Who was this St. Patrick, anyway?

The following was written by Jon McKinney, President of the Union Parish Chamber of Commerce, who has traced his family’s Irish heritage back 600 years. Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day.
St. Patrick’s Day originated as a religious feast day honoring the patron saint of Ireland. He died on March 17 in the year 461. Today he is honored not only as a religious figure who brought Christianity to Ireland, but also as a symbol of Irish national pride.
St. Patrick is said to have used the shamrock as a symbol to help spread the message of Christianity. The three leaves represented the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the 18th century, Irish people began to pin shamrocks to their jacket lapels on March 17 as an expression of their Irish and Christian pride.
The coming of Patrick to Ireland marks the greatest of Irish epochs. Of all most momentous happenings in Irish history, this seemingly simple one had the most extraordinary, most far-reaching effect. It changed the face of the nation, and utterly changed the nation’s destiny. The coming of Patrick may be said to have had sublime effect not on Ireland alone, but upon the world.
The history of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland who was born in the second half of the 4th century, is inevitably sketchy. Even his year of birth is uncertain, with some scholars hitting on 373 while others calculate 390.
It is known that he was raised near a village called Bannaven of Tabernlae in Wales, which was under Roman control at the time.
Patrick’s real name was probably Maewyn Succat. His father, Calpornius, was a Roman-British magistrate in the Romanized town of Brittany. His mother, Conchessa, was a niece of St. Martin.
Patrick’s life was ordinary, and completely unexceptional, until the age of 16. But dramatic events then occurred which set the history of St Patrick, and the history of Ireland, on a new course.
The Kidnapped Shepherd
The young lad was captured in year 389, along with his two sisters, Darerca and Lupida and many others, by Irish High King Niall of the Nine Hostages (my ancient ancestor) and taken back as a slave to Ireland.
According to his autobiographical Confessio which survives, the next six years were spent in slavery in Northern Ireland where he worked as a herdsman of sheep and pigs in the valley of Braid around Mount Sliab Mis in County Antrim.
During this period, he considered his kidnapping and imprisonment as a punishment for his lack of faith and spent a lot of time in prayer.
Thus, he spent seven years in human slavery, working out with God, his spiritual freedom. After a vision led him to travel two hundred miles distant to stow away on a boat bound for Britain, Patrick escaped back to his family.
Patrick’s loved ones welcomed him home with great rejoicing. Yet his heart could find no peace for thinking of the country and the people that had grown into his soul. He had a vivid night vision of a man, Victor from Ireland, who brought letters which beseeched him to come back to Ireland to tell them about God.
This inspired him to return to Ireland as a priest, but not immediately. At this point he didn’t feel adequately prepared for a life as a missionary. His studies took him to France where he was trained in a monastery, possibly under St Germain, the bishop of Auxerre, and he dedicated this period of his life to learning. It was some twelve years before he returned to Irish shores as a bishop sent with Pope Celestine’s blessing and a new name, St. Patricius.
In the period of Patrick’s coming the great Roman Empire was crumbling, while Ireland, with fleets on the sea and armies in foreign lands, had reached the pinnacle of her political power – a time that would seem the least favorable for winning men to the meek and service to others doctrines of Christ. Yet was it? In His own mysterious way, God always chooses the right time for sending His chosen man.
Ireland’s Apostle
This chapter of St Patrick’s history is better known than his earlier life. He is often credited with having brought Christianity to Ireland.
He reached Strangford Loch in Ireland in the year 432 during the fourth year of the reign of High King Loegaire, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, when Patrick started on the mission which so miraculously changed Ireland’s destiny. St Patrick had to deal with Irish High King Lóegaire, which wasn’t always easy.
Lóegaire (reigned 428–458 AD, according to the Annals of the Four Masters of the Kingdom of Ireland)(died c. 462), is said to have been a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages (my ancient ancestor).
There are several accounts of Loegaire’s death, all of which contain supernatural elements, some of which concern his wars against Leinster.
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. The history of St Patrick is littered with periods of imprisonment when his teachings had upset local chieftains or Celtic Druids, but he always escaped or gained freedom by presenting his captors with gifts.
For twenty years he travelled the length and breadth of the island, baptizing people and establishing monasteries, schools and churches as he went.
The wonderful power Patrick wielded over the Irish was the rare combination in him of the spiritual along with the human. His shining virtues made him kin to the angels, while his human frailties, his compassion, his impetuosity, his torrential anger against tyrants, his teeming fierceness against sinners in high place, made ordinary men feel that he was a brother to all men, especially to all Irishmen.
On top of the mountain Croagh Patrick in Connaught, he spent forty days of lent, watching, fasting and praying. As recorded by the Monk Jocelin, it was from this mountaintop, Patrick commanded all serpents and venomous things in Ireland, driving them into the ocean and ridding Ireland of all viperous things forever.
After years completing his work of converting pagans to Christians, creating churches, organizing congregations and ordaining priests, Patrick then founded Armagh. Armagh became his See, the primatial city of Ireland, where he built his church, monastery and school.
In his later years, Patrick directed the compilation of all the laws, known as the Senchus Mor. He codified and purged all the old laws into new standards honored by all kings and clergy.
Also, it probably was during this time, he wrote his famous Confessio and possibly his second most famous work, his Epistle to Coroticus, which after 1,600 years still lives and will continue to live.
After a full life, rich with great labors, St. Patrick passed away on 17 March 461. He left behind an organized church, the see of Armagh, and an island of Christians. This date – 17 March – has been commemorated as St Patrick’s Day ever since.
He was buried either in Downpatrick, County Down, or in Armagh, his beloved city.

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