Saint Patrick is one of Ireland’s three patron saints, because he was the one who introduced the Christian religion to that island in the 5th century. Among the miracles he is given credit for is the fact that by the force of his prayers, he would have banished all snakes from Ireland.
But should we believe everything that is said about Saint Patrick?
Let’s first clarify that Patrick was not an Irishman. He was born on the West coast of Great Britain.
Moreover, Patrick was not a real bishop. He was a deacon that the Pope had not made a bishop because, in his youth, he had committed a sin. I would like to tell you which sin, but the details are not known.
That didn’t prevent Patrick from proclaiming himself a bishop and going to Ireland as a missionary. But there, the legend continues to move away from reality.
There were no snakes in Ireland. Not even before Saint Patrick arrived there. Aside from one species of lizard, there are no native reptiles in Ireland. Some say the legend should be understood as an allegory, since snakes are a symbol of evil, or of the “pagan” practices that took place before Saint Patrick’s christianization.
But there is another legend associated with Saint Patrick: it concerns the shamrock, i.e. the clover leaf. Patrick is said to have used the three leaflets of the clover leaf as symbol of the holy trinity. But the association between the clover leaf and the feast of Saint Patrick was mentioned for the first time in 1684, a long time after the death of the saint.
This being said, my goal is not to let the facts get into the way of a good story. Like many legends, the story of Saint Patrick gave rise to traditions which stand on their own, and which have more to do with Irish patriotism than with the religious roots of the story.
With or without shamrocks, Ireland deserves the nickname of Emerald Isle. Abundant rains and the warming effect of the Gulf Stream create the conditions where vegetation is always green. So it comes as no surprise that the colour green is seen everywhere during Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations: green hats, green clothes, and even green beer!
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona! (Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!)