When St. Patrick set foot in Ireland in the 5th century AD, he faced an uncertain future in a little-known country. Warring Celts were scattered in tribal groups across the island, ruled with iron might by five provincial kings. Eerie dolmen monuments and ancient ruins dominated the landscape. Even the Roman conquerors of Britain had not ventured this far – apart perhaps from the odd traveler or adventurer.
Against this backdrop, St. Patrick’s phenomenal success as a Christian missionary seems all the more incredible. By the end of the 15th century, Ireland had become a Christian nation.
Perhaps Patrick’s elevation into sainthood was therefore inevitable. But his prominence in the traditions and legends of the country says something of the reverence, awe and affection in which he has been held in the intervening centuries and which are rekindled in the Irish every St. Patrick’s Day.
The Feast of St. Patrick is now celebrated in nearly every country throughout the world where Irish descendants or influence have continued to reinforce is popularity. Among the countries with centuries-old traditions of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day were obviously the United States, Canada and Australia, but less obviously France and Argentina and even the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Nowadays it is also celebrated in countries such as Russia and Japan.
In Britain - Ireland’s closest neighbor and its biggest visitor market - the Trojan efforts of a large population of Irish descent have established March 17 as a day of celebration for British and Irish alike.
Who was St. Patrick?
The man largely responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity over nearly 30 years, up to the year 462 AD or thereabouts - even if the work had been started by other missionaries before him.
Was he real then?
Most definitely, even if the facts about his life have been freely mingled over the centuries with legend and make-believe, his existence is authentic. A written document, his Confession, is tangible evidence of his authenticity.
Where did he come from?
An important thing to remember about Patrick is that he was not Irish. In fact he was what nowadays at least would be called British, even if he was of Roman parentage.
Where in Britain did he originate?
To be honest, nobody knows. Patrick himself refers in his writings to his father owning a holding near the village of Bannavem Taberniae, but there is no such name on any map of Roman Britain. The date of his birth is commonly given as circa 389 AD.
How did he first arrive in Ireland?
As a 16 year-old and named Succat, he was captured in a raid by the Irish King, Niall of the Nine Hostages, and sold into slavery, working as a herdsman for six years on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim. Irish pirate chieftains were given to raiding the western coast of Britain in those days. Hence, it has traditionally been assumed that Patrick originally came from South Wales, probably along the Severn Valley, which could also mean that he came from Gloucestershire. Modern scholars however, are more inclined to think of Strathclyde as being more likely.
How was that slave turned into a missionary?
After six years, Patrick managed to escape from his master, Milchu - legend has it that he was told of a waiting ship in a dream - and made his way back to Britain. According to Patrick, he had another dream of monumental importance. In it, The Voice of Ireland called to him to return to that country as a Christian missionary. As a result, he went to France, some say, studied to become a Christian and a missionary at the monastery of Auxerre, near Paris, and later was ordained a priest. In 432 AD, now a bishop named Patricius, he was sent by the Pope to Ireland to take up where a previous missionary Bishop, Palladius, had left off.
How successful was he?
Phenomenally so, if some are to be believed. By some accounts, he failed to convert King Laoghaire (pronounced Leary), High King of Ireland and, by an odd coincidence, the son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, who had originally captured him. Other accounts say that he succeeded. Crucially, however, he won the King’s permission to continue his work in Ireland. Some historians, however, are inclined to believe that the thrust of his efforts was confined to Ulster, concentrating on Downpatrick, by then the seat of the Ulster Kings. Whatever the truth of that, it appears that over two to three decades from 432 AD, either he or his disciples travelled to just about every corner of Ireland. And his legacy lived on. By the end of the 5th century, Ireland was a Christian nation.
When did he die?
There is some doubt about this too. Some accounts say Patrick lived to be all of 120 years of age! Most, however, point to him dying on March 17 about the year 461 AD at Saul, County Down, at a church built on land given to him by Dichu, a local chieftain, who was one of his converts. The Annals of Ulster also mention him dying in 491 AD. This has given rise to the so-called “two Patrick's” theory, providing food for endless speculation by scholars. By the end of the 7th century a single Patrick had already become a legendary figure.
Where is he buried?
