In the midst of my Northern Ireland re- cap, I completely forgot to tell you about our trip to Downpatrick, the burial site of the world-famous St. Patrick. No worries – all for the better now as I get to tell you about it on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. So, green beers, kiss-me-i’m-Irish shirts, and shamrocks aside, I present to you, quite literally, the man behind the celebrations.
Although St. Patrick is associated with all things Irish, the holy man himself actually hails from Kilpatrick, Scotland. Not very much is known about his childhood, except that he is the child of Roman parents living in Britain and that he was captured in a raid when he was around 15 and was taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. As a shepherd, he had a lot of free time that was devoted to praying. I mean, what else do you do when you sit around and wait on your sheep, right? He continued this lifestyle until he was released and allowed to return to Scotland at 20. Several years upon his return and urged by a dream he had in which the Irish begged him to come back, he began his studies into the priesthood and eventually became a Bishop whose mission was to take the Gospel to Ireland, the land of Druids and pagans.
Patrick and his disciples preached throughout Ireland for 40 years, during which time thousands were converted and many, many churches were being built, the remnants of which are seen in today’s Ireland. In all honesty, not only are there a ton of pubs, there are also countless churches in the country. Patrick spent the last days of his life in Saul, where he built the first church, and was buried in nearby Downpatrick. His simple and unassuming grave is located behind the cathedral, overlooking the city.
Downpatrick is also the location of the only St. Patrick Centre in the world, in which we spent the better part of the afternoon. The exhibition was very modern and well-done. It takes you through the life of St. Patrick, the persecution he faced during his mission, and all the Irish sites associated with him.
Did you know over 15,000 Irish climb the Croagh Patrick, a mountain, as a pilgrimage on the last Sunday of July every year? It is also atop of this mountain where St. Patrick allegedly fasted for 40-days and was attacked by snakes. All angry and annoyed, he banished all the snakes into the sea. Hence, to this day, there are NO SNAKES in Ireland! Isn’t that wild? I did not know that! Then, of course, there is his association with the shamrocks (3-leaf clovers), which he used to explain the Doctrine of the Trinity to the pagans.
We were suppose to spend the afternoon crossing the hanging wooden bridge that is Carrick-a-Rede and visiting Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim. However, the weather wasn’t cooperating and with Ireland’s ridiculously early sunset, we wouldn’t have been able to make it before dark. Eh, when you travel, sometimes the stars don’t line up and you are forced to consider the alternative. Coming home to a steaming bowl of soup and awesome dinner companions that night, I realized we had spent the day learning about Titanic and St. Patrick, both of which are quintessentially Irish. Not a bad alternative at all.