Posted by: Randall Niles | March 19, 2009

Saint Patrick’s Day

It’s funny (in a sad kind of way) how today’s culture can quench compelling history.


To my kids, Saint Patrick’s Day merely represents the horror of forgetting to wear green on the 17th and facing the wrath of pinching peers. When I drank, Saint Patrick’s Day was an opportunity to pound really watered-down beer (but it was green, so that’s OK). To others, it’s about corned beef and cabbage. For some, it’s something about a stone named Blarney… For Irish-Americans, it’s a day of ethnic pride…


But what’s the forgotten truth behind the compelling history…?


Patrick was born in Roman-controlled Britain in about 390 AD. When he was a youth, Irish barbarians attacked his village and took him captive to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a feudal king.


In Thomas Cahill’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Patrick is described as a slave-shepherd. “The work of such slave-shepherds was bitterly isolated, months at a time spent alone in the hills.”


As Patrick faced his first months of loneliness, hunger, illness and despair, he began seeking God. He later wrote in his book, Confessions, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours” and “the love of God . . . surrounded me more and more.”


After six scary years, Patrick had a life-changing dream. The message: “Your hungers are rewarded. You are going home. Look – your ship is ready.” Almost immediately, Patrick snubbed his fear of punishment, left his flock, and walked two hundred miles to the Irish coast. There, he found a ship and traveled back to Britain, where he joined a monastery and became a priest.


Years later, Patrick couldn’t deny his love for the Irish people and his calling to return to them.  Ireland was now dominated by full-scale barbarism, where murder, rape, slavery, and even human sacrifice were commonplace. Nonetheless, Patrick wrote, “I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved – whatever may come my way.” He had to return for the Irish people.


Thomas Cahill concludes, “Only this former slave had the right instincts to impart to the Irish a New Story, one that made sense of all their old stories and brought them a peace they had never known before.”


So, what’s the real history behind Saint Patrick’s Day? Because of Patrick, a barbarian land “lay down the swords of battle, flung away the knives of sacrifice, and cast away the chains of slavery.”


I’ll toast a watered-down, green beer to that!

Randall Niles



  1. Randall,

    Great article! I told my kids I’d look up the story of St. Patrick. Now it’s handled.

  2. Good article, Thank you!
    Good book — How the Irish Saved Civilization!

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