St. Patrick, Fact and Fiction

Because my name is Kathleen, occasionally someone will ask me if I’m Irish. I’m not, except on March 17, when suddenly everyone is Irish. We eat corned beef and cabbage, wear green, decorate with shamrocks, dance an Irish jig, and sing “Danny Boy.” The Chicago River has already been dyed green as usual. All of this hoopla stems from St. Patrick, whose feast day this is and traditionally the day he died.

We’ve grown up with certain legends about this patron saint of Ireland. Some are fake news. Here are a few facts about the man.

What we think we know:

• St. Patrick was born in the 4th or 5th century not in Ireland but in Britain. His parents were Roman, and in the two books he wrote he called himself Patricius. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest.

• One of his short books was the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography. The other was Letter to Coroticus, in which he denounced the British mistreatment of Irish Christians.

• As a youth, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland. After six years working as a shepherd, he managed to return to England and became a priest. There in a vision he was called to go to Ireland, where he worked as a holy bishop until his death.

Some misconceptions:

• St. Patrick was not the first to bring Christianity to the island. A man named Paddrius, who called himself Patrick, preceded him. The two men were conflated into the one man we know today as St. Patrick.

• A cartoon shows Patrick in a car loaded with snakes that he is driving out of Ireland. The snakes are saying, “Are we there yet? I’m gonna be sick! I have to go to the bathroom! How much farther?” Truth: There never were snakes in Ireland. Here’s another snake cartoon:

• Green was not St. Patrick’s favorite color. He was originally associated with the color blue. The Order of St. Patrick (an organization like the Knights of Columbus) chose green as their color because it was the color of Ireland’s fight for independence. Thus in the 18th century green became associated with St. Patrick.

Other facts:

• St. Patrick was never officially canonized because the process was not yet in place.

• The shamrock is Ireland’s unofficial national flower. St. Patrick is assumed to have used it to teach about the Trinity because it has three leaves.

• Here are two crosses associated with St. Patrick. The first is called saltire and the second, pattee.

• The first St. Patrick Day parade was held in Florida, not Ireland—in 1601.

• Corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick Day originated in the USA. The Irish ate ham and cabbage, which was too expensive for the poor Irish Americans.

• A prayer credited to St. Patrick is “St. Patrick’s Lorica.” Lorica is armor, protection. You might want to pray it right now:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, 
Through a belief in the Threeness, 
Through confession of the Oneness 
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today 
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism, 
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial, 
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension, 
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim, 
In obedience of angels, 
In service of archangels, 
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward, 
In the prayers of patriarchs, 
In preachings of the apostles, 
In faiths of confessors, 
In innocence of virgins, 
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven; 
Light of the sun, 
Splendor of fire, 
Speed of lightning, 
Swiftness of the wind, 
Depth of the sea, 
Stability of the earth, 
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me; 
God’s might to uphold me, 
God’s wisdom to guide me, 
God’s eye to look before me, 
God’s ear to hear me, 
God’s word to speak for me, 
God’s hand to guard me, 
God’s way to lie before me, 
God’s shield to protect me, 
God’s hosts to save me 
From snares of the devil, 
From temptations of vices, 
From every one who desires me ill, 
Afar and anear, 
Alone or in a multitude. 

I summon today all these powers between me and evil, 
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul, 
Against incantations of false prophets, 
Against black laws of pagandom, 
Against false laws of heretics, 
Against craft of idolatry, 
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards, 
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul. 
Christ shield me today 
Against poison, against burning, 
Against drowning, against wounding, 
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, 
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, 
Through a belief in the Threeness, 
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

• How will you or did you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?


  1. Ruth Ann Pilney on March 17, 2021 at 8:27 am

    I will attend Mass, and sing This Day God Gives Me, based on the Lorica. Later, we will have corned beef, cabbage, and carrots. I am a native Chicagoan, so I miss all the excitement on St. Patrick Day. In my current home of Utah, celebrating this day is quite subdued. ☘️

Leave a Comment