Saint Patrick: Zealous Apostle of Ireland

Saint Patrick: Zealous Apostle of Ireland. (Photo credit: Farragutful; CC BY-SA 4.0; modified)

The loyalty of the Irish people to the Faith and to the Holy See is the great monument to St. Patrick, their national Apostle. He was sent by Pope Celestine I and his labours in Ireland were accompanied and made fruitful by his extraordinary gifts of prayer and penance. In later years Ireland was known as the Island of Saints and Scholars.

Early life

Born in Kilpatrick, Scotland, Patrick’s parents were Calphurnius and Conchessa, the former from a high-ranking Roman family, holding office in Britain. Conchessa was a close relative of the great St. Martin of Tours.

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At age sixteen, Irish raiders abducted Patrick and sold him into slavery to an Irish chieftain, Milchu, who used him as a shepherd.

In this solitude, the youth took solace in prayer, a habit that lit in him the fire of love of God – a fire that would later ignite the Catholic Faith in Ireland. During those years in captivity, he also learned the Celtic language, and became acquainted with the customs of the Druids, a knowledge that would later be crucial to his apostolate. After six years, admonished by an angel, Patrick escaped and returned to Britain.

Priesthood, appointment to Ireland, and Bishopric

But now, his heart was set on dedicating his life to God in the priesthood. He studied in Tours and at the famed island-monastery of Lérins, and was later ordained by the great Saint Germain. Still, Patrick’s thoughts were with Ireland, and, from time to time, he had visions of Irish children who called to him, “…come back to Ireland, and walk once more among us.”

Pope St. Celestine I, the great combater of heresies and devotee of the Blessed Virgin, dearly wished to conquer pagan Ireland for the Faith, and sent Bishop Palladius to the island. However, the Bishop was terrified of the fierce pagan chieftain, Wicklow, and soon gave up the enterprise. Hearing of the aborted mission, St. Germain sent his disciple of 18 years, Patrick, to Rome to obtain permission to evangelise Ireland. After receiving the Papal blessing, the saint returned to the green isle, now to do battle with the forces of paganism.


Patrick and his companions landed in Ireland probably around the year 433. They made their way north to the mouth of the River Boyne, where Patrick began to evangelize and performed his first miracle in defense of Our Lady and the Nativity of Jesus, converting many. At once the Druids were up in arms against the Christian intruder. One chieftain, Dilchu, tried to strike the saint with his sword, but his arm became petrified, and he joined Patrick and accepted instruction.

Patrick heard that in defiance to him, Leoghaire, the supreme monarch of Ireland, published an edict. On Easter Sunday, all households must extinguish their lights. Only at Tara, the place of the king, would a fire remain lit. All Druids and courtesans convened on Tara. They feared this messenger of Christ was beginning to win the Irish.

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The fearless man of God knew that this was his opportunity to, once and for all, plant the cross in Ireland. Patrick encamped on the hill opposite Tara, and lit a huge Paschal fire rivaling that of Leoghaire.

In a panic, the Druids said to their leader, “O King, this fire which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict will blaze forever in this land unless it be, this very night, extinguished.” A dispatch of Druids and armed men was sent to Patrick’s hill and repeated attempts made to extinguish the fire but to no avail. There were also snares and assaults prepared for Patrick, all of which, by divine protection, he dodged unscathed. His powerful prayer, St. Patrick’s Breast-Plate (see below) is said to have been composed by him for his clash with paganism.

On Easter day, the missionary band, preceded by a youth carrying aloft the Holy Gospels, and followed by St. Patrick wearing mitre and crosier, entered Tara. The Druids tried all their spells and incantations on the courageous company. After much effort, they finally succeeded in bringing darkness over the valley. Patrick prayed to the Lord, and the sun shone forth. Then, by demonic power, the Arch-Druid Lochru was lifted up in the air, striving to gain control over the saint. But at Patricks’s prayer, Lochru was dashed on the rocks.

Conversion of Ireland

On this day, Irish paganism was dealt a mortal blow. Beginning with the king, St. Patrick began to evangelize the court, soon making a convert of one of the ministers, Dubhtach. It is on this occasion that St. Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock, three leaves on a single stem, to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the assembled chieftains.

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St. Patrick spent his life working for the complete conversion of his beloved Irish. He particularly directed his apostolate to the chieftains, knowing that if the heads were conquered, their people would follow. And thus it happened that through his untiring evangelisation, supported at times by great miracles, he conquered Ireland for the Holy Catholic Faith. Churches and monasteries arose, and religious orders were founded. St. Patrick is said to have consecrated 350 bishops.

Saint Patrick died on March 17, 493. His remains were wrapped in a shroud by St. Brigid. Bishops, clergy and faithful from all parts crowded around to offer due honour to the Father of their Faith. According to ancient records, for several days a light shone around his bier. The cathedral of Down was build on his grave.

The Breastplate (or Lorica) of St. Patrick

This prayer is unfortunately most popular in its abridged form. The entire prayer given below exhibits Saint Patrick in all his grandeur and grit.

I bind to myself this day
The strong virtue of the
Invocation of the Trinity,
The Faith of the Trinity in Unity,
The Creator of the Elements.

I bind to myself this day
The power of the Incarnation
of Christ and His Baptism,
The power of His Crucifixion
with His Burial,
The power of His Resurrection
with His Ascension,
In virtue of His coming to the
sentence of the Judgment.

I bind to myself this day
The power in the love of the Seraphim,
In the obedience of Angels,
In the hope of Resurrection
unto reward.
In the prayers of the Patriarch,
In the predictions of the Prophets,
In the preaching of Apostles,
In the faith of Confessors,
In the purity of Virgins,
In the deeds of holy men.

I bind to myself this day
The strength of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The whiteness of snow,
The force of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The hardness of rocks.

I bind to myself this day
The Power of God to guide me,
The Might of God to uphold me,
The Wisdom of God to teach me
The Eye of God to watch over me,
The Ear of God to hear me,
The Word of God to give me speech,
The Hand of God to protect me,
The Way of God to lie before me,
The Shield of God to shelter me,
The Host of God to defend me
Against the snares of demons,
Against the temptation of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against every man that meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether alone, or with many.

I have invoked all these virtues
Against every hostile, savage power
Warring upon my body and my soul,
Against the enchantments of false Prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, magicians, and Druids,
Against all knowledge which blinds the soul of man.

Christ protect me this day
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ in the front,
Christ in the rear, Christ within me,
Christ below me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the helm.

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself this day
The strong faith of the Invocation of the Trinity,
The Faith of the Trinity in Unity,
The Creator of the Elements.

Salvation is the Lord’s,
Salvation is the Lord’s,
Salvation is from Christ,
Thy Salvation, O Lord, be with us for ever. Amen

Originally posted on Irish Society for Christian Civilisation.