This time last year, I had the great pleasure of being in France. I was studying on the Erasmus/Turing programme and with me were students whose nationalities spanned the globe. Among the many countries represented were the Irish. The Irish had a strong case for being the most exciting members of Exchange and true to form, when the 17th March rolled around, they brought the various nationalities together in a way that would make the UN jealous.

To give you an idea of what this was like, we’d started the evening listening to ‘Get Your Brits Out’ by a Republican rap group called KNEECAP and drinking Tullamore Dew mixed with apple juice (I can promise you that this is better than it sounds). At some point in the night, I had acquired a St Paddy’s hat with two tattoos of shamrocks on either cheek. As the night went on, I learned new phrases like Bás na hÉireann and chanted an orchestral rendition of Ireland’s Call to the people of France. After we got to the (Irish) bar, there was drinking and merry-making aplenty. I can only hope that such merriment finds its way to the streets of Bath later tonight and I’ll be sorely disappointed if there aren’t a few shamrock-laced hats kicking around. Nonetheless, in keeping with the other stories of the patron Saints of these Isles, it’s only fitting that St Patrick gets his moment in the limelight too.

The Story of St Patrick

Patrick started life with comfortable but humble beginnings. He was actually born in Britain – not Ireland – near the end of the 4th century AD. Despite growing up with a father who was a Church deacon, there’s nothing to suggest that the young Patrick was particularly saintly. That was until Irish pirates came pillaging and enslaved Patrick for the next 6 years of his life. He eventually managed to escape and after hearing the voice of God telling him to leave Ireland, he made the 200 mile hike to the coast. Arduously, he made his way back to Britain but his time in Ireland was not to end there.

Upon his return to Britain, he was met with another divine intervention – an angel visited him in a dream ordering him to return to Ireland as a missionary. For the next 15 years, he would undergo religious training before acting on his angelic orders and heading back to the Emerald Isle.

Man on a Mission

There are a number of legends about Patrick’s saintly activities with the most famous one being his banishing of snakes from Ireland after a 40-day fast. It’s fair to say I’ve never been quite that hangry but then there’s little evidence to back up the myth. Nonetheless, the work that Patrick did manage to do is still worthy of commemoration.

It’s hard to say whether or not Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland but it’s clear that his missionary activities had an effect. Being familiar with Irish culture, paganism and language thanks to the years he had already spent there; Patrick was able to make Christianity relatable. Easter was celebrated with bonfires, the Holy Trinity was explained using the shamrock and the cross was reworked with local imagery to create the Celtic cross. On top of all of that, Patrick championed the rights of the poor, women and improved literacy so that the Word of God might keep its foot-hold.

If hanging out by a fire and making pictures doesn’t seem particularly difficult, you have to appreciate how unbelievably brutal times were. Patrick was working through wind, rain and snow with meagre rations at a time when resources were scarce and central heating meant having a fire. He had to keep this up for years – decades – in an age where people were willing to demonstrate their disagreements with force. Being able to retire and write his Confession is respectable to say the least.

St Patrick Today

St Patrick’s death (17th March) is celebrated across the world. One of the more interesting points in Irish culture is its ability to find homes across the world. From the Boston-river running green to adventurer Levison Wood crossing the distant mountains of Central Asia only to find an Irish pub selling Guinness, Ireland has lived up to its Patron Saints’ deeds of spreading the good word.

Irish politics isn’t something I want to jump into right now; it’s a complicated situation and I’ve not studied it nearly enough to be able to really comment on it. With that being said, if there’s anything to learn from St Patrick, there are two lessons that stand out. Firstly is that if you want to make the world a better place, it’s going to take a lot of time, effort and suffering but it might just be worth it. Secondly, if you really want people to change their ways, you’re going to have to negotiate – puritanism rarely wins the day.

Whether you spend today looking for snakes to kick or more than likely pay homage to Irish culture with a pint of Guinness at Weekend Warmup, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article!

Lá fhéile pádraig shona duit!

With thanks to Tom Hegarty and Yas Western for their input.

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