This is what I found myself doing on March 17th of last year while I was at work. At the end of the day I went to pick up a friend and had my first green beer ever. That story will follow another day.
St. Patrick was born of a Romanized British family somewhere around 400 a.d. and lived a life of education and wealth. Imagine the surprise of the proud family when Irish raiders rode through their village one day and kidnapped the boy of 16 years and forced him into slavery! After 6 years of captivity, working in fields and being forced into manual labor, the boy later to become St. Patrick had a vision. The vision told him that his ship was ready for him and that he should leave. In a moment of true bravery, he escaped and fled over 200 miles to a ship that gave him passage home. His family had long since thought him dead, so imagine their surprise when he returned unharmed!
Only two pieces of writing exist from St. Patrick himself, and the following was one he wrote a few years after his return home:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.
St. Patrick returned to Ireland.
One legend of St. Patrick has forever tied him to the Shamrock. As he wandered the Irish countryside trying to spread the Catholic religion from one town to the next, he carried an ash wood walking stick or staff with him. It stood out, the stark white contrasting against the rich greens, blacks and gold of his robes. One day as he came close to a small town, a group of people met him. These curious Pagans asked lots of questions, one of which was how one God could rule over the gods in the earth, trees, water and skies. St. Patrick tried to explain that there was only the one God in the Catholic religion, but that he was three in one. They didn't understand what he meant. Finally, he took his staff and pushed it into the ground until it stood on its own in order to lean upon it. After a while more of trying to explain, finally he stooped over and picked something that grew at his feet.
"Do you see this Shamrock," he asked in the Celtic tongue. "There are three leaves on this shamrock, each one is it's own piece, and yet they are joined together at the stem, forming only one shamrock. That is the way it is with the Catholic God. He is the God, His son, and the ghost of his son, all in one." Suddenly the faces began to change, people began to pay attention and understand. The shamrock was a powerful symbol to the Druids of Ireland in those days, so the fact that he chose the Shamrock for this demonstration was a wise move on his part.
By the time he was done talking to these people, which took several days and nights, the ash wood staff he drove into the ground had sprouted roots, so St. Patrick left it there, which also ties the ash tree to St. Patrick by legend.
There are two other legends of St. Patrick that are tied together in the same story. The way I heard it told was this -
St. Patrick had wandered the countryside for many years, his group of followers growing constantly. One day he happened upon a town of Pagans who lived in fear of what they claimed was a Demon living inside the nearby mountain. They asked for a demonstration of St. Patrick's power and a sign of the Catholic God's power in helping them to banish this Demon from their region. St. Patrick immediately began to march with his group of followers towards the mountain.
When they grew close, St. Patrick asked his followers to remain below while he climbed the mountain to the mouth of the cave the townspeople claimed the Demon had found refuge in. It was for their own safety, he said. As he drew near the mouth of the cave, a snake lunged out at him, threatening to bite him in the leg. At the time, he still had his ash wood staff with him, and he swung that in the way. The teeth of the snake bit into the staff and broke off, causing the snake intense pain. St. Patrick then swung his staff around in a great arc, forcing the snake with it. The snake flew off the end of the staff, sweeping through the air and flying so far off of the mountain that it fell into the ocean. The snake returned to Ireland only to warn the other snakes of the region of St. Patrick's power, and then swam away with his other brethren, searching for the shores of England.
The Demon within the mountain then confronted St. Patrick, and the Saint then bellowed back at the Demon. He told the Demon that in the name of the Christian God, he was to leave that land and never return. After much yelling and protest, the Demon took flight and came at St. Patrick. He held up his staff and beat at the Demon, whacking it several times in the head. The Demon was so outraged by this that it took a mouthful out of the Slieve Bloom Mountains where his cave had been hidden and tried to spit it out at the first ruler St. Patrick had managed to convert to Catholicism, hoping to smash the religion. The rock landed far away, and the devil inadvertently formed the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, where King Aengus had become the first Christian ruler. This legend explains the gap in the Slieve Bloom Mountains known as the Devils Bite.
So now, on this glorious, sunny, beautiful St. Patrick's day, you know more about how the legends of the Shamrock, the Ash tree the snakes and the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary all tie into St. Patrick himself. These stories have been told from one generation to the next over the last 1500 years.
The stories may or may not be true, and Legends are rarely ever proven, but to the story, the author belongs, and to the author, the story belongs. Because in the end, all we ever really "own" are the stories of our lives.
Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.