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Forget the legend... faith's at the heart of patron saint's story


Wilderness: Slemish, where St Patrick is believed to have tended cattle
Wilderness: Slemish, where St Patrick is believed to have tended cattle

By Rev Gareth Burke

Today, throughout Ireland and further afield, we celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. For many, it is regarded as an opportunity to consume excessive amounts of alcohol, while for others it's a chance to dress in many shades of green and visit one of the numerous carnivals or parades that occur annually on this day.

Some will wear a shamrock and others will attend church services in Armagh, Saul or elsewhere. But who was he, Patrick? Where did he come from and what did he do?

This is where it gets tricky. Many are the myths and legends surrounding our patron saint.

Everyone knows the yarn about him banishing the snakes from Ireland, and most folks will have some idea that the shamrock was supposedly used by Patrick to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity.

But what are the facts? Thankfully, Patrick did record some things for us in his Confession and his Letter to the Christians.

Here we discover that his father came from Bonavem Taberniae, which was probably, though not definitely, near Dumbarton in Scotland.

At the age of 16 he was captured and brought as a slave to Ireland. For six years he was here in our land with, again, details of his location and movements being somewhat patchy.

It seems he spent some time looking after cattle on the slopes of Slemish.

However, the big thing and the great thing about his time in Ireland is that it was while here that he came to a living and personal faith in Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord.

He tells us: "I knew not the true God, and I was carried in captivity into Ireland... and there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief, that even though late I should remember my sins, and be converted with my whole heart unto the Lord my God."

In time, Patrick was able to escape from his captivity and return home to Scotland.

However, he was to return to these shores in response to a dream in which he felt that God was calling him to be a missionary in the land of his captivity.

Having found Christ in Ireland, he came back to point others to the Saviour, who alone can forgive our sins and bring us into a right relationship with God.

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