The Saint and the Shamrock

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I find history fascinating, especially when I learn the facts behind the traditions we celebrate today. That fascination includes the historical account of the venerated St. Patrick, whose feast day is observed on March 17th, coinciding with the date of his death in his beloved Ireland.

Unlike the modern St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that typically include corned beef, cabbage, stout, and glittered paper shamrocks, the reality of St. Patrick’s life was strikingly different.  Born in Roman Britain, the young Patrick was not a Christ follower, though his father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest. However, a tragic event would bring him to the Lord at the age of sixteen when Irish pirates kidnapped him and carried him off to Ireland as a slave. This enslavement lasted six years and according to St. Patrick in Confessio (his autobiographical account), caused him to rely on God and prayer. After escaping his master, who he served as his shepherd, totally exposed to the elements St. Patrick left Ireland and returned to Britain, studying Christianity.

After a few years, St. Patrick received a vision of the Irish people imploring him to return to Ireland. He acted upon that vision and returned to the pagan land of his captivity as a Christian missionary.

St. Patrick’s impact was so great that he became legendary, and many legends regarding him continue to circulate today. Though it is difficult separating truth from fiction, one thing is clear: Because Patrick responded to the call of God, he impacted an entire nation for Christ, becoming known as the “Apostle of Ireland” and Ireland’s primary patron saint.

And those shamrocks? Legend has it that he used the shamrock, the three-leafed green clover that was prolific in Ireland at the time, to illustrate the Trinity. In fact, the shamrock remains a symbol of Ireland today.

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