17th of March – St Patrick’s Day

St Joseph of Arimathæa, the patron of Glastonbury. Many martyrs of Alexandria, about 392. St Patrick, apostle of Ireland, 464 or 493. St Gertrude, virgin, abbess in Brabant, 659.

Born. – Francesco Albano, painter, 1578, Bologna; David Ancillon, learned French Protestant clergyman, 1617, Metz; Carsten Niebuhr, celebrated traveller, 1733, West Ludingworth; the Rev. Dr Thomas Chalmers, 1780, Anstruther
Died. – Cneius Pompeius, Labienus, and Attius Varus, B.C. 45, killed, Munda; Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 180, Sirmium; Bishop Gilbert Burnet, historian, 1715, Clerkenwell; Jean Baptiste Rousseau, eminent French lyric poet, 1741, Brussels; Daniel Bernouilli, mathematician, 1782, Basle; David Dale, philanthropist, 1806; J. J., Grandier, the eminent designer of book illustrations, 1847; Mrs Anna Jameson, writer on art, 1860.


Almost as many countries arrogate the honour of having been the natal soil of St Patrick, as made a similar claim with respect to Homer. Scotland, England, France, and Wales, each furnish their respective pretensions; but, whatever doubts may obscure his birthplace, all agree in stating that, as his name implies, he was of a patrician family. He was born about the year 372, and when only sixteen years of age, was carried off by pirates, who sold him into slavery in Ireland; where his master employed him as a swineherd on the well-known mountain of Sleamish, in the county of Antrim. Here he passed seven years, during which time he acquired a knowledge of the Irish language, and made himself acquainted with the manners, habits, and customs of the people. Escaping from captivity, and, after many adventures, reaching the Continent, he was successively ordained deacon, priest, and bishop; and then once more, with the authority of Pope Celestine, he returned to Ireland to preach the Gospel to its then heathen inhabitants. 

The principal enemies that St Patrick found to the introduction of Christianity into Ireland, were the Druidical priests of the more ancient faith, who, as might naturally be supposed, were exceedingly averse to any innovation. These Druids, being great magicians, would have been formidable antagonists to any one of less miraculous and saintly powers than Patrick. Their obstinate antagonism was so great, that, in spite of his benevolent disposition, he was compelled to curse their fertile lands, so that they became dreary bogs; to curse their rivers, so that they produced no fish; to curse their very kettles, so that with no amount of fire and patience could they ever be made to boil; and, as a last resort, to curse the Druids themselves, so that the earth opened and swallowed them up. 

A popular legend relates that the saint and his followers found themselves, one cold morning, on a mountain, without a fire to cook their breakfast, or warm their frozen limbs. Unheeding their complaints, Patrick desired them to collect a pile of ice and snow-balls; which having been done, he breathed upon it, and it instantaneously became a pleasant fire – a fire that long after served to point a poet’s conceit in these lines: 

‘Saint Patrick, as in legends told, 
 The morning being very cold, 
 In order to assuage the weather, 
 Collected bits of ice together; 
 Then gently breathed upon the pyre, 
 When every fragment blazed on fire. 
 Oh! if the saint had been so kind, 
 As to have left the gift behind 
 To such a lovelorn wretch as me, 
 Who daily struggles to be free; 
 I’d be content – content with part, 
 I’d only ask to thaw the heart, 
 The frozen heart, of Polly Roe.’ 

The greatest of St Patrick’s miracles was that of driving the venomous reptiles out of Ireland, and rendering the Irish soil, for ever after, so obnoxious to the serpent race, that they instantaneously die on touching it. Colgan seriously relates that St Patrick accomplished this feat by beating a drum, which he struck with such fervour that he knocked a hole in it, thereby endangering the success of the miracle. But an angel appearing mended the drum; and the patched instrument was long exhibited as a holy relic. 

