St. Patrick’s real name was Maewyn Succat. His father was Calphurnius, a deacon and son of Potitus who was a priest. His mother's name was Conchessa, whose family is believed to have been from Gaul and originally sold into slavery to Calphurnius by her father. Calphurnius fell in love with Conchessa, released her from slavery, and married her. It is believed that Conchessa was either the sister or the niece of St. Martin of Tours in Gaul.
The family lived near the Firth of Clyde in Northern Britain (Scotland), which was still under the Roman Empire at the time (fifth century). When Succat was 16 years old, Irish raiders kidnapped him, along with his two sisters, and sold them into slavery in Ireland. He was separated from his sisters and sold to work as a shepherd. Succat remained a slave for six years. He believed his slavery was punishment for not believing in God as a child and living as a pagan.
The fifth century book, Armagh, includes a Latin passage written by Succat as St. Patrick called "The Confession”. In it he writes:
"But after I had come to Ireland, I was daily tending sheep, and I prayed frequently during the day, and the love of God, and His faith and fear, increased in me more and more, and the spirit was stirred; so that in a single day I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same; so that I remained in the woods, and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer, in snow, and ice, and rain, and I felt no injury from it, nor was there any slothfulness in me, as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent in me."
Succat became filled with religious zeal and eventually escaped captivity by sneaking aboard a ship headed to Britain, later joining a seminary on the south coast of France. His mission became converting pagans, whom he once identified with, to Christianity. Early in his mission, Succat acquired his name when he went to Rome and became a patrician- a Roman citizen with special status as a religious adviser. The name Patrick is believed to be more of a nickname and a corrupted form of his patrician title, Patrikios.
Aside from establishing many schools and churches around Ireland, St. Patrick became noteworthy as a missionary for his unusual approach to teaching. Rather than taking a “fire and brimstone” approach when speaking of the “evils” of pagan beliefs, he used pagan customs and blended them with Christian ideas in order to more effectively reach out to the locals. The most commonly cited example of this is his use of the shamrock to teach the idea of the holy trinity.
To Irish pagans, the shamrock, also called the "seamroy" by the Celts, was a sacred symbolizing the rebirth of spring. St. Patrick taught that each of the three leaves of the shamrock represented an element of the trinity, and their coming together at the base represented how three elements can constitute one entity, the shamrock, or the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
With his success as a pagan converter, St. Patrick became known as the “Banisher of Snakes”, snakes being a metaphor for pagans. The legend says that St. Patrick drove all of the snakes from Ireland by standing on top of a hill with only a wooden staff. The fact is that Ireland was not a natural habitat for snakes since the ice age, as it separated from the mainland approximately 8000 years ago.
So by preaching from a hilltop armed only with a wooden staff, St. Patrick eradicated the pagans, or who were referred to as snakes, from Ireland and Christianity triumphed. Eventually Ireland was Christianized. St. Patrick's mission lasted 30 years. He died March 17, 461CE, and was buried in Downpatrick in Country Down. This is why March 17th has been commemorated as St. Patrick's Day.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!