The Life of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick banner

Do you know much about Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland? I didn’t, so I went looking for more information at the Thunder Bay Public Library. I found some really helpful books in the Children’s Department, namely Joyce K. Kessel’s St. Patrick’s Day, Joanna Ponto’s St. Patrick’s Day, Edna Barth’s Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of St. Patrick’s Day Symbols, and St. Patrick’s Day: Parades, Shamrocks, and Leprechauns by Pamela Johnson.

All the books I looked at agreed that St. Patrick was born to Roman parents somewhere in England, and that his name was most likely Maewyn Succat, but they all differ on the date. Kessel said he was born sometime between the years 372 and 390 AD. Barth widened that timeframe to 385-460 AD. Only Ponto gave a single year: 385 AD.

At fifteen, Maewyn was captured by a chieftain from Ireland (as per Barth, Ireland was then called Juverna by the Romans, which equates to Hibernia in English), and sold as a slave to another chieftain. Maewyn believed his enslavement was a punishment from God for ignoring the priests when he was younger. He started praying day and night, and after six years he heard (or dreamed, the books varied on that point) the voice of God saying to go to the sea where a ship was waiting for him. He escaped and made his way 200 miles to the ocean where a ship was indeed docked. The captain originally turned him away, but later relented and let Maewyn board.

cover of St. Patrick's Day by Joanna PontoFrom here the stories differ, with the ship either getting shipwrecked on a deserted island, or the crew successfully sailing to Western Europe but wandering through a barren landscape. Either way, Maewyn prayed for food for the starving crew and a herd of wild pigs appeared. At this point, Maewyn was enslaved again, either by the crew, who wanted him for his miracles, or by another group who found them on the deserted island. Luckily Maewyn escaped this second imprisonment not long afterwards, and remained free for the rest of his days.

Once free, he pursued an education because it was previously denied to him. Barth didn’t know where he went, other than “somewhere in Europe” to seek this education, while Kessel claims he went to France. Either way, he became a bishop and was renamed Patricius, the Latin name for Patrick. This was around the year 432, according to Kessel. Patrick had more dreams that told him to return to Ireland, so that’s where he set off to.

Patrick spent the rest of his life in Ireland, building churches and Christian schools and teaching people about Christianity. He reportedly used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. He was often chased away, stoned, and sometimes even captured. But he always escaped. There are many fun little anecdotes about his other adventures in Ireland, including the famous story of how he chased all the snakes out. Johnson lists three versions of how he accomplished this: by either scaring the snakes by beating a drum, by tricking the snakes into a box and throwing it into the ocean, or by making the soil so distasteful that any snakes who touched it would die.

cover of Shamrocks, Harps, and ShillelaghsWhile we do not know the year (Kessel says sometime between 461 and 492, while Ponto says 461), Patrick is said to have passed away on March 17, the date we now celebrate as St. Patrick’s Day.

The story of St. Patrick is indeed a fascinating one. If you’d like to read more about him, or St. Patrick’s Day in general, be sure to visit the Thunder Bay Public Library’s catalogue at, or call us at 345-8275, Monday to Friday from 10 am-4 pm, to place any of these books on hold.  If you don’t already have a library card, you can get one by calling the number above or by emailing us at

Shauna Kosoris – If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you. Check out the blog at


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