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Not just St. Patrick: Ireland home to many saints

  • This January 2, 2014 photo shows a statue of St. Patrick in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. The  stained glass window depicts the life of the fifth-century saint who brought Christianity to Ireland. (AP Photo/Helen O’Neill)

    This January 2, 2014 photo shows a statue of St. Patrick in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. The stained glass window depicts the life of the fifth-century saint who brought Christianity to Ireland. (AP Photo/Helen O’Neill)

  • This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, which was founded around 1028 and was a major pilgrimage site in the middle ages. It is a popular tourist attraction in Dublin and includes an enormous underground crypt that visitors can explore.  For centuries St. Laurence O'Toole's 900-year-old heart was on display in the Cathedral until _shockingly _ it was stolen in 2012 and has not been recovered.(AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

    This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, which was founded around 1028 and was a major pilgrimage site in the middle ages. It is a popular tourist attraction in Dublin and includes an enormous underground crypt that visitors can explore. For centuries St. Laurence O'Toole's 900-year-old heart was on display in the Cathedral until _shockingly _ it was stolen in 2012 and has not been recovered.(AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

  • This January 2, 2014 photo shows a book next to the altar of St. Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. Although he was not Irish, remains of the third-century martyr are buried here, along with a tincture of his blood. Visitors are invited to write to St. Valentine in the book, which is filled with poignant requests for help finding love and marriage. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

    This January 2, 2014 photo shows a book next to the altar of St. Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. Although he was not Irish, remains of the third-century martyr are buried here, along with a tincture of his blood. Visitors are invited to write to St. Valentine in the book, which is filled with poignant requests for help finding love and marriage. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

  • This Dec. 27, 2013 photo shows the soaring round tower on the remains of an ancient monastic settlement in Glendalough, County Wicklow. Founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century, the site, which includes churches and gravestones was one of Ireland's greatest centers of learning for 500 years. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

    This Dec. 27, 2013 photo shows the soaring round tower on the remains of an ancient monastic settlement in Glendalough, County Wicklow. Founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century, the site, which includes churches and gravestones was one of Ireland's greatest centers of learning for 500 years. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

  • This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows a worshipper at the altar of St. Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. Although he was not Irish, remains of the third-century martyr are buried here, along with a tincture of his blood. Visitors are invited to write to St. Valentine in a book next to the altar, and it is filled with poignant requests for help finding love and marriage. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

    This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows a worshipper at the altar of St. Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. Although he was not Irish, remains of the third-century martyr are buried here, along with a tincture of his blood. Visitors are invited to write to St. Valentine in a book next to the altar, and it is filled with poignant requests for help finding love and marriage. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

  • This January 2, 2014 photo shows the site of an ancient well on the grounds of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. The fifth-century saint was said to have baptized converts here on a trip to Dublin. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

    This January 2, 2014 photo shows the site of an ancient well on the grounds of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. The fifth-century saint was said to have baptized converts here on a trip to Dublin. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

  • This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, built in 1220 in honor of Ireland's patron Saint. The grounds of the cathedral include an ancient well, where tradition says St. Patrick baptized converts on his visit to Dublin in the fifth century. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

    This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, built in 1220 in honor of Ireland's patron Saint. The grounds of the cathedral include an ancient well, where tradition says St. Patrick baptized converts on his visit to Dublin in the fifth century. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

  • This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, built in 1220 in honor of Ireland's patron Saint. The grounds of the cathedral include an ancient well, where tradition says St. Patrick baptized converts on his visit to Dublin in the fifth century. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

    This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, built in 1220 in honor of Ireland's patron Saint. The grounds of the cathedral include an ancient well, where tradition says St. Patrick baptized converts on his visit to Dublin in the fifth century. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

  • This Dec. 27, 2013 photo shows Celtic crosses and centuries-old gravestones on a sixth century monastic settlement in Glendalough, County Wicklow. Founded by St. Kevin, the settlement was one of Irelands greatest centers of learning for 500 years. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

    This Dec. 27, 2013 photo shows Celtic crosses and centuries-old gravestones on a sixth century monastic settlement in Glendalough, County Wicklow. Founded by St. Kevin, the settlement was one of Irelands greatest centers of learning for 500 years. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

