St. Patrick's Day
17 March 2009, Tuesday


Who Was St. Patrick?

Saint Patrick is known as the Patron Saint of Ireland. Born in Great Britain around the year 380, he was the son of a Roman noble or decurion. Although his given name is not known for certain, some believe he was called Maewyn. In the year 313 the Emperor Constantine granted religious tolerance and later the Emperor Theodosius formally recognized Christianity as a state religion. So St. Patrick was raised in a Christian family.

At about the age of 16 St. Patrick was kidnapped, taken to Ireland, and sold as a slave. He spent six years as a slave, tending sheep in the Mountains. He slept alone outdoors in even the coldest weather. During his enslavement he found that praying to God helped him tolerate the conditions he was forced to endure. After six years of slavery, St. Patrick escaped.

When he arrived in Britain, St. Patrick lived quietly and spent much time in prayer. He then went to France to study religion. In 432 the Pope named him Patricius, which is the Latin name for Patrick. He studied to become a Priest and eventually became a Bishop. St. Patrick had felt a drive to return to Ireland where most of the inhabitants followed pagan religions.

As a bishop, St. Patrick sailed back to Ireland and began preaching. Although other people had tried before him, St. Patrick went prepared to spread Catholicism. He most often entered a town with a large group of people. In this group were chaplains and men he was preparing for the priesthood, as well as someone to advise him on legal matters, builders, masons, chariot drivers, and a cook. He also often brought people to prepare alter cloths and people to care for and transcribe the holy books. Then when St. Patrick was ready to leave, not only had the people of the town been converted, but they had a new church and a religious leader to stay with them and help them.

While St. Patrick continued his mission in Ireland, he was imprisoned and several attempts were made on his life. In one case a good friend and loyal disciple to St. Patrick learned of a planned attempt to kill the Patron Saint. The disciple deliberately took St. Patrick’s place and was killed instead.

But these events did not frighten him from his work. In The Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, one of the two documents known to be written by St. Patrick himself, he denounced the Welsh chieftain Coroticus and his soldiers for having killed or sold into slavery many newly baptized Christians.

Twenty five years after St. Patrick arrived in Ireland, much of the island was considered Catholic. Before his death on March 17, 461 he had consecrated 350 bishops, ordained over 5,000 priests, and built more than 700 churches. It was many years after his death when the Catholic Church made him a saint.

Inscripted on St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

Christ be my light to illumine and guide me!
Christ be my shield to cover and guard me!
Christ be under me, Christ be over me,
Christ beside me, left and right -
Christ before me, behind me, about me,
Christ this day within, without me -
Christ in every heart that thinks of me -
Christ in every mouth that speaks to me -
Christ in every eye that sees me -
Christ in every ear that hears me!


Myths About Saint Patrick

There are many myths about the man Saint Patrick. In one story, St. Patrick was trying to explain the idea of the Holy Trinity to the people of Ireland. To provide an example, he reached down and picked a shamrock that was growing at his feet. He held the plant up and explained that the Trinity was like the shamrock, one God manifested in three different beings, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The shamrock grows on just one stem, but it has three leaves.

A second well known myth is of St. Patrick and the snakes. It is said that at one time Ireland was a land with many snakes. St. Patrick beat upon a drum to frighten the snakes and drove them into the sea. Even today, there are no snakes in Ireland.


St. Patrick’s Day Traditions

People celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day in many different ways. Attending church services, decorating with shamrocks, and wearing green are all different ways to celebrate this day. Often Irish customs are demonstrated, such as traditional songs, dances, and greetings. Irish folk tales may be told, including stories of the tiny mythical Leprechauns.

Larger cities in the United States sometimes have a Saint Patrick’s Day parade and schools or families might celebrate with special foods such as green cupcakes or shamrock shaped cookies. People also send St. Patrick’s Day cards to friends and family, and wish each other "the luck of the Irish".

St. Patrick’s Day is a legal holiday in Ireland. Banks, schools, and businesses are closed to observe this day. Usually mass is attended and each community has a parade. Along with shamrocks and harps (a traditional musical instrument in Ireland) shillelaghs are displayed. While in the United States St. Patrick’s Day is sometimes celebrated with the drinking of beer, in Ireland it is a dry holiday.