A tombstone in the grounds of Down Cathedral in Downpatrick is supposed to mark his grave. But there are serious doubts. Patrick is almost certainly buried somewhere in County Down but it is thought that the Norman nobleman John De Courcy may not so easily have found the remains almost seven centuries after Patrick’s death. De Courcy claimed to have found them and brought them to the seat of his stronghold. The claim was politically convenient to say the least in 12th century Ireland as the Normans bade to consolidate their power
The shamrock is popularly identified with Ireland. That custom owes its origins to St. Patrick.
What is shamrock?
The reality is that shamrock is a form of clover - Trifolium repens, Trifolium pratense or more likely Trifolium dubium, to give its botanical pedigree - and only looks different from what one might expect because it is picked so early in spring. It is not unique to Ireland. Trifolium dubium is found from Scandinavia to the Caucasus and even in America
What’s the connection with St. Patrick?
Legend has it that in attempting to explain the three-in-one principle of the Holy Trinity to the pagan King Laoghaire (pronounced Leary), St. Patrick found the three-leafed shamrock a convenient teaching aid. Four-leafed shamrocks obviously are discounted. They cause severe theological problems!
What is meant by “drowning the shamrock”?
The answer seems fairly obvious - a few drinks on St. Patrick’s Day by way of celebration. What is not so obvious is that this is a custom of British rather than Irish origin! Presumably for morale purposes, from at least the middle of the 18th century, an extra ration of grog was provided by English army commanders to Irish troops on March 17. Queen Victoria in 1900 ordered that soldiers in Irish regiments should wear shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day in memory of fellow Irishmen killed in the Boer War. Shamrock worn as a symbol of remembrance thus predates the red poppy of Flanders fields.
Nowhere is more closely associated with the Apostle of Ireland than Downpatrick, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Lecale. Here in the leafy graveyard of Down Cathedral, with the Mountains of Mourne as a backdrop, lie the mortal remains of St Patrick.
A large simple granite slab marks the grave where he takes his eternal rest alongside Ireland’s other two patron saints, Brigid and Colmcille, reputedly buried here as well. It would be fair to say that rival claims for St Patrick’s last resting place do exist - bones of contention as it were. Apart from claiming Patrick’s grave, Down Cathedral has had a history for which the word ‘chequered’ barely does justice. Destroyed by an earthquake, pillaged by the Danes, burnt by the Scots, destroyed again by the English, it then lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years.
Today it is hard to imagine a more peaceful place, with its views across the river Quoile to the ancient Cistercian Abbey of Inch. About a mile north-east of Downpatrick, at the mouth of the Slaney River (now called Fiddler’s Burn), is the village of Saul where St. Patrick began his mission to Ireland circa AD 432, and where he died.
The word “Saul” has no biblical connotations - it derives from the Irish word “sabhal” meaning barn. The barn in question was St. Patrick’s first church, and put at his disposal by the local chieftain Dichu, one of Patrick’s earliest converts. A small church was built on the site, but like the cathedral up the road the building did not have a happy history. It was burned by the Danes, rebuilt by St. Malachy, sacked by Magnus O’Eochadha, King of Ulster, and burnt to the ground again in 1316 by Edward Bruce. St. Patrick’s funeral procession was said to have begun from the church. According to legend two white oxen pulled his coffi n to his last resting place in Downpatrick.
A short distance along from Saul, near the village of Raholp, is St. Patrick’s hill (415 feet) atop of which stands an impressive statue of the saint. The views from the summit are superb, on a clear day extending to the north over Strangford Lough, and across to the heights of Slieve Donard. Just beyond Raholp is the ruin of a church associated with St. Tassach who is thought to have ministered the last communion to the dying St. Patrick on March 17, sometime between 460 and 490 AD. The Struell Wells, also within easy reach of Downpatrick, have a traditional association with Patrick too - he is said to have bathed here and sang psalms as he did so! A place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, its clear waters are supposed to cure a range of afflictions. They certainly taste fresh.
When St. Patrick arrived in Armagh in approximately 445 AD a king known as Daire was local ruler. He allowed Patrick to make his Cathedral on the hill of Rath Daire, and soon Armagh established itself as the ecclesiastical center of Ireland, with scholars arriving from all over the country, and from as far afield as England and Scotland, to its famous school of learning. Mount Slemish in the center of County Antrim is some 50 miles north of Downpatrick, and it was here that the captive Patrick herded sheep and pigs for Milchu, a local chieftain.
