Saint Patrick (Naomh Pádraig) of Ireland was a Catholic missionary who travelled to Ireland in the early-or-mid 5th Century AD to complete the work of the Bishop Palladius, who had earlier been charged by the Pope with the task of evangelising Ireland. Patrick is believed to have converted virtually the entire island of Ireland to Christianity. Much about him remains a mystery, though some of his personal writings have survived.
Life as a Slave
Born to a rich Roman family in Britain around 385 A.D., he was well educated but was captured at age 15 during a slave raid on the west coast of Britain. An Irish raider sold him as a slave in Ireland, where he herded animals on Slieve Mish (Sliabh Mis) mountain, near Belfast. After six years of this, he experienced a profound spiritual awakening, escaped, and returned to his family but with the intention of returning to Ireland and converting it to Christianity.
When Patrick was in his forties, he had a vivid dream that told him to return to Ireland. He wrote in his Confession:
In the depth of the night, I saw a man named Victoricus coming as if from Ireland, with innumerable letters, and he gave me one and while I was reading I thought I heard the voice of those near the western sea call out: 'Please, holy boy, come and walk among us again.' Their cry pierced my very heart, and I could read no more, and so I awoke.
Patrick risked his life by returning to Ireland and attempting to convert the ruling Kings and Chieftains who ruled the island. According to legend, he used the shamrock (seamróg), a small three-leafed plant that resembles a miniature clover to educate the Irish about the Trinity. However, since many of the Irish already worshipped a Goddess, Brigid, with three forms, it is unlikely that the Irish needed the idea of three parts in one god explained to them.
Patrick baptized 120,000 Irish and established 300 churches. According to legend, Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland, as there are no snakes there to this day. Some regard the snakes as a metaphor representing heathen religions.
Reflection and Death
Patrick wrote about his life:
Patrick the sinner, an unlearned man to be sure. None should ever say that it was my ignorance that accomplished any small thing, it was the gift of God.
He is believed to have died on March 17, 461 AD, the day celebrated as his feast day.
Image and memory
As Ireland's best-known saint, Patrick became a contested figure during the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, with various factions trying to use him to validate their claims. Protestants and Catholics both claimed him as the founder of their church in Ireland. Catholics leaders also had to revise the traditional image of Patrick as a miracle-working, Moses-like prophet in order to remake him into the model of a devout pastor administering sacraments and encouraging repentance for sins. By the middle of the 17th century he was firmly established as the founder of Catholicism in Ireland. By 1800 Protestants in Ireland had also adopted him.
Saint Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day commemorates the feast day of Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. The day is generally characterised by the attendance of church services, wearing of green attire (especially shamrocks), and the lifting of Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol, which is often proscribed during the rest of the season.
St. Patrick's Day, an Irish and Irish-American holiday commemorating the death, as legend has it, of Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, on March 17, circa 492. It is also the occasion, in many American cities, for celebrating Irish heritage with a parade. Among the most renowned of these festival traditions are the New York City parade, which officially dates to March 17, 1766 (an unofficial march was held in 1762); the Boston parade, which may date as far back as March 17, 1775; and the Savannah, Georgia, parade, which dates to March 17, 1824. 
- Philip Freeman. St. Patrick of Ireland (2004) 216pp excerpt and text search
- William Bullen Morris. The life of Saint Patrick, apostle of Ireland (1890) 303pp full text online, old but useful detailed study
- Thomas O'Loughlin. Discovering Saint Patrick (2005) 254 pages excerpt and text search
- E. A. Thompson. Who was Saint Patrick? (1999) 190 pages excerpt and text search
- American Minute for March 17th
- Kevin Meethan, Alison Anderson, Steven Miles. Tourism, Consumption & Representation. CAB International. Retrieved on 13 November 2010.
- Edna Barth. Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St. Patrick's Day Symbols. Sandpiper. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “For most Irish-Americans, this holiday is partly religious and partly festive. St. Patrick's Day church services are followed by parades and parties, Irish music, songs, and dances.”
- Circles of Tradition: Folk Arts in Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society Press. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “In nineteenth-century America it became a celebration of Irishness more than a religious occasion, though attending Mass continues as an essential part of the day.”
- Circles of Tradition: Folk Arts in Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society Press. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “The religious occasion did involve the wearing of shamrocks, an Irish symbol of the Holy Trinity, and the lifting of Lenten restrictions on drinking.”
- John Nagle. Multiculturalism's Double-Bind. Ashgate Publishing. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “Like many other forms of carnival, St. Patrick's Day is a feast day, a break from Lent in which adherents are allowed to temporarily abandon rigorous fasting by indulging in the forbidden. Since alcohol is often proscribed during Lent the copious consumption of alcohol is seen as an integral part of St. Patrick's day.”
- James Terence Fisher. Communion of Immigrants: A History of Catholics in America. Oxford University Press. Retrieved on 13 November 2010. “The 40-day period (not counting Sundays) prior to Easter is known as Lent, a time of prayer and fasting. Pastors of Irish- American parishes often supplied "dispensations" for St. Patrick s Day, enabling parishioners to forego Lenten sacrifices in order to celebrate the feast of their patron saint.”