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St Patrick

1 InTROduCTIOn Saint Patrick is a most intriguing figure. His career probably spans the mid fifth century, though we cannot be precise, and there are continuing arguments about whether he was a generation or so later or earlier. He was born into the RomanoBritish gentry but much of his life was spent in Ireland, where he wrote his two extraordinary works, the Confession and Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. These are the only surviving texts from the British Isles during the century which saw the departure of the Roman legions and the rise of the AngloSaxons in Britain, and the start of Irelands transformation from a largely pagan, illiterate, barbarian society into a haven of learning, Christianity and literacy. Patricks texts are tantalising. It is extremely hard to identify any of the people or places he mentions, and even if we do they just leave us with more questions which we cannot answer. He wrote in Ireland in Latin, apparently to RomanoBritish churchmen and leaders back in Britain with whom he was in dispute, though only copies kept in Ireland survived, the sole remnants, apart from a few scraps, of what must once have been a considerable quantity of RomanoBritish literature. I have attempted here to give a picture of Patricks life based on his own words, as well as some indications of its context, and I follow this with the main beliefs and traditions which accumulated round him. These were collected, or arose, many long years later, but there appear to be fragments of real memories of Patrick embedded in them, as well as extraordinary glimpses into Irelands pagan and early Christian past. I leave it to the reader to look, and think, speculate and question.
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