Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

St Patrick
by LPKelley
Saint of Ireland

Saint Patrick

Patron Saint of Ireland

The Irish

The Irish are descendants of the ancient Celts, but the Vikings, Normans and English contributed to the ethnic nature of the people. Centuries of English rule largely eliminated the use of the ancient Gaelic, or Irish, language.

Christianity in Ireland

According to traditional legend Christianity came to Ireland with Joseph of Arimathea in the first century . He also supposedly brought the cup used in the last supper (The Holy Grail) and buried it in a Christian settlement he founded at Glastonbury. There certainly seem to have been Christians in Ireland before both Palladius and Patrick - Jerome in the early 5th century records that 'the Irish peoples, and all the barbarian nations round to the very ocean have come to know Moses and the prophets' whilst around the same time Augustine wrote that God's word had even been preached in "the islands set in the middle of the sea" and that they were 'full of Christians'. Today most Irish are either Catholics or Protestants (Anglicans, members of the Church of England).

Customs and Traditions

The person who was to become St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, the patron saint of Ireland, was born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, Kingdom of Strathclyde, about 9miles WNW of Glascow in Scotland about AD 387. His given name was Maewyn. Patrick refers to himself as Patricius in his writings - he might have been baptised this -which is a Roman name although both of his early biographers imply that he was given the name Succetus (the latinised name of a Celtic war god) which seems unlikely and inappropriate for a Christian. Other stories say he got the name Patricius from the Pope when he was sent on his mission to Ireland. His parents were Calphurnius and Conchessa. The former belonged to a Roman family of high rank and held the office of decurio in Gaul or Britain a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburni‘. Conchessa was a near relative of the great patron of Gaul, St. Martin of Tours. Kilpatrick still retains many memorials of Saint Patrick, and frequent pilgrimages continued far into the Middle Ages to perpetuate there the fame of his sanctity and miracles. Far from being a saint, until he was 16, he considered himself a pagan.

The Roman Empire Falls

The Roman Empire had started to collapse in the 4th century; around the time of Patrick's birth. The Roman legions posted to Britian were cut to provide more forces to defend Rome. The remaining forces were not able to contain the marauding Hordes of raiders from attacking villages and towns throughout Scotland, and England. Calpornius had a country seat near near Kilpatrick, and there in his sixteenth year, during one such raid, Patrick was taken captive. Patrick was carried off into captivity by Irish marauders and was sold as a slave to a chieftan named Milchu in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim in Ireland, where for six years he tended his master's flocks in the valley of the Braid and on the slopes of Slemish, near the modern town of Ballymena. During his captivity, he became closer to God. He relates that during his captivity while tending the flocks he prayed many times each day. In the ways of a benign Providence the six years of Patrick's captivity became a remote preparation for his future apostolate. He acquired a perfect knowledge of the Celtic tongue in which he would one day announce the glad tidings of Redemption, and, as his master Milchu was a druidical high priest, he became familiar with all the details of Druidism from whose bondage he was destined to liberate the Irish race. An angel came to him in a dream (vision) and told him a boat was waiting for him, and so after six years he fled from his cruel master and headed west. He had to travel about 200 miles towards Killala Bay and then to Westport. He found a ship ready to set sail but was refused passage. He went off and prayed. Soon a sailor came for him and he was allowed on board. In a few days he was among his friends once more in Britain, but now his heart was set on devoting himself to the service of God in the sacred ministry. He went to St. Martin's monastery at Tours, and again at the island sanctuary of L‚rins which was just then acquiring widespread renown for learning and piety; and wherever lessons of heroic perfection in the exercise of Christian life could be acquired, Patrick was sure to go there. No sooner had St. Germain entered on his great mission at Auxerre than Patrick put himself under his guidance for a period of twelve years. During his training he became aware that his calling was to convert the pagans of Ireland to Christianity. and it was at that great bishop's hands that a few years later Patrick promoted to the priesthood. It is the tradition in the territory of the Morini that Patrick under St. Germain's guidance for some years was engaged in missionary work among them. When Germain commissioned by the Holy See proceeded to Britain to combat the erroneous teachings of Pelagius, he chose Patrick to be one of his missionary companions and thus it was his privilege to be associated with the representative of Rome in the triumphs that ensued over heresy and Paganism, and in the many remarkable events of the expedition, such as the miraculous calming of the tempest at sea, the visit to the relics at St. Alban's shrine, and the Alleluia victory. Amid all these scenes, however, Patrick's thoughts turned towards Ireland, and from time to time he was favoured with visions of the children from Focluth, by the Western sea, who cried to him: "O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more among us." His wishes were to return to Ireland, to convert the native pagans to Christianity. Some say he almost didn't get the job of bishop of Ireland because he lacked the required scholarship. Instead his superiors appointed St. Palladius. But two years later, Palladius (q.v.), terrified by the fierce opposition of a Wicklow chieftain had abandoned the sacred enterprise, and transferred to Scotland. Pope St. Celestine I, who had already done much to spread the learning of the church, crowned his pontificate by an act of the most far-reaching consequences for the spread of Christianity and civilization, when he entrusted St. Patrick with the mission of gathering the Irish race into the one fold of Christ. Patrick, having adopted that Christian name earlier, was then appointed as second bishop to Ireland. Patrick was quite successful at winning converts. And this fact upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times, but he escaped each time. He traveled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries across the country. He also set up schools and churches which would aid him in his conversion of the Irish country to Christianity.

