How do you honor a guy who was kidnapped, beaten and enslaved by pirates as a teenager but still had the guts to return to Ireland? You go there yourself and do some off roading, bouldering and kayaking, of course. That’s what Patrick would want.
Every year millions of Americans don green, perhaps knock back a pint of Guinness, and celebrate all things Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
But how much do you really know about St. Patrick? Well, some may have some vague idea that he was saint. A few may recall he had something to do with snakes. That’s about it.
And how much do you know about Ireland? You got the green part. OK, there’s shamrocks involved, and maybe even a leprechaun, too. But do you think of Ireland at all in terms of sports – OK, maybe soccer, right? – or the outdoors?
So, in the interest in giving you a few conversational icebreakers as you woo some lass or lad over a pint of Guinness this St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a few facts about St. Patrick and the land he once roamed.
St. Patrick wasn’t Irish
Aye, that’s right. Born in Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family, St. Patrick grew up in what were quite luxurious surroundings. He lived in a villa (think Trump Tower) in what was essentially a plantation with lots of slaves.
But at the age of 16, he was kidnapped by pirates and sent overseas in chains to tend sheep as a slave in the chilly, mountainous countryside of Ireland. He eventually escaped and made it back to Britain on a pirate ship.
He underwent a deep religious conversion as a slave and vowed to free others. He got ordained as a priest and returned to Ireland. He was frequently attacked and beaten as he roamed the rocky countryside trying to convert the Irish to Christianity.
St. Patrick didn’t banish snakes from Ireland
There are no snakes in Ireland. There likely never were, as least going back to the last Ice Age. Ireland’s an island surrounded by very frigid ocean waters. Snakes couldn’t migrate and there’s no evidence any managed to make their way there from Europe or Britain.
St. Patrick did make the shamrock what it is today, though he didn’t have anything to do with Shamrock Shakes.
Paintings and icons of St Patrick often depict the saint with a cross in one hand and a sprig of shamrocks in the other. Scholars think the shamrock was a symbol of nature in ancient Irish religions and Patrick cleverly used the three-headed leaf as a teaching symbol for the Christian trinity.
Americans made St. Patrick’s Day what it is today
St. Patrick’s Day was largely a solemn, religious day in Ireland. In the United States, Irish communities since the 19th Century had celebrated the day in large cities like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia with parades to celebrate their homeland.
In 1962, though, Chicago changed all of that with a stunning spectacle: they turned the Chicago River green. A plumber noticed that a non-hazardous dye would turn water green and convinced the city to put it in the river as a way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
That changed everything. St. Patrick’s Day went big league, as our current president might say.
St. Patrick Spent 30 Years Roaming Ireland. You Should Too.
Wherever you fall on St. Patrick, one thing is clear: he was one tough dude. Preaching to peasants in a tribal, mountainous land isn’t easy in any century. It especially wasn’t in 5th Century Ireland. His position as a foreigner in Ireland was not an easy one. His refusal to accept gifts from kings placed him outside the normal ties of kinship. He was alone with his faith and determination. He was often beaten, robbed of all he had, and put in chains and threatened with execution.
So, quite frankly, a guy enslaved by pirates and held for years wouldn’t be impressed by off roading, kayaking and bouldering. He had to do stuff like this everyday just to survive. How best to honor St. Patrick on St. Patrick’s Day 2017. Well, we suggest first, you go to Ireland and second, try to experience the land in the tough way he would have.
Here are 5 suggestions:
Quad biking is hugely popular in Ireland, where the island’s rocky hills, valleys, streams and overall rugged terrain is perfect for any off-road sport. Participants typically compete in time trials on set courses. There are a number of quad biking centers that offer great training courses.
Rock Climbing and Bouldering
Rock climbing and bouldering are increasingly popular in Ireland, basically a land carved by glaciers out of rock. There are hundreds of amazing outdoor climbing locations around the country and plenty of clubs that welcome vacationers. Bouldering – rope- and harness-free climbing – is also popular. Check out www.mountaineering.ie.
If you’re a Top Gear fan, check out the Irish episodes before you hit the island. There are many venues and sites related to off roading in Ireland that can point you to abandoned trails, streams, bogs, washouts, steep climbs and obstacles with terrifying names like “The Coffin” and “The Twister.” Check out www.motorsportireland.com.
Ireland has some terrific rivers and water systems that allow kayaking, slalom, wild water racing, paddle surfing, marathon, freestyle and sprint. If you’re not experienced, take a Canoe Ireland accredited course to get the feel of the place with a pro. Check out www.canoe.ie
Dating back to the early 1800s, kite surfing is one of the quintessential Irish water sports. It is, as the name suggests, an amalgam of kite flying and surfing with additional elements of wakeboarding, windsurfing and paragliding. Participants use their kite to harness the power of the wind and propel themselves across water on a wakeboard. The 21st Century offers top-notch materials and lines that make it far more safe and controllable. But keep in mind these are rough ocean waters surrounding the island. Do not try this without an accredited instructor from the Irish Kite Surfacing Association your first time out, even if you’re a great surfer in the states. Check out www.iksa.ie