Padraig by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 7.14.07 AMWe’re closing in on that one day in the year when you’re either Irish or pretending to be; when you wear something green even if it’s not your color; when even teetotalers take a sip of something a bit stronger than their usual fare. My real Irish friends refer to St. Patrick’s Day as “amateur hour,” but I believe they’re secretly proud of the fact that for one day each year, everybody wants to be like them

In case you happen to be the one person in the world who doesn’t know this, Padraig—St. Patrick as we more commonly call him—is the primary patron saint of Ireland. He was actually born in Scotland in 387 but at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped and sold as a slave to an Irish chieftain named Milchu who happened to be a Druid priest. It was while tending Milchu’s sheep that young Padraig encountered an angel who turned his heart toward God. The rest, as they say, is history.

Somewhere, somehow, I fit into all this. My surname—Kirkpatrick—means Padraig’s church and my own family’s origins are in Scotland, near Dumbarton, the place of the good saint’s birth. My seven times great grandfather—James Kirkpatrick (I’m not making this stuff up)—was my direct ancestor who arrived in America in 1763. He found his way to western Pennsylvania where he was the last settler attacked by Indians. Presumably he survived the encounter or you wouldn’t be reading this.

It’s unlikely that Great (x7) Grandfather Kirkpatrick came to America directly from Scotland. We think he was part of the largely undocumented wave of immigrants known as the Scots-Irish, Presbyterians originally from Scotland who emigrated to Ulster (Northern Ireland) in the early 17th Century to avoid being forced into the Church of England during the reign of Charles I. Eventually, these Scots-Irish re-emigrated to America where the promise of religious freedom was greater. The rest, as they say, is my history.

But back to Padraig. Saintly as he may well have been, he has certainly become the stuff of legends. Like: he used the lowly shamrock to illustrate a parable about the Holy Trinity. Like: he banished all the snakes from Ireland (never mind there never were snakes in Ireland). Like: he walked throughout Ireland with a staff made of ash which he thrust into the ground wherever he preached. In one village, so the story goes, it took so long for his message to get through to the hardheaded locals that the staff actually took root and became a tree. (That town is now known as Aspatria, the ash of Padraig.) All that may or may not be history, but it’s awfully good blarney.

Which brings us to March 17: St. Patrick’s Day, the supposed day of Padraig’s death in 461. I don’t think one should take all this “history” too seriously. There are lots of theories about the real Padraig including one called the “Two Padraigs Theory” which suggests that many of the works attributed to Padraig were really accomplished by Palladius, a bishop sent by Pope Celestine to minister to Irish Christians in 431, a year or two before Padraig arrived on the scene. But I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. In fact, if I were you, I’d find something green to wear and at least for a day, be Irish.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

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Letters to Editor

  1. Bonnie Kirkpatrick says:

    Hi!! I married a Kirkpatrick in 1959, and did a lot of genealogy for a Centennial Farm and Father-in-Laws Birthday/family gathering in 1989. I did get back to Ireland in my search however it was much later than 1763 that *our* Kirkpatrick’s landed in America. This Family does indeed wear our green on March 17, and my youngest daughter likes to wish everyone a Happy KIRKPATRICK’S Day every year.. Enjoyed your story..

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