St. Patrick at Slane Hill

On the evening before Easter, 433 AD, St. Patrick kindled a fire on Slane Hill close to Tara in Co. Meath. It seems like a simple and unobtrusive action to us now, but at the time it was equivalent to declaring war: a war on the Druids and their pagan beliefs and war against the King of Ireland. That small act of starting a fire was a turning point in St. Patrick's life and it marked the beginning of a new belief system for Ireland's native people. In Ireland at the time, Christian Easter was not celebrated. Rather, the Irish marked the Beltaine festival which celebrated the coming of spring. During Beltaine, the Druids lit a great bonfire with the understanding that no other fire should be lit in the vicinity. To do so would be to challenge the authority of the Druids and, under Brehon Law, that of the King. Those who dared violate the Beltaine rules could be punished with death. St. Patrick was obviously aware of what he was doing as he and his small band of followers dressed in their finest vestments and lit the small but defiant Paschal Fire. They then waited for the sure response they were to receive, which apparently did not take very long at all. A group of King Laoghaire's warriors arrived on the scene and took the small band into custody. From the site of their fire, they were 'escorted' to Tara, where they were to answer for their crime. During the journey the Holy men recited a prayer in protection, which is now known as the hymn of St. Patrick's Breastplate or the Faed Fiada (Deer's Cry). When the prisoners arrived at Tara, they were immediately placed on trial. First, St. Patrick was forced to face the Druids, and then he was placed in front of King Laoghaire to answer for his alleged crimes. It is here that St. Patrick's renowned eloquence came into play. With his knowledge of the language and customs of the Irish he managed to gain pardon for the group. Some say he did this with a clover, which he used to explain the Holy Trinity to the King. The clover was one of the most ancient symbols of Ireland and is in the design of the passage tombs in the Valley of Tara. By explaining the Trinity with a clover, he might have 'implied' a greater knowledge of Irish Gods and the history of Ireland than the Druids were able to muster. Through his own audacity, St. Patrick attracted the attention and respect of the Irish King and gained the freedom to preach Christianity across the land. That one small act of igniting a fire, proved pivotal in the history of Ireland and gives us a deeper understanding of St. Patrick's Celtic name, Succat (Clever in War). His mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years. After that time, Patrick retired to County Down. He died on March 17 in AD 461 (died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, 17 March, 493). That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick's Day ever since. This anniversary is now celebrated annually by many, through parades and various other activities.

