Although much of the life of the patron saint and Apostle of Ireland is shrouded in legend, St. Patrick was probably born around the year AD 389. Stories are told of the many contests Patrick had with Druids, pagans, and polytheists, as well as the well-known but unlikely story of him driving the snakes from Ireland. More on that later.
What we do know about him comes from his memoir, Confessio, which he wrote near the end of his life. It begins,
“I, Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, who was of the village of Bannavem Taberniea.”
He was born in the Severn Valley in southwest England, though claims have been made that he was born in Wales or Scotland. In any case, he was British, not Irish. He was doubtless educated in pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain under a Christian influence with a reverence for the Roman Empire, of which he was a citizen. His father was a landowner, and together with his family, he lived on their estate.
At the age of sixteen, when he claimed he “did not then know the true God,” he was carried off by a band of Irish marauders. Irish tradition says he tended the herds of a chieftain by the name of Milchu in County Antrim. His bondage lasted for six years during which time, as he wrote, “turned with all my heart to the Lord my God.”
He fled 200 miles to the coast of Wicklow in eastern Ireland and encountered a ship engaged in the export of Irish wolf-dogs. After three days at sea, the traders landed, probably on the west coast of Gaul, and journeyed twenty-eight days through the “desert.” At the end of two months, Patrick parted company with his companions and spent a few years in the monastery on the island of Lerins off the coast of southern France.
After returning home from the Mediterranean, the idea of missionary enterprise in Ireland came to him. He seems to have proceeded to Auxerre in north-central France where he was ordained by Bishop Amator and spent at least fourteen years there. But he felt called to Ireland. In his book Confession he recounted: