Saint Patrick’s Day: Deconstructing the legend, the man, and the myths
Saint Patrick was not Irish; he was born in Scotland and the son of a wealthy upper class British family. His parents were Romans that lived in Britain and named their son Maewyn Succat.
There wasn’t a canonization process when he died. He was declared a saint by popular acclimation and sainthood was approved by locals about 700 years after his death.
He was a wayward child that was kidnapped by Irish scofflaws at age 16. He spent six years imprisoned, enslaved, and forcibly tended sheep for his captors.
At age 22 he escaped and made his way back to England where he received his theological training – not in Gaul, Ireland, as the tale suggests.
Contrarily he did not introduce Christianity to Ireland; it was inoculated by earlier missionaries and the First Bishop of Ireland to rid the Pagans.
Irish folklore saw the color green as unlucky and distasteful. They believed – as many do to this day – that if a child wore too much green a leprechaun would snatch them away.
Patrick never supported a Miter headdress – they were invented 500 years after his death.
The myth of the Shamrock as a symbol of Trinity is also debunked. This was tagged onto the legend a thousand years later.
He never climbed Crough Patrick and never met the High King at Tara – there were no High Kings at the time.
He had never encountered a snake as there were no snakes on the island of Ireland. He’d never tasted beer, did not play the flute, and had never heard of corned beef and cabbage.
Corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dish. Beef was scarce and very expensive in Ireland and they enjoyed pork, sheep, lamb, or ham one-pot-meals.
The celebrated dinner of St. Patty’s day is a Boston-Irish tradition. Beef was comparatively less expensive in the U.S.A. and plentiful.
Sheppard’s pie was originally called Cottage pie and this too is not an Irish dish, it was created in England long after Patrick’s demise and is still a mainstay in most British homes.
The synopsis of Saint Patrick is a sad one; he was a boy destined for higher education and high society but he was held prisoner instead – being jailed was the reason he found Christianity.
He was merely an under-educated poor man who was rejected by his homeland of Britain as they portrayed him as an ex-slave. He lived out his days in Ireland just a simple missionary man who accomplished little in life and was soon forgotten when he died.
The Irish are well known for spinning a good yarn (and there are no brief ones) and over the years the legend of Saint Patrick grew as each teller of the tale would embellish the fabled legend just a wee bit more.