Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday's Situation: The Myths of St. Patrick

Top o' the morn to ye, and a Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

I'm not Irish, I'm pure French, 2nd generation American, but don't let my daughter hear you repeat that. SHE is Irish, and don't you forget it! Her father is Scotch-Irish, she picked up on the Irish part as a kid, and since she looks pretty good in green, she's been Irish ever since. And since Ireland and France have never gotten along, she prefers to hide her French heritage. But that's okay... I've never liked the color green, anyway!

But I digress. St. Patrick's Day is today, complete with a wearing o' the green, parades, leprechauns, shamrocks, and even Green Beer. Let's talk about some of the myths surrounding "St. Patrick."

First, a little background: "St.Patrick" was born Maewyn Succat sometime in the late 4th Century A.D., the exact year seems to depend upon which historian you read. He was not born in Ireland, but in Celtic Britian, to parents of Roman descent. He was kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16, and sent to Ireland to work as a slave for 6 years. He escaped to Britian, then went to France, joined a monestary and studied under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre. After 12 years in training, he became a priest and returned to Ireland to teach Christianity. He adopted the name of Patricius ( Patrick)  upon becoming a priest.

Myth #1:
St. Patrick was Irish.  No, he wasn't. He was born somewhere in England, which in the 5th Century was more Celtic than British, thus he would be a Celtic Briton. He was also the son of a Roman official.

Myth #2:
St. Patrick was the first Christian Missionary to Ireland.  No, again. There is evidence of Christian missionaries traveling through Ireland in the 4th Century, although none was very successful at changing pagan beliefs to Christianity. The most well-known of these missionaries was Palladius, who was sent by Pope Celestine in 431 A. D.

Myth #3:
St. Patrick used the Shamrock to teach about Christianity.  A very endearing legend, but just that, a legend. It is said that he compared the shamrock to the Trinity of Christ: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, he never mentioned the shamrock in any of his writings. Some historians have said that the legend derives from the Celtic tradition of using the shamrock as a metaphor for "A trust in your soul," "Belief in your heart," and "Faith in your mind."  Nevertheless, details aside, few Irishmen seem bothered by the lack of evidence and the shamrock remains the national symbol of Ireland.

Myth #4:
St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. Uh uh. The problem with this story is that Ireland never had snakes to begin with. Ireland was separated from England and the Continent thousands of years ago, during the Ice Age, and emerged as an empire completely free of snakes.

Myth #5:
The Annual St.Patrick's Day Parade is an Irish tradition. Not exactly. In fact, not at all. The practice of honoring St. Patrick on March 17th, the day of his death in the 5th Century, is an Irish tradition. The Irish people have, for centuries, honored his death as a religious event, possibly even wearing green, carrying shamrocks, and attending Mass, but that's all. The very first recorded St.Patrick's Day Parade originated in Manhatten in 1766, when some military units which included Irish soldiers in the British army, marched at dawn from house to house of the leading Irish citizens of the city. This parade had been held in New York every year since 1766, with only a few exceptions. It has become an Irish tradition born in America, and only recently adopted in Ireland.

Here are a few little tidbits about St. Patrick's Day:
Wearing of the Green:  The color green became a symbol for Ireland around the early 19th Century. Because of the abundance of rain and mist, Ireland is green all year round, and certainly deserving of the name The Emerald Isle. But wearing green is traditionally only for Catholics, at least in Ireland. If you are Protestant, you wear orange.

Leprechauns are a symbol of Ireland:  Well, sort of. In Irish mythology, a leprechaun is portrayed as a tiny little man, just under 2 feet tall, always a shoe cobbler as they made the shoes for the Irish faeries, and they are troublesome, contrary, irksome, and definitely unfriendly. They all have a pot of gold, well-hidden, but if you manage to capture one, you just might find that pot. The problem is, you will only do that if you can hold on to the leprechaun, and stare him straight in the eyes the entire time you have your hands on him. But he is a tricky little character, and so far, no one has been able to hold him and stare him down.

Corned Beed and Cabbage is the official dinner of St.Patrick's Day:  Not exactly. Cabbage has always been a staple in the Irish diet, but it was always served with Irish Bacon. It wasn't until the turn of the 19th Century, when Irish immigrants began arriving in the United States, that corned beef came to be served with their cabbage. And the only reason that happened is because the immigrants couldn't afford Irish bacon in the states, and they learned about Corned Beef from their Jewish neighbors.

Well, guess that's all for now. I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade... ooops, sorry... but just wanted to clear up some of the mythology surrounding St. Patrick's Day!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Thanks for clearing up all this misconceptions, Mikki. I am Irish and I didn't know a few of them. Of course I'm also 5 other nationalities, so I can't really be blamed. ;)

  2. LOL. I've always thought the myths surrounding St. Patrick were far more interesting than his true story, but that often happens with legends. Truisms or not, St. Patrick's Day is always a fun day...I've just not figured out why non-Catholics are supposed to wear orange!

  3. HEY, since when is your blog a chance to pick on me?? I AM NOT FRENCH. Tee Hee!

    I'm reading up on St. Patrick for a story I'm writing. His "Confession of St. Patrick" is pretty interesting. I knew all about your myth-busters, but it is fun celebrating the day anyway!

    One recent finding insists that St. Patrick "was not brought to Ireland as a slave . . . but that in fact he may actually have sold slaves his family owned to pay his way to Ireland --in order to avoid a job as a tax collector for the Roman empire." Apparently his father was a Decurion, which was a hereditary role, and when he vacated his position in order to join the clergy, Patrick chose to leave Britain to avoid being obligated to take up his father's job. The idea that he was kidnapped into slavery was a fiction he himself created in the letters he wrote because that was how he wanted to be remembered. The only way out of slavery back then was to be redeemed, and Patrick was never redeemed. He was a bishop and a missionary, but current research theorizes that his primary motives for moving to Ireland were most likely to escape the poisoned chalice of his inherited position as a tax collector in Britain.

    Not sure why Protestants wear Orange instead of Green. Maybe because they want to differentiate themselves from their hated brethren?

    And one thing you didn't mention - St. Patty's day is WRONG. If you're going to shorten the name, it's PADDY, not Patty. Paddy is short for Padraig, the Gaelic for Patrick. Patty is a female name.

    1. Yes, dear! I've never called it St.Paddy's Day, or St.Patty's for that matter, and I don't wear green...or orange, either.

      PS You are half French PERIOD.


  4. Interesting stuff here, Mikki. I'm not Irish so I've never been much into celebrating St. Patrick's Day. But corned beef is one thing that my whole family eats, so I'll use the excuse to make their favorite meal ;)

    1. No, we don't make over St.Patrick's Day, either, much to my daughter's dismay. Hubby loves corned beef, I can't stand it, I love cabbage, he can't stand it, so we don't go in for "Corned beef and cabbage" dinners, either.