In 1831, Mr James Cleland, an Irish gentleman, being curious to ascertain whether the climate or soil of Ireland was naturally destructive to the serpent tribe, purchased half-a-dozen of the common harmless snake (natrix torquata), in Covent Garden market in London. Bringing them to Ireland, he turned them out in his garden at Rath-gael, in the county of Down; and in a week afterwards, one of them was killed at Milecross, about three miles distant. The persons into whose hands this strange monster fell, had not the slightest suspicion that it was a snake, but, considering it a curious kind of eel, they took it to Dr J. L. Drummond, a celebrated Irish naturalist, who at once pronounced the animal to be a reptile and not a fish. The idea of a ‘rale living sarpint’ having been killed within a short distance of the very burial-place of St Patrick, caused an extraordinary sensation of alarm among the country people. The most absurd rumours were freely circulated, and credited. One far-seeing clergyman preached a sermon, in which he cited this unfortunate snake as a token of the immediate commencement of the millenium; while another saw in it a type of the approach of the cholera morbus. Old prophecies were raked up, and all parties and sects, for once, united in believing that the snake foreshadowed ‘the beginning of the end,’ though they were very widely differed as to what that end was to be. Some more practically minded persons, however, subscribed a considerable sum of money, which they offered in rewards for the destruction of any other snakes that might be found in the district. And three more of the snakes were not long afterwards killed, within a few miles of the garden where they were liberated. The remaining two snakes were never very clearly accounted for; but no doubt they also fell victims to the reward. The writer, who resided in that part of the country at the time, well remembers the wild rumours, among the more illiterate classes, on the appearance of those snakes; and the bitter feelings of angry indignation expressed by educated persons against the – very fortunately then unknown – person, who had dared to bring them to Ireland. 

A more natural story than the extirpation of the serpents, has afforded material for the pencil of the painter, as well as the pen of the poet. When baptizing an Irish chieftain, the venerable saint leaned heavily on his crozier, the steel-spiked point of which he had unwittingly placed on the great toe of the converted heathen. The pious chief, in his ignorance of Christian rites, believing this to be an essential part of the ceremony, bore the pain without flinching or murmur; though the blood flowed so freely from the wound, that the Irish named the place Struthfhuil (stream of blood), now pronounced Struill, the name of a well-known place near Down-patrick. And here we are reminded of a very remarkable fact in connection with geographical appellations, that the footsteps of St Patrick can be traced, almost from his cradle to his grave, by the names of places called after him. Thus, assuming his Scottish origin, he was born at Kilpatrick (the cell or church of Patrick), in Dumbartonshire. He resided for some time at Dalpatrick (the district or division of Patrick), in Lanarkshire; and visited Crag-phadrig (the rock of Patrick), near Inverness. He founded two churches, Kirkpatrick at Irongray, in Kircudbright; and Kirkpatrick at Fleming, in Dumfries; and ultimately sailed from Portpatrick, leaving behind him such an odour of sanctity, that among the most distinguished families of the Scottish aristocracy, Patrick has been a favourite name down to the present day. Arriving in England, he preached in Patterdale (Patrick’s dale), in Westmoreland; and founded the church of Kirkpatrick, in Durham. Visiting Wales, he walked over Sarn-badrig (Patrick’s causeway), which, now covered by the sea, forms a dangerous shoal in Carnarvon Bay; and departing for the Continent, sailed from Llan-badrig (the church of Patrick), in the island of Anglesea. Undertaking his mission to convert the Irish, he first landed and Innis-patrick (the island of Patrick), and next at Holm patrick, on the opposite shore of the mainland, in the county of Dublin. Sailing northwards, he touched at the Isle of Man, sometimes since, also, called Innis-patrick, where he founded another church of Kirkpatrick, near the town of Peel. Again landing on the coast of Ireland, in the county of Down, he converted and baptized the chieftain Dichu, on his own threshing-floor. The name of the parish of Saul, derived from Sabbal-patrick (the barn of Patrick), perpetuates the event. He then proceeded to Temple-patrick, in Antrim, and from thence to a lofty mountain in Mayo, ever since called Croagh-patrick. 

He founded an abbey in East Meath, called Domnach-Padraig (the house of Patrick), and built a church in Dublin on the spot where St Patrick’s Cathedral now stands. In an island of Lough Derg, in the county of Donegal, there is St Patrick’s Purgatory; in Leinster, St Patrick’s Wood; at Cashel, St Patrick’s Rock; the St Patrick’s Wells, at which the holy man is said to have quenched his thirst, may be counted by dozens. He is commonly stated to have died at Saul on the 17th of March 493, in the one hundred and twenty-first year of his age. 

