Belfast Telegraph

Strip back the myths and reveal the real St Patrick

Unionists should not abandon our patron saint. They should strive to strip his Feast Day of its nationalist trappings, writes Culture Minister Nelson McCausland

Ulster has a Christian history that stretches back to the 5th century and the man that God raised up to bring the Christian faith to Ulster was Patrick.

There had been Christians in the south of Ireland, but Patrick was the man who brought the Christian gospel to Ulster.

He was born into a Christian home somewhere close to the western shore of Britain and probably in the southwest of Scotland, but much of his life was spent in Ulster.

He was brought as a slave to Ulster and was converted in Ulster.

He spent his entire ministry in Ulster and, when he died in Ulster, he was buried in Ulster soil.

That is why I often describe him as the Apostle of Ulster rather than the Apostle of Ireland.

Today, Patrick is often claimed by the Roman Catholic Church and portrayed in the vestments and mitre of a Roman Catholic bishop - as though he was a Roman Catholic.

However, he taught none of the distinctive doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, most of which were established after his time.

Neither did he wear vestments and mitre.

Indeed, the mitre was a medieval invention - created long after he died.

The message of Patrick was a simple Christian message, based on the Bible and true to its teachings.

In his Confession and Letter - which are the two authentic writings of Patrick and which we still have - he speaks about his sin, his conversion to Christ and his faith in Christ.

These are themes that are fundamental to a biblical Christian faith.

It is also unfortunate that many Irish nationalists and republicans have turned St Patrick's Day into a celebration of Irish nationalism, with a plethora of Irish tricolours.

However, Protestants and unionists should not abandon Patrick. Indeed, he is someone that all Ulster folk - irrespective of creed or politics - would do well to consider.

The challenge is to strip away the myths and the legends, which were later additions, and get back to the real Patrick.

He was a man with a simple Christian faith.

He was a man with a strong Christian faith.

He was a man with a deep Christian compassion, who was willing to return to preach the gospel to those who had abducted him and enslaved him.

He spoke the truth in love to the very people who had wronged him and is that not a powerful lesson?

The challenge is also to strip away the Irish nationalism of St Patrick's Day and develop an inclusive celebration that embraces not only those who are Irish, but also those who are Ulster-British and Ulster-Scots, and who do not identify themselves as Irish.

It will take time because the myths, the mitre and the nationalism are firmly embedded in popular thought.

But is there not a place for the real Patrick in our 'shared and better future'?

Nelson McCausland is Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure

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