Saint Patrick, one of Ireland’s three patron saints (along with Saints Brigid and Columcille), was a Christian missionary credited with converting Ireland to Christianity in the 5th century. That much we know.
As to the rest, so many popular legends and misconceptions about his life persist that the truth is hard to come by.
Try your hand at this little St. Patrick’s Day quiz:
Patrick was a saint. False. Patrick was a saint in name only. He was never canonized by a pope.
Patrick was his given name. False. His real name is believed to be Maewyn Succat. He took on the name Patrick upon becoming a priest.
He drove snakes from Ireland. False, except metaphorically. Patrick couldn’t have driven snakes out of Ireland, because Ireland didn’t have any. However, “snakes” was also a pseudonym for pagan ways, and Patrick did “drive out the snakes” of ancient Druidic customs, eventually and — some say — at times cruelly.
He was Irish. False. Patrick was not actually Irish. His exact birthplace is unknown, but it was somewhere in Scotland, likely north of Glasgow. His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa, well-off Roman citizens living in Britain.
He was a teenaged slave. True. Kidnapping youth to work as unpaid labor was not uncommon. Patrick was captured in a raid and taken to Ireland to work as a shepherd under an Irish chieftan. Patrick’s faith was his comfort until he escaped and returned home six years later.
He converted the Irish to Christianity. True. However, he wasn’t the first to try. A Roman evangelist called Palladius came to Ireland about five years before Patrick but failed to convince the Irish to turn away from their ancient religious traditions.
When Patrick returned to Ireland in his 40s, he fared much better. The knowledge of the Irish he’d gained while a slave defined his methods: He first converted Irish chieftans, counting on them to convert their clan members in turn. Between this strategy and Patrick’s strong personality, it worked.
He used a shamrock to explain the Trinity. False. However, the shamrock was traditionally worn in Ireland as a symbol of the cross, probably by Patrick.
He was born, or died, on March 17. Uncertain. The exact dates aren’t recorded, but best guess is he was born around 386 C.E. and died around 461 C.E.
St. Patrick’s Day parades started in America. True. Contrary to popular belief, this tradition didn’t originate in Ireland. The first known St. Patrick’s Day celebration was in 1737, hosted by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. Today festivities and parades are held in Ireland and all over the world — including Saturday’s at 4 p.m. on Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene.
To leave you with an Irish blessing:
“As you slide down the bannister of life, may the splinters never point the wrong way!”
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who wishes she could return to the Emerald Isle. Email: Sholeh@cdapress.com