Many people in the United States celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with 24 hours of green beer, corned beef cabbage and proclamations of “Kiss me. I’m Irish.” Everyone wants to claim a little Irish heritage on March 17; especially if it yields a discount at the local pub. But before you order your favorite brew, did you know that your ancestors may have played a role in the origins of Saint Patrick’s Day?
As one of Christianity’s most well-known figures, Patrick didn’t begin his journey as a saint, but as a slave. At the age of sixteen Patrick was taken prisoner from his parent’s estate in Britain by a famous Irish raider, Niall Noígíallach. Readers of this blog may recognize Niall from a previous post. DNA results indicate that at least one branch of the FitzHenrys descend from Niall. Thus, fellow clansman, it’s your marauding ancestor that set Saint Patrick’s Day into motion.
While Patrick was enslaved in Ireland, he turned to God for comfort and strength. His tremendous faith helped him endure six long years of captivity. After hearing God’s voice in a dream, Patrick fled his captors and escaped to Britain. After uniting with his family, he experienced another vision in which the Irish people begged him to serve their island as a missionary.
Patrick eventually returned to Ireland as an ordained Bishop and began preaching the Gospel. He knew, however, he would need the King’s support to bring the Word to the masses. To this end, Patrick sought out Laoghaire, the High King of Tara and son of Niall Noígíallach. Patrick convinced King Laoghaire that he didn’t challenge his authority, but wanted to spread Christianity throughout Ireland. The king consented and Patrick preached across the country for forty years driving out the “snakes” of Paganism. After a very hard and impoverished life Patrick died on March 17, 461, the day we hail as Saint Patrick’s Day.
This year when you toast the Patron Saint of Ireland, tell the barkeep that without you Saint Patrick’s Day wouldn’t be possible.
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