Did St Patrick really banish snakes from Ireland?

17 Mar

You know it’s St Patrick’s Day when you turn on the TV just in time to hear some dim-witted host utter the immortal line “to be sure, to be sure”.

I mean honestly, I’ve never met an Irish person who actually says that. Nor have I met any who subsist on just potatoes and leprechaun gold.

But year after year the same stereotypes get trotted out. Much in the same way, I guess, as a Canadian airport worker once yelled “Crikey” at me after discovering I hailed from the land of Steve Irwin.

Anyway, knowing how much fantasy surrounds the annual festival on March 17, I came to wonder if many of the stories about St Patrick – Ireland’s patron saint – might also be a little (or entirely) embellished. And turns out they are. The History Channel offered more information.

For starters, St Pat wasn’t even from Ireland; he was born in Britain but kidnapped by Irish raiders as a teenager and taken to the Emerald Isle. After gaining his freedom he returned to England for religious instruction before returning to Ireland as a missionary. Here’s two more myths they bust…

St Patrick banished snakes from the Emerald Isle
Legend has it Patrick stood on an Irish hillside and delivered a sermon that drove the island’s serpents into the sea. While it’s true the Emerald Isle is mercifully snake-free, chances are that’s been the case throughout human history. Water has surrounded Ireland since the end of the last glacial period, preventing snakes from slithering over; before that, it was blanketed in ice and too chilly for the cold-blooded creatures. Scholars believe the snake story is an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology.

Green has historically been associated with St Patrick’s Day
The Irish countryside may be many shades of green, but knights in the Order of St Patrick wore a colour known as St Patrick’s blue. Why did green become so emblematic of St Patrick that people began drinking green beer, wearing green and, of course, dyeing the Chicago River green to mark the holiday he inspired? The association probably dates back to the 18th century, when supporters of Irish independence used the color to represent their cause.

Of course even with this knowledge that most of the mythology around St Patrick is just that, it’s not going to stop me going in search of a four-leaf clover to bring me good luck in the Lotto. Just think of all the potatoes I could buy with my winnings. To be sure, to be sure…

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One Response to “Did St Patrick really banish snakes from Ireland?”

  1. Jonathan March 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Saint Patrick was the man behind the murder of thousands of people not just druids, anyone who would not convert were given the option, leave or die. he basically destroyed Ireland. but anyone can pick up a history book and see the truth. funny how so many believe the lies the catholic church spits out about this man. I find it sad, thousands were killed after he lied to the kings of Ireland at the hill or Tara of his intentions to spread a peaceful religion…

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