Saint Patrick – The Patron Saint of Ireland
Huddled under a tree, near the peak of Mount Slemish, Patricius shielded his face from the bitter wind. His cheeks were red and his lips were blue as he pulled the lambs a little closer to him for warmth. He couldn’t help loving the little lambs. It wasn’t their fault he was here.
Patricius was a slave. He had been kidnapped from his home in Britain by some Irish raiders six years ago. He was made to look after their sheep at the top of this freezing mount all year round. He didn’t have many clothes and his masters hardly ever fed him. He was very lonely. And every morning, he would say his prayers. Patricius never used to say prayers, but since his capture he had become very religious. He had lots of time to think and would often talk to God.
And now, he whispered a prayer as he stroked the youngest lamb.
As he started to drift off to sleep, he heard a voice:
“Patricius, Patricius “
He jumped, fully awake, and looked around. There was no-one there. So he shut his eyes again. And again heard:
He sat up straight and looked as far into the mist as he could see. There was definitely no-one around.
“Who is there?” he called; his voice muted by the thick white cloud encircling him.
“It is God,” came the reply.
Patricius had always wanted God to talk to him directly like this, and now it was happening… he didn’t believe it was real.
“I’m dreaming,” he thought.
“Patricius, this is no dream. The time has come for you to flee. Make your way to the harbour where a boat will be ready to set sail to France. It is time Patricius.”
Patricius couldn’t speak. He nodded at the sky and sat perfectly still, trying to understand what had just happened.
“Snap out of it!” he thought, “Escape! God wants me to escape!”
So, sneaking out of the pile of sleeping lambs, Patricius started to walk down the mount.
Then he walked faster.
Then, with gathering excitement, he began to run. The mist was thick and often he stumbled on an old root or boulder. But the mist hid him from the village too, and he ran as fast as his feet could carry him.
Blistered and thirsty, he managed to reach Wexford, more than 200 miles away from Mount Slemish. And he asked to travel on the ship ready to sail for France.
But the captain recognised him to be a slave and refused.
“I have an important delivery to make to France and I don’t want escaped slaves aboard!”.
Poor Patricius! He was exhausted and nearly fell over with disappointment.
Sitting on a rock, he didn’t stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks. He was cross with God for encouraging him to come all this way, just to be refused passage.
But as he prayed on the beach, the important delivery – some vicious wolf hounds – started barking and fighting. The Captain tried to hush them. He shouted, talked calmly, gave them some water, did all he could to try and get them to relax. But something had agitated them. What journey it would be! All the way to France with unhappy, barking hounds!
“May I help!” called Patricius. “I have worked with many wolf hounds on the mount and I know how to care for them”.
As he approached the ship, the Captain was about to tell Patricius to leave once more, but he noticed that the hounds calmed down and stopped barking. Turning to the escaped slave, he reconsidered and the captain agreed to allow Patricius to travel if he looked after the hounds.
They set sail that afternoon. Patricius had made it! He thanked God and for the first time in six years fell asleep a free man.
The sailors were nice enough to him, but often made fun of his praying all the time. They didn’t believe in God. He did try to explain, but they’d say:
“Yeah, but what has God done for me, heh?”
When they got to France, they came ashore a long way from any towns or villages. There was no water and no food. There was no choice but to walk through the desert towards a town. The men took the hounds ashore and started walking.
They walked for days without food.
“Where is your God now, Patricius?” they sneered through parched lips.
Patricius knelt in the sand and prayed that God would help them. And as he stood back up, a family of pigs walked across their path! The sailors were amazed! These pigs were able to feed all the sailors and all the hounds! And it kept them going all the way to the town.
Once the hounds were delivered, Patricius left the group and found passage on another ship headed for Britain.
The first thing he did was to visit his parent’s home.
They were overjoyed to see him. They kissed and hugged him and threw a great big party where Patricius told of his time as a slave and of his amazing escape.
In the years to come, Patricius spent a lot of time studying religion and finally became a priest.
He became known as Patrick and travelled to further his learning.
One wintry night, feeling warm and content sleeping on his favourite chair next to the fire, Patrick awoke to a familiar voice:
“Ireland needs you.”
Patrick sat bolt upright in his chair. He knew it was not a dream. But… Ireland? He was a slave there for six years and now God wanted him to go back?
Patrick set sail for Ireland. And, after getting permission from the king, he started teaching people about God and Christianity.
The people of Ireland were Pagan and he found it hard to explain the Christian faith to them. So one day, he took some people to a field and he picked a shamrock. It was a vibrant green and looked just like a clover. He held it up to the listeners and said:
“How may leaves does this shamrock have?”
“Three,” called a little boy. “It has three leaves.”
“That’s right,” he said, bending down to smile at the child. “But how many seeds were needed to make it?” he asked.
“Just one,” said the boy.
“Yes. Three leaves from one seed. The father, son and holy ghost from one God.”
And that is how Patrick got his message across to thousands of Irish people as he taught them all about Christianity.
Patrick spent the rest of his life teaching in Ireland and became very famous.
He built a beautiful stone cathedral and opened a school.
His death was a sad day in Ireland, and the green shamrock is very important to his memory.
St Patrick had become the Patron Saint of Ireland and people all over the world would celebrate the day he died – March 17th – for many, many years.
We still do! And it’s known as St Patrick’s Day.