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03 Saint Patrick, Following in the Footsteps of the Saint, Corned Beef & Cabbage and Danny Boy

March 16, 2006

Episode Guide – Podcast #3 Saint Patrick, Following in the Footsteps of the Saint, Corned Beef & Cabbage and Danny Boy

We celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day by exploring the life of the saint and the places he visited, as well as look at the Irish connection to corned beef and listen to an Irish-American Favorite. CLICK THE PLAY BUTTON below to listen.

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Show Notes

The Story of Saint Patrick

Map of Sites Patrick Visited

Map of Sites Patrick Visited

Sites Saint Patrick Visited

  • Saul (St. Patrick’s Way), Co. Down
  • Downpatrick, Co. Down
  • Armagh, Co. Armagh
  • Hill of Tara, Co. Meath
  • Hill of Slane, Co. Meath

The Knockahopple Irish Fireside Cookbook – Special Guest, Tony Keegan

Sites Saint Patrick Visited (continued)

  • The Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary
  • Saint Patrick’s Cow, Co. Tipperary and Co. Waterford
  • Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo
  • Lough Derg, Co. Donegal
  • Ardpatrick, Co. Limerick

Irish Fireside Song – Special Guest, Tony Keegan

  • Danny Boy (a.k.a. Londonderry Air, Derry Air)

Saint Patrick


Who Was St. Patrick?
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.

Taken Prisoner By Irish Raiders
It is known that St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460 A.D. Although his father was a Christian deacon, it has been suggested that he probably took on the role because of tax incentives and there is no evidence that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. (There is some dispute over where this captivity took place. Although many believe he was taken to live in Mount Slemish in County Antrim, it is more likely that he was held in County Mayo near Killala.) During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)

Guided By Visions
After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. According to his writing, a voice—which he believed to be God’s—spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland.

To do so, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he was held, to the Irish coast. After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that lasted more than fifteen years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission—to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. (Interestingly, this mission contradicts the widely held notion that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.)

Bonfires and Crosses
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. (Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries—spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life. )

Sites Visited by Saint Patrick

During his time in Ireland, Saint Patrick traveled all over the island leaving a trail of converts and legends. No matter what part of Ireland you travel, you can find a reminder of St. Patrick.

If we are going to follow in Saint Patrick’s footsteps, we should probably start where he did. When Patrick returned to Ireland it is believed that he went up the River Slaney and traveled on foot to the village of Saul. This route, known as Saint Patrick’s Way, is now marked by a series of paths that range from 1 to 7 miles.

It is in Saul that Patrick found his first converts. Among them, the local chieftan who gave him a barn to use as a church. Nothing remains of the barn or any churches that were built on the site. However, in 1932 a church and round tower were reconstructed to commemorate 1,500th anniversary of Saint Patrick’s arrival.

Nearby Slieve Patrick is a holy mountain, or more of a steep hill, that offers great views and the world’s largest statue of Saint Patrick.

Saint Patrick chose to spend his final days in Saul. And when he died, his casket was yoked to two white oxen. Patrick said he had vision that the two oxen would choose his final resting place. Well, the funeral procession followed the animals to the church in Downpatrick, and that is where the he is said to be buried. However, if he is buried there, he’s probably not under the stone slab in the churchyard marked “Patric.” He would more likely be under the Cathedral that has been built on the site.

In his time in Ireland, Patrick traveled throughout the country expanding his Christian following. He chose Armagh as his base, and it has remained the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland ever since. Both the Anglican and the Catholic Church have cathedrals there and both are named Saint Patrick’s.

If you visit the Catholic Cathedral, be sure to see the long-case clock. It was the first prize in one of the raffles to raise money for building the church in 1865. The prize still waits to be claimed.

Armagh is also home to the Tato Crisp factory, makers of Ireland’s most famous potato chips, so you might want to consider a tour.

Between Armagh and Dublin are two important hills associated with Saint Patrick. The story goes that when Patrick heard of a great festival taking place at the Hill of Tara, he made his way from Armagh. In preparation for the festival, High King Laoghaire ordered that no fires be lit until the flame burned at his stronghold on the Hill of Tara signaling the start of the festivities.

