We’re all familiar with the image of St. Patrick from Irish gifts – the long green cloak, the shepherd’s staff, the tall mitre hat. The legend of how he used the shamrock’s three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity and convert the Irish to Christianity is well known.
Patrick was born into a Roman family who lived in what is now Scotland. While his family was devoutly Christian, Patrick himself was not particularly religious until he was abducted in his teens and used as a slave in pagan Ireland. His servitude built his faith. The longer he was enslaved, the more he clung to his Christian faith and rejected the pagan beliefs around him. He prayed constantly.
Eventually, Patrick managed to escape and return to Scotland. But Ireland called to him. He realised his life’s mission was to introduce Christianity to Ireland. So he returned. Patrick travelled all over Ireland preaching the Gospel. While the massive parade in Dublin – scheduled to return this year after being cancelled to the pandemic – gets all the attention now, the city isn’t among the places most associated with Patrick’s historic time in Ireland.
4 Key Places Where Patrick Prayed and Preached in Ireland
- Slemish Mountain, Co. Antrim – Formed from an extinct volcano, this mountain is where young Patrick spent six years enslaved. He tended sheep on the slopes, praying. This is why he is pictured with a shepherd’s staff on all those Irish gifts! And it was here on Slemish Mountain that Patrick had a vision that guided his escape from servitude.
- Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo – Pilgrims still follow in Patrick’s footsteps up this mountain. He spent 40 days praying and fasting here, where he was visited by visions and demons. Patrick banished every demon, and that is the origin of the legend of him banishing the snakes from Ireland.
- Rock of Cashel and Patrick’s Well, Co. Tipperary – Patrick’s baptism of Aonghus, the High King of Munster, at the castle known as the Rock of Cashel was a pivotal moment in the conversion of the Irish people. Patrick converted and baptized many more locals at the nearby holy well, which is now a beautiful garden.
- Hill of Slane, Co. Meath – The site of so much Irish history was not overlooked by our patron saint on this travels. Unlike in Munster, the local king did not welcome Patrick. In defiance of local rules, Patrick lit a fire on the hill during a pagan holiday and proceeded to convert many local people there while King Laoire presided over pagan ceremonies on the neighboring Hill of Tara. This was the occasion where Patrick first used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity, making it Ireland’s most recognizable symbol for centuries to come and ensuring its place on countless Irish gifts.
However you are celebrating Paddy’s Day this year, it’s fun to know a bit about the life of Ireland’s most popular patron saint.