The shamrock, or small white clover (trifolium repens of botanists), is almost universally worn in the hat over all Ireland, on St Patrick’s day. The popular notion is, that when St Patrick was preaching the doctrine of the Trinity to the pagan Irish, he used this plant, bearing three leaves upon one stem, as a symbol or illustration of the great mystery. To suppose, as some absurdly hold, that he used it as an argument, would be derogatory to the saint’s high reputation for orthodoxy and good sense; but it is certainly a curious coincidence, if nothing more, that the trefoil in Arabic is called shamrakh, and was held sacred in Iran as emblematical of the Persian Triads. Pliny, too, in his Natural History, says that serpents are never seen upon trefoil, and it prevails against the stings of snakes and scorpions. This, considering St Patrick’s connexion with snakes, is really remarkable, and we may reasonably imagine that, previous to his arrival, the Irish had ascribed mystical virtues to the trefoil or shamrock, and on hearing of the Trinity for the first time, they fancied some peculiar fitness in their already sacred plant to shadow forth the newly revealed and mysterious doctrine.


Died, on the 17th March 1806, David Dale, one of the fathers of the cotton manufacture in Scotland. He was the model of a self-raised, upright, successful man of business. Sprung from humble parents at Stewarton in Ayrshire, he early entered on a commercial career at Glasgow, and soon began to grapple with great undertakings. In company with Sir Richard Arkwright, he commenced the celebrated New Lanark Cotton Mills in 1783, and in the course of a few years he had become a rich man. Mr Dale in this career had great difficulties to overcome, particularly in the prejudices and narrow-sightedness of the surrounding country gentlefolk. He overcame them all. He took his full share of public duty as a magistrate. The poor recognised him as the most princely of philanthropists. He was an active lay preacher in a little body of Independents to which he belonged, and whose small, poor, and scattered congregations he half supported. Though unostentatious to a remarkable degree, it was impossible to conceal that David Dale was one of those rare mortals who hold all wealth as a trust for a general working of good in the world, and who cannot truly enjoy anything in which others are not participators. Keeping in view certain prejudices entertained regarding the moral effects of the factory system, it is curious to learn what were the motives of the philanthropic Dale in promoting cotton mills. His great object was to furnish a profitable employment for the poor, and train to habits of industry those whom he saw ruined by semi-idleness. He aimed at correcting evils already existing, evils broad and palpable; and it never occurred to him to imagine that good, well-paid work would sooner or later harm any body. 

By a curious chance, Robert Owen married the eldest daughter of Mr Dale, and became his successor in the management of the New Lanark Mills. Both were zealous in promoting education among their people; but there was an infinite difference between the views of the two men as to education. Dale was content with little more than impressing the old evangelical faith of western Scotland upon the youth under his charge. Owen contemplated modes of moralising the people such as no Scotchman had ever dreamt of. The father-in-law was often put upon the defensive by the son-in-law, regarding his simple unmistrusting faith, and was obliged to admit that there was force in what Owen dais, assuming the truth of his view of human nature. But he would generally end the discussion by remarking with his affectionate smile, ‘Thou needest to be very right, for thou art very positive.’ 

David Dale was a remarkably obese man, insomuch it was said he had not for years seen his shoe-buckles as he walked. He one day spoke of having fallen all his length on the ice; to which his friend replied that he had much reason to be thankful that it was not all his breadth. The name of the worthy philanthropist has been commemorated in the names of two of his grandchildren – Robert Dale Owen (died in 1877), ambassador for the United States to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and David Dale Owen, author of a laborious work on the Geology of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota (1852).

On this Day in Other Sources.

After a long episcopate, Jocelin retired to his old Abbey of Melros, died among his brethren of the convent on the 17th March 1199, and was buried on the north side of the choir.1

– Sketches, pp.29-70.

1  Chron. Mailr. – Hoved.

This small priory was ruled by a prior, who had a seat in parliament: For he was present in the parliament of Brigham, on 17th March, 1290. 

– Select Views, pp.47-52.

The year 1441 was very memorable for [omens] and wonders. In March, the 17th day, appeared 3 suns in the firmament, at [noon] of the day; and in August, a fearful comet, having a crowned sword hanging from it. After which ensued a great [grumbling] of all kinds of beasts, and famine of corn and [food]

– Historical Works, pp.166-189.

