Saint Patrick’s Story

Patrick was almost certainly born before the end of the Roman rule in Britain (400AD), probably in the southwest of England (though the north, Wales and Scotland have all made claims!). Various biographers suggest his given name was Sochet but all that is known for sure is that he refers to himself as Patricius, a Roman name of which Patrick is the anglicized version.

Calpornious, Patrick's father, was a deacon who was involved in tax raising so Patrick's childhood, growing up in a large Roman Villa, would have been very comfortable. In his confession, Patrick wrote 'according to the World's reckoning, I was a gentleman'.

Disaster struck at the age of 15. With the roman influence fading, raiders from Ireland were able to develop a thriving slave trade. Such a raiding group took Patrick back to Ireland where he was forced to work as a shepherd. It is believed he lived and worked on he slopes of the imposing Slemish Mountain in County Antrim.

After six years, Patrick dreamed of a message from an angel called Victoricus, who urged him to escape his master. Patrick traveled nearly 200 miles "“ probably to Waterford "“ where he completed his escape back to England. Back home, he trained as a priest and within a decade had become a Bishop.

Then he had another vision of Victoricus – this time carrying letters. One of these, titled 'the voice of the Irish' begged him to come to Ireland (although whether he went of his own accord or was sent by the church is unclear).

Patrick probably landed in Ireland in 432AD. It was at the spot where the Slaney River flows into Strangford Lough in County Down. Patrick was politically astute and charismatic and knew the importance of having influential friends. His first conversion was Dichu, the local chieftain and brother of the High King of Ulster. In a barn donated by Dichu, Patrick preached his first sermon in Ireland. Today, on this site at Saul (Sabhal, pronounced Saul, is the Irish for barn) stands a much visited stone replica (built in 1936) of an early church with a round tower.

How far Patrick traveled in Ireland and how many souls he converted can only be guessed at. In his confession, he claims to have baptized many thousands. But Ulster was the real base of his work. Especially the area around Downpatrick and Armagh.
It is difficult to be precise about the exact year of his death although March 17 is given as the date. It was most probably between 460AD and 490AD. The legend of Saint Patrick grew quickly after his death. In 688AD the Book of Armagh placed that city at the center of the growing cult of Patrick and he was elevated to the status of national apostle, interceding in heaven on behalf of the Irish. The Book of Armagh directed all monasteries and churches in Ireland to honor his memory on March 17. 1607 marked the day marked on the Irish legal calendar. Now it is officially Saint Patrick's Day.

Tourism Ireland is happy to help the media in planning and filming events around St. Patrick's Day. Please contact Ruth Moran at Tourism Ireland.

The History and Traditions of Ireland & St. Patrick

When St. Patrick set foot in Ireland in the 5th century AD, he faced an uncertain future in a little-known country. Warring Celts were scattered in tribal groups across the island, ruled with iron might by five provincial kings. Eerie dolmen monuments and ancient ruins dominated the landscape. Even the Roman conquerors of Britain had not ventured this far "“ apart perhaps from the odd traveler or adventurer.

Against this backdrop, St. Patrick's phenomenal success as a Christian missionary seems all the more incredible. By the end of the 15th century, Ireland had become a Christian nation.

Perhaps Patrick's elevation into sainthood was therefore inevitable. But his prominence in the traditions and legends of the country says something of the reverence, awe and affection in which he has been held in the intervening centuries and which are rekindled in the Irish every St. Patrick's Day.

The Feast of St. Patrick is now celebrated in nearly every country throughout the world where Irish descendants or influence have continued to reinforce is popularity. Among the countries with centuries-old traditions of celebrating St. Patrick's Day were obviously the United States, Canada and Australia, but less obviously France and Argentina and even the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Nowadays it is also celebrated in countries such as Russia and Japan.

In Britain – Ireland's closest neighbor and its biggest visitor market – the Trojan efforts of a large population of Irish descent have established March 17 as a day of celebration for British and Irish alike.

Who was St. Patrick?

The man largely responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity over nearly 30 years, up to the year 462 AD or thereabouts – even if the work had been started by other missionaries before him.

Was he real then?

