Later Times – The Stories, Legends and Great Traditions
The Confession and the Letter have introduced us to Patrick. Many stories are told by others him. He has been remembered through the centuries for his preaching and teaching of Christianity.
He was a bishop, guiding and protecting his flock, before mitres were worn or crosiers were held by bishops in Ireland. (Mitres were not worn in Ireland until five hundred years after Patrick’s time, and the crozier he carried was probably a simple wooden staff.) When story-tellers told tales of Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland, they probably meant that he drove out what was evil and brought in what was good. Much much later still, in the eighteenth century, the picture of the shamrock with its three leaves springing from one stem came into tales and lessons about Patrick’s teaching that God was Tri-une, that is a three-personed God with life and love expressed by Father, Son and Spirit bound together and united in a close relationship.
The word ‘shamrock’ (semrog, in Irish) which is now associated with the lesser yellow trefoil (trifolium minus), seems to be derived from the word for ‘rivet’ in the Irish language (seam, pronounced sham). Some scholars think that the three rivets on the hilt of the first-century sword (previous page) may symbolise ‘the three-in-one God.
Patrick has also been honoured in songs, ballads and hymns through the centuries. The Book of Armagh, one of the treasures in the Library of Trinity College Dublin, notes that Patrick died on 17th March. That book, written four hundred years after Patrick’s time, refers to the custom which arose in honour of the national saint ‘always to chant his Gaelic canticle’ on his festival day. The tradition ran that he sang ‘Christ be with me’ (Criost Lion) and prayed the words of what later became known as the ‘Breastplate’ hymn.