St Patrick's Day

10th March 2006 at 00:00
March 17: St Patrick's Day

Ireland's patron saint wasn't Irish: he was born around the year 390 into a wealthy family of Roman descent

Outline script

Patrick grew up in a wealthy Christian family in either England or Scotland. His father was an important Roman civil servant. When Patrick was 15 or 16, he was captured by Irish pirates. They had come to raid his homeland, looking for potential slaves. Within a week, Patrick had been bought by a chieftain in the west of Ireland and set to work as a shepherd.

Ireland had its own gods, laws and language. To young Patrick it seemed a wild and strange place. Not surprisingly, he hated the hard life of slavery. Eventually, he escaped, made his way to the coast and found a ship to take him home to Britain.

Over the next 20 years, Patrick lived mainly in France and studied to become a priest. Later he was made a bishop and (because he spoke the Irish language) was sent to pagan Ireland to spread the Christian message. For 30 years, he preached throughout Ireland: the first western country outside the Roman Empire to hear the faith. Patrick wrote: "Daily I expect either a violent death or to be robbed and reduced to slavery."

Other Christian monks and priests who joined him in his work claimed he was conceited and he was accused of taking brides.

Other stories are told about Patrick. One tells how he rid Ireland of snakes by saying a prayer, which made them all go into the sea. (There were probably never any snakes in Ireland.) What may be a truer story recalls how, to explain the Trinity (God's three forms: Father, Son and Holy Spirit), he picked a shamrock leaf. "The Trinity is like this shamrock," he explained. "It's only one leaf, but three parts make the complete leaf."

This is said to be why the shamrock became the emblem of Ireland.

Follow-up

A longer biography of Patrick is at www.saint-patrick.comhistory What makes a good emblem? Choose an emblem for the school, year or class.

Design a stylised logo based on the emblem and make a St Patrick's Day card or banner.

Research the ways and reasons St Patrick's Day is celebrated in cities such as Birmingham and New York. A description of last year's celebrations in Belfast is at news.bbc.co.uk1hinorthern_ireland4355063.stm

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