  • This January 2, 2014 photo shows a statue of St. Patrick in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. The  stained glass window depicts the life of the fifth-century saint who brought Christianity to Ireland. (AP Photo/Helen O’Neill)
  • This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, which was founded around 1028 and was a major pilgrimage site in the middle ages. It is a popular tourist attraction in Dublin and includes an enormous underground crypt that visitors can explore.  For centuries St. Laurence O'Toole's 900-year-old heart was on display in the Cathedral until _shockingly _ it was stolen in 2012 and has not been recovered.(AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)
  • This January 2, 2014 photo shows a book next to the altar of St. Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. Although he was not Irish, remains of the third-century martyr are buried here, along with a tincture of his blood. Visitors are invited to write to St. Valentine in the book, which is filled with poignant requests for help finding love and marriage. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)
  • This Dec. 27, 2013 photo shows the soaring round tower on the remains of an ancient monastic settlement in Glendalough, County Wicklow. Founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century, the site, which includes churches and gravestones was one of Ireland's greatest centers of learning for 500 years. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)
  • This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows a worshipper at the altar of St. Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. Although he was not Irish, remains of the third-century martyr are buried here, along with a tincture of his blood. Visitors are invited to write to St. Valentine in a book next to the altar, and it is filled with poignant requests for help finding love and marriage. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)
  • This January 2, 2014 photo shows the site of an ancient well on the grounds of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. The fifth-century saint was said to have baptized converts here on a trip to Dublin. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)
  • This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, built in 1220 in honor of Ireland's patron Saint. The grounds of the cathedral include an ancient well, where tradition says St. Patrick baptized converts on his visit to Dublin in the fifth century. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)
  • This Jan. 2, 2014 photo shows St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, built in 1220 in honor of Ireland's patron Saint. The grounds of the cathedral include an ancient well, where tradition says St. Patrick baptized converts on his visit to Dublin in the fifth century. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)
  • This Dec. 27, 2013 photo shows Celtic crosses and centuries-old gravestones on a sixth century monastic settlement in Glendalough, County Wicklow. Founded by St. Kevin, the settlement was one of Irelands greatest centers of learning for 500 years. (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

St. Patrick may have banished snakes and brought Christianity to Ireland, but perhaps his greatest feat was one of sheer endurance. After all, there were hundreds of other future saints roaming Ireland at the time, but Patrick is the one who gets the party.

On March 17, Guinness will flow from Malin to Moscow, the Chicago River will run green, and parades will be held worldwide to celebrate the fifth-century preacher and patron saint of Ireland.

“St. Patrick’s legacy is pretty impressive,” says historian Brian Lacey, “especially considering he wasn’t even Irish.”

Patrick was British, captured at the age of 16 by a band of raiders and brought as a slave to Ireland. For six years he tended sheep on a remote mountain and wrestled with visions from God.

After escaping, he became a bishop who traveled Ireland building churches, baptizing converts and performing countless miracles along the way.

In recent years there have been calls to rein in the revelry and reclaim the religious aspects of the national holiday. Some are even attempting to boost the name recognition of other saints (early Irish records list as many as 1,700) and bring their stories to the attention of the world.

There are hundreds of holy wells, sacred round towers and monastic remains across Ireland, and it seems every town and village boasts its own special miracle maker.

Glendalough: St. Kevin

At Glendalough (valley of two lakes) in County Wicklow, visitors can wander through the remains of a monastic settlement that for 500 years was one of Ireland’s greatest centers of learning. Founded by Kevin in the sixth century, the soaring round tower, churches and gravestones, as well as “St. Kevin’s Bed” – a man-made cave carved into the rock high over one of the lakes – creates a strikingly evocative scene and almost mystical sense of the past.

Tour guides offer tales of how Kevin cast a monster into the upper lake, rebuked an ardent woman suitor (one unlikely legend has him hurling her from his cave into the depths below) and once, while fasting, allowed a blackbird to build a nest on his outstretched hand. The story goes that he kept his arm outstretched until the chicks hatched.

Kildare: St. Brigid

Brigid, for example, is said to have turned water into ale, diverted rivers from their courses and conjured up extra bacon for unexpected guests. When she decided to build a monastery in Kildare in the fifth century, she needed land from a local chieftain. He grudgingly agreed to give her as much as her cloak would cover. Miraculously, the cloak kept spreading for as many acres as she wanted.

Today, a round tower and cathedral mark the spot in Kildare where Brigid’s abbey once stood.

Clonmacnoise: St. Ciaran

In neighboring County Offaly, visitors can explore the magnificent remains of the sixth-century monastic site founded by Ciaran in Clonmacnoise. It includes the ruins of a cathedral, two round towers, three Celtic crosses and the largest collection of early Christian gravestones in Western Europe.

Ciaran’s path to sainthood was launched as a young man, when he supposedly restored life to a dead horse.

Ardmore: St. Declan

Farther south, at the picturesque seaside village of Ardmore, visitors can learn about St. Declan and how he crossed the sea on a huge flagstone that ran aground. High on a hill above the village are the spectacular remains of his fifth-century settlement, including an ancient church decorated with intricate stone carvings, one of the tallest round towers in Ireland, and the remains of an oratory where Declan is buried.

The saint still has a cult following in County Waterford, which he christianized before St. Patrick.

St. Patrick and many more

There are hundreds of other saints and shrines. At Fenit harbor in County Kerry in southwest Ireland, a large bronze statue depicts St. Brendan, the sixth-century navigator who set off on an epic voyage across the Atlantic in a wooden boat.

Relics also abound. The preserved head of St. Oliver Plunkett – who was hanged, drawn and quartered in Britain in 1681 for his Catholic faith – is housed in an elaborate shrine at St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda.

For centuries St. Laurence O’Toole’s 900-year-old heart was on display at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin until it was stolen in 2012 and has not been recovered.

And, though he wasn’t Irish, St. Valentine’s third-century remains ended up in Dublin, preserved in an elaborate reliquary at the Carmelite church on Whitefriar Street.

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