As is the nature of scepticism, and my disdain for most examples of patriotic pageantry and religious ceremony, I have long regarded Paddy‘s Day, and the global cult around it, with deep suspicion. I once even wrote an essay – poorly crafted and of dubious accuracy – claiming that Patrick had never existed, not in the way we understand him anyway, and that the vast majority of his life story was a subsequent fabrication. That essay, incidentally, was submitted as part of a First Year History Exam.
Anyway, I never really gave the bugger, or the myths surrounding his life, much more thought – until, that is, my knowledgeable girlfriend mentioned that, yeah, our Patron Saint probably killed someone. This certainly piqued my interest.
Turns out, those ‘snakes’ St. Patrick banished from Ireland? Yeah, they were probably a metaphor for the Pagans, who had lived here before he introduced Christianity. I always loved the term ‘introduced’, by the way. It conjures up images of a dinner party, where some Pagan returned from Britannia with new ideas in his head is enthusiastically showing off his new find, saying ‘Oh darling, you simply MUST let the teachings of Christ into your life, the ceremonies are positively ADORABLE – and they let us keep our feasts, just with new names and more creatively imaginative legends!’
In fact, our lad Paddy introduced Christianity to Ireland in the same way that Spain & Portugal introduced it to the Americas, or the way Britain introduced their language to over half the Earth’s population. Any Pagans who refused to convert, or to recant their beliefs, were rent asunder. The snakes metaphor works on two levels; first, in Christian theology the snake is frequently another name or identity of the Devil – who, after all, tempted Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden? – and second, Druids often had tattoos of snakes running down their arms – it was their symbol of medicine & science, just as it is today. Patrick banging his staff on the rocks a la Moses and sending the snakes scurrying into the sea? Some speculate that there was a grain of truth in this; Patrick would demand that some poor Pagan bastard convert, and if the person refused then Patrick would hammer the ground with his staff as a signal to his followers – who would then, dutifully and I’m sure in a holy as FUCK way, tear the resister apart.
So yeah. There’s that. However, it is speculation, based on stories only committed to paper three centuries or so after Paddy’s death. Nonetheless, it makes a shitload more sense than snakes, dontcha think? Plus, the pagans didn’t fade from the scene until around that time, so it makes sense that only when the, let’s be honest, genocide had been completed that people would start admitting that, yeah, we didn’t really mean snakes. Of course, by then, the incredibly literal-minded and gullible people who make up the bulk of the church had already bought the snakes tale, so to speak, hook line and sinker.
Still, it is not incontrovertible fact. There is little in the way of archaelogical evidence to back it up – where are the graves? The evidence of a mass exodus? The next part, on the other hand, has quite a bit of hard factual basis…
One of the less-well-known stories of St. Patrick concerns a ‘she-witch’ who he had banished to Lough Derg. There’s this island in the middle of Lough Derg called St. Patrick’s Purgatory, to commemorate his action in sending Caoranach, the she-beast, to stay there. Now, simultaneously, there are quite a few references to a woman who followed St. Patrick very closely, but it seems that no one ever knew her name. It is mere conjecture, but some believe it extremely likely that she was his consort. Anyway, after St. Patrick stated that he had banished the ‘she-beast’, this woman was never seen again.
Fast-forward to 1998. A documentarian takes a team up to Lough Derg to search for any evidence regarding these murky events. Chillingly, they found a woman’s mummified remains under the water… Carbon Dating placed the body’s lifetime as being around the 7th Century CE. The documentarian was convinced that this confirmed the story’s veracity. Rumour has it that he was given a stern warning by our government to avoid doing anything to change the people’s feeling about their Patron Saint.
As well as the glorious Christianity Patrick introduced to Ireland – which is a myth in itself really, since Palladius had been sent before him and was an all-round nicer bloke, by all accounts – the future Patron Saint was also instrumental in teaching the natives Latin…thus laying the groundwork for the eventual inculcation of English, and the general decay of Gaeilge into the minority language it is today. In this particular instance it’s hard to blame him personally for too much of that – after all, somebody else certainly would’ve arrived with a new language at some point, and whatever the lingua franca was going to be going forward, it never looked like being Irish.
All the same, celebrating the life of a genocidal, homicidal, colonialist git isn’t my idea of a festive day. I’m soft like that.
Happy Paddy’s Day! 🙂
Solidarity, brothers & sisters…☭