Even though this is officially an American holiday- being St. Patrick’s Day- in Ireland the idea of a re-named saint is one among several. In truth, the patron saint of Ireland ought to be St Brendan whose feast day is May16th. His story came after Maewyn Succat’s (St. Patrick’s birth name) in the sixth century and can be found in the title The Voyage of St. Brendan (Navigatio Sancti Brendani). He was an Irishman, born in the marshy part of Munster County but St. Patrick was not born in Ireland. However, their mutual and brief association is correctly documented in St. Brendan’s story but the rest of his story reads like a fable. If you read with an open mind and comparatively, to the world’s oceanic landscape (or perhaps the original landscape which would combine Iceland, Greenland and America) then Brendan’s tale may ring less of legend and more of the miraculous. In any case, The Voyage was widely believed for those who followed Celtic monasticism before it was challenged by the Anglican Church later.
St. Patrick’s story is too straightforward not to be believed even though he was not indigenous to Ireland. The most important aspect to his sainthood was that he was well-known to bless Ireland with the following promise:
All the Irish would obtain God’s clemency, that barbarian invaders would not prevail against the Irish, and that on Judgment Day no living person would be left in Ireland (because they would ascend directly to heaven).
This is why he is the patron saint of Ireland. It’s perfectly understandable.
Why the name Patrick? It is well accepted as an Irish name today but it is anglicized and has been well used in modern times. It was borrowed from Latin’s Patricius but the Irish name is Pa’draig and sounds quite similar. If the Irish wanted to name their son after the saint he would only be referred to as Gill (short for Gilla) and when combined with Patraic became ‘Gilla Patraic’ which means ‘servant of God’. Mind you, the modern name has only been allowed in the last three hundred years or so.
There is an irony to all this which most people will miss. St. Patrick’s original name, Maewyn Succat, is obviously Welsh and he was captured by Irish marauders as a young lad and taken to Ireland to become a slave for many years until he managed to escape the island and was eventually ordained in France at Auxerre. He returned to Ireland after he received a vision in a dream where angels were calling him back to Ireland. He did so, and eventually was responsible for the conversion of King Laoghaire and his entire court at Tara plus he established over sixty churches complete with locally ordained bishops throughout Ireland. He was buried with another seemingly unknown saint just outside Dublin. You will read this last bit of information in confirmation within St. Brendan’s tale. The shamrock is St. Patrick’s symbol for the Trinity.
Conversely, St. Brendan’s name comes from the Welsh word for ‘prince’ or ‘king’- breenhin. The modern form of the use of his name is Bre’nainn or Breanda’n which came to Irish from the latin Brendanus. This, of course, became anglicized as Brendan. As a tale bearer his widely known name was Breanda’n the Navigator because of the medieval version of his story. In turn, this tale has been translated and published into every single European language. Eventually he founded a monastery at Ardfert, in County Kerry and then later at Clonfert. It is purported that the Archangel Michael visited him in form of a bird and held a conversation with him (very much like a part of the story in The Voyage).
Obviously, no matter how diverse languages are there is an integrated cord which runs through all of it. Sorting it out is for those who enjoy such things. Origins of names can be fascinating, can’t they ?