“And here I thought St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland.”
Maeve O’Connor to August Grayson, A Love by Any Measure
Ah, St. Patrick… That good, ol’ Irishman who is accredited as being the reason there are no snakes on the Green Isle today. If you’re familiar with my writing, you know how I like to blend fact and fiction. Well, of course, I’m not the first writer or nary even culture to take this approach. Just take works on our good friend St. Patrick for example. Why is he so famous? Why is he one of the patron saints of Ireland? And what’s the deal with shamrocks anyways? Both the Irish and Catholic church have used the legends of the man to their own ends, mostly beneficial, but I thought it’d be fun to explore the truth a little further on this de facto annual celebration of Irish heritage.
FICTION: St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland.
True, there are no indigenous snakes in Ireland today. Every so often a pet boa escapes or one finds a way aboard a cargo ship, but that’s about it. However, there is no evidence that there were EVER snakes in Ireland. Some believe the association of a snake with his legend is symbolic. As a Christian missionary in the 4th century in a land that was mostly still pagan, the snake might have represented the serpent image Christians sometimes use to denote evil or the devil.
FICTION: St. Patrick was Irish.
Actually, Patrick originated from either Wales or Scotland. As a teenager, he was kidnapped by Irish bandits and forced into slavery before escaping several years later. Later in life, he returned to Ireland as a missionary, where he remained until his death circa 490AD. And here’s something you probably DIDN’T know, too… St. Patrick technically was Roman. His parents were part of the Roman ruling class living in Britain during the last days of Rome’s control on the region.
FACT: There’s a reason his saint feast day is March 17.
I don’t know how up you are on the Catholic saints, but there’s hundreds of them. Each has an official feast day, though of course the celebrations attached to that day are generally culturally-based. March 17 was named as St. Patrick’s feast day as it is also noted as the day of his death. Interestingly, most agree he died on March 17, but there’s wide speculation as to the exact year he died.
BONUS: What’s the deal with the shamrock? Yes, there are four-leafed clovers, but the shamrock has only three leaves. One story tells of St. Patrick using the the shamrock during a sermon as a symbol of the holy trinity. Druids of the old ways, however, also saw the shamrock as a representation of a trinity of goddesses (which goddesses depended on the era and the region). Goddesses in trinity or a single goddess with three natures (such as Hecate in Greek myth) are a common motif in many pagan traditions, and it was hardly the first time the Catholic Church used rebranding as a means of attracting souls. The adaptation of the holy trinity itself is often accredited to the church’s need to appeal to the pagan masses of Northern Europe.
And in an unrelated/semi-related/is-this-related note: In celebration of St. Patrick’s day, you can pick up the ebook of my historical romance, A Love by Any Measure, this weekend on Amazon or Barnes & Nobles for just $1!! May the luck of the Irish (an odd phrase, given history) be with you!