This past weekend I had the pleasure of appearing at the Dayton Celtic Festival. I had a wonderful time and talked to so many really interesting people--even met some old friends. I grew up near Dayton. Tom and I moved away 11 years ago.
I spoke about the three patron saints of Ireland. Did you know there were three? Some people knew and some didn't, so I taught them a poem to help them remember. It's a poem that school children in Ireland recite:
In Downpatrick, one grave, three saints do fill
Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille.
There is a gravesite in Downpatrick where it is believed that these three saints are buried. We cannot say for sure that their remains are there, but it's the traditional site, pictured below.
I shared a favorite legend about each patron saint. I'll share the one about Patrick with you today, and then later this week I'll talk about Brigid and Columcille.
Patrick was born in the 4th century in Roman Britain. Where? We don't know for sure. We know that it was somewhere in the Roman areas of Britain--Wales, Scotland, or England. I've come to the conclusion that where you believe he was born has something to do with your own country of origin (or where your ancestral roots are.)
Patrick was captured as a slave off the coast, a common practice in those days--slave raids took place on both sides of the Irish Sea. He was sold to a master who put him to work as a shepherd. He spent many lonely days and nights tending the animals, and, according to his Confession, he grew ever closer to God. One day God directed him to a boat (he had to walk 200 miles to the coast) and he escaped and returned back to his homeland. (It was an arduous journey, but I'm giving you the short version.) He continued his religious training and became a bishop. One night he had a dream. A man bearing letters appeared to him and handed him one. It read, "The Voice of the Irish." Then he heard a multitude of voices speaking as if one, saying, "Come back, we beg you, and walk among us once again." He went back to the land where he had been enslaved, and the rest, as they say, is history. Within 200 years a country that had been entirely pagan, became almost entirely Christian, and without bloodshed (as we would see later in the Crusades, for example.)
That's the brief version, but you can use it now to impress your friends. St. Patrick, the most revered Irish saint, wasn't Irish after all! But more importantly, what a wonderful example he was. He went willingly back to his place of enslavement to minister to the people, many of whom he was sure were out to kill him. And what a difference that decision made. Not convinced? Read Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization and ask yourself what the world might be like if Patrick hadn't listened to "the voice of the Irish."