St. Patrick’s Purgatory on Lough Derg in County Donegal, derives its name from a vision Patrick is supposed to have had, accounts of which are said to have influenced Dante as he composed The Divine Comedy. It’s been a pilgrimage site for centuries, famed throughout Europe in medieval times. An original monastic settlement here was attributed to St. Patrick. The original Purgatory was destroyed in 1497 on the orders of Pope Alexander VI. To this day pilgrims come to do penance and find spiritual renewal. Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, as the name suggests, also has associations with Ireland’s patron saint. Even in pre-Christian times it was a sacred place, the site of an annual festival in honour of the Celtic pagan god Lug. St. Patrick is said to have spent 40 days and nights here communing with God. The Christian Church certainly found it an advantage to convert it into a place of pilgrimage. On the last Sunday in July, known locally as Garland Sunday, pilgrims even today climb “The Reek”. They are rewarded with exhaustion, a spiritual uplift and some of the most breathtaking scenery on earth.
St. Patrick has in recent years become the focal point of a festival in DUBLIN which reflects the diverse talents and achievements of a now supremely confident Irish people. Once confined to a single day, it now spreads itself over a week and attracts an international audience of well over 1 million – not just the Irish themselves or those of Irish descent but also those who sometimes might wish to be Irish. A truly carnival atmosphere provides a backdrop for days of music, madness and magic, which include street theatre, fireworks displays, pageants, exhibitions, music and dance. Throughout the week, the Irish themselves do what they do best: having a party, a celebration full of warmth, fun and energy.
The highlight of the festival is the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. There was a time when the equivalent parade in New York was considered to be the most spectacular in the world. That is no longer the case. The parade in Dublin has now taken its rightful place as being the most spectacular and exciting of them all. It provides a showcase not only for the most imaginative Irish talents but also for increasingly more diverse international ones. It provides manifest proof to the assertion that on St. Patrick’s Day just about all the world wants to join in celebration. For the latest information on the St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, check out the web site: www.stpatricksfestival.ie
St. Patrick’s Day also provides a focal point for celebrations in many other towns in Ireland. Among the most significant of them are; ARMAGH, BELFAST, CORK, DOWNPATRICK, GALWAY, HOLYWOOD (Co. Down), KILLARNEY, KILTIMAGH, LIMERICK and SLIGO.
The earliest recorded evidence of St. Patrick’s Day being celebrated outside of Ireland, other than by Irish soldiers, is provided by Jonathan Swift, the Dublin-born author of Gulliver’s Travels. In his Journal to Stella, he notes that in 1713 the parliament at Westminster was closed because it was St. Patrick’s Day and that the Mall in London was so full of decorations that he thought “all the world was Irish”.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade on record was held in New York in 1762 and seems to have been designed primarily as a recruiting rally by the English army in North America. The Americans were later to use the parade for similar ends.
The Irish in North America fought on both the English and French sides during the Seven Years War. In 1757, “English” troops camped at Fort Henry were attacked on St. Patrick’s Day by “French” troops. The French contingent was largely made up of Irishmen. They reckoned that the many Irishmen in the English contingent would be the worse for wear, given the day that was in it. But they reckoned without the canniness of the English commander, John Stark. He had given his Irish troops their extra celebratory drop of grog the previous day! The French lost.
These days St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and parades take place all over the world. Major parades are held not only in Ireland, but also in New York, Boston, Savannah, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and New Orleans. Closer to home, London hosts a huge St. Patrick’s Festival and parade. Other large parades take place in Birmingham and Manchester to name but a few.
|It's no surprise that this little island offers outstanding seafood and Colman's recipe for fishcakes will have even weary palettes wanting more!|
To Cook: Put the potatoes into a medium pot and cover with cold water. Salt the water generously, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking the potatoes, still covered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very soft.
Meanwhile, put the fish fillets into a medium skillet, add water to cover, bring to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes or until just cooked through. Drain and set aside.
Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot and mash them well. Flake the fish into the pot, then stir in the ketchup, parsley, lemon juice, and about two-thirds of the eggs, or just enough to bind the mixture. Stir the mixture vigorously until well combined.
Spoon the mixture into 4 mounds of equal size on a floured board and then, with floured hands, shape each mound into a round cake about ¾ in/2 cm thick.
