Saint Patrick Wasn't Irish (and 5 Other Things You Might Not Know)

03/10/2016 01:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

St. Patrick's Day is a big deal in America. Just consider the famousSt. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City, the dyeing of the Chicago River, and the multitude of other parades and festivals all over the country. We wear green. We eat corned beef and cabbage. And we take advantage of drink specials at our local Irish pubs.

Americans, whether or not we are Irish or Catholic, love to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. But many people know very little about this great saint whose feast day we celebrate with almost carnivalesque fervor. Here are six things you probably didn't know about Saint Patrick.

Patrick was not Irish. Most likely Patrick was born in Scotland. His parents were Roman citizens, and Patrick grew up in Britain where his father was in charge of Roman colonies. When a band of Irish raiders invaded their village, Patrick was captured and taken to Ireland to be a slave.

Patrick was a shepherd. This not might come as a surprise to some because he is sometimes portrayed with a staff, but just as often his feast day is symbolized by a sprite and jolly leprechaun holding a four-leaf clover. But of course Patrick was not a leprechaun. He was a slave, and as slave he was forced to tend sheep. During his time in captivity, Patrick grew very close to God, praying continually. Finally, God appeared to him in dream and told him to escape. Patrick managed to get away and board a ship sailing to France. According to legend, Patrick was at first refused passage aboard the ship, but as he walked away, the hounds on board began barking and would not stop until Patrick was allowed on the ship.

After escaping slavery, Patrick returned to Ireland on his own.
Actually, he was urged to return. The story goes that Patrick had a dream in which he heard the voice of the Irish people saying, "Come and walk among us again." So he did - after studying to be a missionary and being ordained a bishop.

Patrick lived in the days of druids and pagans.
Patrick was a bishop in the Catholic Church, but when he began his ministry, Ireland was not exactly a Catholic country. It is believed Patrick converted a powerful chieftain named Dichu to Christianity, along with thousand of others. He is credited for bringing the Catholic faith to Ireland.

Patrick used a three-leaf clover to help people understand the Holy Trinity.
Many people mistakenly associate the four-leaf clover with Saint Patrick, Ireland, and with good luck, but Patrick actually used a three-leaf clover to demonstrate that there is one God who exists in Three Persons.

Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland.
Okay, probably not. Legend has it that Patrick got rid of Ireland's snakes by beating on a drum and driving them into the sea. It's more likely that the snakes are merely symbolic of sin and paganism. It's true there are no snakes in Ireland today, but there probably weren't any when Patrick lived there either.

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day is a great American tradition (maybe more so than an Irish one). But this year when you drink your Irish whiskey or your pint of Guinness, remember your aren't just celebrating an American holiday, but a great saint of the Church. So drink a toast to Saint Patrick of Ireland! And...

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Happy St. Patrick's Day!