Beyond the myth: The true St. Patrick

Do we know the man behind the green frenzy?

March 17. A day full of green clothing, shamrock banners, leprechaun hats, and Irish Potatoes (a delicious Philadelphia, PA concoction of sugar, coconut, and cinnamon). For some, this holiday represents Irish pride. For many, it’s a day of heavy drinking and partying. However, the story of the man for which this holiday is named, is not as well-known. Some say he rid Ireland of snakes. Others know him as the one who brought Christianity to Ireland.

What many don’t know is his full story.

This is the story of St. Patrick

The location and dates of St. Patrick’s birth is not fully known. His birth was either 386 or 387 A.D., in Roman controlled Britain. Some sources say he was born in Scotland, some in England, others in Wales. However, despite the varying claims, one thing is certain: he was not born in Ireland. He wasn’t even Irish. So why is he associated with Ireland? So glad you asked.

Patrick didn’t grow up believing in God. His grandfather was a minister, but he himself never initially believed in Jesus.

This is where the story gets a little crazy.

One day a crew of pirates came and raided his village. They destroyed it, and took everything. St. Patrick was captured, and though he wasn’t forced to walk the perverbial plank, he was sold into slavery in Ireland; his work, tending sheep for the chieftain.

At this time, Ireland was a country totally pagan. The people believed in polytheistic Celtic mythology that included over two hundred deities. These varied based on the village, as the religion was rooted in each clan’s own beliefs and values.

It was a dark time for St. Patrick. He tended the sheep every day. It was incredibly lonely for him, being young, away from home, and separated from family. Yet, through this season of isolation, he grew close to God. While he was out in the fields, he would pray, talking with Jesus; his faith began to become real.

After six years of living in slavery, St. Patrick had a dream from God, who told him to leave Ireland by going to the coast. St. Patrick fled to the coast, where he met some sailors who took him home. There are some sources that say he spent some time in France first, studying Scripture, before heading home, but most say he went straight to England.

A few years after he was back home. He had a vision of the people of Ireland telling him he would return one day. St. Patrick began to study for a life committed to priesthood. Soon after, St. Patrick was ordained as a priest and then later ordained as a bishop. After this, he was sent to take the gospel to Ireland.

Because of the years he spent enslaved in the country, he knew the culture of the land, particularly in the way of clans and their religious practices. The chief of a clan greatly influenced the clans. In turn, the clans would not accept any beliefs unless their chief approved of it. With this knowledge, St. Patrick strategically began talking to the chiefs first, converting them.

At first, he was met with resistance. These were people whose culture was greatly influenced by pagan religion; they were not keen on surrendering their practices. However, God worked through the missionary, and the first person St. Patrick converted was the chief who had originally held him captive as a slave. From there, St. Patrick went on converting thousands of Irish. He also used items known to the Irish in order to explain elements of Christianity. He describes the Trinity using a shamrock, explaining the mystery of one God, three parts with one plant, three leaves.  Over his forty years of preaching, he converted most of Ireland, which became a predominately Christian nation.

God used St. Patrick’s and struggles to bring glory and purpose to the Kingdom. He brought St. Patrick life around in a classic full circle fashion; his life started in Ireland, and his ministry ended there.

For many, going back to a land representing enslavement and persecution would be a flashpoint of denial. For St. Patrick, it was his mission field and his calling. He was an obedient servant to the Lord, and His willingness to be moved in his heart, by God, changed a nation.


Danielle Crowley is a staff writer for The Daily Runner.