St. Patrick’s Scottish Heritage
It’s the most Irish day of the year, so what better time to brush up on the history of Ireland’s well-known patron saint. As Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated today by Irish communities in all corners of the globe, it may come as a suprise to most to learn that Saint Patrick most likely hailed from none other than Scotland.
While March 17 is the accepted date when this famous saint died, no-one actually knows the exact date Patrick was born. Much speculation leads to the year of 387 AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Theodocius I (r.379 to 395), who, after his own conversion, converted the entirety of Roman Britian to Christianity in 380. The most accepted place of birth amongst historians is along the western coast of Britannia somewhere between the border of present day Scotland and Hadrian’s Wall.
St. Patrick was born to Calpurnius and Conchessa, a Roman couple who gave their child an appropriate Roman name: “Patricius” which means “noble of the patrician class,” referring to the class that had ruled Rome since the early Republic. His father was a Decurion, or a cavalry officer, in command of Roman soldiers, who had been originally sent to the northern area of Britannia to keep order on the outskirts of a Roman Empire in decline. The Decurion’s troops would have had to deal with the Picts of Scotland and the Celts in Ireland, who had remained unconquered by the Romans.
At the age of 14, Patrick was captured by Celtic raiders and taken to Ireland where he spent six years in slavery as a shepherd. It’s generally believed he was located throughout this time in what is now known as County Antrim, where Belfast is located. Ireland at this time was a land of Celtics and pagans, and even though he learned the Celtic way of life, he was increasingly turning to God and prayer.
Patrick’s captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Scotland, where he reunited with his family. But he had another dream in which he heard the people of Ireland calling out to him, so he commenced his studies for the Priesthood and was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years.
Later, Patrick was ordained a bishop, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland. He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane. One legend says that he met a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted Dichu (the chieftain) after he was unable to move his arm until he became friendly to Patrick.
Patrick preached and converted all over Ireland for 40 years. Perhaps his most well-known legacy is the shamrock which he used to explain the Holy Trinity. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died March 17, 461, at Saul where his first Church was built. Today Saint Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland, and on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, which was founded by Irish refugees.