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Patrick of Ireland

c.390-c.461. His dates, origin, and career have long provoked controversy among historians. The only reliable sources of information are his own short writings: The Confession and The Letter to the Christian Subjects of the Tyrant Coroticus, often called erroneously The Letter to Coroticus. These have been supplemented by many medieval traditions which are largely valueless. Part of the difficulty is that in the medieval sources Patrick may have been confused with Palladius,* who was sent by Pope Celestine to Ireland in 431. Patrick's writings indicate no connection whatsoever with Rome. Linguistic and other considerations suggest that he received his theological training in Britain; the peculiarities of the vulgar Latin which he used point to a British background.

The dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with certainty. His father Calpurnius was a deacon and a Roman magistrate (decurio) son of Potitus, a presbyter. The place of his birth is defined in The Confession as Bonavem Taberniae, and later he speaks of his parents as living in Britain, and calls it his country. It seems highly probable that his birthplace was Old Kilpatrick, near the Scottish town of Dumbarton. At sixteen he was taken captive by marauders from Ireland, and became a slave in East Antrim, near a hill called Slemish, to a farmer called Milchu. His conversion dates from this period, when, as he says, “The Lord opened to me the sense of my unbelief that I might remember my sins and that I might return with my whole heart to the Lord my God.” After six years he escaped from captivity and procured a passage, probably to Scotland. But he did not remain long at home. A night vision called him back to Ireland, and he returned about 432. His ministry and wanderings in Ireland for the next thirty years are obscure, although the subject of many legends; but the view may be accepted that he traveled throughout Ireland and that he had a considerable influence on the Irish chieftains of his day. He had special links with Tara, Croagh Patrick, and Armagh. There is no doubt that he broke the power of heathenism in Ireland and that his teaching was scriptural and evangelical, and that the church which he founded was independent of Rome. He was buried probably in Downpatrick.