Most definitely, even if the facts about his life have been freely mingled over the centuries with legend and make-believe, his existence is authentic. A written document, his Confession, is tangible evidence of his authenticity.

Where did he come from?

An important thing to remember about Patrick is that he was not Irish. In fact he was what nowadays at least would be called British, even if he was of Roman parentage.

Where in Britain did he originate?

To be honest, nobody knows. Patrick himself refers in his writings to his father owning a holding near the village of Bannavem Taberniae, but there is no such name on any map of Roman Britain. The date of his birth is commonly given as circa 389 AD.

How did he first arrive in Ireland?

As a 16 year-old and named Succat, he was captured in a raid by the Irish King, Niall of the Nine Hostages, and sold into slavery, working as a herdsman for six years on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim. Irish pirate chieftains were given to raiding the western coast of Britain in those days. Hence, it has traditionally been assumed that Patrick originally came from South Wales, probably along the Severn Valley, which could also mean that he came from Gloucestershire. Modern scholars however, are more inclined to think of Strathclyde as being more likely.

How was that slave turned into a missionary?

After six years, Patrick managed to escape from his master, Milchu – legend has it that he was told of a waiting ship in a dream – and made his way back to Britain. According to Patrick, he had another dream of monumental importance. In it, The Voice of Ireland called to him to return to that country as a Christian missionary. As a result, he went to France, some say, studied to become a Christian and a missionary at the monastery of Auxerre, near Paris, and later was ordained a priest. In 432 AD, now a bishop named Patricius, he was sent by the Pope to Ireland to take up where a previous missionary Bishop, Palladius, had left off.

How successful was he?

Phenomenally so, if some are to be believed. By some accounts, he failed to convert King Laoghaire (pronounced Leary), High King of Ireland and, by an odd coincidence, the son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, who had originally captured him. Other accounts say that he succeeded. Crucially, however, he won the King's permission to continue his work in Ireland. Some historians, however, are inclined to believe that the thrust of his efforts was confined to Ulster, concentrating on Downpatrick, by then the seat of the Ulster Kings. Whatever the truth of that, it appears that over two to three decades from 432 AD, either he or his disciples travelled to just about every corner of Ireland. And his legacy lived on. By the end of the 5th century, Ireland was a Christian nation.

When did he die?

There is some doubt about this too. Some accounts say Patrick lived to be all of 120 years of age! Most, however, point to him dying on March 17 about the year 461 AD at Saul, County Down, at a church built on land given to him by Dichu, a local chieftain, who was one of his converts. The Annals of Ulster also mention him dying in 491 AD. This has given rise to the so-called "two Patricks" theory, providing food for endless speculation by scholars. By the end of the 7th century a single Patrick had already become a legendary figure.

Where is he buried?

A tombstone in the grounds of Down Cathedral in Downpatrick is supposed to mark his grave. But there are serious doubts. Patrick is almost certainly buried somewhere in County Down but it is thought that the Norman nobleman John De Courcy may not so easily have found the remains almost seven centuries after Patrick's death. De Courcy claimed to have found them and brought them to the seat of his stronghold. The claim was politically convenient to say the least in 12th century Ireland as the Normans bade to consolidate their power


Separating fact from fiction in the story of St. Patrick can sometimes be tricky. But the legends more often than not speak for themselves.

* St. Patrick is supposed to have driven the snakes from Ireland. Certainly, there are no snakes in Ireland. But neither are there any in New Zealand and there is no record of St. Patrick ever having visited there! Moreover the Graeco-Roman writer Solinus recorded the fact that Ireland was snake-free a good two hundred years before St. Patrick was born! The story that Patrick banished the snakes seems quite simply to have been invented in the12th century by a Northumbrian monk named Jocelyn, whom the wife of the Norman John De Courcy brought to her husband's court in Downpatrick.

* One legend has it that Patrick, when he escaped from his youthful slavery in Ireland, went straight to France. Deciding to visit his uncle in Tours, he had to cross the River Loire. He had no obvious means of doing so, but he found that his cape was made an admirable raft. On reaching the other side, he hung his cape out to dry upon a hawthorn bush. Despite it being the middle of winter, the bush immediately burst into bloom.

