St Patrick in Irish Mythology

by Veronica

On this eve of St Patrick's Day, March 16th, I thought I would take a brief look at the Patron Saint of Ireland and also look at a myth associated with him.

March 17th is St Patrick's Day. It is celebrated widely in America and Ireland where it is a Catholic Holy Day. But who was St Patrick?

There is no evidence for when Patrick was born but he was Romano- British from a wealthy family probably from Northern Britain. He is believed to have been kidnapped by marauding Irish slavers/ pirates when he was a teenager. These raids by the Irish were common on British land at this time. While he was in Ireland, he found that prayer helped him to survive. He stayed there as a slave, working tending the animals but eventually escaped back to England. After being welcomed by his family he became a Christian, then a priest and then became a Christian missionary into Ireland during the 5th or 6th century.

Patrick's mission in Ireland

Patrick went back to Ireland as a bishop  missionary to convert the population but was not welcomed initially. 

After some time however, he converted and baptised many people. Thereby, the Irish were Christianised by Patrick.  

He is believed to have preached in Ireland for nearly 40 years and is thought to be buried near Down Patrick in County Down. 



window image  of St Patrick
window image of St Patrick




The Shamrock is a three leaved shrub that grows in Ireland and legend has it that it was used by Patrick to describe the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He is thought to have used this because of the Irish love of nature. 

Sunset in West of  Ireland
Sunset in West of Ireland

Croag Patrick

Croag Patrick is a mountain in County Mayo in the West of Ireland and means Patrick's stack or mountain. Tradition has it that Patrick fasted up there for 40 days and nights to follow Jesus' example. Many pilgrims climb the mountain barefoot as a penance. 

As with many Christian traditions, Croag Patrick is believed to have been based on an ancient Gaelic pagan site which was Christianised. 

Croag Patrick

Croag Patrick
Croag Patrick

No snakes in Ireland

A St Patrick myth - Caorthannach

St Patrick is believed to have banished all snakes in Ireland. This is presumably a  symbolic reference to his bringing Christianity to Ireland but it makes for a good tale anyway. 

                                                   Caorthannach (Kai/or/than/ ack)

The Caorthannach, was said to be the devil’s mother. St. Patrick defeated her when he banished the snakes out of Ireland. The myth goes that he stood on a lonely, bare mountain and banished the evil, cruel demons and snakes out of Ireland.

One monster, however, managed to escape – Caorthannach, the fire-spitter. The demon slid down a mountain away from him, but Patrick spotted her and chased her down upon the fastest horse in Ireland, which was brought to him.

The pursuit was a long one, and Caorthannach knew St. Patrick would need water to quench his thirst along the way, so she spat fire as she escaped and then poisoned all the water she passed along the way. 

Though Patrick was parched and thirsty, he would not drink from the poisoned wells and prayed for help.

He eventually made it to the Hawk’s Rock, where he waited for Caorthannach. As she approached, Patrick  jumped out from his hiding spot and banished her from Ireland and she fell into the sea.

The evil fire-spitter drowned in the Celtic Sea, leaving a swell behind that created the famous Hawk Swell.

The Celtic Sea

The Celtic sea between S. Ireland coast and Cornwall, England.
The Celtic sea between S. Ireland coast and Cornwall, England.

To Finish

This is just a brief reflection on Patrick before St Patrick's day tomorrow. If you celebrate the day, I hope you enjoy it and think about the person to whom it is dedicated. 

Updated: 03/16/2019, Veronica
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frankbeswick on 03/19/2019

I have looked up the stone. The engraving is clearly new. The stone was placed on the reputed site of Patrick's grave not so long ago. So Patrick, a true monk, would have been buried in an unmarked grave,but the site might have been remembered in folk tradition..

Veronica on 03/19/2019

You neglect to say it is a HUGE wave

Veronica on 03/19/2019

This tomb has just his name engraved on it. It certainly isn't what I would call a medieval tomb. It is earlier than that by the look of it. I think you need to find a picture of it and decide for yourself.

frankbeswick on 03/19/2019

A bore is caused when high tide pushes back the river waters, creating a wave that travels upstream.

frankbeswick on 03/19/2019

Tombs could well be part of the profitable mediaeval relic industry, so some are of doubtful provenance. Names could be easily inscribed much later than the time of the tomb's creation.

I am sceptical that we know St Patrick's tomb because he would have been buried according to the norm for monk, which is to have a modest, unmarked grave as a sign of humility. Monks have no gravestones.

Veronica on 03/19/2019

A swell of water on a river is called a BORE here as far as I know.

Veronica on 03/19/2019

My lovely big brother as seen below is the best one to ask anything about Church History.

Veronica on 03/19/2019

The ancient tomb stone I saw in Downpatrick , County Down, certainly has an ancient carving with the word Patricius carved into it. At that time only someone of huge influence would have had a name on their resting place. Therefore St Patrick's resting place is usually acknowledged as here but … who knows ?

For some reason, we don't really have snakes in UK apart from the grass snakes. I don't think that our climate is conducive to snake breeding to be honest. e.g....
on Saturday, March 16th just gone, I went out to lunch with my husband on a Spring day in undies, two pairs of trousers, a shirt, jumper, overcoat, two scarfs , a hat and two pairs of gloves …. Happy Spring day !

Veronica on 03/19/2019

Yes we are all a bit Scandinavian here ! ;)

frankbeswick on 03/18/2019

1: The evidence for Egyptian Christianity is that St Kevin of Glendalough is reported to have prayed according to the Egyptian way, standing with arms outstretched. Secondly, Irish Christianity was like its Egyptian counterpart strongly monastic. Thirdly, The Irish monks followed the Egyptian path of going off as solitary hermits to seek a personal desert retreat.

2: Snakes. When the Ice Age lowered sea levels the British Isles were connected to Europe by a land bridge. Snakes and other animals managed to cross before the isles were cut off.Ireland became an isle before Britain did, and snakes did not have time to cross before the sundering. Ireland is less rich in species than Britain is.

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