St. Patrick was a Protestant say Loyalist leaders in Northern Ireland
Protestant St.Patrick’s march leads to Catholic protests in Armagh
He is the iconic patron saint of Ireland, the bringer of faith, the banisher of snakes and for many Ulster Loyalists he was the first Protestant settler on the Paddy’s green shamrock shore.
So on Saturday night in Armagh, the Protestants will parade for Patrick and the ‘Papists’ will protest.
How times have changed.
Today, Protestants in Northern Ireland are more insistent that they have a right to claim Patrick too as the founder of their Christian faith in Ireland. Indeed, some argue that his British origins and the fact that the Celtic Christian church structure he founded in Ireland stayed beyond the control of Rome for centuries, put him down as a staunch Protestant even before the Reformation.
They also point out that since the first New York parade involved Irish-born Redcoats in the colonial British Army, they have a proprietorial stake on its origins too.
St Patrick is believed to have come from Britain, first as a captive slave herding pigs and sheep at Slemish near the north coast, then as a Christian missionary to calm the savage pagan breast of his mortal flock.
He landed near Saul in Co. Down, not far from modern day Belfast, and began to convert the people. He founded his ecclesiastical centre in what is now Armagh City, near the ancient centre of power in Ulster, where the most Protestant cathedral now stands and he is laid to rest in the grounds of the Protestant cathedral in Downpatrick, also in Co. Down.
Indeed, Patrick is believed to have concentrated his entire mission in the northern part of Ireland with only brief forays into the west for the rigours of the ‘Reek’ on Croagh Patrick.
Yet for many decades, particularly during the conflict in Northern Ireland, St Patrick and celebrations in his honour, were regarded as the cultural preserve of Irish Catholics and their diaspora, particularly in America.
The celebratory parades which have become such a huge feature of St Patrick’s Day in modern Ireland really only date from the 1970s and they are modelled on the New York event that started even more modestly away back in 1762. Even 40 years ago, March 17 was observed in Catholic Ireland as a Holy Day of obligation with Mass attendance and celebrations afterwards were more modest and cultural affairs.
Since the change to razzmatazz, Protestant participation in the new St Patrick’s Day was rare, particularly in the North where their big public celebrations were saved for July at the peak of the marching season.
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