Stained glass of Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick is one of the best known saints in Christianity, and also the subject of many myths. 

Here's a fun game to play: walk into a bar on Saint Patrick's Day and ask drunk partygoers where Saint Patrick is from. Ireland, right? 

Not exactly. Saint Patrick was an Englishman.

But that's just one of many misconceptions surrounding the patron saint of Ireland. 

Saint Patrick’s Day has gained international reputation as a raucous celebration of drinking, the color green, and all things Irish. Not to mention pinching. 

But for all the Guinness that gets consumed each year on March 17th in his name, few revelers could tell you much (accurate) info about St. Patrick himself. So who was this guy anyway, was he really that into green, and why does he have an entire holiday named after him?

Saint Patrick: The True Origin Story

By far the biggest misconception about Saint Patrick is his heritage. People naturally assume he was Irish for obvious reasons, but in fact, Maewyn Succat (Saint Patrick’s given name) was born around 386 A.D. in Bannavem Taberniae, part of modern-day England. That's right: Saint Patrick was an Englishman.

His father was a wealthy deacon, although Patrick himself was not particularly religious and it’s been speculated his father only pursued his career for tax incentives, meaning biblical literacy probably wasn't a big part of Patrick's childhood learning.

At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped by raiders and taken to Ireland, where he was forced to work as a laborer. Because of his fear and separation from his family, he turned to his faith, growing devout as he sought solace in God.

Per his own writings, Patrick repeatedly heard God speak to him. He eventually escaped his captors, walked 200 miles to an Irish port. The ship's pagan captain didn't like the look of Patrick, possibly because he'd just walked 200 miles after enduring years of slavery, and demanded he "suck his breasts" - which would apparently show submission to the captain's authority. Although Patrick declined that particular offer, he did try and convert the pagan crew of the ship to Christianity, which was good enough to earn him passage back to England.

Captive Turned Missionary

After returning to his homeland, Patrick received another heavenly vision, this one telling him to return back to Ireland and spread the holy word.

The next forty years were spent converting thousands of Irish Pagans to Christianity. And he was apparently very good at it. One of Patrick's strategies was integrating aspects of pagan culture into Christian tradition.

According to a historical account:

“He used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish."

Patrick's quest to convert a polytheistic society to Christianity wasn't always easy. At one point he was robbed, beaten, and potentially even awaiting execution for his attempts to convert the local pagans. 

Patrick was so successful in spreading Christianity that he eventually was elevated to sainthood.

Driving Out the Snakes

It was the results of this missionary work that sparked one of the most enduring myths about Saint Patrick: that he drove the snakes out of Ireland.

This has been proven false – snakes are not native to Ireland, nor does there exist any fossil record of snakes ever living there. 

So how did the myth start? There is wide speculation that these "snakes" in question are not snakes at all, but a crude reference to Pagans. The success of Patrick's missionary work eventually drove Pagans out of Ireland – largely through conversion to Christianity. 

Saint Patrick Loved Green

We all associate the color green with Saint Patrick's Day. You're even liable to get pinched if you go to school or work without wearing something green. But Saint Patrick's favored color was blue, historians say.

Because of that, for hundreds of years, blue was Saint Patrick's color of choice and paintings and stained glass windows, and was the de facto color of Ireland itself. But Ireland's association with green took off during the 1798 Irish Rebellion, when clovers became a symbol of Irish nationalism and wearing green lapels became commonplace.

Over time, that association grew until the color green was intertwined with the image of Ireland itself. So go ahead, wear your blue jeans out on Saint Patrick's Day, and if anyone tries to pinch you, just show them this article. It'll come in handy... in a pinch.

Myths, Busted

That's roughly the sum of what we know about Saint Patrick. His life remains mostly a mystery, which has led to all sorts of speculation and myth-building.

So before you enter a Saint Patrick trivia contest this year, remember this quote from Mark Twain: "it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so."

