Irish History Live


Saint Patrick by Jael Craig

Patrick (Patricius, Patraic, Padraig) (c.420-490) patron saint of Ireland was born in fifth-century Roman Britain, Son of Calpornius a deacon and grandson of Potitus, a priest.[1] The place from which Patrick heralds is disputed. Patrick himself names it as Bannavem Taburniae[2] but this is hardly enlightening to modern scholars, and is likely to have meant just as little to Patrick’s contemporaries.

How do we know about Patrick?

Most of what we can reliably know about Patrick comes from his own writings, the Confessio and the Epistola ad Coroticum. These texts survive in the ninth-century Book of Armagh and are the only surviving texts from fifth-century Ireland. Patrick, however, is not known wholly through his own writings. The work of hagiographical authors, that is the authors of saints’ ‘lives’ (in Patrick’s case Muirchú and Tírechán), have imposed other elements into the common understanding of the life of St. Patrick. Scholars on the whole concur that additions to Patrick’s life that occur solely in hagiographical works have often been made with propagandist motives in mind, or in order to shape Patrick’s life story into a contemporary hagiographical model befitting the ninth century.

[1]Confessio § 1, (142/3). Extracts from Patrick’s Confessio are taken from Thomas O’Loughlin’s translation in Discovering Saint Patrick (London, 2005) and are given in (page/line number).

[2] Confessio §1, (142/5).


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This article was written by Jael Craig. Jael graduated from Queen's University Belfast in 2011 with a joint honours degree in Modern History and Politics. A history module that Jael took explored St. Patrick and Ireland's early history, and allowed her to discover an era outside of her usual comfort zone. This opportunity allowed her to build a strong foundation for further study and inspired what she forsees to be a lifelong interest.

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