L in the Southeast

L in the Southeast
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
November 04
Retired PR Director
I am a retired Public Relations professional who now writes purely for fun and catharsis. I covered most of my memoir-type pieces in the first three years here. Lately I have dabbled in politics, current affairs, pop culture and movie reviews. Life is my muse.


L in the Southeast's Links

MARCH 16, 2012 12:12AM

St. Patrick Was No Snake Charmer

Rate: 28 Flag


Chicago River green


Coming as I do from Chicagoland, St. Patrick’s Day has always been the best excuse of the year– aside from New Year’s Eve, I suppose – to get my drink on.  The Chicago River, which at one time was part of the view from my office window, would turn a garish emerald green overnight and the office would be buzzing with plans to guzzle insane quantities of goulish green beer. Those who weren’t inclined to dye their innards green might plunge into the rowdy crowds that line State Street for the annual St. Paddy’s Day parade. Chicago St

March 18 of every year always held the record for the most tardy and/or absent employees on a given work day.  Those who did show up were about as useless as the coffee they poured into their roiling guts. Resplendent in green attire, leprechaun ties and shamrock jewelry on the 17th, the office staff only wore green around their gills on the 18th. 

Being a Catholic and all, it never occurred to me to question the relationship between all this desperate debauchery and the guy they were allegedly celebrating.  This Patrick guy had the honorarium “Saint.” in front of his name, so I knew he must have been holy.  I was never quite sure why people believed he mesmerized and lured thousands of Irish snakes to their deaths by drowning, but then, there were so many things about my religion I couldn’t quite fathom.

I have finally done the research.  Let’s just say St. Patrick, who I assume is in Heaven with the rest of the sainted, is probably sulking in disgust right about now, anticipating yet another display of utter nonsense in his honor.

For starters, Patrick was not Irish.  Historians place his birthplace as somewhere in the south of Scotland.  At age 16 he was captured at his noble family’s farm and sent to Ireland as a slave.  He believed it was his “just desserts” because he was so far afield from God.  While in captivity he learned about the teachings of The Apostles who migrated to Ireland.  He eventually escaped and made his way home, where he studied the Holy Scriptures and became grounded in faith.

shamrock-12323Secondly, the shamrock, which we have come to recognize as the symbol of Ireland, is nothing of the kind.  It was simply a prop Patrick used to help explain to the pagan Druids in Ireland the concept of the Christian trinity.  In his short autobiography Confessions, Patrick describes a dream in which he was called by God to return to Ireland to convert all the people there to Christianity.

And then there are the snakes.  All historical evidence suggests that there have never been any snakes on the Emerald Isle.  The whole snake s Celtic snaketory is a myth, although some think it might have evolved symbolically from the Celtic snake, one of many pagan symbols.  It could be argued that Patrick symbolically drove out paganism, because he was credited with converting all of Ireland.

Perhaps the most interesting insight I have gained through my brief research is the fact that St. Patrick did not practice Roman Christianity, which was what was taught and, in some cases, required in the Britain of the time.  Instead, his was a Celtic Christianity, based more on the teachings of the apostles and far less on the teachings of Rome.

Concerning the training given in the Celtic Church during and after the time of Patrick, we read, “The youth in the Culdee [Celtic Church in Scotland about the 6th century] schools clung to the fundamental Christian doctrines, such as the divinity of Christ, baptism, the atonement, inspiration of the Scriptures, the prophecies connected with the last days. They did not accept the doctrines of infallibility, celibacy, transubstantiation, the confessional, the mass, relic worship, image adoration, and the primacy of Peter” (Truth Triumphant, Wilkinson, p.108).

Apparently, over the centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has worked successfully to re-invent the life of St. Patrick to better fit its version of Church history.


Saint Patrick


By all accounts this Patrick person was a serious, pious and industrious proponent of all that is holy.  I believe it is safe to say he would not understand how his life and times have become the foundation for the sale of buttons and beer, and for drinking one’s self into oblivion. 







