The Saint Patrick Centre, a modern exhibition complex in Downpatrick, County Down.

Patrick was born in northern Roman Britain around 387, yet more than 1,600 years later, a multitude of historical associations, myths, legends and stories about him still exist in the land that he converted and loved.

The life

Saint Patrick's Heartland is concentrated around the city and county of Armagh, and the town of Downpatrick and County Down, but it also stretches out to places like Slemish Mountain in County Antrim.

After his capture, legend has it that Patrick was forced to tend sheep and pigs as a slave on Slemish. Nowadays climbing Slemish in his honour is not just a walk in his saintly footsteps, but a chance to simulate his encounter with the wilderness, serenity and beauty of the local countryside.

Patrick eventually escaped and sailed back to his family in Britain. But prompted by a vision, he chose to return to Ireland on his Christian mission. He came up Strangford Lough and today it is well worth lingering at the many ancient sites and attractions that speak of him around these parts.

At The Saint Patrick Centre, there's an exhibition dedicated to telling his story. At Saul there's a gorgeous replica of an early church and round tower on the spot of his reputed first sermon and wooden church in Ireland. On the crest of Slieve Patrick there's a huge statue in his honour, and panoramic views of the spot where he first landed. And there's much more.

A tour or a stay in historic County Down also connects you back to Patrick through a host of healing wells, high crosses, standing stones, old abbeys and welcoming villages where the locals will regale you with a welcome and a tale. Check out Down County Museum to see the "Raising the Cross in Down" exhibition; an exhibition accounting the development of Christianity in the locality using rare and preserved artefacts.

In 445, Patrick established the Seat of Armagh as the centre of Christian learning in Ireland. Today, with two towering cathedrals celebrating the saint's, life, legacy and mission, Armagh is a rich cultural experience and one of the highlights of the Heartland of St Patrick.

The cathedrals are a must, but with its close proximity to the archaeological site of the ancient Celts at Navan Fort, Armagh can even take you back to the times before Patrick. For those in search of history, Armagh County Museum also houses artefacts and collections reflecting the city's leading role in early Christian Ireland, while Armagh Robinson Library holds rare and valuable books, illuminated manuscripts and ancient Irish artefacts, gems and coins.

There's a lot more than history though. Armagh's elegant Georgian streets and lively shops, bars and restaurants offer entertaining complements to your discovery of Saint Patrick.

Patrick died in 493 and his remains are believed to be buried in the grounds of Down Cathedral in Downpatrick. It's one of the most evocative sites in Ireland.


The legend


Saint Patrick is given credit for banishing the snakes from Ireland, sending the broods into the sea. To this day, there aren't any native snakes in Ireland. The banishment of snakes is probably an allegorical explanation for Patrick confronting and defeating paganism. As depicted in medieval art, pagans often worshipped snakes. The absence of snakes is more likely to be caused by the remoteness of the island. Fortunately, Ireland was inaccessible for snakes to reach.

Shamrocks & the Trinity

The shamrock is popularly identified with Ireland. That custom owes its origins to Saint Patrick.

When Patrick challenged King Laoghaire's authority at Tara, he encountered mocking questions about the Christian faith. Patrick plucked a three-leaf shamrock and used it to demonstrate the core Christian belief in the Trinity. He explained that the shamrock represented one God and comprised three Divine persons, a leaf each for the Divine