St Patrick’s Day
For many, St Patrick’s Day is simply an Irish celebration that those of us with non-Irish heritage look upon with envy, and lament the fact that our patron Saints are not as ‘fun’ as theirs. It is also a day when we cling to the slimmest of links to our Gaelic ancestry, in the hopes that we too can revel in one of the most enjoyable days that occur in the calendar year. Great, great Uncle on your Mother’s side had a dog that once went to Ireland? That’ll do for me, time to celebrate! I jest, but let’s not forget that behind the partying and merriment there’s a rich history that is sacred to millions.
Considered solely as the patron Saint of Ireland, however, St Patrick is also venerated in the Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church and in the Orthodox Church, as Equal-to-the-Apostles and the Enlightener of Ireland.
St Patrick’s Early Life
His early life is the subject of various accounts, and there are no definitive tales or dates which can be relied upon. Taking a widespread interpretation, it can be concluded that he was active as a missionary in the second half of the fifth century. Interspersed with this generic knowledge are tales of capture by pirates, slavery, and religious redemption. In all, the tales of St Patrick would make a fascinating Hollywood movie, but the summation of them, in the most concise manner, are: he went to Ireland as a non-believer, came back to England, became a converted Christian, and returned to Ireland, whereby his actions thenceforth became cause for beatification.
Obviously that is a crude interpretation at a very basic level; the life and times of Saint Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, form a rich, deep tale, which is far too intricate to cover here. I do highly recommend further reading to those who are so inclined, and you will certainly find out fascinating titbits that you were unaware of, and contradicting stories from sources that are intriguing from start to finish.
One of the smaller but no less interesting snippets from Saint Patrick’s long and comprehensive backstory is his relationship with the shamrock. According to legend, St. Patrick was credited with teaching the Irish about the holy trinity using the Shamrock to illustrate the Christian teachings of three persons in one God. St. Patrick’s Day has a long affiliation with the shamrock, almost using the three-leafed plant as an unofficial logo, and it is interesting to know that this could well be where that relationship originated. It is suggested that pagan Ireland had many triple deities, and, because of this, the shamrock could have played an important role in ingratiating Christianity in to their way of thinking.
Of course, no article about Saint Patrick would be complete without mention of the snakes. Having not taken a census of the whole Irish population, I could not say whether the notion that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland is a widely held one. History dictates that Ireland never actually had any snakes, but I know that I was told this fact about St. Patrick before any others, and coupled with the obvious statistic that there are no snakes in Ireland at the moment means it is the piece of trivia that I hold a particular fondness for. There is no doubt about the role played by Saint Patrick in Ireland’s heritage, but historians have a taken a particularly stringent view of the snake-banishing, going in to great lengths to disprove this part of the backstory. However, it all seems a bit killjoy to me, next you’ll be saying that Saint George didn’t actually slay a dragon. Whoever heard of such a thing?
Amongst these stories you’ll find other, equally fascinating recollections and narratives, such as his walking stick that grew into a tree, how he met two ancient warriors on his travels, and the enchantingly-named ‘battle for the body of St Patrick’ (I would definitely watch that movie, as long as it stayed a literal title and not a rom-com!), amongst many others.
The symbolic resonance of the St. Patrick figure is complex and multi-faceted. It ranges from his specific introduction of Christianity to Ireland all the way through to an all-encompassing identity of everything Irish. Over time, Saint Patrick has gone through the full gamut of personalities — beginning as a Christian figurehead, later being associated specifically with Catholic Ireland, and more recently becoming synonymous with national identity. Looking at the grand-scheme, wider-picture, the easiest way to explain St. Patrick to an outsider, is to say that, along with the shamrock, and the color green, he is a patriotic symbol. The minutiae are fascinating indeed, however they are not relevant to many, who simply see the patron Saint of Ireland as an icon that represents everything wonderful about their country and its heritage.
The 17th March is St. Patrick’s Day. It is believed to be the day he died, and is celebrated as his feast day. The day is also celebrated on the calendar of the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Church, as well as having a commemoration on the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations are far-reaching and all-encompassing right around the world. Ireland, obviously, is the most widely acknowledged, but all across America, and in the UK, there are significant Irish populations that celebrate the day with fervent reckless abandon. There are many patron Saints representing many faiths and many countries, all of whom have a day dedicated to their memory. However, there are few which are enjoyed as universally, and which sweep along even the non-believers in their joy-filled wake as St. Patrick’s does. I personally have almost no direct affiliation to Ireland, short of my name and non-direct relations, but I have always had fond memories of the day, as far back as I can remember.
So to all those who will be celebrating the day across the world, I wish you all the best. Enjoy it responsibly, but don’t be afraid to have some fun, and at the end of it all, remember that even Saint Patrick started out as just a regular guy, so there’s potential in everyone.
At Timepieces International this year they have a fantastic selection of jewelry to mark the occasion, so show your support and highlight your heritage by adding a beautiful sparkle of Irish green to your daily attire.