St. Patrick’s Day is a good old American custom, so remember, wear something green on March 17. It’s not the date of his birth we celebrate, but the date of death in 493 AD.

According to Roman Catholic authorities, St. Patrick was born in 387 AD, which would make him 106 years old and one of the world’s first centenarians. Records also show that he wasn’t born in Ireland at all, but in Kilpatrick, Scotland. In addition, his name wasn’t even Patrick. It was Maewyn.

At 16, he was captured by invading Irishmen, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave to a Druid chief. During his six years there as a swineherd, he learned the Celtic language and the Irish ways. He escaped back to Scotland and then studied to be a priest in France. His goal was to return to the Emerald Isle to convert the Irish from their pagan ways.

In 432 Pope Celestine I named the newly ordained priest Patricius and sent him back to Ireland. His first order of business upon returning was to go to the home of his former master and pay him the price of his freedom. He also baptized the chief and his family in the Christian beliefs.

Naturally, the other Druid priests were not pleased to have an outsider reputing their beliefs and converting Irishmen. Patricius escaped stoning and imprisonment several times, and continued to flaunt Christianity under their noses. On his missionary journeys throughout the land, he even had a drummer precede him into a community. He always drew a crowd and was able to explain the Trinity in Unity to the superstitious villagers with the aid of a shamrock. He told listeners that the three leaves of the shamrock represented the three members of the Trinity and that the stem was symbolic of the Godhead.

Many churches were founded by the tireless missionary, and he consecrated numerous bishops. One of the things he’s most remembered for, however, is banishing the venomous serpents from Ireland. Legend says he did it with his drum.

St. Patrick’s Day was first recognized in this country in Boston around the time of the Revolutionary War. Many Irishmen served in Washington’s Continental Army. New York and Philadelphia followed suit with their own celebrations that included parades by Irish societies such as the Charitable Irish Society, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

A group of Irishmen in 1762, probably the forerunners of modern-day St. Patrick’s Day celebrants, met outside New York to toast the Patron Saint of their homeland. It’s said that more than 20 eloquent toasts were delivered before the inebriated merrymakers staggered off home.

Don’t forget to wear your green March 17.

Rod King is a freelance writer for IN Fort Wayne.

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