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Statue of St. Patrick, County Mayo | © Andreas F. Borchert / WikiCommons
Statue of St. Patrick, County Mayo | © Andreas F. Borchert / WikiCommons
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A Brief History of St. Patrick's Day in Ireland

Picture of Kate Phelan
Updated: 14 March 2017
In spite of his being one of the world’s best-known saints, much of Saint Patrick’s life remains shrouded in mystery. Read on to find out what we do know.

The boy that would become Saint Patrick is thought to have been born in either Roman Britain or France during the late 4th century, and brought up in a religious family – his father was a deacon. Believed to have been originally named Maewyn Succat, the young Saint Patrick is said not to have had a strong faith of his own. In what are thought to be his own writings, the saint stated that he only found God after being kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16, brought to Ireland and subjected to slavery.

Saint Patrick stained glass | © Nheyob/WikiCommons
Saint Patrick stained glass | © Nheyob/WikiCommons

Having worked as a shepherd and been held captive in Ireland for six years – apparently on Sliabh Mis Mountain, County Antrim – he is said to have escaped from Ireland at the age of 22, finding his way back to his family. He then began to study Christianity, becoming a cleric and taking the name Patrick.

After apparently having a vision, Saint Patrick decided to return to Ireland as a missionary, to preach what he had learned. There are a number of locations in Ireland where he is said to have spent time on his arrival, most notably his supposed landing site at Three Mile Water, Brittas Bay.

Sliabh Mis or Slemish Mountain | © Amberwp/WikiCommons
Sliabh Mis or Slemish Mountain | © Amberwp/WikiCommons

In his written Confession, Saint Patrick states that he went on to baptise thousands, helping to spread Christianity throughout the country and becoming a bishop of Ireland. He and his followers are said to have built many of Ireland’s earliest churches, such as the one at Saul, County Down, which has been credited as the first Christian church in Ireland.

Church and Irish round tower on site of Saint Patrick's first church in Ireland at Saul, County Down | © Man vyi/WikiCommons
Church and round tower on the site of Saint Patrick’s first church in Ireland at Saul, County Down | © Man vyi/WikiCommons

Saint Patrick is thought to have died on the March 17, 461. Long after his death, various legends began to appear about him and his works, such as the story of his having banished snakes from Ireland. In fact, there were never any snakes on the island in the first place – the myth is believed by many to be a metaphor for his banishing paganism from Ireland and replacing it with Christianity.

Although he was never officially canonised, Saint Patrick has long been recognised as Ireland’s primary patron saint for his role in bringing Christianity to the country. His feast day is celebrated annually in Ireland and countries across the world by the Irish diaspora.