As far as I know, I don’t have a scrap of Irish blood. I married a man whose mother came from Belfast, though, so my children and grandchildren have a claim on the green. In New Zealand today, most people celebrating St Patrick’s Day will be celebrating Irish roots – imaginery or real. Some, though, will remember the Saint.
Kidnapped by pirates when he was 16, he was carried off as a slave to Ireland, and worked there as a herdsman for six years. In his early 20s, he escaped and returned home, where he had a vision calling him to return to Ireland and convert the pagans, which he did with such success that, by the time he died, Ireland was Christian.
He speaks of his mission in one of his two surviving letters, where he writes that he “baptised thousands of people”. He ordained priests and consecrated bishops to lead the new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too.
Here’s just one of dozens of stories about him:
In the country of Neyll, a King Echu allowed St. Patrick to receive his beloved daughter Cynnia as a nun, though he bewailed the fact that his royal line would thereby end without issue. The king exacted a promise from Patrick not to insist that he be baptized, yet to promise him the heavenly kingdom. Patrick agreed, and left the matter in the hands of God.
Sometime later King Echu lay dying. He sent a messenger to St. Patrick to tell him he desired Baptism and the heavenly kingdom. To those around him the King gave an order that he not be buried until Patrick came. Patrick, then in the monastery of Saballum, two days’ journey away, knew of the situation through the Holy Spirit before the messenger even arrived. He left to go to the King, but arrived to find Echu dead.
St. Patrick revived the King, instructed him, and baptized him. He asked Echu to relate what he had seen of the joys of the just and the pains of the wicked, so that his account could be used for the proving of Patrick’s preaching. Echu told of many other-world wonders and of how, in the heavenly country, he had seen the place that Patrick promised him. But the King could not enter in because he was unbaptized.
Then St. Patrick asked Echu if he would rather live longer in this world, or go to the place prepared for him in the heavenly kingdom. The King answered that all the world had was emptiest smoke compared to the celestial joys. Then having received the Eucharist, he fell asleep in the Lord.