Here are some more common myths that just ain't so:

  • Saint Patrick was never actually canonized. There was no formal process for it during this time, so it's believed he was simply proclaimed a saint by popular demand. 
  • He was not the first man to bring Christianity to Ireland, as many believe. That would be Palladius, sent by Pope Celestine I to Ireland circa 431. Some historians think that many of the stories attributed to Saint Patrick are actually about Palladius, and over time the two became conflated in the historical record. 
  • While the shamrock is now a celebrated icon of Saint Patrick’s Day, there’s no historical proof that he ever used a shamrock to illustrate the holy trinity to the Irish.

47 comments

  1. Amy Varela's Avatar Amy Varela

    He didn't drive pagans out of Ireland. He massacred them. Today, I celebrate All Snakes Day!

    1. Vicky Renea Macabenta's Avatar Vicky Renea Macabenta

      Oh how i love this post!1

    2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      It might help to grow sansevieria plants, Amy.

    3. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      We should desecrate his grave for that Amy, if we can find it.

  1. David Arthur Lewis's Avatar David Arthur Lewis

    No. Wrong. Patrick was NOT an Englishman. Englishmen are the Angles and Saxons, who had not yet arrived in western Britain. Patrick was a Briton.

    And do not call him "Patty". That's a woman's name.The correct spelling is "Paddy".

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      Then again, David, I've heard there's a bit of a girl in all of us. That might have something to do with yin yang (which also is not Irish).

  1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

    Me mums maiden name was Carrothers, and I know that to be a clan originally from scotland that packed up in just about its entirety and moved to Ireland for reasons unclear, some say it was a calamity, others say it was due to an especially wealthy Irish family offering a vast swath of their land as part of a wedding gift, and so the whole clan came over.

    And yes it does seem a bit common that many just think Saint Patty was an irishman because they have 0 grasp on history. Then again give me a pint, a fair haired lass with a smattering of freckles across the cheeks and I wont be feeling much need to wag my tongue about the facts of things.

  1. Alexander Clarke's Avatar Alexander Clarke

    And now St. Patrick's day has been reduced to an excuse to drink and get drunk and pretend you are something you are not.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      Bottoms up, and cheers, Alexander!!!

      1. Alexander Clarke's Avatar Alexander Clarke

        And I had corned beef yesterday too!

    2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      The world is my stage, and I am it's greatest actor!

  1. Hsb William Anthony Higginbotham Osb's Avatar Hsb William Anthony Higginbotham Osb

    Alright, I've only got one question for you guys. How the hell did you know I was drinking a Guinness? Granted I'm the Presiding Archbishop of the Church of Ireland in the Americas. But still, it's not even 0830, though I do have to admit, I've been up all night cooking corned beef, cabbage and potatoes Still.

    For anyone that might be at all interested, I have an "official" bio of Ss. Patrick, Brendan, Bridget and Columba on my chruch's website at:

    www.stjudefreecatholic.us

    Well, anyways, have a happy and joyous St Patrick's day.

    Peace and all good things,

    Archbishop William Higginbotham, OSB Patriarch of the Church of Ireland in the Americas

    ourladyhelpofchristians@gmail.com

    Home: 910 653 3388 Cell: 910 625 4814

    1. Krystina S.'s Avatar Krystina S.

      Your church is not far from my parents in Raleigh. Very interesting. How do you resolve the Catholic AND Protestant nature of your church? (other than being independent of the Papacy.) Also, in your facebook, the address is listed as "gmial.com" instead of "gmail.com." Just a small typo, but you may be missing messages. Hope you have had a great St. Paddy's Day.

  1. Minister Mike's Avatar Minister Mike

    Good thing today is international nap day.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      I thought everyday was nap day, Mike. I take a few naps everyday and night regardless, and never know when. Last night I think I slept for atleast four hours, on a cushioned straight back armchair, with one leg on a footstool, and the other on the floor. I slept very well, too. And I was sober! I don't usually even sleep that long at one time, which explains why you'll see comments of mine posted at all hours of the day and night.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Regardless of all those facts about St. Patrick, if you aren't wearing green on St. Patrick's Day (or have green eyes like me) you'll get pinched!

