Did you hear the tale of how the Blessed St.Patrick rid Ireland of the snakes? and how there’s divil a one to be found there nowadays except in zoos and such for the education of the innocent who would never see such creatures in the wild.

That is all down to St. Pat, because in his day the place was simply crawling with them. There were snakes everywhere; drowning themselves in the wells, stealing eggs from under the hens, swallowing the baby chicks whole. A plague of them there was, and the people of Ireland were distracted. Far too distracted to listen to St. Patrick.

St.Patrick was a missionary fellow come to bring the Gospel to the ignorant heathen. But the ignorant heathen would not listen.

“Religion is all very well in its way,” said the Heathen, “But will you not bother me just now. I got snakes in me bed, and a great big fella just bit me pig. Rid me of these pestilential serpents once and for all and I’ll visit your little church, but don’t expect to see me there if it’s knee deep in adders!”
St.Patrick was sorely troubled. There was only one St.Patrick but there were a couple of million snakes. He tried to calculate how long it would take him to clear Ireland if he caught fifty snakes a day. Have you ever tried to do arithmetic in Roman numerals. Let me tell you, it is not easy! He never truly worked it out but he realised that the task was an impossible one for mortal man. What he needed was a miracle. St.Patrick went to his little church and, brushing aside a wriggling mass of snakes, he knelt to pray.
And a voice spake unto him. “A miracle you need Patrick, and a miracle you shall have!” The voice went on, “Ireland is a magic land, never forget, and magic is the key. To rid Ireland of snakes you must find and capture the King of the Serpents. Get rid of him, and the rest must all follow,” St. Patrick listened carefully to his further instructions and then set off on his search for the Serpent King.
St.Patrick searched the length and breadth of Ireland; to the North, to the South, to the East to the West. And it was there in the west, on the coast of Donegal, that he found the cave of the king.

“Come out, in the name of God!” cried St. Patrick, and the Serpent King, whose curiosity was stronger than his caution, stuck his great serpent head out of the mouth of the cave.

“Who calls?” he hissed, his voice sounding like steam from a giant kettle.

“My name is Patrick, son of Calpurnius. I am come to rid this land of snakes.”

“Don’t you think it unwise to announce your intentions so openly?” asked the snake. “I could swallow you in one gulp right now.”

“That would be a pity,” said Patrick. “For then I would never know if it were true.

“If what were true?”

“That you have great magicl powers. I begin to think, on meeting you, that you are nothing much out of the ordinary, just a large, fat, and rather provincial snake who thinks only of his stomach, and is not interested at all in matters metaphysical.”

Now, dear listeners, there is one thing you must learn. The people of Donegal do not take kindly to being called provincial, and that was true of their snake.

“I’ll have you know that I am a direct descendant of the Kings of Ireland, and what I don’t know about magic is not worth knowing. And besides, what makes you the expert?”

“I’ve been known to do the odd miracle,” said Patrick modestly, “In training for the Sainthood you understand.” And he called forth a couple of peals of thunder and caused a small bush to burst into flame.

“Mere conjuring tricks!” sneered the snake, and turned day into night.

“A solar eclipse.” retorted Patrick. “It would have happened anyway!”

“But Timing is everything, you must admit.” The snake was a little miffed at being found out.

“Show me something really impossible.” said Patrick. “I have here a simple wooden box. it is very small. You are very large. Prove your magic by getting into the box.”

“Easy!” said the foolish snake. And he magicked himself into the box like a genie entering a bottle.

“GOTCHA!” cried St.Patrick, closing the lid.

The rest of the story is an anticlimax. He cast the box into the sea where it was carried away by the tide. And from all over Ireland the snakes poured out, a living wriggling carpet of green, brown, and yellow. The long corridors of serpents snaked their way to the sea. The Serpent King liberated himself at last and is now living in central Australia and is much loved by the aborigines where he enriches their local legends. But don’t think to get him back into a box. He has learned his lesson and is far too smart for that.
Meanwhile, Ireland is free of snakes and St. Patrick took his place in the calendar of Saints. You will find him there in the month of March. The seventeenth to be exact.


(c) Copyright H.St.V.Beechey, 1994