For millions of people St. Patrick’s Day is cause for celebration, but where did the whole ridding Ireland of snakes story come from?

For the past 1,000 years the Irish have set aside a day to celebrate the life and death of St. Patrick (or to some, Pádraig), the patron saint of the Emerald Isle. Every March 17 the British-born christian missionary who makes top-to-bottom green outfits cool for at least one day out of the year has 13 million pints of Guinness raised in toasts to his legacy. And part of that legacy is his fabled banishing of snakes from Ireland during the fifth century A.D.

The major hurdle facing the supposed “Snakes-be-gone!” proclamation of St.Patrick, whose family was upper class with a country estate to their name and slaves at their beck and call, is that snakes are not native to Ireland in the first place. Thousands of years of climate shifts that never favored snakes and their basic survival instincts (plus evolution eliminating their legs), waterways being formed that turned Ireland into an island, the Ice Age – it all works against snakes inhabiting Ireland.

This isn’t to say St. Patrick wasn’t an impressive individual – kidnapped at the age of 16, taken to Ireland where he was forced into slavery for years, escaping his captors and hitching a boat ride to Britain with pirates where he converts to Christianity, heading back to Ireland to help spread his faith despite the occasional beating – that’s a hard-lived life. So how did snakes get tossed into the mix beside pirates and a religious conversion?

The Bible has never presented snakes in a favorable light. They were creatures who represented all things evil and pagan on Earth. St. Patrick’s preachings and efforts to bring Christianity to the masses was symbolically represented through the fable of his casting anything serpent-related off the isle, a story that some experts believe was initially popularized by monks who would relate the tale in their teachings. We’re still talking about it today, so even though snakes don’t have legs time has proven this story certainly does.

Story by Jay Moon


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