Updated: Jul 12, 2021
March 17th is internationally celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day – it's actually thought to be celebrated in more countries internationally than any other national holiday. Although many people wear green and drink a green beer or two to celebrate, few know the interesting history behind St. Patrick himself! Read on to learn a few fun facts about St. Patrick and his feast day.
1. St. Patrick wasn’t Irish, and his name wasn’t Patrick.
I was pretty shocked to learn this – how could the patron saint of Ireland not be Irish? He was actually British and grew up in a well-to-do family, well as well-to-do as a family could be in the 5th century. His real name was something more like Mawyn Saccat, but for some reason, this doesn’t have the same ring to it as Patrick. Patrick also didn’t start out as a very religious person – it wasn’t until he was kidnapped and forced into slavery in Ireland as a teenager that he started to focus in on Christianity. St. Patrick eventually returned to Britain, but he thought constantly of Ireland and hoped to return to spread Christianity. He adopted the name Patrick upon his return as Bishop of Ireland in 432 AD.
2. St. Patrick wasn’t very good at Latin or writing, despite being a priest.
Because he was kidnapped in his teens, St. Patrick was never able to finish his education. In fact, he barely passed the necessary courses to become a priest. For a religious man of the time, this is quite interesting, as many priests were highly educated. He is known to have written an autobiographical piece, “Confessions.” In this, he even wrote that he wasn’t very good at Latin or writing. To be fair, Latin is a dead language after all, Patrick, so I wouldn’t feel too bad for not being too good at it!
3. St. Patrick is known for banishing the snakes in Ireland, but this is a myth!
Myth buster - Ireland was never known to have snakes, so no, St. Patrick didn’t push all the slithering reptiles off the island. (However, it is fun to think of how one could go about getting rid of all the snakes on quite a large island!) Instead, the snake was a symbol for the pagans or heathens that St. Patrick was trying to convert to Christianity. Because he was so successful in spreading Christianity, it is said that St. Patrick banished the “snakes” from the isle.
4. St. Patrick used the shamrock to spread Christianity.
Patrick used the ubiquitous 3 leaf clover as a metaphor to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish. By using the clover, he was able to simply show the Irish the concept of the Holy Trinity with an everyday object with which they were familiar. Saint Patrick explained that in the one God there are three divine beings: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The shamrock has 3 leaves but is one plant, thus the connection. Some may link the four-leaf clover with Irish tradition, but it’s actually the three-leaf clover also known as a shamrock that is meaningful and symbolic to the Irish. Want be historically and culturally accurate with your St. Paddy’s day decorations? Keep it simple with a shamrock!
5. St. Patrick’s Day started as a feast day in the 17th century.
For a man who was alive in the 5th century, it took about twelve hundred years before anyone really celebrated his feast day in Ireland. St. Patrick’s death was believed to be on March 17, 461 – hence the date of March 17th for St. Patrick’s Day! It didn’t start out as a drinking holiday, but rather a feast day to break up the Lent season in Ireland. All pubs were ordered to be closed on his feast day, and this remained the law until the 1970's!
St. Patrick is a very interesting figure in Irish history and how his holiday has evolved is even more interesting! Want to read more about how St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have evolved? Check out Grace’s blog post to learn more!