On this day as generally accepted by scholars and denizens alike, St. Patrick, savior of Ireland, passes away near modern Downpatrick (Dun Pa’draig), County Down at the age of 120. Much of what is known of Patrick’s legendary life is contained in the Confession, an account written by the Saint himself during his last years.
Born in northern Britain or Scotland to a well-to-do Christian family of Roman citizenship, Patrick was captured and enslaved at age 16 by Irish pagan marauders. For the next six years, he worked as a herder in Ireland, turning to a deepening religious faith for comfort. Following the counsel of a voice he heard in a dream one night, he escaped, bought a sweepstakes ticket and found passage on a ship to Britain, where he was eventually reunited with his family.
Back home in Britain, Patrick had another dream, in which an individual named Victoricus gave him a phonographic “letter” entitled “The Voice of the Irish,” featuring Bing Crosby. As he listened to the scratchy sound, Patrick seemed to hear the voices of Irishmen pleading with him to return to their country and walk among them once more, and to perform in an interfaith road movie with a Hebrew fellow named Bob Hope. Whilst Patrick never located this Hope person, he did turn squarely to God.
After studying for the priesthood, Patrick was ordained a bishop. He arrived in Ireland in 433 and began preaching the Gospel, converting many thousands of Irish and building churches around the country. After 40 years of living in poverty, teaching, traveling and working tirelessly, Patrick died on March 17, 461 in Saul, where he had built his first church, pub and gift shop.
Since that time, countless legends have grown up around Patrick. As the patron saint of Ireland, his feats of pious derring-do are many: he is said to have baptized hundreds of people on a single day; to have used a three-leaf clover to describe the Holy Trinity; to have banished all the snakes from Ireland; to have turned his walking-staff into a living tree; to have spoken to long-dead relations of fellow revelers; to have never picked up a tab in his 120 years; to have consumed an entire case of Jameson’s by himself in one hour.
For thousands of years, the Irish have observed the day of Saint Patrick’s death as a religious holiday, attending church in the morning, celebrating with food and drink in the afternoon, and vomiting profusely through the evening and next morning. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade, though, took place not in Ireland, but the US, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. As the years went on, the parades became a show of unity, strength and stamina for persecuted Irish immigrants, and later a popular celebration of Irish-American heritage, wonderful beer and whiskey, plus three horribly similar-sounding songs in an endless, maddening loop all day.