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St Patrick and the Gift of the Gab

Updated on March 17, 2018
St Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland
St Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland

St Patrick and the Power of Ancient Propaganda

Patrick must be the best known of all Patron Saints with parades, parties and craic in his name being celebrated across the globe.

St Patrick's Day is a happy occasion, a day of revelry with people who are totally unconnected to Ireland enjoying themselves, and many are the toasts raised to his memory. Stories are told, and songs are sung, but most of the tales traditionally associated with St. Patrick are false.

Why let the truth spoil fifteen hundred years of good storytelling?

History has been kind to Patrick, very kind indeed.

Patrick, the Super Hero

St Patrick gets a lot of publicity. He had an excellent theatrical agent in the old days and his slick promotional material, backed up by Roman gold, was of the very best quality.

Repeat something often enough and most of the population will believe it (just look at politicians, ancient or modern.)

History has been kind to Patrick, thanks mostly to the grim determination of the Irish to hold fast to what they see as their own, and to the full weight of the Church of Rome. His book helped too, an autobiographical confession written around the year 450, and what a wonderful record of 5th century life in the British Isles it is to be sure.

The Celtic Cross
The Celtic Cross

Legends of St Patrick - the Celtic Cross

Legend number one

The Christian religion was imposed lightly on the Irish.

Patrick knew the language and culture and he wove his lessons over the existing fabric of traditional ritual belief. This was the Roman way of assimilation.

You can see this clearly in the placement of the powerful Sun symbol onto the Saviour symbol to form the beautiful Celtic Cross.

The Shamrock
The Shamrock

Legends of St Patrick - the Shamrock

Legend number two

Popular stories tell how Patrick used the shamrock as a symbol of the Trinity

Let's be real here. No one had the need to explain the concept of the Trinity to the Irish whether with a shamrock or anything else.

If anyone understood the essence of three being one, of a Trinity in Unity, it was the early peoples of Ireland. The triple aspects of their Great Goddess were well understood and indeed, the shamrock was sacred to her.

More likely, the Irish explained the concept of Trinity to Patrick.

Brighid, Irish Goddess
Brighid, Irish Goddess

Legends of St Patrick - banishing the snakes

Legend number three

We see in these legends the systematic attempt to eradicate the old religion from Ireland.

When Patrick "drove the snakes out of Ireland", he was banishing the ancient religion. After all, Patrick was an agent of the Church of Rome, an organisation not known for its tolerance of other faiths.

The ancient religion had an even more frightening aspect. It was based on a goddess. Curiously enough, her symbol was a serpent.

With the coming of the church of Rome, much of the essence of the goddess evolved into St. Brigid, a Christianised version of Brigid.

Who was Patrick?

Irish he was not, nor was he even British.

St Patrick was a child of the wealthy patrician class, an elite group which enjoyed many privileges and a very comfortable lifestyle in what was once the island of Britannia.

In the north of Britannia, in Caledonia, was stationed a Roman Decurion named Calphurnius with his wife Conchessa. Calphurnius also held a religious post, one which exempted him from personal and agricultural taxes on his slave-worked farms. Conchessa was from a wealthy Gallic family with many distinguished members including St. Martin of Tours. You could say they had it pretty good.

To this privileged couple was born a son, Maewyn Succat, in about 387 near present day Dumbarton in Scotland.

Through misadventure, grief, all manner of tribulation and a first class publicist, Maewyn became St Patrick.

Propaganda is a mighty tool, as powerful then as it is today.

The benefits of a good marketing man

The lesson here is simple

As Christianity spread around Ireland, so too did Patrick's fame.

In 688, the Catholic Church federation in Armagh engaged a biographer for purposes of propaganda - to establish the See of Armagh as the centre of the cult of Patrick.

A skilful scribe was employed, a man named Muirch, whose talent achieved the objective. Armagh became the 'sole proprietor of the 'national apostle'.

The Book of Armagh then directed all monasteries and churches in Ireland to honour the memory of the saint by a celebration to be held over three days and three nights in mid-spring,

Propaganda is a mighty tool, as powerful then as it is today.

Hagiographers, writers who specialise in chronicling saints' lives, invented Patrick, the ancient super hero - endowing him with a magic staff which could perform miracles.

So how did he get to be the Patron Saint of Ireland?

Slemish, Co Antrim, where it is said Patrick tended sheep

Maewyn was kidnapped by Irish marauders when he was sixteen and sold to the Chieftan Milchu who set him to work as a shepherd. In one manner or another, he escaped after six years of tending flocks on the lonely slopes of Slemish and walked nearly 200 miles to the coast to finally return to Britain.

Once back home, his experiences brought about a revelation, and he told everyone who would listen that an angel had commanded him to return to Ireland as a missionary.

In time he became ordained as Patricius and packed himself into a boat back to the land where he had spent his youthful enslaved years. It's no surprise that he chose a name befitting a man of his rank, for Patrick was certainly not over endowed with humility.

* Patricius means of the patrician class,(the upper crust).

St Patrick's Day

March 17

Today, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by people of all backgrounds in the United States, Canada, Australia and in other locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore, and Russia.

Around the world, St Patrick's Day is recognised by Irish nationals, those who claim an Irish heritage, those who purport to be Irish, and further still by many non-Irish. It has to be the most universal of all national days.

St Patrick's Day has come to mean a lot more than homage to a religious figure, it now embodies a concept of "Irishness' which apparently needs to be fuelled by liberal applications of alcohol.

Why is there such a celebration for Patrick? Because it's a wonderful excuse to have a party!