Fact: to this day, the hawthorn blooms in winter in the Loire Valley and St. Patrick has two feast days there – one on March 17 and the other on Christmas Day.

* Patrick, despite his saintliness, was not averse to bouts of temper, it seems. After a greedy man once denied him the use of a field to rest and graze his oxen, Patrick is said to have cursed the field, prophesying that nothing would grow on it from then on. Sure enough, that very day, the field was overrun by the sea and remained sandy and barren for evermore.

* A blind man once came to Patrick seeking a cure. As he approached, he stumbled several times and fell over and was duly laughed at by one of Patrick's companions. The blind man was cured. The companion, however, was blinded.

* Before he died, an angel told Patrick that he should have two untamed oxen yoked to his funeral cart and that they should be left to decide where he should be buried. With great political foresight, the oxen chose Downpatrick.

* On the day that Patrick died, night never fell in Ulster nor did it for a further 12 days.

The shamrock is popularly identified with Ireland. That custom owes its origins to St. Patrick.

What is shamrock?

The reality is that shamrock is a form of clover – Trifolium repens, Trifolium pratense or more likely Trifolium dubium, to give its botanical pedigree – and only looks different from what one might expect because it is picked so early in spring. It is not unique to Ireland. Trifolium dubium is found from Scandinavia to the Caucasus and even in America

What's the connection with St. Patrick?

Legend has it that in attempting to explain the three-in-one principle of the Holy Trinity to the pagan King Laoghaire (pronounced Leary), St. Patrick found the three-leafed shamrock a convenient teaching aid. Four-leafed shamrocks obviously are discounted. They cause severe theological problems!

What is meant by "drowning the shamrock"?

The answer seems fairly obvious – a few drinks on St. Patrick's Day by way of celebration. What is not so obvious is that this is a custom of British rather than Irish origin! Presumably for morale purposes, from at least the middle of the 18th century, an extra ration of grog was provided by English army commanders to Irish troops on March 17.Queen Victoria in 1900 ordered that soldiers in Irish regiments should wear shamrock on St. Patrick's Day in memory of fellow Irishmen killed in the Boer War. Shamrock worn as a symbol of remembrance thus predates the red poppy of Flanders fields.

Sites Associated with Saint Patrick

Nowhere is more closely associated with the Apostle of Ireland than Downpatrick, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Lecale. Here in the leafy graveyard of Down Cathedral, with the Mountains of Mourne as a backdrop, lie the mortal remains of St Patrick.

A large simple granite slab marks the grave where he takes his eternal rest alongside Ireland's other two patron saints, Brigid and Colmcille, reputedly buried here as well. It would be fair to say that rival claims for St Patrick's last resting place do exist – bones of contention as it were. Apart from claiming Patrick's grave, Down Cathedral has had a history for which the word 'chequered' barely does justice. Destroyed by an earthquake, pillaged by the Danes, burnt by the Scots, destroyed again by the English, it then lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years.

Today it is hard to imagine a more peaceful place, with its views across the river Quoile to the ancient Cistercian Abbey of Inch. About a mile north-east of Downpatrick, at the mouth of the Slaney River (now called Fiddler's Burn), is the village of Saul where St. Patrick began his mission to Ireland circa AD 432, and where he died.

The word "Saul" has no biblical connotations – it derives from the Irish word "sabhal" meaning barn. The barn in question was St. Patrick's fi rst church, and put at his disposal by the local chieftain Dichu, one of Patrick's earliest converts. A small church was built on the site, but like the cathedral up the road the building did not have a happy history. It was burned by the Danes, rebuilt by St. Malachy, sacked by Magnus O'Eochadha, King of Ulster, and burnt to the ground again in 1316 by Edward Bruce. St. Patrick's funeral procession was said to have begun from the church. According to legend two white oxen pulled his coffi n to his last resting place in Downpatrick.

