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The History Of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick was born in northern Roman Britain around 387. The son of a wealthy tax collector, Patrick's life was privileged in a comfortable Roman household.

When he was sixteen, Patrick was captured and brought to Ireland as a slave. Legend has it that he tended sheep and pigs on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim for six years. During these harsh days of slavery, Patrick prayed often and found a deep Christian faith. His later writings in the Confession and Letter to Coroticus describe his humility and an enduring faith even in the face of isolation and scorn.

After six years, he escaped and sailed on a boat back to his family in Britain. Freedom reinforced his Christian faith and called by God, Patrick went to France where he studied for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest and within a few years, a bishop.

Patrick chose to return to Ireland. He came up Strangford Lough and landed at the River Slaney. His first convert was Dichu, who gave Patrick a barn where the first church was built at Saul, County Down. Patrick travelled throughout Ireland, converting druidic pagans in Armagh, Tipperary, Mayo, Meath and Dublin and baptising influential royal chieftains.  Patrick was a fearless and provocative missionary, he deliberately defied Laoghaire, the High King in Tara, introducing the Christian practice of lighting a Paschal fire. Patrick banished the traditional pagan fire lighting ceremony and many of Laoghaire's own tribe followed Patrick's example. The king's son Conall converted to Christianity, became a devoted follower of Patrick and protected him as he journeyed around Ireland.

In 445, Patrick established the Seat of Armagh as the centre of Christian learning in Ireland. A monastery church and an archbishop's house were built here. This was probably another challenging gesture to the druidic order at Navan Fort. The ancient Ulster capital, this had been the royal seat of the Kings of Ulster. By building his most important church close to the symbol of pagan royalty, Armagh became the most important town in Ireland. The only clergy entitled to spread the Christian faith were taught in the abbey in Armagh.

Saint Patrick died in 493. His remains are believed to be buried in the grounds of Down Cathedral, Downpatrick. A granite stone was laid to mark the grave in 1900.

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