By Paul Hopkins
WELL, faith and begorrah, but as millions of people around the world may well don the shamrock and silly hat, but, thanks to the coronvirus, will mot be able to march in parades and drink green pints of the black stuff, the man they are remembering this March 17 is by all accounts a composite of two people — Patrick and Palladius.
Patrick is remembered because he left two documented accounts of his time in Ireland — the famous Confession of St Patrick and the lesser-known Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.
“He left these documents so he could be talked about, whereas the other missionaries did not,” says Carmel McCaffrey, author of In Search of Ancient Ireland.
Back in Britain, he was told in another dream to go back to Ireland to spread the Gospels. It was 433 AD before he arrived back, by which time Palladius was here a good two years.
Patrick’s work is now the stuff of legend but he does not merit a mention in correspondence in 613 AD between Pope Boniface IV and the Irish missionary Columbanus who celebrates only Palladius for bringing Christianity to Ireland.
In fact, Patrick is not officially recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church with some historians joking that he most likely became a Christian for the tax breaks!
As for the shamrock as a metaphor for the Trinity, well that is mere speculation and as for the snakes there were never any in Ireland, unless you allude to some of those up in the Dail!
The ‘other’ Patrick, Palladium, was, according to one chronicler, sent by Pope Celestine in 431 AD as the first bishop to Ireland’s Christians. His appointment was most likely not as a missionary to convert the Irish but as an administrator to an already fledgling Christian community.
Church buildings firmly associated with Palladius include those at the Hill of Tara and at Dunshaughlin in Co Meath but there is no evidence he ever set foot in Connacht or Ulster. Patrick, on the other hand, is recorded as tending his sheep while a slave at Slemish in Co Antrim.
Much of Patrick’s Confession concern charges made against the one-time slave by early fellow Christians. What these charges were he does not say explicitly but it is believed by some historians that he was accused of financial impropriety and of having obtained his bishopric in Ireland with personal gain in mind, in the days when you could buy such favours.
It was a paper entitled The Two Patricks published in 1942 by historian TF O’Rahilly that caused controversy by consolidating the contention that there had been two Patricks and that what we now know of St Patrick was in part a conscious effort to blend the two into one ‘saintly’ personality.
Also, most historians now contend that Patrick the slave was not actually active in Ireland until towards the end of the 5th Century.
That Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in (what is today) Downpatrick, alongside St Brigid and St Columba, although this has never been proven. The St Patrick Visitor Centre there is the only permanent exhibition centre in the world dedicated to the man we believe we celebrate on March 17.
Reckoned to have been born most likely in Wales, in 387 AD, Patrick, a Romanised Celt, joined the church as a young boy. Legend has it that he was taken prisoner at 16 by Irish raiders. Brought to Ireland, he was forced to work as a shepherd. According to his Confession, he turned to religion to find solace and was told in a dream to run for the coast and make his escape.
The final resting place of Palladius is unknown.