A short distance along from Saul, near the village of Raholp, is St. Patrick's hill (415 feet) atop of which stands an impressive statue of the saint. The views from the summit are superb, on a clear day extending to the north over Strangford Lough, and across to the heights of Slieve Donard. Just beyond Raholp is the ruin of a church associated with St. Tassach who is thought to have ministered the last communion to the dying St. Patrick on March 17, sometime between 460 and 490 AD. The Struell Wells, also within easy reach of Downpatrick, have a traditional association with Patrick too – he is said to have bathed here and sang psalms as he did so! A place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, its clear waters are supposed to cure a range of afflictions. They certainly taste fresh.

When St. Patrick arrived in Armagh in approximately 445 AD a king known as Daire was local ruler. He allowed Patrick to make his Cathedral on the hill of Rath Daire, and soon Armagh established itself as the ecclesiastical center of Ireland, with scholars arriving from all over the country, and from as far afield as England and Scotland, to its famous school of learning. Mount Slemish in the center of County Antrim is some 50 miles north of Downpatrick, and it was here that the captive Patrick herded sheep and pigs for Milchu, a local chieftain.

St. Patrick's Purgatory on Lough Derg in County Donegal, derives its name from a vision Patrick is supposed to have had, accounts of which are said to have influenced Dante as he composed The Divine Comedy. It's been a pilgrimage site for centuries, famed throughout Europe in medieval times. An original monastic settlement here was attributed to St. Patrick. The original Purgatory was destroyed in 1497 on the orders of Pope Alexander VI. To this day pilgrims come to do penance and find spiritual renewal. Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, as the name suggests, also has associations with Ireland's patron saint. Even in pre-Christian times it was a sacred place, the site of an annual festival in honour of the Celtic pagan god Lug. St. Patrick is said to have spent 40 days and nights here communing with God. The Christian Church certainly found it an advantage to convert it into a place of pilgrimage. On the last Sunday in July, known locally as Garland Sunday, pilgrims even today climb "The Reek". They are rewarded with exhaustion, a spiritual uplift and some of the most breathtaking scenery on earth.

Why is St. Patrick's Day celebrated on March 17th?

One reason appears to be because St. Patrick is supposed to have died (many say there is little doubt about it) on March 17, around about the year 461 AD. But since nobody actually knows in what year he died, it might seem unlikely that anybody truly knows the day on which he died either. Another possibility is a little more complex. According to folk legend, March 17 was the day that St. Patrick took the "cold stone" out of the water – in other words the day on which winter could be said to be truly over and the sowing of crops could begin. Important dates in the agricultural season, in ancient times more often than not celebrated as pagan feasts, were routinely taken into the Christian calendar. The identification of March 17 with St. Patrick could plausibly be claimed to fit in with that pattern. St. Patrick's Day did not become a public holiday in Ireland until 1903, when a bill was passed in the Westminster parliament, after it was instigated in the House of Lords by the Earl of Dunraven.

'Happy St. Patrick's Day' translates into:
'beannachtaí na féile pádraig'.

Phonetically, it sounds like; 'bannochtee nah faylah pawdrig'.

St. Patrick's Day is also a public holiday on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, volcanic eruptions notwithstanding. The origins of the island's celebration of the day date back to the 17th century when Oliver Cromwell was instrumental in forcing quite a number of Irish immigrants to move there. Names like Murphy, Kirwan and O'Malley are still commonplace on the island.

The Saint Patrick Center

The source of perhaps the most comprehensive popular body of information, certainly the most user friendly, is the Saint Patrick Center in Downpatrick, County Down, just 20 miles south of Belfast.

The 'World Center', traces the story of Patrick through startling graphics and reconstructions and modern media techniques, many of them interactive. The latter make the center particularly attractive for youngsters.

A film show puts Patrick into a modern context, as a symbolic figure who can bridge the divide between the diverse traditions of the people of Ireland – in a curious way to be simultaneously of religion but beyond it.

The center also houses a library and handily, it is all just a few minutes' walk from Down Cathedral and the supposed site of St. Patrick's grave and provides a focal point for the surrounding St. Patrick's Country. Handily too, it houses a restaurant, a conference center, an exhibition hall and a tourist center.

Quite apart from its role as a focus for tourism, the center is also a highly impressive symbol of a newly developing sense of community in the town, a role to which St. Patrick himself would surely give his imprimatur.

