March 17 – Patrick of Ireland

Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland (ca. 387–ca. 460) (Pádraig) was born in Britain to a deacon, and was furthermore the grandson of a priest. At 16 Patrick was kidnapped into slavery in Ireland, where he toiled as a shepherd and prayed daily (or vice versa). Some six years later, he had a vision telling him, “Your ship is ready.” Immediately he raced to the harbor, conveniently located some 200 miles away. Fortunately the ship was still waiting for him, and before he knew it he was home.

In another vision the people of Ireland called him back, saying, “Come back.” He returned to Ireland, and although (St.) Palladius had beaten him there, Patrick was the better evangelist, and earned the title “Enlightener of Ireland.” He founded many churches and monasteries, converted many pagan chieftains, and did or did not take money from rich women, depending on whether you believe Patrick (didn’t) or his hagiographers (did). He was assaulted, and denigrated as a foreigner (his accent gave him away), but he persevered.

In one story, Patrick, already a bishop, set up camp near Tara, home of the Irish kings. It was Holy Saturday, and he lit an outdoor fire, probably knowing this was not allowed within sight of Tara on (as it happened to be) Beltane. The king was outraged and called his archdruids, who told him if this fire wasn’t quenched that very night, it would spread over all of Ireland[1]. They rode to where the saint was preparing for the holy Pascha, and when one of the druids spoke insolently to him, Patrick glared at him, then prayed, and the man flew up into the air and fell on his head, dying (one hopes) instantly. “Get him, boys!” cried the king.

I’m guessing that this was about midnight (let the reader understand) because Patrick then said, “Let God arise! Let his enemies be scattered! Let those who hate him flee from before his face!” It went completely dark, and the king’s soldiers, in disarray, fell to fighting each other. It is said that seven times seven men perished, mostly because that sounds more poetic than just saying “49 men died.” The king then pretended to venerate Patrick, but as he was departing he called to him, hoping to dry-gulch him. Patrick knew what he was thinking, though, and as he walked over to the king he blessed his companions, who turned into deer and bounded off. The king returned to Tara in defeat. Sucker.

The next day one of the druids came to challenge Patrick, but first he poured something into Patrick’s goblet. Patrick said a word over it, and turned the cup over, whereupon only the poison fell out. He said another word, and the wine turned back to liquid. Seeing this, the druid challenged him to a clerics’ duel, and started it by making it snow. “Pretty good,” said Patrick, “now make it melt.” “I—I can’t do that,” said the druid. “Ha!” said Patrick. “You can do evil but not good!” He made the snow melt away, and the crowd cheered. Their duel went on for many more paragraphs but I’m trying to keep to a word limit.

Aside from his autobiography, in which he defends himself against his detractors, Patrick also wrote a letter to one Coroticus, excoriating him (as only Patrick could) for enslaving and killing Christians. Legend says that when Coroticus didn’t repent, he was turned into a fox and never seen again. Except, one supposes, by other foxes. Wrapping up with some tidbits: He did use a three-leafed shamrock to teach about the Trinity. He apparently did not drive the snakes out (there never were any snakes in Eire), unless by “snake” you mean “Druid” (some of them had snake tattoos, according to one source). Finally we have no reason to believe he ever drank green beer. Which makes me love him all the more.

[1]That’s a metaphor; get it?