This St Patrick’s Day we are bringing you an extract from the biography of St Patrick from the book Early Irish Saints by John J. Ó Ríordáin. Based on St Patrick’s own writings in the Confession and the Letter to Coroticus, Ó Ríordáin outlines the life of Ireland’s Patron Saint:
“Patrick’s exact place of origin continues to baffle scholars. England, Scotland, Wales, and Boulogne-sur-mer in France, have all been mentioned. He was born into a Christian home, and presumably got a good grounding in the faith. But in his own honest way, he admits that in his teens he and his companions didn’t pay any great attention to the advice of the priests, and in later years he regretted this.
The first serious crisis in his life occurred when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. He was sixteen at the time, and if ever a youngster got a rude awakening, it was he.
Now in exile, he found himself alone in a herdsman’s shed or under the open canopy of heaven. Curiously enough, it was in these surroundings of isolation that he matured his faith. With all the time in the world to think, and the silence and the darkness of the night around him, he came to realise that in all the upheaval there was one constant element: God. And there in an Irish countryside the homesick teenager fell on his knees to pray – real prayer, a pouring out the contents of his troubled soul to the Lord. At sixteen Patrick had grown up. There was determination and direction in his life and God was at the heart of it. Many years later, in his Confession, he wrote: ‘My faith grew stronger and my zeal so intense that in the course of a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers and almost as many at night. This I did even when I was in the woods and on the mountains. Even in times of snow or frost or rain I would rise before dawn to pray. I never felt the worse for it; nor was I in any way lazy because, as I now realise, I was full of enthusiasm.’ That enthusiasm was to be the hallmark of Patrick’s entire life.
After six years in slavery, Patrick made a successful bid to escape. He finally made his way to his relatives in Britain but not before enduring a further two months of captivity.
Now that he was home, his relatives wished him to stay, but Patrick, in a dream, heard ‘The voice of the Irish’ calling him to return and walk among them once more. With that generosity of heart characteristic of the man, he studied for the priesthood, was later ordained a bishop, and sent on a mission to Ireland.
His missionary career was spectacular. True, he wasn’t the very first to bring the Christian message to Ireland, but his coming was highly significant. Without brag or boast he sets out the facts of what happened. He tells us that he ‘baptised thousands’, ‘ordained clerics everywhere’, ‘gave presents to kings’, ‘was put in irons’, ‘lived in daily expectation of murder, treachery or captivity’, ‘journeyed everywhere in the many dangers, even to the farthest regions beyond which no man dwells’, and rejoiced to see ‘the flock of the Lord in Ireland growing splendidly with the greatest care’.”
Early Irish Saints by John J. Ó Ríordáin is available here.