First of all, did you know that St. Patrick was not an Irishman? I know they'll be singing something like this:
St. Patrick was a gintleman, he came of decent people.
In Dublin town he built a church and on it put a steeple.
His father was a Callaghan, his mother was a Brady.
His aunt was an O'Shaughnessy, and his uncle was a Grady.
But even though they'll be singing that ditty, the truth is St. Patrick was not an Irishman. He was not born in Ireland . His parents were Britons, and he was born in Scotland near Dumbarton on the Clyde River .
SAINT PATRICK, usually called the "Apostle of Ireland," was born about the year 372 A.D. It is said that the present town of Kilpatrick took its name from him. It is believed that the parents were Christians, and the father, it is said, was a deacon of the Church, while the grandfather was a presbyter.
Did you also know that he did not drive the snakes from the Emerald Isle! That is pure folklore, which has grown up around St. Patrick's legend.
Even more surprising, did you know that he is not even a saint? At least he is not in the technical sense of the Roman Catholic Church because he has never been canonized officially. According to one encyclopedia, St. Patrick "passes as a saint merely by popular approval." (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Vol. VIII, p. 384)
Another surprising point is that, in Ireland , St. Patrick is claimed by the Protestants as welI as the Catholics. In fact, there are several Protestant churches in Ireland called after St. Patrick. At SauI, there is the St. Patrick Memorial Church. Not far away is Downpatrick Cathedral, a Protestant Episcopal Church, where visitors are shown a simple gravestone inscribed "Patric," reputed grave of the apostle of Ireland . And right in Dublin , the largest Protestant church is called St. Patrick's Cathedral.
All of this points to the fact that, as March 17th approaches with all of its joyful celebrating, it makes good sense to ask just what is the truth about St. Patrick? In the past thousand years the real Patrick has almost been lost under an avalanche of romance, tradition, myth, legend, and folklore. There are, however, three documents generally considered as having come from St. Patrick's pen. They are (1) his Confessions, (2) his Letter to Coroticus, and (3) his poem, or hymn, known as The Breastplate. These offer some clues to the true Patrick.
From his Confessions we learn that at the age of sixteen he was captured by a band of Irish pirates who sold him to a Druid chieftain who reigned in the north of Ireland .
In his childhood days, his mother instilled into his young mind the great doctrines of Christianity. Apparently, however, young Succath, (as he was called), like many other boys, responded little to his mother's teaching, and grew up a stranger to God and His Grace.
Changes came for the family, and leaving Scotland , they settled in Brittany ( France ). Here at the age of 16 while playing with his sister one day on the seashore, a band of Irish pirates commanded by one O'Neal, seized them both and sold them as slaves.
For some years, he was put to the work of attending cattle. Here he experienced much cruelty and hardship, but it was here God spoke to him, and his sins pressed heavily upon him. With much upbraiding he remembered his parents care and teaching. His past life was mirrored before him, and a great sin committed when a lad of 15 pressed upon his conscience day and night. He wept and prayed, and with a soul weighed down with grief and remorse he became utterly oblivious to cold and hardship to which he was exposed. He now had time to think, and remembered the care of his parents and the comforts of home. The tender loving words of his mother came to remembrance and these were used in the blessing of the lad. He says: "l was 16 and knew not the true God. But in that strange land ( Ireland ) the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes. And although late, I called my sins to remembrance and was converted with my whole heart to God my Lord, who regarded my low estate, and had pity on my youth and ignorance, consoling me as a Father consoles his children. The love of God increased more and more in me, with faith and fear of His name. The Spirit urged me to such a degree that I poured out as many as a hundred prayers in a day. During the nights in the forest, amid snow and rain, with frost and suffering I endured, seeking after God."
Finally, after six years, he escaped from Ireland and, completing a torturous journey over sea and land, returned to his people in Britain .
Though his parents and friends tried to persuade Patrick never to go back, the love of God burned in his heart for the people of Ireland , so he returned to the Emerald Isle bearing God's message of salvation. As a result, thousands turned to Christ. Says one historian - the thrilling story of Christianity's entrance into Ireland and its phenomenal growth under Patrick ranks him as a great and judicious missionary pioneer, perhaps second only to Paul of Tarsus. (V. Raymond Edman in Moody Monthly)
This work and labor of love led to Ireland afterward being called "The lsle of Saints."
When penning his Letter to Coroticus to protest the raid of a cruel king, who had taken some Christians captive, Patrick wrote, "I confess that I am a bishop appointed by God in Ireland . Most surely I deem that from God I have received what I am and so I dwell in the midst of barbarians, a stranger and an exile for the love of God." Thus he was an enthusiastic missionary who loved the souls of men.
From ancient documents we discover that St. Patrick paid great honor to the Bible. One writer says he knew much of the Bible from memory. In fact, Patrick is often said to have been a man of one book. He never appeals to the authority of creed, or ecclesiastical leader, or council, but in his extant writings, brief, as they are no fewer than 113 passages of Scripture are either quoted or mentioned.
On the other hand, he makes no mention of the many church practices of many ecclesiastical groups today. Someone has commented that, with his constant emphasis on the Bible, Patrick sounds like a fifth century Bible-Believing Preacher proclaiming, "The Bible says, The Bible says."
No matter what the legends about him may say, therefore, the truth is that Patrick acknowledged himself as a sinner and found salvation where all sinners find it, in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Consequently, whether or not Patrick was an Irishman matters very little. The same is true of whether or not you yourself are Irish, as wonderful as that may be. The one thing that really counts is whether or not you have trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour as Patrick did so long ago. If so, St. Patrick's Day and every day will be a happy day for you!
The above information was taken from two gospel tracts by Leslie B. Flynn and J. H. Nichols.