The Scotish Queen, perhaps, as early as the 17th of March [1565,] seems to have secretly, fixed her affections on Darnley, as the fittest husband, considering his whole pretensions; and she some time after sent secretary Maitland to communicate her purpose to her good sister, and to beg her acquiescence. But, before Maitland could reach London Elizabeth had become quite aware of Mary’s sentiments. 

– Life of Mary, pp.98-126.

But the following winter struck the chronicler of Fortirgall as more than usually severe. “The 22d day of February there came after noon a great storm, of snow and hail and wind, that no man nor beast might lift up their heads, nor walk nor ride, and many beasts perished without in that storm, and many men and women perished in sundry places; and all kinds of victual right dear, and that because no mills might grind for the frost. All corn came to the mill of Dunkeld out of St. Johnstoun (Perth) betwixt that and Dunkeld, and all other bounds about far and near. The meal gave that time in St. Johnstoun, 43 shillings, the malt 34 shillings; and before St. Patrick’s day (17th March [1572]) the meal was 25s. 8d., and the malt for 30 shillings.” 

– Sketches, pp.341-394.

Mar. 17 [1578.] – There was an ancient feud between the families of Glammis and Crawford, but as the present lords were on the same side in politics, it was felt by both as inexpedient that any hostility should take place between them. Moreover, it would have been highly indecent of Lord Glammis, who was chancellor of the kingdom, to allow any demonstration of rancour to come from his side. Nevertheless, a fatal collision took place between these two nobles. 

About the dusk of a spring day, Lord Glammis was coming down from Stirling Castle to his own house in the town, attended as usual by some of his friends and followers, when, in a narrow lane, he encountered the Earl of Crawford similarly attended. The two nobles bade their respective followers give way to the other; and the order was obeyed by all except the two last, who either wilfully or by accident jostled each other, and then immediately drew their swords and fell a-fighting. A skirmish then took place between the two parties, in the course of which Lord Glammis, whose stature made him overtop the company, was shot through the head with a pistol, and many were hurt on both sides. 

The respective friends of Glammis and Crawford fell into active hostilities after this event, and Crawford was seized and thrown into prison. Being really free from blame,and befriended by many of the nobility, he was soon liberated, to the great joy of his own people. The general joy diffused by this event exasperated Thomas Lyon, a nephew of the deceased chancellor, insomuch that ‘Crawford all his life was glad to stand in a soldier’s posture.’ – Jo. Hist. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.56-80.

The document states, that ‘in some remote and uncivil places of this kingdom’ an old and barbarous custom was still kept up of plucking the wool from sheep instead of clipping it. The king, hearing of the practice, wrote a letter to his Council, denouncing it as one not to be suffered; telling them it had already been reformed in Ireland, under penalty of a groat on every sheep so used, and was ‘far less to be endured in you.’ The Council immediately (March 17, 1617) passed an act in the same tenor, and further stating that many sheep died in consequence of this cruel treatment – concluding with a threat of severe fines on such as should hereafter continue the practice. – P. C. R. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.177-227.

St. Patrick in Other Sources.

We know from Nennius that when St. Patrick founded in Ireland 365 churches he at the same time ordained 365 bishops, and it was the complaint of St. Bernard and other assailants of the Irish Church that they had a bishop for every congregation. In many instances indeed we find that a single religious community worshipping in one place had several bishops.1

Clanship, as an eminent Celtic scholar2 has justly said, is the true key of Irish history – political and ecclesiastical. Upon the clan Christianity was engrafted in the monastic form. When the Christian missionaries first went to Ireland they found the clans existing there as the primitive form of government, with numerous chieftains virtually independent, and one or more nominal kings. St. Patrick and his followers always addressed themselves in the first instance to the chieftain, and with his conversion followed that of the clan or sept.3 The followed the establishment of a monastery, and it was constituted on the model of a family. The abbot was the father: the monks his children. The society at Iona was known as “the family of Hy.”

– Old Glasgow, pp.1-18.

1  The Early Celtic Church, by the Bishop of Argyll, p. 34.
2  Dr. Todd.
3  Godkin on the Old Church of Ireland.

Bells were held in great reverence in the ancient church. They were baptised, and anointed oleo chrismatis, and there is a ritual for these ceremonies in the Roman Pontifical. They were, indeed, among the articles which appear to have been necessary to the episcopal function. It is so stated by Dr. Petrie, than whom there can be no higher authority; and he mentions as an instance the presents given to Fiac, bishop of Sletty, near Carlow, when St. Patrick conferred on him the episcopal dignity. The passage in the Book of Armagh which Dr. Petrie refers to as his authority is as follows:- “He (Patrick) conferred the degree of bishop upon him (Fiac), so that he was the first bishop that was ordained among the Lagenians; and Patrick gave a box to Fiac containing a bell, and a menstir (reliquary) and a  crozier, and a poolire.” The poolire was a leather case for holding sacred books and reliquaries.

