March 17th is celebrated as Saint Patrick's Day, a holiday honoring the missionary credited with converting the Irish to Christianity. There is no small amount of controversy surrounding Saint Patrick's actual identity; some historical sources maintain that he was not actually Irish, suggesting that he was indeed born around 373 A.D. in either Scotland or in Britain. Born Maewyn Succat, the missionary took on the name of Patricius later in life, upon entering the priesthood.
At the age of 16, it is reported that Patricius--or Patrick--was kidnapped by seafaring slave traders, who in turn sold him into bondage in Ireland. Held there for over six years, the young man worked as a shepherd. Allegedly, it is during this pastoral time that he began to experience various epiphanies. As a result, he guarded these visions as closely as his flocks, cultivating a devout Christian faith in those Irish fields. Indeed, it is this faith that allowed Patrick to escape his trials of bondage; as the story goes, it was an unseen voice that led the shepherd-saint out of Ireland.
It was not until almost fifty years later that Patrick returned to the country, arriving on the Gaelic shores as a 60 year-old missionary. It's said that Patrick was renowned for his charismatic personality, enabling him to win over many converts from among the Irish masses. He used the three-leafed clover, or shamrock, to explain the concept of the Trinity to his new converts.
Among the many miracles that have been attributed to St. Patrick, it has been said that Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland and into the ocean. This story probably has more basis in allegorical import than historical fact, as the serpent was a revered pagan symbol; in either event, this tale highlights Patrick's role in driving proto-Christian paganism from the shores of Ireland.