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Croagh Patrick. Click to enlarge


St Patrick, Patron of Ireland


Although there were Christians in Ireland before St Patrick arrived, he is credited with establishing Christianity thorughout the country.

Much of Patrick's life is shrouded in mystery and historians differ on the probable chronology of his life. Fortunately, he has left behind two documents, his Confession and his Letter to Coroticus, which describe some of his experiences. He was the son of a Roman official, Calpurnius, living probably in Wales. As a boy of sixteen, Patrick was captured by raiders and sold to an Irish chieftain, Milchu. He spent years in slavery, herding sheep on Slemish Mountain in Co. Antrim.

Patrick escaped following a dream in which a voice told him a ship would be waiting to take him to his own country. After a journey of 200 miles he found the ship, and was eventually able to return to his family. One night, in a dream, he heard voices calling him back to Ireland. The traditional date for Patrick's return to Ireland is 432. He quickly made a convert of a local chief, who gave him a barn at Saul, Co. Down, for his first church.

Before long Patrick made his way to the Hill of Tara, Co. Meath, seat of the high king of Ireland. Arriving on the eve of Easter, he lit a paschal fire on the nearby Hill of Slane. At this time of year, all fires were put out and no fire must be kindled before a new one was lit at Tara. When the druids at Tara saw the light from Slane, they warned King Laoghaire that he must extinguish it or it would burn forever. Patrick was summoned to Tara to explain himself.

Laoghaire remained a pagan, but he was so impressed by Patrick that he gave him permission to make converts throughout his realm. Muirchu's Life of Patrick, written two centuries later, describes a contest of magic in which Laoghaire's druids had to concede victory to the saint. Patrick travelled widely in Ireland, making converts and establishing new churches, though he eventually made his headquarters at Armagh.

Irish annals give the date of Patrick's death as 493. Tradition says he died at Saul and was buried at nearby Downpatrick.


There are numerous sites throughout Ireland dedicated to St Patrick. Perhaps the most important is a mountain in County Mayo, which had a long history as a holy mountain from pre Christian days. St Patrick fasted on the summit for 40 days. The mountain is now called Croagh Patrick, and is a traditional pilgrimage site for the Irish.



St Patrick



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