Monday, March 16, 2015

6 Things You May Not Know About St. Patrick

1. St. Patrick Was Not Irish

The patron saint of Ireland was not Irish. He came to Ireland as a youth after being snatched off the shore of Britain (no one knows where exactly, Northern England, Scotland, Wales?) and brought to Ireland as a slave. He tended animals on a lonely hillside and it was there he had his life-changing encounter with God. He prayed, according to his Confession, day and night. Then one day he heard a voice telling him a ship was waiting for his escape. It wasn't that easy, however. He had to walk hundreds of miles and when he got there, the crew was not willing to let him board for nothing. However, God changed their hearts and they did allow Patrick to accompany them.

The short story is that after Patrick matured and gained religious training, he heard a voice, then many voices--the Voice of the Irish--calling to him to return to Ireland. He did, the place where he had been enslaved, where he feared it could happen again. Despite that, he witnessed and preached to the pagan population.

2. St. Patrick Was Not the First Bishop Sent to Ireland

It seems like he was, since Ireland was a pagan country when Patrick arrived. However, there were pockets of Christianity living on the island before Patrick. History records that Pope Celestine sent a bishop named Palladius to Ireland before Patrick came. His mission was to minister to existing Christians, and he founded just three small churches. Patrick's mission, whether or not it was ordained by the church, was to convert.

3. Patrick Did Not Drive the Snakes Out of Ireland

Not literally. There were no snakes in Ireland. There still aren't. I, for one, cannot figure out why Irish Tourism does not use this fact on their promotional materials. Wouldn't more people come for that reason alone? But seriously, the snakes that Patrick drove out were figurative, representing the pagan religion. Sure, there were unbelievers after Patrick, but generally speaking, he was the reason the country became Christian in a relatively (historically speaking) short period of time.

4. Patrick's Color Was Not Green. It May Have Been Blue.

The church at Saul where St. Patrick founded one of his churches.
True, Ireland's green. All the rain makes green grass. But it's also blue, as you will especially notice if you visit the northern coast. But speaking of Patrick, he is depicted as robed in green clothing. But the traditionally color for bishops in the ancient church was blue. The use of green for St. Patrick's Day has a more modern origin, dating back to the turn of the 19th century. Here is a fascinating article about Ireland's color, which is seen on the Irish flag (pictured below), by the way.

5. St. Patrick's Day Parades Did Not Originate in Ireland

They began in the United States. Actually before the U.S. was a country, in 1762, when Irish soldiers formed the first parade in New York. Today Dublin, Ireland, hosts a fantastic St. Patrick's Day Parade, which you can watch online, but the parade tradition comes from America. (You should be able to get the live link here at 7am EDT on St. Patrick's Day.)

6. It's Paddy Not Patty

You might know this, but if not, I'll save you some embarrassment. You see this all over the place, and even Time had it wrong on their online article. But the Irish know it's Paddy, as in Pádraig, the Irish spelling of Patrick. Patty is a girl's name, so let's not insult the patron saint, okay?

My friend Jamie Chavez wrote a great blog post on this. You can read it here.

So now that we've gotten all that out of the way, are you reading any Irish-themed books for St. Paddy's Day?

Cindy Thomson’s newest novel is Annie’s Stories (Tyndale House Publishers, July 2014,) the second in her Ellis Island series. She is also the author of Brigid of Ireland, Celtic Wisdom: Treasures From Ireland, and co-author of a baseball hall of famer biography Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story. She has written numerous magazine articles mostly on Irish genealogy, and blogs at

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