St Patrick – the Persuasive Saint

Man or myth? Did Saint Patrick really banish snakes from Ireland?

Saint Patrick most certainly did exist. Some of the documents he wrote (or copies of the originals) have survived more than 1500 years to the present day.

Myth: Saint Patrick was Irish

Ferns Cathedral St. Patrick by Catherine O'Brien Detail 2009 09 28
Actually, while he spent most of his life in Ireland, Patrick wasn’t born there. He was born around the year 385 in Kilpatrick in Scotland. He wasn’t Scottish, either – his parents, Calpurnius and Conchessa, were Romans tasked with taking care of the Roman colony of Britannia. His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon and his grandfather was Potitus, the priest of Banna Venta Berniae (a town believed to have been near modern-day Carlisle).

As a teenager, an Irish raiding party captured him and took him home with them. In Ireland, he was a slave shepherd until he was twenty.

He escaped and took ship for home in Scotland, but he was persuaded to return to Ireland – to convert its people to Christianity. Saint Patrick's grave Downpatrick
He didn’t go right away – he studied to be a priest instead. It wasn’t until 433, when he was ordained as a bishop, that Patrick returned to Ireland. He spend more than thirty years of his life in Ireland, where he died on 17 March 461.

Myth: Saint Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland

Tiger snake

I’ve found several tales about how St Patrick rid Ireland of snakes. Some say that snakes attacked him while he was fasting and praying, while others state that his beloved wife was bitten by a snake. Either way, he took a distinct dislike to the creatures, so legend says he drove them into the sea.

Actually, no human intervention was required to rid Ireland of snakes – as a combination of ice and sea water is responsible for that. In the last Ice Age, which ended around 10,000 years ago, Ireland was too cold for snakes to survive there and by the time it was warm enough to be hospitable…the sea level had risen, isolating the island from anywhere the snakes might migrate from.

Ireland isn’t the only island that doesn’t have snakes – New Zealand, Antarctica, Iceland and Greenland don’t have any snakes, either.
Patrick shower Latin low res

Patrick in Mel Goes to Hell

The story requires an angel associated with the United Kingdom, but not necessarily England, and who is better known than St Patrick himself? As a saint, he’s believed to dwell in Heaven, and in the advent of a millennium and a half, he might have achieved angel status.

An old friend of Mel’s, the two don’t meet as often as they’d like, but they’ll make up for lost time on the occasions that they do!