Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who was St Patrick? (NOT a Religious Education Essay!)

St Patrick is hailed as the Patron Saint of Ireland because he brought Christianity to Ireland.  We Irish, as a nation, show our devotion to our Patron Saint by going out and getting totally trolleyed1
Sometime during the fourth century St Patrick was kidnapped from somewhere near Dumbarton in Scotland2 when he was about 16, and brought to Ireland as a slave, ending up on a mountain tending sheep.  It seems impossible that a person could live outside at all in Ireland, never mind on a mountain, for six years.  I can definitely understand that Patrick spent a lot of his time praying.  Who wouldn’t be asking God to get them off that awful mountain to a nice warm dry bed, food and some company? 
It seemed that God answered his prayers, and after six years, St Patrick did escape and returned to his family.  Quite an accomplishment without GPS!  Imagine the youth of today surviving kidnapping, enslavement, living outside on an Irish mountain to tend sheep, escaping, stowing away across the Irish Sea again, and then finding a way home after being away for so many years.  I can hardly find my way from the airport to my home town each time I go back, it changes that much.  I suppose they did not have as many road works in the fourth century.  At this point I reckon the chap had earned enough brownie points to become a saint already!
            So poor Patrick, upon receiving the oft prayed for bed, food and family reunion, whilst reposing in said bed, had a dream, a vision of the Irish people calling him back to Ireland.  Now really, most sane people would have wakened up in a cold sweat, and thought “That was one hell of a nightmare!” got up, had a drink of water, gone to the loo, then gone back to sleep and forgotten all about it.  Oh no, not our Patrick!  He followed the instructions proposed in his dream.  If I were prone to doing the things suggested by my dreams I’d have spent half my life turning up to School (both as a pupil and a teacher) in my pyjamas, or less!
            It must have been an interesting conversation that the twenty-two year old Patrick would have had with his parents, who some sources claim were actually Romans looking after the colonies…
            “Mum, Dad, do you remember when I disappeared and got taken into slavery?”
            “Ah hum!”  Father rattles ‘Ye Olde Roman Chronicle’ newspaper and continues to read, ignoring Patrick.
            “Yes, dear, go on,” says Mother putting another boar’s head on the spit above the fire.
            “Well, you see, I had this dream, and the Irish want me to go back.”
            “They weren’t very nice to you the last time, were they dear?” points out Mother, as she scatters new straw over the earthen floor.  “What does your father say?”
            “Irish what?  Who?” starts his Father, as if he has just woken up. 
            “You see, Dad, I dreamed of the voice of the Irish calling me back,”  says Patrick.
            “Well you’re a middle aged man now son, that’s for you to decide,” says his Dad, turning to the sports page to see how the Christians were faring against the Lions in Rome.
            “Well, if you must, dear,” says Mum “but don’t forget your sweater this time!”
            So St Patrick, possibly suffering the first case of Stockholm syndrome ever recorded in history,  returned to Ireland after studying for the priesthood and becoming a Bishop.  In fairness, he did have a plan.  Personally, mine would have been to batter the cruel slave driver who had treated him so badly when he was in captivity, but in true saintly fashion, Patrick went back and by some accounts, actually paid the guy for his freedom and then forgave him. 
It would have been impossible for him to have kissed the Blarney Stone as Blarney Castle would be not be built for at least another 700 years, but he certainly had the gift of the gab.  He converted the Irish to Christianity from Druidism, and in true Irish fashion his doings were told, retold and exaggerated tenfold.
            Allegedly St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland3.  So what did Saint Patrick say when he was driving these snakes out of Ireland
What I envisaged, as a child, was St Patrick all decked out in his green bishop cloak and pointy hat sitting in a Morris Minor.  For some reason it’s a navy blue car, though you would have thought the Patron Saint of Ireland would have a customised emerald green car, but nope, in my infant mind’s eye it’s navy blue. 
            Piled up on the back seat are coils of snakes, slithering off the seats as the car brakes, and St Patrick drives over potholes.  (There must have been an awful lot of potholes in the fourth century if the twenty first century is anything to go by!)  St Patrick hits a really big pothole, and the car bounces a foot off the ground.  The snakes in the back seat are jolted up, and their spring like shapes extend momentarily and then compress again as gravity pulls them back down onto the back seat.  St Patrick, knuckles white as his hands still grip the steering wheel, shouts over his shoulder,
            “Are you all right there in the back, lads!”  And that’s what St Patrick said as he drove the snakes out of Ireland!
            The very first St Patrick’s day in Ireland really wasn’t his day at all!  It was the day he died.  Still he loved the Irish, and I’m sure he doesn’t mind that they have turned the anniversary of his death into a Guinness drinking festival on a global scale.  I also hope that he forgives my facetious style of recreating events in his life, though I wouldn’t expect anything less of the great man, who forgave his cruel captors and came back to save their souls.

Notes:
1 While the Inuit have over 150 words for snow, the Irish have nearly the same number of words to describe being inebriated!

2 There are conflicting accounts of where St Patrick was actually abducted from.  Some say Wales, others England and I choose to believe Scotland because it is the closest to Ireland.  You can even see Scotland from parts of the north coast of Ireland.  Interestingly enough, articles that differ in stating his place of origin seem to concur that his parents names were Calpurnius and Conchessa!

3 Postglacial Ireland did not have snakes.  Snakes may have been symbolic of pagan beliefs or Druidism.  Good job too because Postglacial Ireland didn’t have Morris Minors either, until the twentieth century!

5 comments:

  1. I know the post is recorded as 16th March and St Patrick's Day is the 17th, but I posted it when it was the 17th in Ireland. I.e. the evening of the 16th in California!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks very much for that interesting and amusing bit of history. I have always wondered about St. Patrick and the origins of his green, inebrious day. I'd begun to imagine the whole thing might've been invented by beer companies, or something, so I quite appreciated learning this :^)

    Usha
    (from Monday Night Writers)

    ReplyDelete
  3. He did exist all right, but I can see how people might place him up there with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny (for grown-ups!)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I learned something new today and had a great laugh with it as well. Good one Byddi! On a side note, our Indigenous children were taken from every community with some dying at the hands of priests and nuns. We have much in common!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sadly we do have an awful lot in common. And in a good way too, I think our cultures share may positive things like story telling and sense of humor! XO

      Delete