  1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

    ALL I KNOW ABOUT St. PADDY is I DRINK A LOT of BEER with FAMILY and FRIENDS on 03/17/0000 AND MAY the GOOD LORD BLESS and KEEP St. PATRICK ALWAYs in OUR IRISH HEARTS FOREVER, ERIN GO BRAUGH or BRA LESS ???
    SLAINTE

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      You almost make me wish I could be Irish for that day, John P Maher. However, a fourth of my ancestors were British, half English, and half Welch, so I guess that's close enough, especially since it sounds like St. Patrick came from the ancient British Isles.

      1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

        YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE IRISH on St. PADDYs DAY, YOU ONLY HAVE TO FEEL IRISH and DRINK LIKE ONE, UP the IRISH. SLAINTE to ALL

  1. robert's Avatar robert

    For a interesting read about at Patrick look for his biography, it is very informative!

  1. John Norris Campbell's Avatar John Norris Campbell

    Just another "pagan" idea repackaged by the RCC and fed to ignorant 'christians' as a saint. BUT...I'm all about those Irish nacho's and Guinness that my favorite pub has planned.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      I'm the one who voted for you this time, JNC. Those nachos and Guinness sound a lot better than your bible quotes.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Lamb or mutton go best in Irish stew for the holiday, and you might throw a strong beer into it, too. Above all, don't forget the green food coloring!

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    If I had him for a teacher 46 years ago (when I was twelve)Ealdormon, there's a good chance I'd be a devout Catholic, for life!

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Corned beef sounds like a good flavor for vegetable or soy protein granules. You've got a whole year to perfect that recipe. Or, you might send a letter about it to Morningstar Farms or Loma Linda.

    1. Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson's Avatar Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson

      Hmmm, might make a healthier alternative to meat based corned beef hash.

  1. Dr. Jerry Moyes's Avatar Dr. Jerry Moyes

    As a person proud of his Scott-Irish heritage I find it disturbing that those whe profess to love all things Irish celebrate this man. This englishman some call St. Patrick all but erased the beliefs, culture, religion, and heritage of the Irish People.

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      I hope it's not bad enough to start a war between Scotland and Ireland, Moyes.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    And don't forget it's not a four leaf clover that will bring you good luck on March 17. It must only have three leaves.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Even though I was a student at St. Patrick's Catholic Elementary School here in Galveston, I cant remember them teaching me anything about St. Patrick. However, I was a juvenile delinquent, and spent a lot of time engaging in creative visualization (daydreaming) when in class, which is also a form of meditation, which meant I was much more spiritual than anyone realized. I was even an altar boy at St. Patrick's Church, without any knowledge of St. Patrick. Ofcourse, I was mostly interested in sneaking a glass of communion wine before Mass.

  1. Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson's Avatar Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson

    46 years ago this evening, a replacement instructor for our Sunday evening high school level Catholic education class caused me to end my faith in Holy Mother Church.

    He was a Jesuit priest whose topics were reincarnation (including meditating to recall past lives) and human auras/energy fields - how to detect and control them.

    His teachings helped to break my belief in Christianity.

    1. Brett Tyner's Avatar Brett Tyner

      I'm truly sorry you went through that. True Christianity is none of those things and are not mentioned in the Bible anywhere. He's called a false prophet and should never have been put into a position to teach those things to begin with.

      1. Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson's Avatar Ealdormon Piparskeggr Robinson

        I appreciate the sentiment Brett. But I do not believe I've truly been lost to the Holy as I understand it.

        Father T. basically crystalized doubts I'd been having since Confirmation class about 6 years before that.

        The search has been lifelong, though I did find a set of beliefs and practices in July 1988, which speak strongly to my inner ethic. Since then I have offered worship to the gods and goddesses as known by my northern European ancestors, particularly those of my Nordic forebears.

        One of mentors in the religion put it this way.

        Give Worship to the Holy as you understand it.

        Do that which is right for kin, kith and community, with wisdom, generosity and personal honor.

        Do not require that anyone else believe as do you.

        1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

          Blessed be your feet that have carried you here, Ealdormon!

