Saint Patrick: associated with Ireland and shamrocks, and responsible for green coloured rivers, buildings and pints every year on the 17th of March. But what do we really know about the world’s most celebrated Saint and what’s left of his legacy in Ireland?
Making a selection was one of the hardest parts of going on a Saint Patrick’s tour of Ireland. There are literally hundreds of sites that claim to have some kind of connection with the saint! I decided to narrow it down to some of the key sites, all situated in Northern Ireland and all manageable in a daytrip!
My trips starts at the Saint Patrick Visitor’s Centre in Downpatrick, where, to my biggest surprise, I discover that Patrick actually wasn’t Irish at all! He was born in Britain around 400 AD. At the age of 15, disaster strikes and Patrick is captured by a clan of Irish outlaws and taken to Ireland as a slave. Strengthened by faith, he plans and succeeds his escape back to Britain. Through interactive displays and screens, I learn that Patrick heard the voice of an angel telling him to return to Ireland to convert the pagans to Christianity. The rest is history…
A 10 minutes drive from Downpatrick, I arrive at the tiny church of Saul, the place where Saint Patrick founded his very first church! Don’t expect any bells and whistles here, the whole site couldn’t be more simple! A curious craftsman, doing some restoration work inside, is my only companion. The interior is just as modest as the outside and the surrounding collection of cross-carved stones and Celtic graves look out peacefully over the hilly Northern Irish landscape.
Looking at the horizon I can make out a big statue on the nearby hill: Slieve Patrick, the place where you can climb up to the tallest statue of Saint Patrick in the world! On the way up, bronze panels illustrate scenes from the life of Ireland’s patron saint. Near the top is a grotto and cavalry, but the summit is for Saint Patrick himself! And what a view he has! Strangford Lough and the Northern Irish countryside are spread out right in front of me! Absolutely beautiful!
During the 6 years that Saint Patrick spent as a slave in Ireland, he was mainly trained to work as a shepherd. Slemish Mountain, in county Antrim, at a height of 1500 ft (457 metres) is the place where he tended sheep and swine on the mountain slopes. It was here that he regularly turned to prayer and had visions to plan his escape back to Britain. Every year on the 17th of March, large crowds hike up to the top of the mountain as a pilgrimage. I am here in January, when only a few walkers accompany me on the way up. It’s a hard enough climb and scramble, it’s steep and rocky, but the views at the top make it all worthwhile! If it weren’t for the howling wind, this place would make for an excellent meditation spot indeed!
I return back to Downpatrick, where a last and final legacy awaits me. Next to the Down Cathedral, a massive granite stone, marked with the letters “Patrick”, is said to be the gravestone of Ireland’s patron saint. A modest, simple stone and a perfect illustration to the modest life Saint-Patrick had led…
Have you been to Ireland or maybe followed this trail? Looking forward to reading it in the comments!