The person who was to become St.
Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales about AD 385.
His given name was Maewyn, and he almost didn't get the job of bishop
of Ireland because he lacked the required scholarship.
Far from being a saint, until he was
16, he considered himself a pagan. At that age, he was sold into
slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village. During
his captivity, he became closer to God.
He escaped from slavery after six years
and went to Gaul where he studied in the monastery under St. Germain,
bishop of Auxerre for a period of twelve years. During his training he
became aware that his calling was to convert the pagans to
His wishes were to return to Ireland,
to convert the pagans that had overrun the country. But his superiors
instead appointed St. Palladius. But two years later, Palladius
transferred to Scotland. Patrick, having adopted that Christian name
earlier, was then appointed as second bishop to Ireland.
Patrick was quite successful at winning
converts. And this fact upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested
several times, but escaped each time. He traveled throughout Ireland,
establishing monasteries across the country. He also set up schools
and churches which would aid him in his conversion of the Irish
country to Christianity.
His mission in Ireland lasted for
thirty years. After that time, Patrick retired to County Down. He died
on March 17 in AD 461. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick's
Day ever since.
Much Irish folklore surrounds St. Patrick's Day. Not
much of it is actually substantiated.
Some of this lore includes the belief
that Patrick raised people from the dead. He also is said to have
given a sermon from a hilltop that drove all the snakes from Ireland.
Though originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick's Day has evolved
into more of a secular holiday.
One traditional icon of the day is the
shamrock. And this stems from a more bona fide Irish tale that tells
how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He
used it in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity.
His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast
The St. Patrick's Day custom came to
America in 1737. That was the first year St. Patrick's Day was
publicly celebrated in this country, in Boston, Massachusetts.