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24 July 2014
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Legacies - Paddywhackerry

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Myths and Legends
Paddywhackerry or Patron ?

Christianity in Ireland succeeded because of the ability, by Patrick perhaps, to gel older pagan customs with new ways of worship. A more general example being the pagan festivals of Samhain (Halloween ) merging with All Souls day, and Imbolg (spiritual festival of lights), which is now St Brigid's Day. The many holy wells associated with St Patrick, are also believed to have pagan origins.

Over the centuries religious spin-doctors have claimed St Patrick for their particular church or diocese. Even though most of Ireland had been converted to Christianity 200 years after Patrick died, in AD 463 (very approximate), the pagan word and folklore was still alive in people’s imagination. The growing Christian church needed a figure that would evoke equally powerful thoughts. St Patrick’s persona was re-constructed to suit the need of the author.

In AD 688, the church in Armagh employed a skilful biographer, Muirchu, to turn Patrick into a national apostle, with strong links to Armagh of course. Part of an 8th Century prayer bears witness to this: ‘we invoke Holy Patrick, Ireland`s chief Apostle’.

Saint Patrick was claimed as a saint locally, before the Vatican introduced the practice of canonization; technically he is a Saint with a small s.

One of strongest claims to St. Patrick is at Down Cathedral, where a grave, said to hold the remains of the saint, is protected by a large slab of rock with the word ‘Patric’ inscribed on it. However the slab of granite was put in place about 100 years ago to protect the earth which had been a target for pilgrims, eager for a souvenir of their trip.

This misrepresented Saint died somewhere between AD 463 and AD 493. Given that these dates are so inaccurate, it is strange that March 17th is repeatedly stated as his day of passing.

It is very difficult to ascertain the definitive truth about the real Patrick. Everywhere you turn sweeping statements and generalisations are peppered with clauses like: according to tradition ….or Patrick is said to have….

Mythical Patrick was created by medieval scholars. They re-wrote history to suit their own ends, latching onto the powerful image of Patrick as a saviour; embellishing the facts and extending the folklore, they turned the humble missionary into a heroic super saint who could banish snakes and perform great miracles.

The two works written by Patrick himself , The Confessio and Letter to Coroticus, point to an honest, self-deprecating man, who pleaded, persuaded and compromised, rather than preached his religion. More Terry Wogan than Ian Paisley. Unfortunately the history of the real St. Patrick never stood a chance of remaining untouched, thanks to centuries of religious episodes of call my bluff.

May your Patrick go with you.

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