Folklore surrounding St. Patrick's Day

Much Irish folklore surrounds St. Patrick's Day. Not much of it is actually substantiated. "Pota Phadraig". A traditional drink of whiskey. According to legend, Patrick was shortchanged on a shot of whiskey and told the landlord of the hostelry that the devil was in his cellar gorging himself on the landlord's dishonesty. Terrified by this prospect, the landlord vowed to change his ways and when Patrick returned to the tavern some time later, he found that the landlord now filled everyone's glass to overflowing! Patrick then announced that the landlord's newfound generosity was "starving the devil in his cellar," and proclaimed that thereafter everyone should have a drop of the 'hard stuff' on his feast day: Patrick's Pot. The tradition is also known as "drowning the Shamrock" because of the custom of floating a shamrock in the whiskey before swallowing it. Some of this lore includes the belief that Patrick raised people from the dead. He also is said to have given a sermon from a hilltop that drove all the snakes from Ireland. Of course, no snakes were ever native to Ireland, and some people think this is a metaphor for the conversion of the pagans. THE SHAMROCK One traditional icon of the day is the shamrock. And this stems from a more bona fide Irish tale that tells how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used it in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day. St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17, his religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday similar to Christmas and Easter for about 1500 years. On St. Patrick's Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink, and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage. As the Irish spread out around the world, they took with them their history and celebrations. The biggest observance of all is, of course, in Ireland. With the exception of restaurants and pubs, almost all businesses close on March 17th. Being a religious holiday as well, many Irish attend mass, where March 17th is the traditional day for offering prayers for missionaries worldwide before the serious celebrating begins. Though originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick's Day has evolved into more of a secular holiday.

The First Parade

The St. Patrick's Day custom came to America in 1737. That was the first year St. Patrick's Day was publicly celebrated in this country, in Boston Massachusetts. The first St. Patrick's Day parade took place not in Ireland, but in the United States. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers to reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as fellow Irishmen serving in the English army. The military units continued to march each year until after the War of 1812 when local Irish fraternal and beneficial societies ( so-called "Irish Aid" societies, like the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society) began sponsoring it. In those days, the parade was quite small, marching from their meeting halls to Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Lower Manhattan on Mott & Prince Streets (which is still there!). The parades featured bagpipes (which actually first became popular in the Scottish and British armies) and drums.. By 1851, the groups had banded together, nominating a Grand Marshall and increasing the size of the parade. This was when the Irish 69th Regiment (now the 165th Infantry) became the lead marchers and the Ancient Order of Hibernians became the official sponsor. In American cities with a large Irish population, St. Patrick's Day is a very big deal. Big cities and small towns alike celebrate with parades, "wearing of the green," music and songs, Irish food and drink, and activities for kids such as crafts, coloring and games. Some communities even go so far as to dye rivers or streams green! The largest parade, held since 1762, is in New York City, and draws more than one million spectators each year. To this day, the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York remains true to its roots by not allowing floats, automobiles and other commercial aspects in. Marching is what you'll see. Great bands, be they bagpipes or an entire orchestra, over 150,000 people from all over the country and the world march each year.

No Irish Need Apply

Up until the mid-nineteenth century, most Irish immigrants in America were members of the Protestant middle class. When the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to a million poor, uneducated, Catholic Irish began to pour into America to escape starvation. Despised for their religious beliefs and funny accents by the American Protestant majority, the immigrants had trouble finding even menial jobs. When Irish Americans in the country 's cities took to the streets on St. Patrick's Day to celebrate their heritage, newspapers portrayed them in cartoons as drunk, violent monkeys. However, the Irish soon began to realize that their great numbers endowed them with a political power that had yet to be exploited. They started to organize, and their voting block, known as the "green machine," became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. Suddenly, annual St. Patrick's Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for a slew of political candidates. In 1948, President Truman attended New York City 's St. Patrick's Day parade, a proud moment for the many Irish whose ancestors had to fight stereotypes and racial prejudice to find acceptance in America.

