St. Patrick banished all the snakes in Ireland, and that’s is why it’s one of my favorite places to hike! It’s also a great country of stories and myths. There are entire books on Irish fairies and story tellers used to roam the lands. In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, I will share the story of St. Patrick and the snakes.
The story goes:
On a cold, windy March day in 5th century Ireland, St. Patrick awoke early, drank a cup of hot coffee, ate a buttered biscuit, grabbed his favorite wooden staff and headed out the door of the church.
He was a man with a mission. His mission—to rid the beautiful, green Irish countryside of those slithering, slimy, evil-eyed snakes.
Having spread Christianity throughout Ireland, St. Patrick now felt it was his duty to drive all the snakes into the sea. Snakes and serpents were symbols of paganism, false idolatry and unholy rituals once practiced by the Druids. He remembered with pride how he once used three-leafed shamrocks to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to pagans, who he later baptized in holy wells.
In the Confessio, St. Patrick wrote that he was a “most humble-minded man” and “thankful to his Maker for choosing him to show the multitudes the way to God”. Wanting to show his pagan converts how intent he was on banishing all things pagan in Ireland, he began herding all the snakes in Ireland towards the rough, windswept sea, forcing them into the foamy water where he knew a gruesome eternity awaited them.
It was no easy task. Once he got all the snakes to the edge of sea, St. Patrick had to keep running back and forth along the seaside, constantly herding them back towards the roiling waters because they knew what was up and kept trying to return inland.
“Ireland will be snakeless if it takes all day!” he shouted at the snakes, flinging them into the sea as fast as he could with his trusty staff.
A truly powerful and stubborn man, St. Patrick fulfilled his goal by sunset, walked back to his church with a smile on his face and told everyone they wouldn’t have to worry about finding a snake in their beds ever again.
Now Wait a Minute…
Although snakes exist just about everywhere in the world, they have never in Earth’s history existed in few areas, such as Antarctica, New Zealand, Greenland, Iceland and—Ireland.
That’s right. Snakes have never flicked their tails in Ireland and probably never will. When snakes were evolving in the Cretaceous period over 100 million years ago, Ireland was underwater—completely. Also, anytime sea levels fell low enough to create land bridges between Ireland and “snake” countries, Ireland would have been gripped by a deep freeze. Since cold-blooded snakes need warmth to survive, they would have avoided ice age Ireland like the plague.
Today, tourists can hike in the beautiful county of Antrim around the Slemish Mountain where St. Patrick is thought to have found God while working as an enslaved shepherd. The Slemish Mountain is what’s left of an extinct volcano and now exists with an area considered “environmentally sensitive” due to the fragility of the plant and animal ecosystems inhabiting its slopes.
Irish Coast: copyright – Robyn Porteen
St. Patrick Carving: copyright – Matt Ragen
Green Pit Viper: copyright – Pichaya Hengsomboon
Glacial Lakes: copyright – Robyn Porteen
Hiking Trail – copyright – Robyn Porteen