Put the flour in a medium bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Coat each fish cake in the seasoned flour, then in the remaining egg, and then dredge in the cornflakes or oats. Fry for 7 to 8 minutes per side, or until golden brown, turning once.
|Dublin Bay Prawns with Garlic and Herbs|
|Another seafood recipe, this is another simple, popular way of serving these Irish langoustines that hail from Dublin Bay on Ireland's East Coast.|
To Cook: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Put the prawns in the hot, return the water to a boil, then immediately drain the prawns in a colander and refresh with cold water.
Twist the heads and claws off the prawns, then pull the meat out of each shell in one piwxw. (Save the heads, claws and shells to make stock for later use, or add to fish when making fish stock,).
With a small knife or shrimp deveiner, remove the vein from the back of each prawn, then rinse the prawns and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat, the add the garlic, herbs, lemon juice, and plenty of salt. When the butter begins to foam, add the prawns and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not overcook.
|Renowned the world over this is one of Ireland's most famous exports. The traditional recipe calls for mutton, potatoes and onions, but nowadays you will find lamb has replaced mutton, with carrots and pearl barley added for extra colour and interest. A good Irish Stew should be thick and creamy.
To Cook: Chop cooked cabbage roughly. Chop onion and cook gently in the butter until soft. Drain the potatoes, season and beat well. Add cooked onion and cream. Fold in the cabbage. Serve hot.
|Black Pudding with Potatoes and Apples|
|A modern day starter using traditional Irish Black Pudding. Variations on this can be found on the menus of the most fashionable restaurants in Ireland.|
To Cook: Put the lamb, potatoes, parsley, and onions into a heavy casserole with a lid and season generously with salt and pepper. (or Layer the ingredients, starting and ending with a layer of potatoes, and seasoning each layer to taste.)
Add 2 cups/475 ml of water or enough to barely cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer over low heat (do not boil), then cover and put into the oven. Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is very tender and the stew is thick, adding a little water if the stew dries out too much.
|A delicious and warming staple, Colman notes that colcannon is one of Irelands most celebrated dishes and is a surprisingly versatile creation, existing in numberous variations, depending on the season, the region of the country, and of course personal taste.|
To Cook: Put the potatoes into a large pot, with the larger ones on the bottom, and add water to come halfway up the potatoes. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water begins to boil, carefully drain off about half of it, then return the pot to heat, cover it again, reduce the heat to low, and let the potatoes steam for about 40 minutes. Turn off the heat; cover the potatoes with a clean, damp tea-towel; and let sit for 5 minutes more.
Melt 4 TBSP of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kale or assorted greens and cook until just wilted, about 5 minutes.
Combine the milk, scallions, and remaining butter in a medium pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the greens and stir in well. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and set aside.
Drain and carefully peel the potatoes, then return them to the pot. Add the greens and their liquid and mash until smooth, leaving a few small lumps in the potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve in the traditional Irish manner, push the back of a large soup spoon down in the middle of each portion to make a crater, then put a large pat of room-temperature butter into each one to make a ‘lake'. Diners dip each forkful of colcannon into the butter until its walls are breached.
|Great on a winter’s day, after a long walk or a round of golf.|
Pour the whiskey into a warm stemmed glass and stir in the sugar. Then top with boiling water. Stud the cloves into the lemon and put into the hot whiskey. It will warm the cockles of your heart.
|The Story of Irish Coffee|
|Irish coffee was invented in Shannon in 1943, when flying boats from the United States to Europe used the wide waterway of the Shannon estuary to land at Foynes, Co Limerick, where today the “Foynes Flying Boat Museum” recalls that era. As cold and weary passengers arrived off the flying boats they were given the warm and welcoming drink to aid their recovery. Nowadays, each August, Foynes plays host to the Irish Coffee Festival and a competition is held to choose the “World Champion Irish Coffee Maker”.|
|Ingredients: Cream - rich as an Irish brogue. Coffee - strong as a friendly hand. Sugar- sweet as the tongue of a rogue. Irish whiskey- smooth as the wit of the land|
Method: Heat a stemmed whiskey goblet. Pour in one jigger of Irish whiskey. Add two spoons of demerara sugar then fill with strong, black coffee to within one inch of the brim. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Then, when still, top with slightly whipped cream, so that it fl oats on top. The secret is to drink the hot laced coffee through the cold cream.