Shamrock has become recognized symbol of Ireland and Saint Patrick’s Day throughout the world.

Saint Patrick Banishes Snakes from Ireland.

The Legend states that Saint Patrick was undertaking a 40-day fast on top of a mountain in Ireland, when he was attacked by snakes. Using his staff Saint Patrick banished all the snakes in Ireland into the sea, and from that day Ireland was a land that was free of snakes. This Legend seems to draw on the story of Moses from the Book of Exodus, when Moses and Aaron’s staffs transformed into serpents to battle the Pharaohs scorchers.

It can also be assumed that the banishment of snakes from Ireland symbolizes the banishment of evil. The Irish Druids and Pagans would have also seen snakes as symbolizing evil. It is however important to state that there is no evidence that there were ever snakes in Ireland.

Patrick’s walking stick becomes a living tree.

During a time that is known as, the evangelical travels of Saint Patrick. Patrick was travelling back to Ireland from his homeland in Romano-Britain. He used the aid of an ash wood walking stick, as he was attempting to convert the Native Irish to Christian beliefs; the walking stick that he was leaning on took root and started to grow into a living tree.

Saint Patrick in Irish Mythology.

Ireland has countless myths and legends that have fascinated and thrilled generations of scholars throughout the world. Ireland’s myths and legends play a major role in the establishment of an ancient culture with constant and impermeable ties to the ancients of Ireland, Warriors, Gods, Goddesses and Druid are all part of a culture that gives Ireland its unique and powerful culture that has spread throughout the world.

The most famous Irish Warrior to grace our history books is Fionn Mac Cumhaill the leader of the ancient warriors of Ireland, The Fianna. As the legend goes, Fionn’s Son Oisin left Ireland with his love Niamh on a white horse into the sea to the land of Tir Na Nog.

Upon his return to Irish soil, Oisin had been away for centuries and arrived back in the time of Saint Patrick’s evangelical travels.  According to a 12th Century literary work called Acallam Na Senorach, Patrick encountered two ancient Irish warriors of the Fianna, Oisin and Cailte mac Ronain, who had somehow defied time to survive to the age of Saint Patrick.

According to legend Patrick sought to convert these ancient Irish Warriors to Christianity but they were Pagans and had no desire to convert. They told Patrick of the glorious ancients and their lifestyles as warriors and defenders of Ireland.

They told him of their ancient beliefs, battles and their lives connected to nature. The legend says that Saint Patrick transcribed the wondrous legends of Ireland and the exploits of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna.

Words By Sinead Murphy

Published by Conan Power

A news blog with all the latest items of interest from Waterford City & County Council, Ireland.

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