Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
Ah, the day is here. Today is the day of celebration for the Feast of St. Patrick. I’ve spent the week helping you plan your event by giving you the cultural background; then helping you choose your meal, your drinks, and your music. I hope you are ready for the big day. And while you’re getting everything ready I figured we could now discuss the man behind the holiday. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and revered by many more beyond the shores of the Emerald Isle. This holiday is celebrated uniquely in America, while it remains a more holy day elsewhere in the world. Its history is rooted in the miracles and deeds of St. Patrick and the Christian conversion he facilitated among a race of polytheists.
St. Patrick’s conversion of the island to Christianity was a miracle all its own. His first arrival in Ireland around the year 405 was not a favorable one. During that time the Celtic civilization was well established in trade, the law, and education. They were also involved in disputes with the people across the Irish Sea in Britain. It was in Britain that he was captured during a raid by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. His prior knowledge of God, established by his grandfather who had been a priest; helped him through the next six years of shepherding for his master. He said in his “Confession” that he would pray one hundred times a day and one hundred more at night. He ended his time in slavery by walking nearly two hundred miles west until he reached the shore and found a ship departing for his home.
When he arrived back in Britain he dedicated himself to the church and was educated in France. After attaining priesthood he returned to Ireland around 433 to take up the mission of converting the Irish that had been started by a man named Palladius nearly five years prior. Speaking the language and understanding the culture of the land, St. Patrick began speaking the Gospel to the people. He knew that the local chieftains held the most influence over the people and he began by converting them. It was this task that brought about one of his first and most important miracles, the Fire at the Hill of Slane. When the High King of Ireland declared that no fires would be set in the land before he lit the bonfire on the Hill at Tara; which was the ancient seat of religious power, St. Patrick challenged him by lighting one on the nearby Hill of Slane. When the King challenged St. Patrick and attempted to put out his fire, he could not. A battle of religious miracles ensued with St. Patrick winning. It was from this point on that he would begin converting those in power and spreading that message throughout Ireland.
His ministry is most notable for the legend of the Shamrock in which he used the flower to explain the Holy Trinity. The pagan beliefs of the ancient Celts held multiple deities and he was able to parallel them with the Christian Trinity by showing how the three leaves were in one flower. It was this ability to connect with the Irish in their beliefs and lifestyle that allowed him to convert the multitude. He would continue for roughly thirty years, establishing monasteries of learning along the way. He influence would forever change Ireland.
His legacy with a proud people would shape the course of their lives even to this day. The Irish are a determined group and their conversion to Christianity only added to their identity. Their strength in belief emboldened them against the Protestant wave of English influence. Their subsequent struggles against them demonstrated their courage of commitment and power to rise above. Their problems in America continued and the growth of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations is an indication of how proud Irish immigrants are of their heritage and their struggle. It is that pride we celebrate every year. The life of St. Patrick was one of love and determination against a religion firmly entrenched in a society. Now we Irish Americans want only to show the history of that love and determination. Keep that in mind while you’re out enjoying yourself on this venerable day.
May the leprechauns be near you,
to spread luck along the way.
And may all the Irish angels,
smile upon you St. Patrick’s Day.