      2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

        May such false prophets reign throughout Christianity, and bring it's destruction and demise, Brett Tyner!!!

    2. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

      Well reincarnation is actually a concept supported by science. Even Einstein a devout believer in the OT stated that based on the way our atoms simply change form as our bodies break down, and our minds project electromagnetic waves just like a radio and thus send the very energy that composes our thoughts onward and outward it sounds like you had a atypically open minded member of that branch of Faith.

      Frankly your post comes across as quite closed minded towards others of differing views on the nature of the metaphysical even as you try to paint yourself as other then with empty words.

      Just an FYI psychic traditions are covered under the protection of faith, and inferring there is something less about such things does not do you credit. And yes I am saying if you want to have your faith traditions respected around here, that does mean if someone says they can read your mind with their psychic powers, your only civil option is to accept they know your mind better then yourself.

  1. ULC Rev Paul's Avatar ULC Rev Paul

    Days like this I wish I still ate meat. All this talk about 3/17 gastronomic delights makes me long for Aunt Arlene's corned beef and cabbage w/ soda bread.

  1. Minister Raydeen's Avatar Minister Raydeen

    it is to me, just another pagan day that this world celebrates, NOT BIBLICAL!!!! you can enjoy anything you want. but if is not in my Bible. sorry........LOVE

    1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

      YES RAYDEEN, BUTT TELL ME REALLY W H O ? WROTE THE BIBLE, YOU ?

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    Why is it few celebrate the other three patron Saints: St George (England) St. David (Wales), and St Andrew (Scotland)? All have their own days for celebration.

    🦁❤️

    1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      ....And what about St. Germaine? Do they only celebrate his day at the Summit Lighthouse, on the Royal Teton Ranch, in Montana? I mean like supposedly he is the avatar of the Aquarian age...so I've heard.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Biblical love is as perverted and immoral as your worthless, evil bible, Raydeen!!!

    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      Please don't hold back Brother Carl, even though I agree with you. Let it all out!

      🦁♥️

    2. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

      Carl and here I thought you sought to better embrace the secular nature of the ULC. While I certainly do not concur with Raydeens sentiment, and as you well know come into conflict often on these forums with christians who treat the mythology as literal. Yet that does not mean it is ever the place of a minister who seeks to be in good standing here to condemn the texts and traditions of another as inherently evil.

      A minister who truly embraces the role of the nondenominational and secular minded, who can offer counsel and console those of many faiths, one must set aside the petty and small minded feelings of the person you left behind when you chose to become more for sake of all others.

  1. Christian's Avatar Christian

    How did the tradition of Green Beer get linked to a saint's holy day ?
    If your faith restricts the consumption of alcohol, is it permissible to serve non-alcoholic green beer ?

  1. Christian's Avatar Christian

    More Churches should teach gentle snake handling during services. Probably a good idea to use common and medium sized pet snake species. No need to use actual venom snakes or over-the-top 19 foot long HUGE snakes.

    Safe and 1 meter long snakes are just fine.

    Cool your snakes to a comfortable temperature (for them) and learn how to hold them, supporting the weight of their body, being very careful not to droop or drop their heads.

    Singing while handling your snakes is fine, but try to avoid dancing around, spinning or dropping them. Think of the service from the snakes point of view - giants pick you up and pass you around then put you back in your habitat. Be sure the snake feels no squeezing or pain. Be kind.

    Also, always be mindful if you snake has recently fed. That lump / bump on the snake from the mouse or rabbit it ate is VERY tender. Give those snakes with food 'bumps' time off while they digest their prey. Picking them up may cause extreme pain and you can not blame them if they get grump or lash out at you.

    Of course use human hand raised pet snakes, fed & cared for and used to human touch.

    Anyone who handles them needs a safety & awareness traing class. You may wish to put age limits, so small children don't drop the creatures or step on them.

    No Step on Snek ! :-)

    Being a kind caretaker to your ministry pet snakes is a joy and pleasure for the whole congragation.

  1. Richard Lee Cornell's Avatar Richard Lee Cornell

    Was not Ireland under a ice shelf in the last ice age.

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