Around the year 400 AD, Saint Patrick was born in Wales. When he was still a boy, an Irish chieftain called Niall of the Nine Hostages, swept across the sea and captured his village. Saint Patrick was taken to Ireland, sold as a slave, and sent to herd sheep and swine.
There in northeast Ireland, in his solitude and suffering, Saint Patrick discovered God. Years later, Saint Patrick dreamed a vision, and following that vision, he escaped and struggled home to his family. After years of religious study to become a priest and missionary, Saint Patrick dreamed of returning to Ireland; often hearing in his dreams the voice of the Irish, "crying to thee, come hither and walk with us once more".
Eventually Pope Celestine fulfilled his wish and commissioned him as bishop to preach the gospel to the Celtic people. Saint Patrick came as the rising sun to the eastern shore of Ireland, and commenced an incredible mission across Ireland of preaching and baptizing, ordaining priests and bishops, erecting churches and establishing places of learning and worship, though such heroic feats in primitive times were not without difficulty and danger.
Saint Patrick found that the pagan Irish had great difficulty comprehending the doctrine of the Trinity, until he gave them a natural example by holding up a shamrock to show the three leaves combined to make a single plant. The Irish understood at once, and the shamrock became the symbol of the land.
One legend tells of Saint Patrick lighting the Easter bonfire on the hill of Slane -- on the night when it was forbidden to kindle any other fire in Ireland before the high king's own fire blazed from the royal ramparts of Tara. Seeing Saint Patrick's torch, the king sent a war band to kill the saint and douse the blaze, but the fire could not be quenched; and Saint Patrick with his companions passed through the warriors in the guise of a herd of deer and came safely to Tara, where he defeated the royal druids in a contest of miracle-working. Many in the king's court bowed down and were converted, and though the king himself was not one of them, he did honor Saint Patrick with the right to preach freely.
Another account is told of Saint Patrick and his companions arriving at sunrise at the royal center of ancient paganism where they discovered the two daughters of the king, Eithne the Red and Fedelm the Fair. These two closely questioned Saint Patrick about God, to which he recited the Holy Creed. Desiring to see the Christ, they asked to be baptized. Upon receiving the sacrament, the girls died on the spot and were buried there.
The most famous legend about Saint Patrick is that he miraculously drove snakes and all venomous beasts from the island by banging a drum, and did this so well that to touch Irish soil is instant death for any such creature. Even Irish wood has a virtue against poison, so that it is reported of King's College, Cambridge, that "being built of Irish wood, no spider doth ever come near it."
One final tale has Saint Patrick coming to a neolithic tomb thought to be a "giant's grave". To satisfy his companions' curiosity, Saint Patrick raised from the dead of the tomb the pagan giant, baptized him, and returned him to his grave.
In time, Saint Patrick and his missionaries converted most of the island to Christianity. Praying and fasting atop what is now Croagh Patrick, the saint extracted from God Himself the promise that the Irish would hold fast to the faith until the end of time, and that on the day of doom, "I, Saint Patrick, shall be judge of the men of Erin."
Upon his death, several communities contended for the honor of this burial. Tradition has it that the body of Saint Patrick, wrapped in its shroud, was placed upon a cart drawn by two white oxen. The beasts were unreined and wandered to Downpatrick where, it is said, now lies the remains of the Saint, his gravestone a granite boulder marked with a cross and simply inscribed: PATRIC. Supposedly at his passing, the sun would not set, but shone in the sky for twelve days and nights; refusing to make a new day without him.
Today, a stained-glass window in Saint Patrick's Cathedral Dublin reflects the saint's own summary confession:
"I am greatly a debtor to God who hath vouchsafed me such great grace that many people by my means should be born again to God."
Saint Patrick died on March 17th circa 465 AD. This is why March 17th is celebrated as Saint Patrick's Day. Its emphasis in Ireland is a holy religious time with appropriate praying, singing and dance. The first North American celebration was held in Boston in 1737 by the Irish Charitable Society, and later in Philadelphia and New York by the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
In the archives of the Ancient Order rests a book by one John D. Crimmins, 1902, entitled: "Saint Patrick's Day: Its celebration in New York and other American places, 1737-1845. How the anniversary was observed by representative Irish organizations and the toasts proposed". Another source states that on March 17, 1762, a group of Irish-born soldiers, en route to the local tavern of renown to honor their patron saint, staged the first parade in colonial New York, complete with marching bands and colorful banners. Bystanders and passers-by joined the promenade, singing Irish ballads and dancing down the cobblestones. The event being so joyful was repeated yearly.
Throughout Ireland and indeed those other parts of the world that become Irish on 17th March is celebrated with street parades, music, dance and Guinness; Craic agus Ceol and because of (or perhaps despite) the whole green leprechaun frenzy of it all, St Patrick's Day has become one of the biggest self marketing tools for Ireland. So as you can see, St Patrick isn't just a patron saint, but a champion of the Irish people and figurehead for Ireland, that through his life and legend has come to symbolising to people a sense of hope during oppression, struggle against adversity and hopefully; of unity or at the very least a good excuse for a party!
When planning your Ireland Vacation, consider visiting some of the places associated with Saint patrick, The Patron Saint of Ireland.