The Story of St. Patrick

By Jim Kilmartin

As we celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the US, there is much more to this man than four leaf clovers, parades and leprechauns.  Patrick’s story is a fascinating one that includes being kidnapped at an early age, hearing the voice of the Lord to escape and eventually returning to his captor to lead him to follow Jesus.

At the age of 16 years old, Patrick who lived in northern Britain was captured by Irish raiders who took slaves “to the ends of the world.”  He was sold to a cruel warrior chief, whose opponents’ heads sat atop sharp poles around his palisade in Northern Ireland.  Ireland was a pagan nation with ruthless kings and chiefs that relied on druids and their magic.

Among this, Patrick was responsible for his master’s pigs in the nearby hills, where he lived like an animal himself, enduring long bouts of hunger and thirst and being isolated from other people for months at a time.  This was a critical time for Patrick, as he turned to Jesus Christ in prayer.  As a youth while in Britain, he did not follow the Christian ways of his parents but through this isolation and captivity, he turned to the Lord for comfort.

Patrick explained, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours.  The love of God and the fear of Him surrounded me more and more.  And faith grew.  And the Spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less."

After six years of slavery, Patrick heard the Lord speak to him saying, “You do well to fast.  Soon you will return to your homeland.”  Heeding the word, Patrick fasted and continued to pray.  Before long, the voice of God spoke again: “Come and see, your ship is waiting for you."  So Patrick fled and ran 200 miles to a southeastern harbor.  There he boarded a ship of traders heading to Europe.  

After a three day journey, the ship landed in Gaul (modern France), that was once fertile but now was decimated by Goths or Vandals.  With no food to be found, the ship’s captain mocked Patrick, “What have you to say for yourself, Christian?  You boast that your God is all powerful.  We’re starving to death, and we may not survive to see another soul.”  Patrick responded, “Nothing is impossible to God.  Turn to him and he will send us food for our journey.”  Almost immediately, a herd of pigs appeared, “seemingly to block our path.”  Although these men regarded Patrick highly, they offered their new found food in sacrifice to their pagan gods.

There is a gap in his autobiography, Confession, between his time in Gaul and his return to Britain.  Some believe he spent a period of time studying and training for ministry.  Nearly twenty years after his flight from Ireland, Patrick received his call back to Ireland.  

Patrick wrote, “I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland.  His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me.  I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’  And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut…and they cried out as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, come and walk among us.’  I was deeply moved in heart and I could read not further, so I awoke."

At his return to Ireland, he saw that paganism was still dominant as he wrote, “I dwell among gentiles in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshipers of idols, and of unclean things.”  Patrick did not require the natives to surrender their belief in supernatural beings but to see them in a new lights, as demons.

In Mary Cagney’s article in Christianity Today on Patrick, she states “If Christianity had come come to Ireland with only theological doctrines, the hope of immortal life, and ethical ideas—without miracles, mysteries, and rites— it could have never wooed the Celtic heart.  Patrick faced his most opposition from the druids, who practiced magic, were skilled in secular learning, and advised the Irish kings.  Cagney continues saying, “Biographies of the saint are replete with stories of druid who ‘wished to kill holy Patrick.’"

“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven.  I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.” Patrick wrote, “I must take this decision disregarding risks involved and make known the gifts of God and His everlasting consolation.  Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God’s name boldly in every place, so that even after my death, a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children."

From this the famous Lorica or Patrick’s Breastplate prayer was written expressing his confidence in God’s protection from every evil thing to come his way.  I have included his prayer at the bottom of this article.

More from Mary Cagney’s article as I find it absolutely fascinating:


There was probably a confrontation between Patrick and the druids, but scholars wonder if it was as dramatic and magical as later stories recounted. One biographer from the late 600s, Muirchœ, described Patrick challenging druids to contests at Tara, in which each party tried to outdo the other in working wonders before the audience:

"The custom was that whoever lit a fire before the king on that night of the year [Easter vigil] would be put to death. Patrick lit the paschal fire before the king on the hill of Slane. The people saw Patrick's fire throughout the plain, and the king ordered 27 chariots to go and seize Patrick .

