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On the Trail of St. Patrick

Marzo 2012
Non si sa molto della vita di San Patrizio, a parte pochi episodi legati più alla leggenda che alla storia. Ma la sua importanza nell’immaginario degli irlandesi è grandissima, e il 17 marzo è gran festa in tutti gli angoli del mondo. Scopriamo il St Patrick’s Trail, in Irlanda del Nord.

di Kathleen Becker

File audio:

St Patrick's Church in Saul
St Patrick's Church in Saul
Andrew Gibson
Andrew Gibson

St. Patrick is an Irish icon. St. Patrick, Patricius in Latin, was the most important missionary in Ireland and is the patron saint of Ireland. But that’s not all. Modern Irish history started when St. Patrick arrived in Ireland in AD 432… or was it AD 465?


A lot of St. Patrick’s story remains in obscurity but, on the anniversary of his death, March 17th, there are parades in his honour all over the world.
When Patrick arrived in Ireland, Christianity was already present, but Patrick did more than anybody else to convert the Gaelic chiefs. Many holy wells, crosses and rock formations in Ireland have his name. One of the most famous legends says that St. Patrick sent all snakes away from Ireland. The geological explanation is more boring: there simply were no snakes in post-glacial Ireland! And curiously, St. Patrick didn’t mention this in his Confession (or Confessio), the most accurate document we have about his life.


Patrick was born into a family of Romano-Briton Celts, probably in southern Wales. When he was 16, Irish pirates kidnapped him and took him to what is now Northern Ireland. There, he worked as a slave for a shepherd on Mount Slemish. After six years Patrick escaped and got on a boat back to Britain. He became a priest, then a bishop. One day he had a vision. The Angel Victor told him that the people of Ireland wanted him to come back and save them from servitude. Patrick went back to the land of his own servitude and the nightmares of his adolescence.
In contrast to many modern representations, Patrick was a humble itinerant preacher. He travelled mainly on foot or by boat, he used simple things to illustrate difficult concepts. The most famous example is the shamrock he used to explain the Holy Trinity. The three leef (trifoliate) clover is still the symbol of Ireland and St. Patrick.


The St. Patrick’s Trail starts in Ireland’s ancient ecclesiastical centre of Armagh. St. Patrick founded a church here and proclaimed it to be the most holy in Ireland. Armagh is the seat of both the Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland (i.e. “Protestant”) archbishops and for this reason it is still the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland.
The medieval century Church of Ireland cathedral is on the site where Patrick built his church in the 5th century. The most important stop on the Trail is Downpatrick. This is where St Patrick died, probably in AD 461… or was it AD 493?
Tradition tells us the saint’s body lies in the graveyard of Down Cathedral. When he died, Patrick’s remains were put on an ox cart, and the place where the oxen stopped was selected as the burial site.
On his grave there is a large stone and a cross inscribed with the word “Patric.” The “Saint Patrick Centre” at the foot of the hill is the only permanent exhibition centre in the world dedicated to him.



Speaker: Derek Allen (Standard British accent)

March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. People of Irish origin all over the world, from New York and Boston in the United States to Sydney in Australia, will celebrate with lively parades and parties where everyone is expected to wear green. But who exactly was St. Patrick? He was a priest who brought Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. And, even though he was probably born in Wales, he later became Ireland’s patron saint. To find out more about St. Patrick, we went to Downpatrick, in Northern Ireland, where we met Andrew Gibson of the “Saint Patrick’s Centre.” He told us that the story of St. Patrick began when he returned to the land where he had once been a slave:

Andrew Gibson  (Northern Irish accent)

When he returned to Ireland, he sailed into Strangford Lough, he took the first turn to the left, where the River Coyle joins the Lough, out to the sea, sailed up the river. And the local chief of this part of the world was a man called Dichu, and Dichu saw this boat sailing up and invited Patrick up into the village, and eventually offered Patrick the use of the cowshed, or the barn, to practise this new religion called Christianity, and that’s the site of the very first church in Ireland, at Saul, which is part of the trail, two miles from here.


And this isn’t the only reason why St. Patrick is a key figure in Irish history:

One of the most surprising things about St. Patrick that, time and time again, when visitors come here, they have a little bit of background about his story. They obviously know that he is responsible for bringing Christianity to Ireland, but the other surprising thing about Patrick is, before he died, he wrote his Confession, which was his version of his own story.
He wanted to set the record straight about why he’d done all the things he did, and it was also to do with some criticisms that he’d had throughout his life. And Patrick’s Confession is actually the very first human historical document that we have in Irish history. So Patrick’s story is the first voice that we have coming out of Ireland, and it’s a really remarkable story.


The St. Patrick’s Trail, a driving route marked by signposts, leads from Armagh through Newry to Downpatrick and up the Ards Peninsula to Bangor. It includes various St. Patrick and Christian Heritage visitor sites, including the Saint Patrick Centre (www.saintpatrickcentre.com) with a great exhibition and gift shop.
Nearby you can find ancient healing wells, possibly the oldest church in Ireland at Saul, and St. Patrick’s grave at Down Cathedral. Northern Ireland is connected by fast bus and rail connections to Dublin.  
www.discovernorthernireland.com has information on key points on the trail, accommodation, etc. You can also download a trail map and discount vouchers.
For more information: Turismo Irlandese, P.le Cantore 4, tel. 02 4829 6060, www.irlanda-travel.com, www.facebook.com/turismoirlanda

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Strangford Lough. Il lago di Strangford. Come gli scozzesi  dicono whisky e gli irlandesi whiskey, ci sono almeno tre versioni della parola “lago” in inglese. Gli inglesi dicono lake. Gli scozzesi dicono loch: chi non conosce la leggenda del mostro di Loch Ness? Gli irlandesi invece dicono lough.

Alla fine, finalmente. È un false friend che, come actually, crea confusione per gli italiani, esattamente come le parole eventualmente e attualmente creano problemi per inglesi che cercano di imparare l’italiano. Eventualmente si dice perhaps, possibly e maybe. Però gli inglesi hanno anche l’espressione in the event of che è abbastanza simile a “eventualmente”. Quando prendete l’aereo sentirete la frase in the event of an emergency negli annunci per la sicurezza.