St. Patrick's Way: How to Follow in the Footsteps of Ireland's Patron Saint

St. Patrick's Way: How to Follow in the Footsteps of Ireland's Patron Saint

Great Britain, United Kingdom · About Culture & History

There’s a real man behind the legend that gets us wearing green every March 17th. And you can go beyond modern St. Patrick's Day ‘shenanigans’ to revisit the life of St. Patrick on a journey connecting places in Northern Ireland where his story became a legend that thrives to this day among the Irish and millions of people around the world with ancestral links to the Emerald Isle. 
 
Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick, roamed the Emerald Isle over 1500 years ago. Amazingly, given the passage of time, we know some key facts about his life.
 
Patrick was born in Britain around AD400. He was brought to Ireland as a slave as a teen and endured six grueling years of herding in the north before escaping and managing to reunite with his family in Britain.
 
Amazingly, he chose to return to Ireland. Patrick wrote that he heard the ‘voice of the Irish’ calling him. Once he was ordained as a bishop, he went back to Eire to spread Christianity. Some of the legends of his ministry in Ireland remain to this day.
 
Famously, Patrick is said to have miraculously driven the snakes from Ireland. It’s true there are no snakes in Ireland today, but then, there never were. Even in the 5th century. The Irish do love a good story!
 
He is also credited with creating the iconic Celtic cross by combining the Christian cross with a circle: the pagan symbol of the sun. Many Christian icons, stories, and practices stem from amalgamations with earlier, pagan traditions that helped convince local populations to convert to the new religion, and St. Patrick followed suit.
 
There there’s the shamrock and its place to this day as a symbol of Irish culture. As the legend goes, Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity: how three entities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, could also together be one God.
 
Due to his ministry, reported miracles and renowned exemplary character, following his death, the now-St. Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland. Christian saints were assigned their own ‘feast’ day, and on St. Patrick’s, March 17th, the Irish got in the habit of wearing shamrocks on their lapels.
 
It was Irish immigrants to the U.S. who turned St. Patrick’s day into the pub and beer and ‘wearin’ o’ the green’ and Top o’ the mornin’ and parade festival it is for many today. Those practices traveled back across the Atlantic to Ireland largely for tourists’ benefit.
 
But year round, one authentic way to pay homage to the patron saint of the Emerald Isle is to, follow suit with some pilgrims who journey around Ireland to visit the places associated with St. Patrick’s life and teachings and legends.
 
Like Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way), Ireland’s Pilgrims’ Walk provides a theme and structure to an outdoor trail walk that uplift both religious and non-religious hikers.
 
 
St Patrick´s Way: The Pilgrims’ Walk  
Stretching from Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, to Downpatrick, where Patrick is said to be buried, this 130km / 80 mile signed walking trail in Northern Ireland connects key sites relating to St Patrick and Ireland’s Christian heritage.  
 
At key places along the way you can gather stamps on your Pilgrim’s Passport as a souvenir of the camino experience. A fully stamped passport gets you a certificate of completion.
 
Armagh 
The trail begins at one of the most important archaeological sites on the island, just outside of Armagh. Historic Navan Fort is the ancient seat of the kings of Ulster. Patrick is said to have healed a chieftain there who gave him a hill in Armagh on which to build his first church. This is now the site of one of the two St. Patrick's cathedrals in the city.
 
 
Downpatrick 
The town most associated with the saint is home to The Saint Patrick Centre, the only permanent exhibition in the world about him. The hi-tech multimedia exhibition tells the story of his life and mission. There are also multiple excellent guided experiences on offer from the centre including short caminos that explore the Christian monuments and stunning landscape of County Down.  
 
After a visit to the centre, it’s a short walk to medieval Down Cathedral to see the large stone slab that covers St Patrick’s grave. 
 
A few miles outside Downpatrick in the village of Saul is a small stone church built on what is said to be the earliest place that St Patrick led Christian worship in Ireland. The site is referred to as the Cradle of Christianity and was where Patrick lived in the years before his death. There is also an impressive replica of an early Christian round tower there. 
 
Nearby on the crest of Slieve Patrick stands an imposing statue of the saint carved from local granite and adorned with bronze plaques depicting scenes from his life. 
 
  
Slemish Mountain 
This small County Antrim mountain is believed to be where Patrick tended sheep during his time as a slave in Ireland. It has become a tradition to climb Slemish on St Patrick’s Day, but walkers enjoy the hike throughout the year. The mountain is actually the central core of an extinct volcano and the 1.5km (less than 1 mile) walk to the summit isn’t very difficult. 
 
At any time of the year, walking in the ‘Way of St. Patrick’ allows visitors to delve into some of the richest history and legends and culture of Ireland, as well as experience its iconic landscapes with outdoor activity.
 
START YOUR IRELAND TRIP!
 
Images courtesy of ireland.com 
 
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