As a child growing up in Ireland, the legend of St. Patrick played a big part in many of my bed time stories.
Tales of a younglad who was captured and taken to Ireland by pirates sent my imagination into overdrive.
Although some St. Patrick legends, like his time on Croagh Patrick, are likely true, others, like the banishing of snakes, are not.
St. Patrick legends and myths
Below, we’re looking at stories associated with the man himself from his time in Ireland.
1. The banishing of snakes from Ireland
The most popular legend of St. Patrick is that he banished the snakes from Ireland, driving them off of a steep cliff and into the sea.
However, there were never any snakes in Ireland in the first place.
It’s widely accepted that the ‘snakes’ in this story actually represent the devil, who was often depicted as a serpent in the Bible.
St. Patrick travelled around Ireland spreading the word of God. It’s thought that the story about him banishing snakes was a way of describing his work to drive Pagan beliefs from Ireland.
2. The fire on the Hill of Slane
Another St. Patrick legend involves Beltane Eve on the Hill of Slane in County Meath.
It’s said that St. Patrick took up position on the Hill of Slane, around 433 AD.
From here, he defied the High King Laoire by lighting a fire (at the time, a festival fire was lighting on the Hill of Tara and no other fires were allowed to burn while it was lit).
Whether it was out of respect or fear, the High King allowed the Saint’s work to progress. In time, a friary was founded, and over time it both flourished and struggled.
3. His use of the The Shamrock
The trefoil Shamrock is one of the most notable Irish symbols and its popularity can be strongly linked to a St. Patrick legend.
It’s said that, as St. Patrick travelled around Ireland spreading the word of God, he used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirt).
The shamrock later became synonymous with the celebration of St Patrick’s feast day, March 17th, which marks the date of his death.
4. He brought Christianity to Ireland
St. Patrick is often credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland around 432AD, but in fact it was already present in isolated monasteries all over the country.
It likely arrived in the 4th century with slaves who were transported from Roman Britain. However, St. Patrick was one of the most effective early missionaries.
He famously preached on the Hill of Slane near the High King’s residence and founded the See of Armagh where two archbishops claim to be his direct descendants.
Although this legend of St. Patrick may not be true, he did play a huge part in spreading the word of God in Ireland.
5. He spent 40 days on top of Croagh Patrick
Croagh Patrick in County Mayo is closely associated with its namesake, St. Patrick.
It is often called Ireland’s ‘Holy Mountain’ and a pilgrimage takes place here every year on the last Sunday in July.
According to legend, in 441AD St. Patrick spent the 40 days of Lent (the period leading up to Easter) on the mountain fasting and praying.
Evidence shows there has been a stone chapel on the summit since the 5th century.
6. The introduction of the Celtic Cross
The Celtic Cross is another symbol of Ireland and it was supposedly introduced by St Patrick in the 5th century.
Legend has it that he combined the symbol of the cross with the familiar symbol of the sun, symbolizing Christ’s supremacy over the sun which the pagans worshipped.
It not only became a symbol of Christianity, but also an emblem of Celtic identity. However, some believe St. Declan introduced the Celtic Cross, so please take this one with a pinch of salt.
FAQs about St. Patrick’s Day myths
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is the snakes story true?’ to ‘Was he really English?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below. Here are some related reads you should find interesting:
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- The Most Notable St. Patrick’s Day Traditions In Ireland
- 17 Tasty St. Patrick’s Day Cocktails To Whip Up At Home
- How To Say Happy St. Patrick’s Day In Irish
- 5 St. Patrick’s Day Prayers And Blessings For 2023
- 17 Surprising Fact’s About St. Patrick’ Day
- 33 Interesting Facts About Ireland
What are some legends about Saint Patrick?
He spent 40 days and 40 nights on the top of Croagh Patrick Mountain in Mayo, he banished the snakes from Ireland and he defied a King with a fire on the Hill of Slane.
What is the most well known legend of St. Patrick?
The best known legend of St. Patrick is that he banished the snakes from Ireland, however, this isn’t true. It’s believed that the ‘snakes’ actually represented Pagan beliefs.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.