…Continued from Part 1.
Welcome to Part 2 of an attempt to gauge how much, if anything, we can actually derive about authentic Irish paganism from within the fifth century writings of the Historical Patrick.
The last time we left off, we had taken a look at some of the more (in)famous references to alleged pagan ritual within his texts; and how, when examined for biblical allusion and metaphor, it becomes readily apparent that the actions and events he depicts were firmly intended to be read and interpreted against a biblical background. As such, they cannot, and should not, be held up as being representative of any genuine elements of authentic Irish pagan ritual. However, there are further, lesser known, references to pagans in his writings, some of which have been utilized in the past to suggest a possible kernel of truth. And so, for the day that’s in it, lets take a deeper look.
St. Patrick’s Day is almost upon us again. To celebrate, here’s an flagrantly shameless click-baity 17 point listicle (I like to think of it as a ‘histicle’) on aspects of the historical (St) Patrick which are not widely known or usually discussed in modern media. His two surviving documents (and their respective manuscript versions) can be read in a variety of languages here.
1 – Recorded Irish History Starts With Patrick
Before being grossly inflated to within an inch of his hagiographical life by early medieval authors, the man we call ‘Patrick’ was an actual historical person. He lived sometime in the late 4th/early 5thC AD. Copies of two documents written by him survive. They are the earliest surviving texts known to have been written within Ireland. As such, recorded insular Irish ‘history’ (the study of the written word) starts with Patrick. There’s absolutely nothing earlier. Nor indeed, anything after him, for more than a century. The very fact that his writings managed to survive at all is pretty feckin’ amazing.
2 – Growing Up, Patrick Was A Spoiled Little Shit
St. Patrick didn’t call himself ‘Patrick’. Or ‘Saint’. He identified himself as ‘Patricius‘. His father was both a deacon and a type of Roman Town Councillor. His grandfather was a priest. His family’s villa estate had servants. In modern day parlance, Patrick was a spoiled little shit. With a maid. Despite the families ecclesiastical connections, he didn’t have a very religious upbringing at all. He says himself that he didn’t pay much attention to priests in general. Too busy gallivanting and drinking Frappuccinos probably. There’s a good chance his father only took on the role of ecclesiastical deacon in order to help mitigate the families imperial tax liabilities. ‘Tax avoidance, your honour. Not evasion. That money was just resting in my account’.
3 – Rude Britannia
Many people, past and present, have laid several modern nationalist claims on Patrick’s ethnicity; despite the fact that Patrick clearly identified himself and his family as being Britons from the island of Britain. This means he would have considered himself British (in the late antiquity sense of the word). His native language would have been Brythonic. Despite this language being the precursor of Welsh, he would not have considered himself as such. He couldn’t have. A coherent welsh identity didn’t yet exist. They still had all their own vowels for fecks sake. His (unidentified) home town was, in all likelihood, somewhere in North West Britain, not far from the Hadrians Wall frontier zone. Despite living near the (modern day) Scottish border, he did not identify with the inhabitants there either. In fact, he expresses a particular hatred for the insular peoples of Scotland, i.e. ‘The Picts’, essentially calling them worthless, unworthy, blood thirsty, evil thieving bastards. Seriously. He couldn’t stand them blue arsed pagan feckers.