Patrick proceeded to light a fire on the top of the nearby Hill of Slane in honor of Easter Sunday. The enraged king ordered the fire be extinguished and the perpetrator executed. Patrick was brought before the king, and it is here that it is believed that Patrick used the shamrock to symbolize the Holy Trinity.

The king was taken with Patrick, and rather than having him killed, he set him free and permitted him to preach. However, the king reportedly said he was too old to convert.

Although very little remains of the fortress at the Hill of Tara, it is still a magnificent and mystical spot with a commanding view of the countryside.

Now we’re going to visit County Tipperary. Home of Saint Patrick’s Rock, or more commonly called the Rock of Cashel, the very place we visited in Episode 1. It is said that Saint Patrick converted another High King of Ireland at the Rock. During the ceremony, Patrick unknowingly drove his crozier into the king’s foot. Later, when asked why he did not cry out, the king said he thought it was part of the initiation.

Between Cashel and Lismore to the south, there is a distinctive cut through the Knockmealdown Mountains. This feature is referred to as the path of Saint Patrick’s Cow. The legend states that Saint Patrick’s cow was grazing in a pasture with her calf, when a thief from Waterford crept over the mountain and stole the calf. In pursuit, the distraught cow tore up the mountain with her horns leaving an unusual and visible topographical feature cut through the mountain.

It is believed that the path was actually an ancient road that connected the Cathedrals at Cashel and Lismore, and it’s the likely path Saint Patrick would have taken to visit these sites.

In the West, at Ireland’s most holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, the saint supposedly spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting, and when he was finished he rang his bell and charmed all the snakes in Ireland to sea. Although the story lacks credibility the bell did exist, and it is on display in the National Museum in Dublin.

Now Croagh Patrick is a popular pilgrimage site, and on the last Sunday in July, tens of thousands of pilgrims ascend the stony path to the summit in the dark, many in their bare feet or on their knees, to attend the 4am mass.

During the rest of the year, there is a standard route to the top that includes three official stations. The first station requires seven laps around a mound of stones reciting seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Mary’s and one Creed.

The second station, at summit, requires kneeling saying another seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys and one Creed. After a prayer for the Pope’s intentions, there are fifteen laps around the Chapel reciting fifteen Our Fathers and fifteen Hail Marys. And then seven laps around what’s called Patrick’s Bed saying another seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys and a Creed.

The third station at the Virgin’s Cemetery requires seven laps around three mounds of stones saying, you guessed it, seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Mary’s and one Creed. The pilgrimage finishes with seven laps around what is called the Big Garden while in private prayer.

It usually takes about two hours to get to the top and one and a half hours to get back down.

If a pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick sounds like a serious undertaking, three-days of strict penance on Station Island on Lough Derg near Donegal, is even more involved. Known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg becomes the site of the most rigorous pilgrimage in the Christian world every year from the first of June to the 15th August. Participants are not to eat anything from midnight the night before they arrive and are only allowed one meal a day of black tea and bread. A small boat takes them to the island where they must walk the Station’s of the Cross barefoot and are not allowed any sleep on their first night. As pilgrims fast, pray and reflect, they are reminded that Saint Patrick spent 40 days and 40 nights on the island under the same conditions.

For something a little more manageable, the village of Ardpatrick in County Limerick is the site of a monastery started by Saint Patrick. Placed on the top of a steep hill, the site now has the shell of a 13th century church, the stump of an even older round tower and a cemetery that is still being used.  The climb to the top may not compare to Croagh Patrick or Lough Derg, but tackling the rough two track path to the summit will certainly leave you feeling like you made a pilgrimage of your own and reward you with a fantastic view of the Limerick landscape. From the top, you can also see parts of the estate of nearby Castleoliver…and an even better view of the grand home can be seen from the nature walk and hiking trails just outside of town.

The resort town of Tramore is Ireland’s seaside playground that combines equivalent of Atlantic City with slot machines and arcades. The name actually means “large beach” and the strand and breakwall are favorite spots to enjoy fish and chips (we recommend Cunningham’s at the top of the hill), Parking is available on the beach; however, it makes for a somewhat long walk up the ridge into town. The scenic coast road heading west from Tramore toward Dungarvan provides a magnificent drive.

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