A shillelagh is a wooden walking stick or club. This Irish word means "oak club" and the walking sticks originated from an old oak forest called Shillelagh. Irish people enjoy having their own "sprig of shillelagh" and they often tie green ribbons around the shillelaghs. Sometimes the shillelaghs are used for a traditional Irish game called hurling. This game which uses a ball and stick is like a combination of lacrosse and field hockey. The Gaelic name for this sport is iomain and it is rarely played outside of Ireland. Unfortunately the original Shillelagh forest was cut down by the timber industry.


Facts About Ireland And The Shamrock

Ireland is an island west of the United Kingdom and North of Spain and France. The land itself is 27,127 square miles in size and is often called the Emerald Isle because much of the grass which grows on the island is a brighter green than it is in other places in the world. This is caused by large deposits of limestone just below the surface of the soil.

The capital of the country of Ireland is Dublin. Its flag is divided into three equal rectangles of color, from left to right showing green, white, and gold.

The shamrock is a plant which resembles a large clover. It has three triangular leaves on each stem and a small white, trumpet shaped blossom.

Shamrocks grow like a weed in Ireland. While the leaves themselves seem thin and frail, each plant has a thick root which can grow in shallow soil and withstand fairly cold temperatures. Some shamrock roots have gone without water for more than a year and shown no signs of life, but when given water after this extended period, were able to sprout again and produce a healthy plant.

In Ireland a shamrock may be eaten on St. Patrick’s Day to "make the breath sweet".


St. Patrick’s Day Crafts

A St. Patrick’s Day Bracelet, Arm Band, Or Anklet

This is a fun, easy, and colorful craft that even preschoolers can master, but much older children enjoy it also. Caution is necessary, however, as children learn to extend the length of their bracelet. Do not allow any of these creations to be placed around a person’s neck as the wire could pose a choking hazard.

You will need:

To make this simple bracelet, select a pattern from the three colors of the Irish flag, green, white, and gold. You might decide upon two greens, one white, and one gold or one green, a white, a green, a gold, a green, and so on.

Bend the pipe cleaner about ˝" from one end. String the pattern of pony beads onto the straight end of the pipe cleaner until you are approximately ľ" from the end. Bend the straight end of the pipe cleaner ˝" from the end.

Wrap the decorated pipe cleaner around your wrist. Bend the two ends to make hooks. Hook the two ends together and twist the tips around the wire. Push a few of the pony beads over the twisted ends to help hold them in place. This bracelet should be large enough to slide on and off your wrist without unhooking the two ends.

If the bracelet is not large enough, or if you are creating an arm band or anklet, try cutting a three inch piece off a second pipe cleaner (depending on your size and which item you are making, you may need to experiment a bit to decide on the correct length for the second piece of cut pipe cleaner). Bend this piece ˝" from the end and make a hook. Attach the hook of the second piece to one end of the first pipe cleaner and twist the pieces together. Now continue your pattern from the first pipe cleaner to the second piece until you are ľ" from the end. Bend the wire about ˝" from the end and fastened the two ends around your wrist as described before.

You now have a bracelet or other item which can be worn on Saint Patrick’s Day or any day.

Potato Prints

You will need:

Wash and dry the potato. Ask an adult to use the sharp knife to cut the potato in half. Using the butter knife or plastic knife draw the outline of a simple shape on the cut end of the potato. You can start with a simple form such as a triangle or square, or you may want to tackle a more challenging shape such as a shamrock or star.

Next use the knife to cut away the potato around your shape. Cut down a little at a time until the shape extends about Ľ" to ˝" above the rest of the potato. Make a new shape on the second half of the potato.

Pour one color of tempera paint into each pan. Now dip the cut end of your potato into the paint, then press it onto the paper. When you lift the potato you should see a print of your shape. Continue to dip the potato and press it onto your paper. Use one or both of your shapes. Try different color combinations.

As you become more accustomed to cutting potatoes for printing, keep in mind that the print shows a mirror image of what you cut. This means that you will need to cut more involved shapes such as letters and numbers backwards, the way that they would look if you wrote them on a piece of paper and then held them up to a mirror to try and read what you wrote.


Books for Children


St. Patrick's Day Links


Related Subjects

Jack-O'-Lanterns originated in Ireland. Read The Story Of Jack-O'-Lanterns on our Halloween page.


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