Saint Patrick’s Day

By Rebecca Dulcibella Orpen, A River Landscape with a Ruined Tower, Ireland

17 March

The seventeenth day of March is recognised as the Feast of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland (incorporating the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), a Roman Britain missionary from a wealthy family who supposedly brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th Century. Saint Patrick has never been formally canonised by a pope, but is celebrated as a saint and in the 17th Century was included in the Catholic list of Saints.

According to legend, Saint Patrick grew up somewhere in the north of England when the country was Roman Britain, and was captured as a teenager by Irish pirates. During his time in captivity he was forced to work as a shepherd, during which time he prayed and converted to Christianity. After six years as a captive he heard a voice telling him that he would soon return home, and there was a ship waiting for him. Patrick fled and travelled two hundred miles to a port where he found a ship and he persuaded the captain to take him home. The journey took three days, upon which they landed and spent a further 28 days wandering in a wilderness until Patrick prayed for food and they came across a wild boar. After further adventures Patrick returned home, then saw a vision of a man called Victoricus from Ireland who gave him a letter from the Irish asking him to come and walk among them. He then set out as a Christian missionary.

I spend myself for you, so that you may have me for yours. I have travelled everywhere among you for your own sake, in many dangers, and even to the furthest parts where nobody lived beyond, and where nobody ever went to baptise and to ordain clerics or to bring people to fulfilment. It is only by God’s gift that I diligently and most willingly did all of this for your good.

Saint Patrick, Confessio, Translated by McCarthy

Traditional celebrations revolve around the shamrock, which is linked to one of the many legends of Saint Patrick. He used a shamrock to show the holy trinity, relating the concept to the triple deities of pagan Ireland. Patrick also supposedly banished snakes and serpents as he travelled, and would drive his staff into the ground when he came to a village to preach. When he went to leave it would have taken root and began to grow into a tree. The colour green is closely associated with celebrations, though historically Patrick was depicted in blue. It was not until the Irish Rebellion in 1798 that the shamrock became a national symbol and green took over, as blue was closely linked with the English. The day became associated with Irish heritage by emigrants and their descendants, with the abstinence of Lent being lifted for a day to allow drinking and merriment to take place in honour of the patron saint.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a popular day in the modern calendar, with parades taking place throughout the world, though many of the contemporary traditions were brought about by Irish immigrants to the United States or their later generations of children and grandchildren as a way of celebrating their heritage. The true meaning of the day is to remember a man who returned to his place of former captivity to bring religion, and in that sense—whether he was right or wrong—Saint Patrick changed the shape of Ireland forever.

Rebecca Dulcibella Orpen, A River Landscape with a Ruined Tower, Ireland
Rebecca Dulcibella Orpen, A River Landscape with a Ruined Tower, Ireland, Public Domain
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