Would You Believe?

Patrick: The Renegade Saint

Patrick the Renegade Saint
Patrick the Renegade Saint

RTÉ One, Sunday 17 March, 11.40pm

Another chance to see this Would You Believe film, Patrick The Renegade Saint

Ireland's Easter Narrative is the story of its conversion from paganism to Christianity. The hero of that story is St Patrick. The Christian Churches in Ireland claim their heritage back to Patrick and their foundation to Armagh. Tradition has it that he banished snakes, used the Shamrock to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, climbed Croagh Patrick, lit a paschal fire at Slane and single-handedly turned the Irish into an Easter people. But what if none of these stories about St Patrick is true? Reporter Mick Peelo hears evidence that the real St Patrick was a renegade bishop who was under investigation by his fellow bishops because he was 'off message', had misappropriated funds, and had no authority to act as a bishop?

Peelo goes back to Patrick's own 5th century writing, to disentangle the real figure - his faith, life and legacy - from the figure of myth and legend.

If Irish Christians want to know the truth about the roots of their faith, they need to understand the difference between the real Patrick and the Patrick of centuries of conscious myth-making and propaganda. Historians like Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín of UCG and Dr Elva Johnston of UCD maintain there is no historical basis for the Church's claim that Patrick founded the Church in Armagh or that the Archbishop of Armagh can claim succession back to St Patrick. Theologian and Professor Tom O'Loughlin, goes so far as to say that 'In modern day parlance, St Patrick was a heretic' and that was the principal reason he was under investigation by his superiors. Retired Roman Catholic Bishop and Patrician author, Dr Joseph Duffy, believes that modern scholarship is necessary and welcome but 'You can't leave St Patrick to the scholars.' The accretions of centuries of folk tradition are not without their value. Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper accepts that the revisionists might have a point about the connection between Armagh and Patrick and they may even be right about Patrick being a bit of a heretic, but he believes you can't rule out the possibility that the seventh century tradition on which the Irish Church is founded, is based on a firm connection between Patrick and Armagh.

"I suppose in a way, like many things, if people say something for long enough and it's believed for long enough, it almost becomes true for people.. In the 7th century the Armagh writers do an absolutely amazing job of taking lots of disparate material. and create this amazing edifice which has convinced people for over a thousand years. It's good spin- doctoring, in fairness." Dr Elva Johnston

Put at its most blunt, you'd have to say that the Patrick of Armagh is a pack of lies. Almost certainly a deliberate pack of lies.It's deliberately tampering with the information..it's messing with the sources. - Prof Dáibhí ÓCróinín

If Irish Christians want to understand their heritage and their foundation story they need to know how Patrick, the renegade bishop, became the Patron Saint of Ireland, and what happened to the real, historical figure in the process.

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