Tracing St. Patrick: Sacred Sites Around Ireland
With celebrations in full swing for St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve put together a list of famous sites across Ireland, which were visited by Ireland’s patron saint.
From the Slemish Mountain to the Rock of Cashel, we’ve chosen seven locations, which all boast close links to St. Patrick.
Slemish Mountain, Co. Antrim
The legend goes that when St. Patrick was just a boy, he was captured by pirates in Wales and taken to Slemish to work as a slave, herding sheep on the mountain. From the ages of 16 to 22, he toiled in the cold, harsh weather conditions of Ireland’s northern coast, tending the sheep of his master.
Believing his capture to be punishment for his lack of faith, Patrick increasingly turned to prayer for both comfort and forgiveness. One night a voice came to Patrick to tell him his ship was ready. Taking this as sign to escape, Patrick deserted his post and fled to the nearest port. There, a ship was waiting to take him back to Britain.
While sailing home, Patrick had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to Ireland to tell them about god. Believing the message to be a mission sent from god, he became determined to train as a priest and one day return to Ireland.
Saul Church, Co. Down
Known as the cradle of Christianity, Saul Church was famously the first Christian Church established by St. Patrick. After landing at the mouth of the Slaney river, St. Patrick and his companions encountered a local chieftain named Dichu. Dichu was so impressed by Patrick, he converted to Christianity and gave him his barn to use as a place of worship.
From here, St. Patrick regularly visited the rest of the country preaching to chieftains and locals, before dying here on the 17th of March 461. For centuries, numerous churches were built on the site of the original barn before the present church building was built in 1933. Saul Church is a functioning Catholic church with Sunday service every week at 10:00am.
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Hill of Slane, Co. Meath
No one said converting Pagans was easy, but St. Patrick certainly knew how to capture his audience’s attention. Once, when the High King and Druids were celebrating Bealtaine on the Hill of Tara, Patrick lit a paschal fire on the neighbouring Hill of Slane. This action was in complete defiance of the High King Laoire, who forbade any other fires while the festival fire was burning.
For his insolence, Patrick was brought before the King but instead of being punished he used the opportunity to preach to the courtly audience. Using the Shamrock as an example, Patrick explained the concept of the Holy Trinity with such eloquence that he was allowed to go free.
Today, anyone can visit both the Hill of Tara and Slane and re-acquaint themselves with life in Celtic Ireland. OSi Discover Series, map 42 is designed to give visitors the best experience of the region and is ideal to have to hand when visiting Meath or Westmeath.
The Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary
The Rock of Cashel is a spectacular world heritage site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland. Originally the seat of the Kings of Munster, the site was famously visited by St. Patrick when he arrived to baptise King Aonghus of Munster.
A momentous occasion, but one not without incident. While overcome with emotion during his sermon, Patrick accidentally thrusted his staff through the King’s foot. While no doubt extremely painful, the King remained still and continued to listen intently. Patrick, realising what he had done, helped the King and asked why he didn’t cry out? The King replied that he thought the stabbing was part of the baptismal ceremony. Despite an awkward start, the incident saw the arrival of Christianity to the province.
If you plan on visiting the Rock of Cashel, OSi Discovery Series, map 61, will enhance your visit to the Premier County.
St. Patrick’s Miracles and Retreats
Lough Derg, Co. Donegal
The tranquil waters of Lough Derg in Co. Donegal set the scene for two of the most well-known legends surrounding St. Patrick. The first sees Patrick banishing the last snake from Ireland – a myth now defunct thanks to scientific and geographic research. The second tale, involves Christ revealing the entrance to hell to St. Patrick. Leading him to a pit on the island, Patrick glimpses hell and all its nightmarish horrors.
The legend goes that Patrick, discouraged by the lack of converts, prayed to Christ for help. In return, Christ revealed a pit on the ground, which he called Purgatory to all of Patrick’s followers, thus proving the word of god.
Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo
Probably one of the most famous sites in Ireland to be associated with St. Patrick, is Mayo’s famous mountain, Croagh Patrick. Echoing Christ’s exile into the desert, St. Patrick spent 40 days and nights atop the snow-covered peak fasting and praying.
During his solitary period on the mountain top, Patrick had visions of old pagan gods and was visited by demons. To banish each one, he prayed and rang a bell. On the fortieth day, Patrick declared all demons to be banished from the country. Today, these demons are often confused with snakes, leading to the myth that Patrick rid Ireland of snakes. To this day, Patrick is still the patron saint of people suffering from ophidiophobia – a fear of snakes.
Aside from being a pilgrimage site, a climb to the top of Croagh Patrick offers breath-taking views over Clew Bay and the surrounding Mayo countryside. The region also boasts one of the best Greenways in Ireland and is an ideal location for outdoor enthusiasts.
Make sure to bring a copy of OSi Discovery Series, map 31, before you attempt to reach the summit of Croagh Patrick.
St. Patrick’s Burial Site
Down Cathedral, Co. Down
Built on the grounds of an original Benedictine monastery, Down Cathedral is the final resting place of St. Patrick’s mortal remains. Although Patrick died in Saul, his body was brought to Down to be buried on what is now, Cathedral Hill.
The exact site of Patrick’s grave remains a mystery but a memorial stone – carved from the Mourne Mountains – is the place that traditionally marks his grave. Each year, thousands of pilgrims flock to the cathedral to prayer and reflect.
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