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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Let us reflect today on the life of the great 5th century patron saint of Ireland, who lived in the 5th century.
1. St. Patrick wasn’t born in Ireland. He was born in Britain. And when he was born, he wasn’t named St. Patrick. It was just Patrick. Or, actually Naomh Padraig. Or Gaewyn. Either way, the “saint” part came later.
2. Truly the best part about St. Patrick’s story is that, as a teenager, he was kidnapped by pirates. Pirates! Avast!
3. Eventually the pirates sold him as a slave to an Irish landowner who gave young Pat the job of tending sheep. After a months as a pirate captive, shepherding can seem pretty boring, so Patrick decided that prayer would make the long hours of nothing much happening…well, not quite as long. By his account, he prayed up to a hundred times a day.
4. Several years into his slavery, God appeared to Patrick in a dream and told him to pack up and head for the coast. So he did. Historically, it’s hard to tell whether he escaped or was freed, but we do know that he traveled around 200 miles to a seaport, where he made friends with some sailors and headed out for a vacation on the high seas before returning to his family. Don’t judge him. He’d been a slave! A guy’s gotta let loose.
5. Once back home, his piratey adventures behind him, Patrick began training for the priesthood. Then he had another vision in which the people of Ireland were calling for him to come back to the land of his slavery. Specifically, they requested that he “come and walk among us.” Sheep herding was not mentioned, so Pat was cool with it. He went back to Ireland.
6. Back in Ireland, he performed a variety of pious activities. Like converting thousands of people, including pagan kings and their entire kingdoms.
7. He also, according to legend, explained the concept of the Trinity by using, as an example, a three-fingered leprechaun. Wait, that’s not right. It was a three-leafed shamrock.
8. You’ll occasionally find St. Patrick pictured with a bunch of snakes. That’s because, according to legend, he drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Which is an interesting fact seeing how the surrounded-by-water, post-glacial geography of Ireland has never been a very good snake habitat, so giving Patrick credit for the absence of snakes in Ireland is like giving Oral Roberts credit for the lack of swordfish in Oklahoma.
9. In retrospect, a lot of historians think “snakes” are a metaphor for pagan druids.
10. Beware the poisonous red, yellow, and black-striped coral pagan druid. Remember, “red and yellow, kill a fellow.”
11. Speaking of killing fellows, one story has a pagan druid chieftain named Dichu attempting to stop Patrick from entering Ireland as a missionary. As pagan druids often do when confronted with missionary activity, he lifted his sword to cleave Patrick in two. But suddenly Dichu’s arm became rigid, and he was unable to move it until he pledged obedience to Patrick. Dichu became the first Irish convert to Christianity.
12. Sure, Ireland gets all the press for claiming Patrick as its patron saint. But you know who else he’s the patron saint of? Nigeria, that’s who. Because Patrick once traveled there after being told that the widow of a deposed African dictator needed his help to access a large amount of unclaimed money, and could he please provide account transfer information to help secure his percentage of the funds?
13. March 17 is believed to be Patrick’s death date — either in 461 or 493 (it’s disputed) — so eventually that became his feast day and a good excuse to pinch people and/or drink green beer.
For additional fun facts about St. Patrick (and other saint), check out my 2009 book Pocket Guide to Sainthood.