Saint Patrick is known globally as Ireland’s patron saint, but how much do you know about the man and how he ended up in Ireland in the 5th century?
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Patrick’s status as a slave has been well documented, but contrary to popular belief, he actually came from a wealthy Christian family in Britain, which at the time was part of the Roman Empire.
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A band of Irish marauders landed on a beach near the village of Bannavem Taburniae (researchers don’t quite know where this is), but according to Patrick’s autobiography, “Confessio,” it was on Great Britain’s western coast, possibly what is Wales today.
Patrick, the son of a Roman tax collector, was 16 at the time. The year was approximately 400 A.D.
Such a raid would not have been uncommon in the early 5th century because the Irish were raiding that part of Britain at least for a century before Patrick was born, according to author Philip Freeman, who wrote “St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.”
When he got to Ireland, Patrick was asked to herd sheep for a local chieftain called Mulchi on the slopes of Mount Slemish, County Antrim, no doubt an isolated place where Patrick prayed up to 100 times a day.
If you’re going to walk in St. Patrick’s footsteps, Slemish Mountain is a good place to start.
Hike Mount Slemish
Most people will agree that while the climb is a short one (less than an hour or so), the trek to the top of Mount Slemish is quite difficult due to its steepness, and you should be in good health before attempting it.
Begin the walk at the Slemish car park about a 15-minute drive from the village of Broughshane.
When you get to the base of the mountain, which rises 1,437 feet above sea level, you can choose your own path to the top.
Walking on the Grounds of Saul Monastery, Founded by Saint Patrick
When Patrick returned to Ireland in 432 A.D., he eventually made his way to Saul in County Down, where he founded a monastery, the remains of which you can still see today.
Known as the Cradle of Irish Christianity, it is also the place where he died.
The monastery survived for over three centuries before it was destroyed by the Vikings.
In the 12th century, it was reestablished as an Augustinian Priory, but that too was plundered by Edward Bruce in the 14th century.
The church building you’ll see today was constructed to commemorate the 1,500th anniversary of Patrick’s landing nearby. It was officially opened in 1933.
On Saint Patrick’s Day each year, the church welcomes people of all Christian backgrounds to worship.
Reliving Patrick's Life on a Unique Camino Trail in County Down
Fresh air, stunning scenery and the chance to truly explore St. Patrick’s country in County Down can now be done in a unique Camino experience called The Journey.
The five-day guided experience follows in the footsteps of St Patrick around key spots that are connected to the saint.
Accommodation is provided at the Irish monastic foundation known as Tobar Mhuire, where you can take mindful walks and engage in meditation and reflection during the evening hours.
The Journey includes daily walks along Saint Patrick’s Way, a pilgrim’s walk that spans 82 miles and takes in some of Northern Ireland’s most spectacular scenery, including a coastal walk along the sandy trails and clifftops at Ballyhornan.
On the second day of the journey, you’ll visit Kilbroney Old Graveyard, where you’ll find Saint Bronagh’s Cross from the late 8th century.
Like many locations associated with Saint Patrick, there is very often a healing well nearby and the one at this location is said to heal eye and throat ailments.
Local folklore suggests that if you pray to Saint Bronagh and ring the bell named after her three times, your prayers will be answered.
The bell is located in the Rostrevor Catholic Church.
The remainder of the Camino Experience includes visits to the Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, the only permanent exhibition in the world that is dedicated to the saint, as well as Tollymore National Forest Park to visit an ancient hermitage.
Lighting a Fire on the Hill of Slane
According to legend, about a year later in 433 A.D., Patrick found himself in Slane, County Meath (about 80 miles/128 km away).
On the pagan feast of Beltaine, the story goes that Patrick lit a fire on the Hill of Slane against the wishes of King Laoire, who resided at nearby Tara.
While many visitors come to this iconic attraction because of its connection to Saint Patrick, the place was also hugely significant long before Patrick set foot there and was apparently the burial spot of King Sláine, the leader of an ancient tribe in Ireland called the Fir Bolg.
It also remained a center of religion long after Saint Patrick died.
You can see the remains of a friary church and college at the top of the hill. The ruins also include an early Gothic tower.
In the burial grounds of the abbey, you’ll find two standing stones, which may refer to the existence of a pagan shrine.
Baptizing a Pagan King and Impaling his Foot
In 450 A.D. Patrick traveled to Cashel, County Tipperary.
The Rock of Cashel, the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster prior to the Norman invasion in 1169, is where Patrick went to baptize Aengus, who later became Ireland’s first Christian king.
But in the process, Patrick accidentally impaled his foot with the point of his crozier.
It is frequently referred to as “St. Patrick’s Rock,” located in the rich pastureland of the Golden Vale.
Most of the buildings on the site are from a much later period in Irish history. They include the 12th-century Cormac’s Chapel and a large cathedral ruin, constructed in the 13th century.
Fasting on Ireland’s Holy Mountain: Croagh Patrick
In 441 A.D., Saint Patrick chose a 2,500-foot (764 meters) mountain in County Mayo as the place we could fast for 40 days and 40 nights in complete solitude.
An archaeological excavation performed during the 1990s found a small church there, possibly built around Patrick’s time (perhaps he built it with all his free time!).
Today, you’ll find a small, more modern chapel on the summit. It was dedicated on July 20, 1905.
The climb to the summit of Croagh Patrick considered Ireland’s holiest mountain, is an even tougher one than Mount Slemish, so be prepared with good hiking boots, snacks, and water.
On the last Sunday in July, also known as “Reek Sunday,” thousands of people take the same journey that Patrick took over 1,500 years ago, many of them barefoot.
The climb is certainly worth it though, with magnificent views from the top of Clew Bay and its many little islands.
Creating the Ecclesiastical Capital of Ireland
In 445 A.D., Saint Patrick found himself in an area of Armagh that today is part of Armagh City.
It was toward the end of his mission in Ireland and Patrick wanted to build a great stone church on top of what was once a pagan hilltop site.
Building a stone building was a big deal at the time since most of the dwellings in 5th-century Ireland were made of wood.
While Patrick’s first request to build on the hill was refused, the local chieftain Dara eventually agreed, and Patrick was able to build his church on the Ard Macha hill that gave Armagh City its name.
Today, the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral building stands in the exact same spot.
You can begin your journey of this Anglican cathedral in its ancient crypt, unchanged for over 750 years.
The five ancient Celtic sculptures on the wall depict the Ireland that Patrick lived in.
A beautiful stained-glass window of St. Patrick can be found upstairs in the church.
The Burial Ground of Saint Patrick – Down Cathedral
While Saint Patrick died in Saul on March 17, 461 A.D., his remains can be found on the grounds of Down Cathedral located in Downpatrick, 2.5 miles/4 km away.
Outside the church, built by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy, you will find the burial place of Patrick. Scholars have said that the relics of Saints Brigid and Columba are also there.
At the bottom of the hill, be sure to visit the St. Patrick’s Centre where you learn more about Patrick and his connection to the town.
Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day wherever you live? Let me know in the comments below.