The Wearing of the Green

What does it mean?

The Irish Presidential Standard, a flag used by Presidents of Ireland, officially shows a golden Clarsach with silver strings on a background of St. Patrick's Blue

As for St Patrick, blue was the colour long associated with him. Green is the colour most widely associated with Ireland, and with the Irish people.

"The wearing of the green" meant to wear a shamrock on your clothing, and to do so was a sign of Irish nationalism.

This blue and gold represents the Ancient Colours of Ireland, are the colours on the coat of arms of "the Ancient City of Dublin" and on the Flag of Munster.

Coat of Arms of Ireland

"The wearing of the green" meant to wear a shamrock on your clothing, and to do so was a sign of Irish nationalism

St Patrick's Day Parade

St. Patrick's Festival Parade, Dublin, 2008

Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland

Exquisitely filmed on location in Ireland, and using dramatic wide-screen black and white re-creations, Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland visually traces the great saint's footsteps.

Patrick’s actual confessions are read in voice-over, and evocative music further carries us back in time to re-live the experience of walking side by side with Patrick.

From his birth to his death, we witness Patrick’s physical struggles and participate fully in his transformation and spiritual mission.

How about you?

Will you be celebrating St Patrick's Day?

See results

© 2009 Susanna Duffy

Shake a Shillelagh at Patrick

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    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Wow, I sure did not know that St. Patrick was not a real person. Next you will be trying to tell me that Santa isn't either.

    • Scotties-Rock profile image


      7 years ago from OREFIELD, PA

      Great lens! Happy St. Pat's Day. Blessed.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      Now I know a whole lot more about St. Patrick.

    • drs2biz lm profile image

      David Schroeter 

      7 years ago from St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

      A great lens packed full of information about the namesake of this important festival. Nominated for LOTD for St Patrick's Day and **blessed**

    • exotickitten731 profile image

      Renee Jaco Whitfield 

      7 years ago from Bogalusa, Louisiana , United States of America

      Happy St Patrick's day LOVELY LENS! Best of Luck To U This Year!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      May good luck be your friend

      In whatever you do

      And may trouble be always

      A stranger to you.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      May your glass be ever full.

      May the roof over your head be always strong.

      And may you be in heaven

      half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.

    • Rangoon House profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Happy Saint Patrick's Day 2012! All the best of green Irish luck to you.

    • Aquavel profile image


      7 years ago

      I had no idea about much of this.I knew St. Patrick wasn't originally from Ireland and I love reading about the ancient Goddesses, but I didn't realize the extent to which St. Patrick was fabricated, nor that he had written an autobiography. Fascinating history of St. Patrick and St. Patrick's Day.

    • JoyfulReviewer profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the wonderfully informative history lesson.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I didn't know most of these things. In America I think it's a really stereotypical holiday to drink beer and wear Irish shirts.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Another marvelous history lens!

      Congrats on making our list of Best St. Patrick's Day lenses!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      8 years ago

      Wonderfully entertaining and educational. Happy St. Patricks Day!

    • Missmerfaery444 profile image


      8 years ago

      Blessed! Thoroughly interesting lens as always, and I echo mysticmama here - thank you for writing the truth of St Patrick!

    • justholidays profile image


      8 years ago

      You've been featured on the best of Saint Patrick's Squidoo list! Congrats!

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 

      8 years ago

      Long live Paddy.

    • justholidays profile image


      8 years ago

      Now that's an interesting read about Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland! Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Leaving lucky Leprechaun blessing on this excellent page.

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 

      9 years ago

      As an Irish woman who comes from a long line of Irish herbalists, healers & seers, I was taught from the time I was a wee child on my Grandma Murphy's knee that we Murphy Women don't look kindly on the likes of St. Patrick who drove our kinswomen from Ireland & was responsible for the death of many a great-great Aunt and so forth by calling them witches rather than the healers & midwives they were. We never celebrate St. Patricks day, because in my family the snakes he supposedly drove out of Ireland were my Pagan ancestors. Thanks for not glorifying St. Patrick & instead telling the trith in this lens ~ Blessed >*

    • drs2biz lm profile image

      David Schroeter 

      9 years ago from St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

      So interesting, in fact, that I have returned to lensroll it to my 'History of St Patrick's Day' lens and feature it using the lens discovery tool. Great history and a great story of what it was like to grow up in Australia!

    • drs2biz lm profile image

      David Schroeter 

      9 years ago from St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

      Interesting and informative lens, Susanna.

    • delia-delia profile image


      9 years ago

      Happy St Patrick's day! great lens, great story and images...5*

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens - 5 stars! I lensrolled it with my Celtic lens. Happy St. Patrick's Day ! I will be making my annual Irish Potatoes !

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image


      9 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Thanks for teaching me a little more about Patrick. :) I'm adding a link to my main St. Patrick's page.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I clicked on the link with a little trepidation. But I should have had more confidence in your abilities as a historian. As a pagan I will not be celebrating St Patrick's Day. Just as many of our indigenous people do not celebrate Columbus Day, I choose to wear black in memory of the many "snakes" that Bishop Patricus drove from Ireland.

    • religions7 profile image


      10 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :) & this will be featured on my blog tomorrow.

    • drifter0658 lm profile image

      drifter0658 lm 

      10 years ago

      Another easy and entertaining read. As always, I walk away with something more than started with.

      I loved your right of passage. I actually felt the moment.

      Thank You.

    • religions7 profile image


      11 years ago

      Great lens. Very well done. You are invited to submit this to the Christianity Headquarters squidoo group. Feature guaranteed.


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