Feast 17th March
Two centuries of Irish migration to the industrial areas of the northern part of the Diocese of Shrewsbury have brought with them a strong devotion to St Patrick, the patron of Ireland. It is not known exactly where St Patrick was born, only that it was in England and that he was of Romano-British origin.
His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon and his grandfather, at a time when clerical celibacy was not enforced, was a priest. St Patrick was born around 389 and at about the year 403 he was captured by raiders and taken to Ireland, which was still a pagan country, to be a slave. It is a tradition that Patrick spent his time in bondage near Ballymena, in Antrim, and also near the forest of Foclut, on the coast of Mayo. He used his time of trial to grow in holiness before he escaped from his master after six years and managed to board a ship to France. He made his way home and back to family in his early 20s.
He was welcomed home with joy and his family were so relieved that they begged him not to leave them again, but St Patrick was troubled by nightly visions when he heard “the voices of those who dwelt beside the wood at Foclut, which is nigh to the western sea, and thus they cried, as if one mouth: ‘We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more.’” St Patrick returned to Ireland, this time of his own free will.
It is difficult to establish the exact course of the saint’s heroic labours over the ensuing years, with some historians suggesting he first spent three years in France where he was consecrated a bishop at Auxerre by Bishop St Germanus and sent to Ireland to replace Palladius who had died after just a year with the Picts of northern Britain.
Nevertheless, it is safe to say that St Patrick’s mission to Ireland was an enormous success, with the saint overseeing the conversion of the entire country to Christianity in the space of 30 years, personally baptising and confirming “multitudes”.
He testifies to this himself. The saint in his “Confession”, contained in the Book of Armagh, wrote: “Wherefore then in Ireland they who never had the knowledge of God, but until now only worshipped idols and abominations – now has there been lately prepared a people of the Lord, and they are called children of God? Sons and daughters of Scottic chieftains are seen to become monks and virgins of Christ.”
St Patrick gathered a large band of disciples around him, including his successor, Benignus. By 444 he had also founded the cathedral church of Armagh, the primatial see of Ireland, and it flourished as a centre of education and administration.
St Patrick died and was buried in or about 461 at Saul on Strangford Lough, where he built his first church.
Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints