True history and legend are intertwined when it comes to St. Patrick. It is known that he was born in Banwen, Wales about 390 AD in Roman Britain and was kidnapped and sold in Ireland as a slave and became fluent in the Irish language. He escaped six years later and fled to Gaul. After several years of monastic life, he returned to Ireland in 432 AD as a missionary to the people there. Eventually he was ordained as a deacon, then priest and finally as a bishop. Pope Celestine then sent him back to Ireland to preach the gospel. Evidently he was a great traveler, especially in Celtic countries, as innumerable places in Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Ireland are named after him.
Here is where actual history and legend become difficult to separate.
Patrick is most known the world over for having driven the snakes from Ireland. Different tales tell of his standing upon a hill, using a wooden staff to drive the serpents into the sea, banishing them forever from the shores of Ireland.
One legend says that one old serpent resisted, but the saint overcame it by cunning. He is said to have made a box and invited the reptile to enter. The snake insisted the box was too small and the discussion became very heated. Finally the snake entered the box to prove he was right, whereupon St Patrick slammed the lid and cast the box into the sea.
It is true there are no snakes in Ireland however, chances are that there never have been since the time the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the ice age. As in many old pagan religions serpent symbols were common, and possibly even worshipped. Driving the snakes from Ireland was probably symbolic of putting an end to that pagan practice.
St. Patrick is a hero in Ireland. In fact, there are about 60 churches and cathedrals named for him in Ireland alone. One of the most famous cathedrals is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. These grounds bear the mark of the place where St. Patrick baptized his converts.
While not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, it was Patrick who encountered the Druids at Tar and abolished their pagan rights. He converted the warrior chiefs and princes, baptizing them and thousands of their subjects in the Holy Wells which still bear that name. It is said that he used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity.
According to tradition St. Patrick died in A.D. 493 and was buried in the same grave as St. Bridget and St. Columbia, at Downpatrick, County Down. The jawbone of St. Patrick was preserved in a silver shrine and was often requested in times of childbirth, epileptic fits and as a preservative against the evil eye.
Another legend says St. Patrick ended his days at Glastonbury and was buried there. The Chapel of St. Patrick still exists as part of Glastonbury Abbey. There is evidence of an Irish pilgrimage to his tomb during the reign of the Saxon King Ine in A.D. 688, when a group of pilgrims headed by St. Indractus were murdered.
The great anxiety displayed in the middle ages to possess the bodies, or at least the relics of saints, accounts for the many discrepant traditions as to the burial places of St. Patrick and others.