St Patrick’s Day – Facts and Legends
St Patrick’s Day 2020 is coming soon; the shops already have St Patrick’s Day stock, including “Kiss Me I’m Irish” T-shirts, shamrock accessories and the Irish tricolour. I think this is a good time to look at the meaning and origin of the world-famous St Patrick’s Day.
To assist you with sharing all this information with your little ones, we marked up any more difficult words with ‘*‘ and gave an explanation below. This may come handy if your children are young.
Who’s St Patrick?
The story of St Patrick brings us back to the 5th century Ireland.
Your children, depending on their age, may already know that St Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was in fact born in Roman Britain; it is believe that he came either from Wales or Scotland. But what’s less known, is that his name was not Patrick. According to various sources, his original name was Maewyn Succat and his father, named Calpornius, was a Roman-British army officer and a deacon.
St Patrick is thought to have brought Christian faith to Ireland. He is the Saint Patron of Ireland.
Why not visit one of Dublin’s most known attractions: St Patrick’s Cathedral. Learn more on DublinKid.ie website.
How did St Patrick get to Ireland?
In Confession of Saint Patrick – a declaration written by St Patrick – he explains that when he was sixteen, he was kidnapped and brought to Northern Ireland as a slave*. St Patrick was tasked with herding ship in County Antrim. After six years of slavery, St Patrick had a vision which told him that his ship was ready. He then escaped slavery* and returned to his home land. However, it wasn’t without difficulties and near starvation*, before he was reunited with his family.
A few years passed and St Patrick had another vision, which told him to return to Ireland and bring Christian faith to the people of Ireland. Our patron saint followed his vision and return to Ireland. According to some sources, St Patrick founded his first Church in a barn at Saul, barn which was gifted to him by a local chieftain*.
Read more about St Patrick’s Confessio here.
What are the most known legends about St Patrick?
St Patrick banished snakes from Ireland
One of the most famous legends tells us that St Patrick was the one who banished* snakes from Ireland. The earliest written mention of this legend dates back to the thirteenth century. The legend says that St Patrick was attacked by snakes during his forty day fast*, the Saint then chased the snakes into the sea.
Historians now believe that post-glacial* Ireland never had snakes; instead many think that the legend was to illustrate and symbolise the removal of pagan beliefs from Ireland.
St Patrick used shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity
Another famous legend tells us that when St Patrick was trying to convert the people of Ireland to Christianity, he used shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.
The three leaves represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Some also say that the three leaves symbolise Faith, Hope and Love. A four-leafed clover is a symbol of good luck as they are very rare. The shamrock used as a symbol of Ireland has three leaves.
The word shamrock comes from the Irish word Seamrog, which means “little clover”.
St Patrick introduced the Celtic Cross
The popular believe tells us that St Patrick combined the pagan and Christian heritage in the cross design. He did so during his conversion of the kings from paganism to Christianity.
St Patrick is believed to have linked the Christian cross with the Sun, which pagans worshiped at the time for its life-giving properties.
Why do we dress up in green for St Patrick’s Day?
Green clothes and / or accessories are a must on St Patrick’s day, but why? This is a relatively new tradition, which only started in the 19th century; before then it was the colour blue which was associated with our patron saint.
So what is the significance of the green colour? Green is the first colour on the Irish flag, shamrocks which are associated with St Patrick are green and Ireland is known for its green landscape – the Emerald Isle. These are the key reasons why colour green became a symbol of the St Patrick’s celebrations.
Why do we celebrate St Patrick’s Day on March 17th?
The date March 17th, 461 AD was assigned to the death of St Patrick. He died in Saul, County Down, where he founded his first church. He was buried in the ground of Down Cathedral in Downpatrick. There is a memorial stone marking his grave.
Want to know more about Down Cathedral’s history? The Cathedral’s website is a good place to start, check it out here. Guided tours are also available, requiring advance booking.
St Patrick’s Day – Children-friendly definitions
*Depending on your children’s age, they may require an additional explanation for the following terms (in order of appearance in the text):
- Slavery / slave – this is when one person is owned by another person; the person who is a slave, is thought to be a property of their owner, like a house or land, and does not have the same rights as a free person.
- Starvation – suffering due to lack of food
- Chieftain – a leader of a group of people
- Banish – to get rid of
- Fast – it is time during which you do not eat food.
- Post-glacial – after ice age
- Pagan – pagans were people who did not believe in Christianity or any of the major religions
I hope that you and your children enjoyed our article about St Patrick’s Day.
Watch this space as we will provide you with more information relating to this year’s St Patrick’s Day.
Don’t forget to wear something green!