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I must admit I knew nothing of his background and know for sure he would not be dancing on tables and drinking green beer.
Well, that St P was Scottish and not Irish might explain why he did his drinking in private rather than in public. The Irish prefer to offer a little entertainment to the observers with their drunken bouts; the Scottish prefer to drink till they fall-off their stool with no witnesses, Also, that way they don't have to worry about a long, dangerous drunken journey home. Very practical, those Scots -- and they make better whisky, too!
This is just fine and the timing just right. I was looking for four leaf clovers again yesterday. I am so glad to know that folks still are celebrating this Saint. Drinking green beer has become so wide spread that if one doesn't partake it shows lack of Irish spirit just about anywhere thats good. Thanks so much.I wish I was Irish!
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Thanks for the relevant and much needed info, L. R
It isn't the first or last time the Catholic Church will make up utter nonsense for their own benefit! Now, let's get drunk!
Edward Rutherford, who writes excellent, really long and involved historical novels, wrote one about Patrick. I should get his books out again.
Interesting post, Lezlie. ~r
I must hitch my paddywagon to Tom's comment. And I salute you, Ms. L, for setting us all straight on the matter.
Thanks for giving the inside scoop on Saint Paddy! I can't wait for an opportunity to show off what I know. Maybe tomorrow night over green apple cosmos.
Eh. We Pagans have little use for St. Pat - rather we look to Brigit, a goddess subsequently given sainthood in an effort to neutralize her. And her day is Feb. 1.
St. Patrick must not have anticipated Guinness who did much to promote the current bacchanalia of St. Paddy's day. Thanks for the history Lezlie.
St. Pat is not such a big deal back on the Emerald Isle and my Irish cousins never need any excuse to toss back a Guinness and Jameson. The holiday is pretty much an Irish American thing.
Well, thank you so much for this one. In Ireland the day is more like Easter than a debauched drunken orgy.

One more thing Tom, I'll stack the Jameson's against the Scots any day of the week.
Scotland and Ireland have always had such a close warm relationship, he said snidely.

Would Glorious Saint Patrick approve of the debauchery? Not bluidy likely. Slainte.
I always had some weird affinity with the Irish and so I have celebrated this day many times . Never knew why, or any history as I imbibed. Embarrassing. Thanks for this fun and informative post, Lezlie

I bet you are a lot of fun when you "get your drink on".
I've a wee bit of gaelic blood in me and me Irish eyes are smilin'.
I was so surprised when I went to Ireland and realized they don't celebrate it at all. It is purely an American holiday.
Happy St. Patty's Day anyway!

Hey, what can we say. Americans are party animals. We celebrate all of our ancestral roots, and even Eve carried a four-leaf clover. ;)
Did you know that Savannah, Georgia has the second biggest St. Pat's celebration in the nation, after NYC. Happened to be there one year on March 17 and couldn't believe it.
This is a great and informative post. I am posting to FB. I think that not too many realize how this saint got and new image through the course of recent history. Not a product of Rome either. Nice touch. Thanks for this.
Thank you for the background on the renowned St. P. I have never had a glass of green beer in my life despite the Irish blood (on my Dad's side) in my veins! Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, Lezlie!
The Celtic Christianity is so much more like what Jesus had to say, in my opinion. Women were scholars in Ireland then, they had a respect in the community, 'faith' was so much less about power and domination from the Church down...and the illuminated Bibles still are so stunningly beautiful. The Roman Catholic church has completely distorted so much of the original faith in order to make it fit into their control, I too firmly believe...yet they kept Mary as holy, which I find an interesting twist. The Protestants got rid of any sense of balance by getting rid of any of the holy women...
The pagan community here firmly believes the snakes were about getting rid of the Old Ways...
...they all wear orange every St. Paddy's Day.
Thanks for this, L.

They say history is not what was, it's what the winners wrote down.
ps -- that green river look so nauseating!
Those poor fish.
OK, I think I got this. When St. Patrick figured out what Rome did to his Celtic Christianity, he needed a drink. Bad.
Thanks for the history lesson, Lezlie. But what the hell let's do as Scanner says./r
A lot I never knew. I always thought Patrick was French. I think more highly of him now.
Celtic Christianity. I like the sound of that.
...but where do the leprechauns come in?...

I was going to look up "St. Patrick's Day" today, but you've done all the work for me, thank you. Now I can go officially celebrate with a beer. NOT a green one. Not to mention, a perfect excuse to watch "The Secret of Roan Inish," which always makes me wish I lived in a little Irish cottage with a fireplace.
St Paddy might have been non-denominational, but he got his commission for delivering the Irish to the Catholics. I have to give him props for that sale, but there's a more important result than mere religion. Ireland isn't a large country, but thanks to the rhythm method we are large in number. That's why we get the coolest holiday of them all, even if the food is better on Columbus Day.
About the only part which was not new to me was the bit about the shamrock. I actually used it to teach the concept of the Trinity. Thank you for the history lesson.