St. Patrick: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

St. Patrick died in Ireland on March 17, according to legend. So this is the day chosen to celebrate the man who rid western Europe of slavery and human sacrifice. In return, he brought the word of Jesus Christ to the emerald isle, which brought absolutely no problems of its own. None.

Here’s what you need to know about the man behind the drunkin’ holiday:

1. He Was Born in Britain

St. Patrick Slemish

Slemish in County Antrim, Ireland, where St. Patrick worked when he was a hostage. (Wikipedia)

Despite the fact that anti-British slogans are shouted in his name across the world on March 17, St. Patrick was actually a son of Britannia. He was born there in 390 A.D. to a wealthy family who owned slaves. As a child, St. Patrick had no interest in religion. At the age of 16, a rival of his father’s kidnapped St. Patrick and brought him to Ireland. Luther College’s classics professor Philip Freeman said:

It was just horrible for him. But he got a religious conversion while he was there and became a very deeply believing Christian.

2. When He Escaped His Kidnappers, He Left Ireland

The myth goes, St. Patrick escaped from his kidnappers and went back to his parents, where he freed their slaves, based on his religious convictions. Then a voice came to St. Patrick in his dreams and told him to return to Ireland. He was not appreciated during his life in Ireland. Frequently, his preaching was ridiculed and he was beaten by non-believers. After his death on March 17, 461, the myth grew. His work in bringing the word of God to Ireland was appreciated and he was honored as the patron saint of Ireland.

3. There Were Never Any Snakes in Ireland

St. Patrick Snakes


Common mythology tells us that St. Patrick got rid of all the snakes from Ireland. Which is not true. Ireland was never overrun by snakes. The myth comes from the understanding that St. Patrick got rid of the serpent of Satan from Ireland through spreading the word of God. The freezing waters around Ireland make nearly impossible for snakes to migrate to the island. It’s likely the myth came from monks who were trying demonstrate the influence of St. Patrick to laymen.

4. St. Patty’s Day Was Invented by Americans

St. Patrick's Day Parade Manhattan New York City

New York City police officers march holding a banner for the Emerald Society during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, New York City, March 17, 1975. (Getty)

The holiday, as most people know it, was invented by Irish Americans. Professor Freeman said, “St. Patrick’s Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans.” The day for many years in Ireland was celebrated with mass and a day of rest. Not puking in the street. Irish charitable organizations began the social side to the day in cities like Boston and New York by hosting banquets for the day. Irishmen who served in the revolutionary war were the first to be honored with a parade on March 17. Eventually the day involved into a celebration of Irishness rather than a religious holiday. Timothy Meagher of Catholic University in D.C. said, “It becomes a way to honor the saint but also to confirm ethnic identity and to create bonds of solidarity.”

5. Like Most Irish Things, There’s a Beautiful Poem Involved

St. Patrick's Cathedral Pics

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. (Getty)

The poem most associated with St. Patrick is known as “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.” The words were originally in Gaelic. It dates from the 5th century but it wasn’t translated into English until 1889 by Cecil Frances Alexander. And here it is:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.