The first thing to note, of course, is that St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was Scottish, possibly being born near Kilpatrick. As a teenager he was captured by a raiding party and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he became a shepherd. During his captivity he found God, before escaping back to Britain. He went on to enter the priesthood, before a vision took him back to Ireland, whereupon he spent the next 40 years preaching the gospel and generally doing the saint thing.
It’s probably a legend that he drove the snakes out of Ireland (I also doubt St. Columba went toe-to-toe with the Loch Ness Monster).
There’s no doubt that Patrick’s story is a inspirational tale of faith, persistance and dedication to his calling, but none of that really explains why people’ll be dyeing their beer green and wearing silly hats tonight. I mean, it’s not like any of the St. Patrick celebrations have anything to do with St. Patrick. Heck, it’s debatable how much they have to do with Ireland.
Maybe a lot of it is down to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. After all, it’s been going since 1762 (and is therefore older than the United States itself), so it’s had plenty of time to gather cultural momentum. It was originally a way of highlighting Irish soldiers serving in America, but as the city grew so did the parade, and now, with 12.9% of the city’s population being of Irish descent, and 40% being Catholic, it’s taken on a life of its own, becoming more a celebration of Ireland in America than Patrick himself. And that’s fair enough, nothing wrong with having a good time, although I’m not convinced that beer should ever really be green.
But amid all the silly hats, it’s worth sparing a thought for the man who started it all, who faithfully served his adopted country and who credited all things to God:
"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me."