Wearing of the Green Goes Global

Today, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by people of all backgrounds in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest productions, St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated in other locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore, and Russia. In modern-day Ireland, St. Patrick's Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17. Beginning in 1995, however, the Irish government began a national campaign to use St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to drive tourism and showcase Ireland to the rest of the world. Last year, close to one million people took part in Ireland 's St. Patrick's Festival in Dublin, a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions, and fireworks shows.

Boston Massachusetts celebrates Evacuation day.

On March 17, 1776, more than fifteen thousand British troops and loyal British citizens embarked on one hundred twenty-five ships in Boston Harbor and set sail on March 27th for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Treaty of Paris of 1783

Treaty that officially ended the Revolutionary War on S eptember 3, 1783. It was signed in Paris by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay. Under the terms of the treaty, Britain recognized the independent nation of the United States of America. Britain agreed to remove all of its troops from the new nation. The treaty also set new borders for the United States, including all land from the Great Lakes on the north to Florida on the south, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. The United States agreed to allow British troops still in America to leave and also agreed to pay all existing debts owed to Great Britain. The United States also agreed not to persecute loyalists still in America and allow those that left America to return. The Treaty of Paris of 1763 also ended the French and Indian War.

Two More Significant Irish Saints

Saint Brigid

Patron of babies, blacksmiths, cows and dairy workers, Ireland, midwives, poets, sailors, scholars, and travelers by Ann-Marie Imbornoni St. Brigid (453? - 523?) Also known as St. Bridget, St. Bride, and Mary of the Gaels According to legend, Brigid was born into slavery, the natural daughter of a Christian slave and the pagan chieftain who was her master. Renowned for her generosity, Brigid eventually won her freedom after her father grew tired of her giving away his belongings to beggars and lepers. In another story, it is told how Brigid prayed that her beauty might be taken from her, in order to deter any suitors seeking her hand in marriage. Her prayer was answered, but her beauty was restored after she took her nun's vows. Many other unverifiable anecdotes about Brigid also tell of her charity and happy temperament. What is known for certain, however, is that she founded the first religious community for Irish women, at Kildare, and seems to have occupied a privileged place in the Irish church even in her own time. After her death at Kildare, her remains were supposedly moved to Downpatrick, where she was reburied with St. Patrick and St. Columba. With them, she is considered a patron saint of Ireland.

Saint Columba

Patron of bookbinders, Ireland, poets, and Scotland St. Columba (521-597) Also known as St. Columcille Columba's family were Irish nobility, and from his youth he studied with the best teachers of his time in preparation for the priesthood. After ordination Columba spent some 15 years wandering throughout Ireland, working as an itinerant preacher and founding numerous monasteries, including those at Derry and Durrow. Then, at the age of 42 he left his country for the island of Iona, where he and twelve followers founded a monastery. Columba and his monks spent the next several decades converting the Picts of northern Britain, who were greatly impressed by the miracles he performed. One of these miracles involved driving away a monster from the Ness River with the sign of the cross. Columba is the Latin form of the Irish name Colum, which means "dove." Columcille means "dove of the church."


May your heart be warm and happy With the lilt of Irish laughter Every day in every way And forever and ever after. and... May you live as long as you want And never want as long as you live. May good luck be your friend, forever. and... May you always have these blessings... A soft breeze when summer comes, A warm fireside in winter. And always the warm, soft smile of a friend. on a lighter note... 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! May the luck of the Irish be always at hand, And good friends always near you May each and every coming day Bring some special joy to cheer you. and... May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, And may trouble avoid you wherever you go. and... May your neighbors respect you, Trouble neglect you, The angels protect you, And Heaven accept you. and... It's easy to be pleasant When life flows like a song. But the man is worthwhile who can smile When everything goes dead wrong. and finally... May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. And rains fall soft upon your fields, And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of His hand. Happy St. Patrick's Day!