Downpatrick is at the heart of St. Patrick's Country. Quite apart from its traditional associations with the saint, Down Cathedral, dating back to Norman times and styles, is a haven of peace that is doing much to embody a new sense of ecumenism. It also has links to history predating even Patrick. In 1954, artifacts dating as far back as 600 BC were unearthed on the site.

Celebrations & Parades in Ireland…

St. Patrick has in recent years become the focal point of a festival in DUBLIN which reflects the diverse talents and achievements of a now supremely confident Irish people. Once confined to a single day, it now spreads itself over a week and attracts an international audience of well over 1 million "“ not just the Irish themselves or those of Irish descent but also those who sometimes might wish to be Irish. A truly carnival atmosphere provides a backdrop for days of music, madness and magic, which include street theatre, fi reworks displays, pageants, exhibitions, music and dance. Throughout the week, the Irish themselves do what they do best: having a party, a celebration full of warmth, fun and energy.

The highlight of the festival is the city's St. Patrick's Day parade. There was a time when the equivalent parade in New York was considered to be the most spectacular in the world. That is no longer the case. The parade in Dublin has now taken its rightful place as being the most spectacular and exciting of them all. It provides a showcase not only for the most imaginative Irish talents but also for increasingly more diverse international ones. It provides manifest proof to the assertion that on St. Patrick's Day just about all the world wants to join in celebration. For the latest information on the St. Patrick's Festival in Dublin, check out the web site:

St. Patrick's Day also provides a focal point for celebrations in many other towns in Ireland. Among the most significant of them are; ARMAGH, BELFAST, CORK, DOWNPATRICK, GALWAY, HOLYWOOD (Co. Down), KILLARNEY, KILTIMAGH, LIMERICK and SLIGO.

The earliest recorded evidence of St. Patrick's Day being celebrated outside of Ireland, other than by Irish soldiers, is provided by Jonathan Swift, the Dublin-born author of Gulliver's Travels. In his Journal to Stella, he notes that in 1713 the parliament at Westminster was closed because it was St. Patrick's Day and that the Mall in London was so full of decorations that he thought "all the world was Irish".

The first St. Patrick's Day parade on record was held in New York in 1762 and seems to have been designed primarily as a recruiting rally by the English army in North America. The Americans were later to use the parade for similar ends.

The Irish in North America fought on both the English and French sides during the Seven Years War. In 1757, "English" troops camped at Fort Henry were attacked on St. Patrick's Day by "French" troops. The French contingent was largely made up of Irishmen. They reckoned that the many Irishmen in the English contingent would be the worse for wear, given the day that was in it. But they reckoned without the canniness of the English commander, John Stark. He had given his Irish troops their extra celebratory drop of grog the previous day! The French lost.

These days St. Patrick's Day celebrations and parades take place all over the world. Major parades are held not only in Ireland, but also in New York, Boston, Savannah, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and New Orleans. Closer to home, London hosts a huge St. Patrick's Festival and parade. Other large parades take place in Birmingham and Manchester to name but a few.


Tourism Ireland will host the world's first virtual St Patrick's Day parade on Sunday 16th March, in the internet-based, virtual world of Second Life. The virtual parade will include 20 Irish and Celtic themed floats and will be the highlight of a three-day Discover Ireland Festival in Second Life, sponsored by Tourism Ireland.

Second Life is one of the largest virtual worlds in existence, with over 12 million registered users, 3 million of whom are considered regular users. Sixty per cent of Second Life's users come from Ireland's four biggest tourist markets: Great Britain, US, Germany and France. Half of those users are aged over 30 "“ a key demographic for tourism to the island of Ireland. These "residents" can explore, socialise, and participate in activities and services using Second Life's currency,
the Linden Dollar.

As well as the first virtual St Patrick's Day parade, Tourism Ireland will organise a range of events and activities during the St Patrick's festivities in Second Life's replica city of Dublin. Events will include a live broadcast of the largest ever contemporary Irish music expo "“ "Snakes and Ladders" "“ from the World Financial Center in New York; a treasure hunt which will involve visitors exploring Dublin to find clues that will enable them to collect points and win prizes (clues are located on; as well as live bands and DJs.

