Today is St. Patrick’s Day, the day everyone is Irish. But did you know that St. Patrick wasn’t Irish? At least not by birth.
St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in a place called Bannavem Taberniae. It is not known what part of Roman Britain that might have been. His was a wealthy family. His father was a Christian deacon, although Patrick himself was not particularly religious.
When Patrick was 16 years old he was kidnapped by a group of Irish raiders who sold him into slavery in Ireland. For six years he was a slave. He was a shepherd and in the lonely days and nights he spent tending his sheep, he turned to the religion of his childhood for solace and strength.
He later wrote that he heard God’s voice telling him he should leave Ireland. He walked 200 miles to the coast and talked himself onto a ship that sailed to France. While in France Patrick studied for the priesthood. He wanted to return to Ireland to serve the Christian communities there and to convert the Celts who worshiped the sun.
The rest is, as you might say, history. Or at least legend. Patrick did not actually chase all the snakes from Ireland, and he didn’t introduce Christianity to Ireland, but he did make conversion easier by incorporating pagan practices into Christian worship. He put together the symbol of a sun with the Christian cross, creating the Celtic cross.
So lets all dine on corned beef and cabbage and raise our glasses of green beer to St. Patrick. But let’s keep our celebration under control. When I attended Ohio University, its spring break always fell on the week of St. Patrick’s Day. That was because the students used to get rowdy on St. Patrick’s Day and run through the town breaking windows and such.
I’ll be Irish today, though when I asked my mother and aunt one day during which potato famine did our ancestors flee Ireland, their answer was, “Ireland? Well, I suppose we might have had an Irish ancestor, but our family came from Alscace Lorainne.”