With the possible exception of King Arthur, St. Patrick is probably the world's most famous Briton.
"What?!" exclaim the non-medievalists. "Surely you typed that wrong. He was Irish. There are even Shamrock Shakes and everything."
Nope, sorry. Patrick was a Briton, which explains why he was raised a Christian (though in his Confessio he says he "knew not the true God," because the Britons were Christianized more-or-less along with the rest of the Roman Empire. His family must have been Christian for a while, because his grandfather was a priest and his father was a deacon.
So, how did Patrick get associated with Ireland?
Pirates of the Caribbe ... er, I mean, of the Irish Sea! Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and enslaved as a youth. After a few years, he left (it isn't clear whether he was escaped or freed) after a dream told him he would return to his own country. He had some sort of religious training, then returned to Ireland -- and the rest (the shamrock, driving out the snakes, etc) is as much legend as history.
Patrick has what everyone wants in a saint's life -- pirates!
Want to know more about the medieval, non-Shamrock Shake version of St. Patrick? Here are some sources for you:
- You can read his Confessio for yourself.
- Scribal Terror talks about St. Patrick and smiths (i.e. blacksmiths).
- Nihil Fit reminds us of the importance of Patrick's monastic movement.
- Heavenfield has an excerpt from Muirchu's Life of Patrick. Muirchu was a medieval Irish historian who wrote the most famous hagography of Patrick.