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St. Patrick and Easter Night


There is an old Irish legend concerning Easter and St. Patrick which may be of interest to Ricochet readers. From the get-go St. Patrick faced opposition from local people, chiefs and kings, and in particular the pagan priests known as druids. What Patrick needed was a bold brash statement of intent – something to get people’s and those in powers’ attention. He chose Easter as the day for this event, when the pagans also had their spring feast known as Bealtaine.

In pagan Ireland, it was custom around Easter every year to hold mass bonfires throughout the land. By custom, however, it was the High King of Ireland who alone by Brehon law had the legal authority to start the first blaze that night on one specific hill which overlooked a high piece of ground in the north of the island. He alone had this right, no one else. To do so otherwise it also meant essentially declaring war on the king. Anyone who started before him risked death or severe penalties.

There was also another reason for this custom. The druids had prophecied years earlier that should anyone light a flame on that night (ahead of the King) and it not be immediately extinguished than it would create a fire and a blaze that would last forever.

St. Patrick did not know this prophecy but he did know that if we were to go up Tara Hill near the High Kings realm and set a blaze, he would inevitably be granted an audience with the King (under arms). Better yet he could meet with his chief enemies – the chief druids of Ireland. This was too good an opportunity for him and his mission to pass up. If he could convert the High King or at least his followers; his mission would gain enormous credibility amongst the populace.

He went up Tara Hill in what is today County Meath and in full view of the High Kings’ palace that Easter in 433 AD, he and his followers burnt a blaze so high all the surrounding kingdoms saw it. The King was enraged. He summoned the druids and his chief counselors at once. The chief druid reminded the king and his followers of the prophecy – if the blaze were lit unless extinguished tonight, it would never be put out. The druids were told as guardians of the custom that they should put the fire out.

Unfortunately for them, and to Patrick’s laughter, they could not extinguish the blaze. God protected it. None of their pagan magics worked on it. Seeing Saint Patrick’s torch still alight, the king sent a war band to kill the saint and douse the blaze, but the fire could not be quenched…

Instead, after many attempts, it was St. Patrick who now decided to take the initiative. He and his followers walked to Tara and, confronting the druids again, he defeated them in a contest of miracle-working. Many in the king’s court bowed down and were converted, and though the king himself was not one of them, he did honor St. Patrick with the right to preach freely.

Although he did not choose to convert to Christianity himself, the king endorsed Patrick’s mission to convert the Irish.

So why am I telling you this story? Why, oh, why? Well, one reason is – I like this story. I always have. The second reason is this: Easter is a time of hope. This story shows that even in utter darkness Easter can bring light into the world. Finally the crucial important element of the story – the blaze.

The druids prophecy “should anyone light a flame on that night (ahead of the King) and it not be immediately extinguished than it would create a fire and a blaze that would last forever.” One does not have to be a theologian of exceptional thinking to realize the druids were not taking about a simple fire. They were not talking about a new kingdom either. They were predicting the collapse of the old pagan religion – their religion. They saw its replacement. They saw Christianity.

We in the 21st century often forget how dark the old religious systems were and the moral revolution that Christianity brought in its wake. The pagan world was really in darkness; cruelty, despair, hopelessness, vice, and iniquities of every kind. It is often important to remember this as we see the current state of the post-Christian West, included sadly in this is my own country of Ireland.

The West today is a land truly engrossed in darkness; its people entrapped to liars preaching a false gospel of materialism, overpopulation, amorality, secularism, hedonism, perversion, and worse, a potentially even greater foe in the shock troops of Islamist terror. The solution to all of these is not to embrace politics, tribalism, fascism, street thuggery, or violence. It is not to be found even in those who defend the West today by force of arms. They are a temporary hallmark.

The true solution to the West’s problems lies in conversion. Not by force of arms or threats. No, like many before; from St. Patrick’s to Pope Benedict XVI’s realization, to fight a false ideology/religion you do so with a real one. You change a person’s spirit, you can change everyone. The only religion capable of doing this – having done it with our pagan ancestors before – is Christianity.

It is not an accident that Christians called Jesus “The Light of the World.” In a land filled with pagan darkness, his gospel shone like the sun and elevated every individual to the moon. It is no accident that today in the pagan west it is Christ and his followers who every degenerate hates, nor that outside the West they are the largest persecuted religion in the world. Would he wish it any other way? After all, Christ has always been a threat to them.

There are 5 comments.

  1. Thatcher

    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

    — John 3:19-21

    • #1
    • March 31, 2018 at 4:00 pm
  2. Thatcher

    Paschal joy, Paddy!

    • #2
    • March 31, 2018 at 4:10 pm
  3. Inactive

    Thank you for this story. I had never heard it before—another reason to pay attention to St. Patrick.

    • #3
    • March 31, 2018 at 4:49 pm
  4. Member

    The tale has something to say for non-Christians as well. There is a pattern in the stories of national conversions, such as the stolen fire in Ireland and attacking the sacred tree in Germany. The saints were bold.

    They were not afraid to be publicly defiant of false norms, despite severe punishments for defying those norms. They did not sacrifice truth for strategy. They did not purchase comfort or security for their loved ones with lies. 

    As Flannery O’Connor put it, to the hard of hearing you must shout. When truth becomes shocking, shock away.

    • #4
    • April 16, 2018 at 7:08 am
  5. Thatcher

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    As Flannery O’Connor put it, to the hard of hearing you must shout. When truth becomes shocking, shock away.

    • #5
    • April 16, 2018 at 7:39 am