Today is St. Patrick’s Day and I am naturally thinking of Ireland. People around the world, will soon be dancing and drinking themselves green, revelling in their Irish roots.
As we move closer to the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising–the climax of which was the execution of Irish poets and rebels by their British rulers–celebrating the present becomes more intense, more necessary.
But St. Patrick? Well, it seems, he wasn’t really Irish at all.
Ironically, the man was born in Britain (386AD) of Roman stock. “His father, Calphurnius, was a deacon from a Roman family of high social standing. Patrick’s mother, Conchessa, was a close relative of the great patron St. Martin of Tours. Patrick’s grandfather, Pontius, was also a member of the clergy.” St. Patrick’s Biography
The teenage saint was captured by the Irish and sold into slavery in Dalriada. His master was a Druid Priest, and this perhaps motivated his mission to christianize the pagans. After six years of prayers, he escaped and travelled to France to study and become a priest. Upon his return he set about preaching, converting, and baptizing the pagan Celts.
This is a photo I took when I visited Tara, Ireland. Mythically, Tara has been the centre of Celtic rule since the Milesians defeated the Tuatha de Danaan and sent them underground to live among the tombs. They are now known as the sidhe, the faeries of the Otherworld.
When Saint Patrick arrived in Tara, he appeared at the court of King Laeghaire (Lear) and demonstrated God’s wrath by burning the Druid Luchat Mael while saving a Christian boy from the same fire. After showing his power, Patrick threatened the king with death if he did not convert:
Then Patrick said to Laeghaire, “Unless thou believest now, thou shalt die quickly, for God’s anger will come on thy head.” When the King heard those words great fear seized him. Then the he went into the assembly house to his people. “For me,” he said, “belief in God is better than what is threatened to me, (namely) that I shall be killed.” Conversion at Tara
And that was the beginning of the end for Tara.
Today, all that’s left are green hills and fields and these lovely cows. But the myth and magic that survives in the landscape, in the people, and in the sidhe, call me back. This is the Ireland I celebrate.