St. Patrick of Ireland was born circa 385 AD, at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland. The parents of Maewyn Succat (or Patricius) were wealthy Romans living in Britain. His father was a deacon. When Patricius was fourteen, he was captured during a raiding party by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland as a slave. He was sold as a slave to a Michu, an Irish chieftain and remained there for six years and became a shepherd. Patrick sought solace in his predicament and prayed while he looked after the sheep. His spirituality brought the boy strength even although his captor was cruel and demanding. Patrick was clever and taught himself the Gaelic as well as studied druidism, the predominant religion in Ireland at that time. He escaped slavery when aged twenty, and returned to Scotland to reunite with his family.
He studied to be a priest and was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre before being sent by Pope Celestine as a bishop to take the Gospel to Ireland. The young man’s heart was still in Ireland and eventually when Pope St Celestine decided to make Ireland a Christian country St. Patrick was given the mission of evangelizing the Irish. Patrick became the special Apostle of the Irish nation.
He arrived in Ireland in 433 AD and from the onset met with hostility from the Druids. Overcoming hostilities, he converted the chieftain Dichu and began preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland. He was a humble and brave priest who wore rough clothing and slept on hard rock bed. Patrick went from region to region winning respect and eventually the faith of the populous. As evidence of his presence Patrick is thought to have left his foot print on one of shore rocks just at the entrance to Skerries harbor.
Wherever he went on the Emerald Isle the fame of his miracles and sanctity went before him. After 40 years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering Patrick worked many miracles and established Ireland as Christian country. He retired to County Down and died on March 17 in AD 461. That day has been celebrated as St. Patrick's Day ever since. There are many legends surrounding St Patrick most of which cannot be verified. Some of the more common were:
Patrick used the shamrock (a three leaf clover) to explain the Trinity and this icon became associated with the Irish ever since.
Another legend was Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland; snakes were a popular symbol among the Irish pagans.
He used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross. The sun was a common symbol in Irish paganism and veneration of the symbol appealed to the Irish converts. By the seventh century, St Patrick was revered as the patron saint of Ireland.