…"Seeing that the impious heathen were about to attack him, Patrick rose and said clearly and loudly, 'May God come up to scatter his enemies, and may those who hate him flee from his face.' By this disaster, caused by Patrick's curse in the king's presence because of the king's order, seven times seven men fell. …  And the king, driven by fear, came and bent his knees before the holy man . …

"[The next day], in a display of magic, a druid invoked demons and brought about a dark fog over the land. Patrick said to the druid, 'Cause the fog to disperse.' But he was unable to do it. Patrick prayed and gave his blessing, and suddenly the fog cleared and the sun shone. … And through the prayers of Patrick the flames of fire consumed the druid.

"And the king was greatly enraged at Patrick because of the death of his druid. Patrick said to the king, 'If you do not believe now, you will die on the spot for the wrath of God descends on your head.'

"The king summoned his council and said, 'It is better for me to believe than to die.' And he believed as did many others that day."

Yet to Patrick, the greatest enemy was one he had been intimately familiar with—slavery. He was, in fact, the first Christian to speak out strongly against the practice. Scholars agree he is the genuine author of a letter excommunicating a British tyrant, Coroticus, who had carried --off some of Patrick's converts into slavery.

Patrick concentrated the bulk of his missionary efforts on the country's one hundred or so tribal kings. If the king became a Christian, he reasoned, the people would too. This strategy was a success.

As kings converted, they gave their sons to Patrick in an old Irish custom for educating and "fostering" (Patrick, for his part, held up his end by distributing gifts to these kings). Eventually, the sons and daughters of the Irish were persuaded to become monks and nuns.

From kingdom to kingdom (Ireland did not yet have towns), Patrick worked much the same way. Once he converted a number of pagans, he built a church. One of his new disciples would be ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, and left in charge. If the chieftain had been gracious enough to grant a site for a monastery as well as a church, it was built too and functioned as a missionary station.

Before departing, Patrick gave the new converts (or their pastors) a compendium of Christian doctrine and the canons (rules).

According to the Irish annals, Patrick died in 493, when he would have been in his seventies. But we do not know for sure when, where, or how he died. Monasteries at Armagh, Downpatrick, and Saul have all claimed his remains. His feast day is recorded as early as March 17, 797, with the annotation; "The flame of a splendid sun, the apostle of virginal Erin [Ireland], may Patrick with many thousands be the shelter of our wickedness."


Patrick was an amazing man and worthy of honor.  He led the way to transform the nation of Ireland, in return began to send missionaries throughout Europe and to the ends of the earth. In Genesis, Joseph said to his brothers, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen 50:20).  The Irish raiders and slave traders brought about decimation  and heart ache but God had a greater plan, He had a deliverer in place.  Patrick was just a common person but when the Lord called to him, he responded.  Through his obedience and willingness, God anointed and empowered him appropriately to see a nation transformed.

Will you respond today or tomorrow when the Spirit of God speaks to you?  Jesus said, “The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Mark 9:37).   We need more who are willing to lay down their lives and live for the Lord Jesus.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!



The Confession of St. Patrick and see how the God he loved changed the world through him in How the Irish Saved Civilization.

To tell your children about the real St. Patrick, I recommend The Story of St. Patrick.

Mary Cagney, former editorial resident for the news department of Christianity Today.


St Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through the belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness

Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,

Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,

Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,

Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,

In obedience of angels,

In the service of archangels,

In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In prayers of patriarchs,

In predictions of prophets,

In preaching of apostles,

In faith of confessors,

In innocence of holy virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven:

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

I arise today

Through God's strength to pilot me:

God's might to uphold me,

God's wisdom to guide me,

God's eye to look before me,

God's ear to hear me,

God's word to speak for me,

God's hand to guard me,

God's way to lie before me,

God's shield to protect me,

God's host to save me

From snares of devils,

From temptations of vices,

From everyone who shall wish me ill,

Afar and anear,

Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,

Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,

Against incantations of false prophets,

Against black laws of pagandom

Against false laws of heretics,

Against craft of idolatry,

Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,

Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding,

So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness,

Of the Creator of Creation.