The virtual cruise ship the "SS Galaxy" will visit Dublin during the festivities and will host an onboard digital exhibition of Irish artists' work. Guided helicopter and bus tours of Dublin in Second Life will take place throughout the weekend, giving visitors historical information on the many famous Dublin landmarks that are recreated in Second Life.

Tourism Ireland's objective is to encourage those who visit this virtual world to come and visit the real Ireland during 2008. "Dublin" in Second Life is a well-established destination "“ frequently making the Top Ten list of the most popular places to visit there. Tourism Ireland launched the first ever tourism marketing campaign in Second Life last October, with a Discover Ireland music festival.

This new promotion is just one of a potent mix of consumer, media and trade marketing lined up for spring 2008, tapping into the interest and goodwill generated by St. Patrick's celebrations across the globe. In total Tourism Ireland will spend €37 million (£25 million) promoting the island of Ireland around the globe over the next six months.

Mark Henry, Tourism Ireland's Central Marketing Director, said: "We are very excited about the world's first virtual St Patrick's Day parade "“ it's an innovative and interesting way to present the island of Ireland as an attractive holiday destination to a new audience. Once they have experienced the simulated Ireland, we hope these potential visitors will come and see the real thing."

"Tourism Ireland's involvement in Second Life is about finding new ways to connect with today's web-savvy consumer as effectively as possible. Our Second Life music festival last autumn was the most popular weekend ever for the virtual city of Dublin. We expect this St Patrick's weekend festivities to be an even greater draw for people from all over the world," said Mark Henry. "Tourism Ireland has already doubled its digital marketing spend over the past three years. This year we plan to spend close to a quarter of our entire marketing budget "“ over €10 million "“ online."

Some experts predict that the web will be three-dimensional in a decade's time and virtual worlds such as Second Life give us some idea of what the web may look like in the future. Second Life is one of the biggest virtual worlds in existence and many major brands, including Coca-Cola, Vodafone, IBM, Toyota, Sony and Adidas already have a presence there.

Anyone can join in the St Patrick's Festivities by getting a free Second Life account through or at the virtual Dublin website:

The Programme of St Patrick's Festivities in Second Life includes:
[note: all times are GMT]

Saturday 15th March
17:00 Grand Opening
17:01 Treasure Hunt begins and will run for the next three days with instruction and clues at 30 locations
17:15 Saturday Swing
– Irish/Celtic rock by live DJ (2 hours)
20:00 Carraig
– Irish/Celtic rock by live DJ (2 hours)
23:00 Highland Marching Band parade and concert
– fully kitted marching band with kilt and pipes (2 hours)

Sunday 16th March
15:00 Sunday Riot
– Irish/Celtic rock by live DJ (2 hours)
15:00 Bus and Helicopter Tours of Dublin start (4 hours)
17:15 Celtic Muse
– Irish/Celtic sports music by live DJ (2 hours)
19:00 St Patrick's Day Parade
– 20 Irish and Celtic themed floats (2 hours)
21:00 Sunday Slam
– Irish/Celtic rock by live DJ (2 hours)
21:00 Live Music Showcase
– Keltish live music band (1 hour)
23:00 Snakes & Ladders: New Irish Music Festival live simulcast from New York
– the largest expo of new Irish music in the world, ever! (2½ hours)
– Featuring: Green Time Ensemble, Somadrome, Amoebadoid, Deep Burial, General Practise, Toirse, Richard G Evans, Educution, Daniel Figgis
01:30 Carraigh
– Irish/Celtic rock by live DJ (1½ hours)

Monday 17th March
16:30 Snakes & Ladders: New Irish Music Festival live simulcast from New York
– Featuring: Brian O'Huiginn, Roger Doyle, Daniel Figgis
19:30 Live Ireland traditional Irish music festival live simulcast from the real world Dublin to virtual Dublin (3 hours)
20:00 Fibber Magees Grand Opening live music simulcast from the real world Fibber Magees to virtual Dublin featuring the band "World of Good" (2½ hours)
22:00 Carraig at New Fibber Magees
– Irish/Celtic rock by live DJ (2 hours)

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