Where and when was St. Patrick captured?
BOB BOWLES/SUBMITTED ILLUSTRATION Attacks on Roman Gaul by Germanic tribes of Huns, Goths, Franks, Vandals, Allens, Visigoths, Burgundians and Saxons along with the Persians and Scots caused the Romans to move legions out of Roman Britain to stop them leaving Britain open to the assaults of the Picts, Scots and Saxons around 400 AD. This illustration of Roman Britain shows possible capture sites of St. Patrick by the Scots.
An interesting celebration will occur March 17 involving people going out with friends wearing bright green hats and clothing and drinking green beer into the little hours of the morning as they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The most interesting thing about these celebrations is most of the people celebrating in North America are not of the Catholic faith, are not of Irish heritage and aren’t really sure who St. Patrick was. It has become the major time to celebrate during winter and the best marketing opportunity for retailers between St. Valentine’s Day and Easter.
I wrote an article about St. Patrick that ran March 17, 2007, but found it difficult to get dates that agreed since each source had different times, places and events relating to St. Patrick. All the sources seem to agree on these facts.
St. Patrick’s real name was Maewyn Succat and he lived with his parents somewhere in Roman Britain. He considered himself a pagan until he was 16 years old, when he was captured and taken as a slave back to Ireland by a party of warriors of Picts and Scots who lived to the north in present-day Scotland and raided his village. These raiding parties from Ireland, with the help of the Picts and Scots, repeatedly attacked Roman Britain, looting and taking goods, livestock and people, who they sold as slaves. The raids occurred along the west coast of what today is known as Great Britain, mostly in present-day Scotland to Wales. There is little agreement on when and where St. Patrick was taken hostage. They agree he was taken to Ireland and sold as a slave, working there for six years tending sheep in County Antrim. He became closer to God during his captivity and, after six years, escaped and returned home. He studied in a monastery in Gaul under St. Germain for 12 years, then returned to Ireland, where he worked and travelled as a priest for 30 years, converting the native pagans to Christianity. He set up schools, churches and monasteries across the Irish countryside. He retired in County Down and died March 17, some say in 461 AD. There is a grave marker in the graveyard of the reputed burial site for St. Patrick right beside Down Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity on Cathedral Hill, which overlooks the town of Downpatrick in Northern Ireland.
There were so many dates for his birth and death and locations of his capture, I decided to do more research and write about it again March 18, 2008. There were more dates and theories, so I wrote about it again March 14, 2009, and, finally, March 12, 2011. Most sources have St. Patrick being born in Wales in 385 AD, arriving back in Ireland as a priest in 432 AD and dying in County Down March 17, 461 A.D. The more sources you consult, the more discrepancies on birth place and dates come to light. Birth dates are now 385, 387, 390 and even 416 A.D. Dates for his death include 460, 461 and even 493 AD. There are even more proposals for his place of birth and capture, which we know for sure was not Ireland. These include Scotland, Northern Wales, Southern Wales, England and Boulogne, France.
History records most of the Irish raids on Roman Britain were led by the prehistoric Irish king known as Niall of the Nine Hostages, who captured St. Patrick and took him to Ireland as a slave sometime before the Romans left Britain in 410 AD. You would think it would be a simple matter to find out when Niall lived and conducted his raids to know exactly where and when St. Patrick was captured. I found out an Orillia resident and historian had written a couple of books on the subject. Clayton Donoghue wrote The History of the Celts, published in August 2013. He wrote a second book called The Irish Empire: The Story of Niall of the Nine Hostages, published in August 2015. He is now writing a third book on the history of Scotland. The solution was now clear to me. I would read these two books, make notes and finally find out where and when St. Patrick was captured.
In The History of the Celts, Donoghue has 438 AD for the arrival in Ireland of Niall of the Nine Hostages and 441 AD for his capture of St. Patrick as a slave and taking him to Ireland. These dates don’t agree with any of the other dates mentioned. However, in The Irish Empire, he has Niall crowned as the Ard-Ri (King) of Ireland in 378 AD at the age of 21, making him one of the youngest kings. He has his death by treason by one of his subjects in Brittany in 411 AD. These dates fall into line with many reports. St. Patrick was probably captured between 378 and 411. If St. Patrick was born in 385 AD, he would have been 16 in 401 AD, just as Niall was renewing his raids on Roman Britain in Northumbria with the Picts, taking hundreds of hostages before he was stopped by the Romans just before Isa (present-day Chester) in 402 AD.
Donoghue believes St. Patrick was taken in this area or in Scotland, not Wales or England, where Roman forces were stronger and the Silures tribe in that area would give him strong opposition in Wales. He presents several facts to support his theory and it appears there is more proof St. Patrick was captured in the north, not to the west, in Wales. The dates also agree in his second book.
St. Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in the New World in Boston in 1737, with a parade. It has been with us every year since, with parades, songs, stories, poems, dances, green drinks, leprechauns, shamrocks and the wearing of the green.
Bob Bowles is a local naturalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.