– Old Glasgow, pp.19-29.

C.E. 432 St. Patrick preached in Ireland.

C.E. 503 Fergus, son of Erc, who is said to have received the blessing of St. Patrick in his youth, led a colony of Dalriads from Ireland, and founded the Scottish monarchy. – Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, pp. 4, 11, 44, 49.) Fergus was succeeded by Domangart, Comgal, and CONAL, by whom the Island of Iona was bestowed upon St. Columba. The saint is supposed to have been born in Donegal, A.D. 521.

– Popular Tales, vol. 4, pp.35-53.

Had they been the compositions and inventions of such men, was it likely that there should be so little reference to religion, and to known general history, in the ballads which give the history of the Feinne, as told by Oisein amongst his dialogues with St. Patrick on religious matters, or as they are more commonly now sung, without these pagan polemics.

– Popular Tales, vol. 4, pp.180-197.

The romances which treat of Charlemagne also bear a strong resemblance to the rest. “Roland and FERRAGUS” introduces a Gaelic name, though it is that of the pagan villain of the piece, who is sent by the Soudan from Babylon to fight Charlemagne. He is a giant, black, and a great deal bigger than Fergus the son of Fionn – 

“He had twenty men’s strength, 
 And forty feet of length, 
 And four feet in the face, 
 And fifteen in breede.”
“His nose was a foot and more. 
 His browe as bristles wore.” 

Nevertheless, after a severe fight with Roland the Christian warrior, he is overcome, but first he sits down and argues against the true faith, exactly as Oisein does with St. Patrick in Irish Fenian tales. 

– Popular Tales, vol. 4, pp.237-246.

“THE Culdees are not yet disposed of. Their precise character, the nature of their organization, their relations with the early Scottish missionary church, and, generally speaking, their place in the religious system of eleventh century Scotland, have furnished forth many a goodly page of historical discussion. Were they laymen, were they monks, were they canons? Dr. A. Allaria, in the Scottish Review for January, essays one more answer. He first argues (with many good points on his side) that the order followed by St. Patrick and his disciples was clerical, and belonged to that Apostolic Institute now known as Canons Regular. Next he proceeds to cite evidence, ancient and modern, to buttress his opinion that the Culdees were substantially the same, clerics living in Common or Canonical Order, whose main specialty lay in their devotion to the sick. One valuable but hitherto overlooked bit of proof he cites from the observant Giraldus Cambrensis, that the Welsh Culdees (coelibes sive colidei)1 were clerics, devoted to works of charity and hospitality, as many congregations of clerics had been before the rule of St. Benedict was introduced.”

– Scots Lore, pp.114-116.

1  “coelibes sive coli dei” translates as “celibate or to worship God”.

“…[The Caledonians] are the most formidable, and bravest enemy that ever Rome had to confront, every one of them will die before they yield, they are true patriots, Agricola, make all haste to your strongholds or you are done.” So the Romans had to retrace their steps, and the Caledonians pursued them until the Romans were ultimately driven into the sea. Columba burned many of these Celtic records, yet many survived his ravages. St. Patrick burned one hundred and eighty-nine of those works at Tara, Ireland, all written in the Gaelic language, with a little mixture of Latin. Edward the First, of England, destroyed many of them, and after the ignoble union with England, what portion of them were preserved extant from these ravages, are now suppressed so as to deprive Scotland of their Celtic record and of the history of their grandfathers.

– Gloomy Memories, pp.ii-xiii.

6 thoughts on “17th of March – St Patrick’s Day

  1. Interesting passage on David Dale. We were at New Lanark for the first time in ages last weekend (well, first time in the mill itself rather than walking to the water falls). I hadn’t heard about his obesity before though!

    1. The school took us. The Annie Macleod ride is what I remember most. I think maybe Dale’s obesity was kept under wraps, post mortem, since he was pretty much universally admired as something akin to a Saviour of the Poor.

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