Maire B. De Paor
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Buy *Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland* online

Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland
Maire B. De Paor
Regan Books
320 pages
January 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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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:

"the 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.

© 2003 by Barbara Bamberger Scott for Curled Up With a Good Book

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