By William Federer
Rome fell Sept. 4, 476.
In the centuries preceding, Rome was overrun with immigrants: Visigoths, Franks, Anglos, Saxons, Ostrogoths, Burgundians, Lombards and Vandals. They first assimilated, many working as servants, but then came so fast they did not learn the Latin language.
Worldwide military conflicts strained the highly trained Roman legions.
Rome had centuries-old government bureaucracies.
Rome had a trade deficit, having outsourced its grain production to North Africa. When Vandals finished “vandalizing” the Roman Empire, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and captured the grain fields of North Africa, cutting off Rome’s resources.
Attila the Hun, called the “Scourge of God,” committed terrorist attacks. Callinicus wrote in the “Life of Saint Hypatius” (c. A.D. 450):
“The Huns … became so great that more than a hundred cities were captured. … So many murders and blood-lettings that the dead could not be numbered. Ay, for they took captive the churches and monasteries and slew the monks and maidens in great numbers.”
Exorbitant taxes were needed to fund Rome’s military campaigns and welfare programs.
The entire city of Rome was on welfare with citizens given free bread. One Roman commented: “Those who live at the expense of the public funds are more numerous than those who provide them.” Tax collectors were “more terrible than the enemy.”
Demanding “bread and circuses,” Romans distracted themselves with violent entertainment of gladiators in the Coliseum.
There was exposure of unwanted infants, infidelity, sexual immorality continuing from the times of Pompeii and homosexuality in Roman bath houses and gymnasiums (“gymn” is the Greek word for naked).
Time-Life’s “Great Ages of Man: Barbarian Europe, “1968, states: ” … in the causal brutality of its public spectacles, in a rampant immorality that even Christianity could not check.”
Fifth-century historian Salvian wrote:
“The Goths lie, but are chaste; the Franks lie, but are generous; the Saxons are savage in cruelty … but are admirable in chastity. … What hope can there be for the Romans when the barbarians are more pure than they?”
“O Roman people … be ashamed of your lives. Almost no cities are free of evil dens. … Let nobody think otherwise. The vices of our bad lives have alone conquered us.”
In the midst of this cultural decline, Patrick was born in the Roman province of Britain sometime between A.D. 387 and A.D. 415.
He was not a leprechaun, an elf, nor full of blarney. He did not drink green beer or wear a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” pin, but what he did was more notable than a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
While a teenager, Patrick’s community was left unguarded as Roman legions were withdrawn to defend Rome. Unprotected, Britain was attacked by raiders who carried away thousands.
Patrick was captured and sold as a slave in Ireland, which was ruled by Druids. The Druids, from whom Halloween originated, believed forests were inhabited by spirits which needed to be appeased. These were passed down as elves and leprechauns.
In “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” Thomas Cahill wrote that the Druids:
“sacrificed prisoners of war to the war gods and newborns to the harvest gods. … They displayed proudly the heads of their enemies in their temples and on their palisades; they even hung them from their belts as ornaments, used them as footballs in victory celebrations, and were fond of employing skull tops as ceremonial drinking bowls. They also sculpted heads – both shrunken, decapitated heads.”
For six years, Patrick was a slave, herding animals for his Druid master, Milchu. He wrote in his “Confession:”
“But after I came to Ireland, every day I had to tend sheep. … The love of God and His fear came to me more and more. … In a single day, I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain.”
“And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God … who comforted me as would a father his son.”
Then Patrick wrote:
“One night I heard in my sleep a voice saying to me: ‘It is well that you fast; soon you will go to your own country.’ And again, after a short while, I heard a voice saying to me: ‘See, your ship is ready.’ And it was not near, but at a distance of perhaps two hundred miles. … I took to flight, and I left the man with whom I had stayed for six years. And I went in the strength of God.”
Most likely, Patrick fled to Killala Bay or Westport where he found a small ship carrying wolfhounds to Europe.
Tossed in a storm, they shipwrecked in southern France. Patrick met St. Germain (A.D. 380-448) who discipled him and brought him back to Britain.
When Patrick was about 40 years old, he had a dream calling him back to Ireland. He wrote in his “Confession”:
“In the depth of the night, I saw a man named Victoricus coming as if from Ireland, with innumerable letters, and he gave me one, and while I was reading I thought I heard the voice of those near the western sea call out: ‘Please, holy boy, come and walk among us again.’ Their cry pierced my very heart, and I could read no more, and so I awoke.”
Patrick returned to Ireland, confronted the Druids, converted chieftains and used the three-leaf clover to teach the Trinity.
A dozen times Patrick faced life-threatening situations, writing in his “Confession”:
“They laid hands on me and my companions, and on that day they eagerly wished to kill me; but my time had not yet come. … they put us in irons and on the fourteenth day the Lord delivered me. … Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, or whatever it may be; but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven.”
Baptizing 120,000 and founding 300 churches, he wrote:
“Patrick the sinner, an unlearned man to be sure. None should ever say that it was my ignorance that accomplished any small thing; it was the gift of God.”
World Book Encyclopedia wrote that Patrick “found Ireland all heathen and left it all Christian.”
Saint Patrick died March 17, around A.D. 461.
The century following his death, Irish missionaries went to Britain to evangelize the Scots and Picts. An Irish missionary named Columbanus (A.D. 543-615) traveled Europe and evangelized the tribes which overran the Roman Empire, founding nearly 100 monasteries as far south as Italy.
More than a thousand years later, Scot-Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics fled the British Empire for American colonies to gain political and religious freedom.
During the Great Irish Potato Famine, 1845-1850, millions of poor Irish immigrated to the United States, with so many dying of dysentery, typhus and malnutrition during the six-week passage that their overcrowded ships were called “coffin ships.” These mostly uneducated Catholic immigrants lived in slum tenements which bred disease, resulting in the deaths of 80 percent of infants born to Irish immigrants in New York City.
The Irish were so discriminated against that a common saying was, “The Negro is black outside; the Irishman is black inside.” The Chicago Post wrote, “The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses … Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country.” Five Catholic churches were burned in Philadelphia and businesses posted signs “No Irish need apply.”
Parades served a purpose. Whereas the British monarchy did not grant equal status to Irish, no matter how large their population was, in America the Saint Patrick’s Day Parades in Boston and New York turned out thousands, resulting in politicians taking note. This, along with their willingness to assimilate, their work ethic and their volunteering to fight in the nation’s wars, increased respect for Irish and raised their political standing.
The 2000 U.S. Census reported 30 million Americans, or 10.8 percent of the population, claim Irish ancestry. This is the nation’s largest ancestry group after German (15.2 percent), followed by African-American (8.8 percent) and English (8.7 percent).
Ten U.S. presidents had Irish ancestors: Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
But on St. Patrick’s Day, everybody is Irish. Erin go braugh! (Ireland forever!)
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William J. Federer is a best-selling author, former U.S. congressional candidate and president of Amerisearch, Inc. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet.