Once back in Ireland, Patrick, now in his thirties at least, began his mission to convert the native pagans to Christianity. He was not the first envoy to attempt it; Palladius had tried approximately one year earlier in AD 431, but is thought to have been killed.
There are so many conflicting reports of how and with whom, Patrick carried out his religious
journey. For example there are stories describing up to three or four ‘Patrick’s’, all modelled on one legendary figure. Another account has Patrick having two brothers Ruchti and Deacon with him, and as many as six sisters - Tigris, Lupait, Richella, Cinnenum, Liamain and Darerca. Again this is pure speculation.
The only written, factual documents we have regarding Patrick are the ones he penned himself: The Confessio, or confession, written as an old man and Letter to Coroticus, an angry appeal for peace, to a Welsh chieftain and his soldiers who had slaughtered Irish natives during a raid.
These present him as a simple man, who comes across as a brave missionary, struggling with his faith, and often fearing for his life. In complete contrast is the Patrick of later biographers: a fearless man who could summon supernatural powers to duel with the magic of the druids. Turning men into animals and purging rivers of fish as he covered the length and breadth of Ireland, converting the locals to Christianity with ease.
A neat, but seemingly mythical account exists of how Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to convince the pagans to worship Christianity, by suggesting that the leaves represented the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In his letters, his Latin is poor, he struggles with words, pointing out that Latin was not his every day language. Taken from The Confessio, he writes -
“…For this reason I long had in mind to write, but hesitated until now; I was afraid of exposing myself to the talk of men, because I have not studied like the others, who thoroughly imbibed law and Sacred Scripture, and never had to change from the language of their childhood days, but were able to make it still more perfect”
However, this scholastic weakness may well be the reason why many people took Patrick to their hearts. The Confessio is unique in itself, in that it is the only autobiographical work in Britain and Ireland from that period, known also as the Dark Ages. So little is known about our history, at this time, that the little information which Patrick has given us, is priceless.
“The fifth century has been very justly described as a lost Century” - prof Gearoid MacNiocaill, Ireland Before the Vikings.