This is a book which needs to be read and reread by
scholars of Irish culture and its mystic and sometimes
quite paradoxical essence. If you poke around Ireland
too long, hospitably received, you'll find yourself
suddenly in a place you weren't invited and aren't
welcome. If you ask too many questions, you'll get
answers you wish you hadn't.
What little we know of Patrick is that he was not
Irish but a Briton, setting up the paradox in which
the hated enemy becomes the founding religious father.
He was not poor but sufficiently of the elite (Roman)
to write handily in Latin, thus distancing himself,
one might say by light years, from his adopted
countrymen (in fact it is one of de Paor's intentions
to show that Patrick was not an ignorant peasant at
all). We know that Patrick most definitely penned a
confesio and some epistles after he chose, in the
office of Bishop of the Church of Rome, to return to
the land where, as a youth, he had been dragged into
some years of captivity.
We don't know his date or place of birth or death, and
most of what can be said about "the real Patrick" is
pure speculation. We can fairly view him as a
"stranger in a strange land" who dealt well with the
people with whom he voluntarily cast his lot. Let us
recall that in those times, widely known to us as the
"dark ages", the native inhabitants of both present
day England (where from Patrick hailed) and of Ireland
(where he chose to take up his ministry) were nothing
more than bands of warring tribes with as little
understanding of being "English" or "Irish" as has an
Amarani Indian of being "Brazilian."
Patrick was one of those rare individuals whose role
it is to define the boundaries of a culture merely by
being present in it as an uitlander. Sadly, we know
almost nothing of what he did on a daily basis or how
he befriended or regarded his flock. Therefore de
Paor has pored very deeply into Patrick's writings to
try to get the measure of the man who became the
patron saint of a country he embraced by spiritual
choice. It is obvious that one's knowledge of Latin
would need to rival that of Patrick himself to delve
so painstakingly, and for that erudition and the guts
for the task, we thank the author.
So we have a book that would appear to be for the
learned exclusively -- and yet the author's final word
offers a poignant counter to that proposition:
title has been chosen so that this book may be a
source of comfort for the youth of Ireland who are
leaving our shores today, for those among you who,
like Patrick, are 'illegal aliens' on foreign soil."
A world traveler for years by choice, this reviewer
takes that point to her own heart. Through the
exigencies and adversities of transplantation we make
a spiritual choice, and what grows from that shifting
soil and blowing mist changes us irrevocably. For
that reason if no other, Patrick is a good man for Ireland.