Truths and myths about St. Patrick's DayFeb 27, 2023 10:09AM ● By Randal Hill
When it comes to legendary heroes, myths often become entangled with the truth.
As is the case with St. Patrick. You may wonder: Was he really from Ireland? Did he really like to drink? Is it true that he drove snakes from the land? Is he even a full-fledged saint?
THE TRUTH AS WE KNOW IT
Sometime in the fifth century, Maewyn Succat was captured by Irish pirates from his wealthy family’s villa in Roman Britain—probably in the area we now know as Wales.
Succat, who was about 16 years old, was whisked away to become a slave in Northern Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd.
He spent his precious spare time in prayer, and in his early 20s, Succat claimed he heard a voice telling him that he would be going home soon. At the right moment, he fled his master and made his way to a port 200 miles away, where he found a ship’s captain willing to return him to Britain.
Once home, the pious young man studied to be a Christian missionary. He planned to return to Ireland in hopes of converting pagans to Catholicism.
After becoming a priest, Succat changed his name to Patricius, which is Latin for “father figure.” In his missionary work, he used the common three-leaf shamrock to teach the Irish about Christianity’s Holy Trinity. This is why celebrants wear the color green on St. Patrick’s Day.
You may have heard the story of St. Patrick chasing all the country’s snakes into the sea. That never happened. According to fossil record, Ireland has been snake-free since the Ice Age.
We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17—not because it was the day that St. Patrick was born, but it’s thought to be the anniversary of his death. Historians can never be certain of this, however, and St. Patrick’s own writings don’t provide evidence for more precise dates.
Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that he is widely revered today as the patron saint of Ireland, but has yet to be canonized by a pope.
PARADES & PARTIES
As for today’s celebrations, St. Patrick’s Day often means parades—and drinking. Contrary to belief, parades didn’t start with the Irish. The first such event took place in Boston in 1737, with New York City following 25 years later. Dublin didn’t offer a parade until 1931.
In the Big Apple’s iconic event, about 150,000 marchers walk for up to five hours on Fifth Avenue. It doesn’t take that long in Hot Springs, Arkansas—their parade route measures 98 feet in length. And that’s no myth.
March 17 often falls during a period of Lenten abstinence, but Patrician tradition decrees that the faithful are free from this constraint. That’s why the holiday is often steeped in drunken revelry.