St Patrick’s Day is always cause for celebration. People dress up in green attire, parade through the streets and drink themselves stupid. It has become a day celebrated not just in Ireland or in areas with a strong Irish heritage (such as Boston, Chicago and New York), but throughout much of the United Kingdom.
This is perhaps appropriate, for St Patrick was born a Briton, a Celtic-speaking native thought to have been born near Carlisle, on the present-day border between England and Scotland. (Davies, 2012, p.51)
Born a Briton, Patrick was seized by Irish pirates as a youth and sold into slavery. He managed to escape and gained his religious education in Gaul before returning to his homeland to lead a proselytizing mission to Ireland.
Patrick was absolutely clear about his nationality, as he reveals in one of his two surviving letters:
Most of the Britons were eventually subsumed by the invading Anglo-Saxons so that by the 11th century their territories, and accompanying cultural and linguistic traditions, were confined to a few small pockets of the British Isles, particularly Wales.
As Norman Davies remarks: ‘To be absolutely clear, St Patrick, like St David, was a Welshman’. (Davies, 2012, p. 52).
St Patrick is rightfully revered for his conversion of Ireland but should also be remembered as a ‘Great Briton’, a hero of the post-Roman occupation whose people laid claim to much of what we know today as Great Britain, even before the ‘English’ ever existed.
Davies N, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (2012)