Here Come the Irish!

Well, was your St. Patrick’s Day good? Get your fill of shamrocks, leprechauns and green beer? Ole Saint Patty himself would’ve been proud. What’s that? He wouldn’t?

Say, who is Saint Patrick, anyway? I sure love his green beer. I betcha he could throw one heck of a good party, eh? Huh? He didn’t party? Of course he did! Wore a green bowler hat, right? Huh? He was a monk? Really? And a slave? What?

Well, the story of ole St. Patty goes this way:

Patrick was a young man in Britain at a time when the Roman army occupied the southern sector of the island in the early 500’s AD. Scotland was pagan. Ireland was pagan. Even England was a mixture of native religion and foreign Christianity brought by the Romans. Wars, though, had weakened the once-mighty Roman Empire and it was more disconnected now than it had ever been. Rome had been sacked by Gauls. And the Germanic tribes were taking every opportunity to threaten northern outposts. England was the northernmost frontier. Sometime in the early 500’s the Roman army withdrew from the British Isles, leaving the people vulnerable to attack from Celtic and Irish tribes. It was during one of these attacks that young Patrick was taken to Ireland as a slave. He labored there in a pagan land for six years. Having come from a nominally Christian home, Patrick knew of God but was not the saint he would become. And, no, there was no trace of green beer to this point in his story.

At some point in his captivity, Patrick decided to make a run for it. He bolted for the eastern coast and caught a ship to either Scotland or France. (There are differing destinations in the legends of his life.) From there he returned to England. This whole ordeal apparently made a powerful impression on the young man’s spiritual life. He decided to get serious about his faith and sought out the monasteries of England for spiritual refuge and strength. He adopted the life of the monastic until, at some time in the future, he had a dream. In that dream he heard the voices of many Irish children crying out for him to come back to the island and tell them about Jesus. At that time, Patrick made the tough decision to return to Ireland as a missionary.

At this point in Patrick’s story, many legends have formed. Some say he went back to Ireland with the power of the Holy Spirit behind him and performed many miracles as he spread the Gospel. One such legend says Patrick is responsible for driving all the snakes off the island, a feat so impressive that no snakes can be found in Ireland today (which is true). What we do know is that Ireland did, indeed, come to be heavily influenced by the Church within a century of Patrick’s time and monasteries popped up all over the island. In fact, it was from Ireland’s monasteries that Scotland and mainland England were reached with the Gospel message. Irish missionaries ended up moving onto mainland Europe and spreading out across the then-known world. All, perhaps, because Patrick had the courage to return to the land of his captivity and share the Gospel.

No green beer. No lepruchauns. No bowler hats. And the shamrocks? Well, here lies another of Patrick’s more famous legends. Supposedly, when explaining the godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — to the Irish, Patrick turned to their native plant, the shamrock, as an illustration of three-in-one. So when you see one, try not to think of beer. Think of the triune God of Saint Patrick and take courage in your faith. For God can take a slave and make him or her a Saint.