When I picture Patrick, I don’t see the classic image of an old bearded man wearing Bishop’s robes. Instead, I see a young man, dressed simply as a slave would be, watching the sheep of his master.
It is thought that Patrick was Welsh. And he came to Ireland in the 5th century after being captured and enslaved by Irish pirates.
He spent 6 years in slavery in Ireland, working as a shepherd on Slemish Mountain in Co. Antrim. During these years Patrick developed a strong faith. I think practising his family’s religion must have made him feel closer to home in a foreign country surrounded by non-Christians.
Eventually, he made his escape, after a dream in which God told him that his ship was ready and he would soon go home. He travelled 200 miles to a port, and secured passage back to Britain.
Back in his home, Patrick studied Christianity for a few years. But eventually God visited him again. This time he heard the plea of the Irish people asking him to return and walk among them. And so he went.
The rest of the story is the stuff of legends. One famous legend is Patrick’s use of shamrock in his teachings. He would use the little three leafed plants to show how three beings could make up one God. This idea would have been important to the pre-Christian Irish, as triple deities were already a common feature of their faith.
Patrick left behind two writings: The ‘Confessio’ and the ‘Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus’. I recommend that you read these amazing letters. They are a fascinating glimpse into 5th century Ireland!