Every year, the world turns green (well, usually) on March 17, when the Irish and anyone who feels even the smallest bit Irish celebrate St Patrick's Day with parades, festivities and the odd pint of black stout.
St Patrick is the primary patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to Ireland during the 5th century. He supposedly died on March 17 and today this day is celebrated nationally and internationally as a religious and cultural holiday, on top of celebrating Ireland and everything Irish as such, of course.
But what exactly is St. Patrick's relation with Ireland and the places he visited? We set out on a journey through Ireland following in the footsteps of St Patrick, which takes us to the North, midlands and west of Ireland.
1. Slemish Mountain, Co. Antrim
According to legend, Patrick was kidnapped from England by Irish pirates when he was a teenager and was brought to Ireland as slave. He worked as a herdsman on the slopes of Slemish mountain, known to be the first Irish home of St. Patrick.
A fairly short hike to the summit lets you follow in the first footsteps of St Patrick in Ireland and if you are lucky with the weather you can enjoy fabulous views over the northeast. Maybe it was here where Patrick discovered his love for high places? Sure many more are to follow.
2. Saul, Co. Down
After six years in slavery in Ireland, Patrick managed to escape and made his way to his family in England, where he became a cleric. He then returned to Ireland as a missionary and as he was setting over to Ireland, strong winds swept Patrick's boat into Strongford Lough and he landed in Saul. He was granted to stay in a barn after converting the local chief Dichu and this barn became Ireland's first church.
You can still visit the small church today, which lies about 2 miles outside Downpatrick. Outside the church you will find the world's largest statue of St. Patrick on the crest of Slieve Patrick. The peacefulness and tranquility of the place can best be felt while enjoying the views over Strongford Lough and the Mourne Mountains.
3. Slane, Co. Meath
It was here where Christianity first triumphed over Paganism. Much to the dismay of the Irish High King Laoghaire’s Bealtaine, Patrick lit the Pascal Fire atop of the Hill of Slane in advance of the king's fire at Tara. As Patrick was the only man who could put it out and while doing so explained the holy trinity, the King was so impressed with Patrick's magical powers that he converted to Christianity. Soon after this the wave of Christianity swept over Ireland to extinguish Druidic beliefs.
Today, the ruins of the monastic site and friary can still be found on the picturesque Hill of Slane and, once again, a visit is worth for the fabulous views over the rolling hills of Co. Meath all the way to the Hill of Tara.
4. Cashel, Co. Tipperary
The Rock of Cashel was originally the royal seat of the Eoghanachta clan, a Welsh clan that reigned over Munster in fourth century AD. In the fifth century AD, the Rock was said to be the location where St Patrick converted and baptized King Aengus, chief of the Eoghanachta clan, who then became Ireland's first Christian king. Further, according to legend, the Rock of Cashel originated in the mountains near Cashel after St. Patrick reportedly banished Satan from a cave in the mountains, resulting in the rocks landing in the town of Cashel. Due to the mythical story, the hill is known as the Devil’s Bit.
Today, due to it's historical and cultural significance, the Rock of Cashel remains one of Ireland's most important national monuments and is worth the visit to wander through the ruins of the magnificent structure alone and to learn about St Patrick and early Christianity in Ireland.
5. Ardpatrick, Co. Limerick
The small village of Ardpatrick lies at the foot of the north slopes of the Ballyhoura Mountains. It is overlooked by the 5th century monastery, reputedly the first monastery founded by St Patrick though the construction was not finished until years and decades after.
6. Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo
Ireland's holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, peacefully dominates the western coast of Co. Mayo and is located just a few miles outside the beautiful town of Westport. It is a challenging climb up the 765m high summit, partly on well established paths, partly climbing over the gravel covered summit, but it is well worth the effort as the views over the countless tiny islands in Clew Bay and the northwestern coastline are simply stunning.
It was here where St Patrick climbed to the top and spent the fourty days of lent fasting and helpfully banishing snakes, demons and other supernatural spirits from Ireland.
7. Lough Derg, Co. Donegal
St Patrick continued his mission to the northwest of Ireland, where he was confronted with a large lake serpent at Lough Derg. Patrick killed the monster and its blood turned the lake's water red - Derg, which is the Irish word for red.
St Patrick's purgatory, as it is traditionally know by, is Ireland's holy lake and its oldest pilgrimage. Pilgrims have since travelled to this sacred site for centuries and you can follow different paths to Station Islands or to Saints Island, while enjoying the beautiful scenery and tranquil surrounding of Lough Derg.
8. Armagh City
St Patrick continued to the city of Armagh, where he asked the local chieftain, Daire, for permission to build a church on Druím Saíleach, the Hill of the Sallows. After Daire initially refused, St Patrick was given the site and built his first church in 445 AD. A tradition was born and until today Armagh holds some of the strongest ties with St Patrick and the Christianization of Ireland and still today is known as the ‘Ecclesiastical Capital’ of Ireland.
According to tradition, Saint Patrick tried to convert several Irish Kings who would have ruled over Ulster and other areas during his time in Ireland. King Brian Boru, one of Ireland’s most famous ancient kings, is said to have been buried within the cathedral grounds.
9. Downpatrick, Co. Armagh
Lead by an angel, close to his death, St Patrick was told to return to his first landing place in Ireland, where he died on March 17 in 461 AD. Legend tells that his body was placed on an ox cart and the angel decreed his body to be buried in the first place the oxen stops. This was Downpatrick and St Patrick's resting place is located next to the impressive Down Cathedral.
Besides visiting the Cathedral, today you can also visit the St Patrick's Center to learn more about Christianity in Ireland and St. Patrick's life and mission.