‘Saint Patrick: The conversion of the Irish’
Irish religion before Saint Patrick
The religion that was practiced by the Irish before Saint Patrick was their own form of ‘Celtic Paganism’, little of which is known about. What is certainly known was they were Polytheistic, and believed in both male and female deities. That is to say that they believed both in gods and goddesses, some of which were venerated only in a small, local area, but others whose worship had a wider geographical distribution. Nature was of importance for Irish people.
Prior to the arrival of Christianity in the 5th century, the Irish followed Celtic religious practices that had been in place for thousands of years. Like indigenous religious traditions in many parts of the world, they were focused on the forces of nature. Rituals sought to placate gods who could unleash nature’s destructive forces or ensure favourable conditions for good harvests; celebrations marked the solar cycle of seasons. Irish religious practice was also influenced by Roman religion after the Roman conquest of Britannia in 43 CE. Druids were the religious authorities in this system, seen as intermediaries between humans and the other world – they can analogously be described as priests. What little is known about pre-Christian religion in Ireland comes from Greco-Roman sources and later Christian texts.
Saint Patrick’s history
Ireland had never been part of the Roman Empire, nor of the Roman cultural orbit. It was as remote culturally from Rome as the Georgia evangelized by St. Nino, if not quite as different as the Ethiopia evangelized by St. Frumentius. Despite the proximity of Roman Britain, most of the contact across the Irish Sea was that of pirates and slavers. In an Irish slave raid somewhere on the west coast of Britain, most likely in the Severn estuary, probably about the year 415, a sixteen-year-old boy named Patricius, the son of a former city official of Roman Britain who had arranged to have himself...