Today being Saint Patrick's Day and all, I decided to learn a bit about the man, and see what all of the fuss was about... I'd like to share with you just a bit of what I discovered...
Well, for starters, Saint Patrick was a *saint*. What's that? To put it simply, Patrick was a Christian (as far as anyone can say today). He was probably not a saint in the Roman Catholic sense that most people tend to think of today. He was, more or less, probably a regular kind of British dude (regular and British in a 5th century sort of way).
Patrick (last name unknown?) lived from around 340 to 500 AD, which was right around the time when Christianity was starting to define itself. Beginning after Constantine I, there were all sorts of meetings held to determine what exactly the Bible taught about God and Jesus. It was a big deal.
From what Wikipedia says, it sounds like Patrick was officially bishopified (yes, I made up a word that means "to become a bishop") around the same time as another, well-known Christian: Saint Augustine of Hippo. (If you haven't heard of this dude, you better check him out.) So if ever there was a doubt in your mind about what *type* of a Christian Patrick *could* have been, just remember that he and Augustine were contemporaries. It was a different type of Christianity back then a much more radical one than we often see today.
The bottom line is, we don't know much about who he was; but we know that he was a missionary to northern Ireland, commissioned (most likely) by the very early Roman Catholic Church. For reasons probably related to the message he brought to the Irish, by the 800's, he became revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
Now about all of the drinking... You have to realize that, in a controlled environment, a feast is a beautiful thing. It's a celebration of a person or event. This is, of course, probably how Saint Patrick's Day began. But references that I found, as early as the mid 18th century, described celebration that had less to do with the saint and more to do with just being Irish. Considering that the Irish probably have some sort of predisposition towards drinking a lot, it isn't too difficult to see why one of the greatest celebration days in Ireland has turned in to a reason to party.
For my own part, this afternoon, I tipped back a cold one to the saint of old, in whose footsteps I now walk. Thank you, Saint Patrick, for loving and serving the Irish.