From "The Real St. Patrick" - Christianity Today
When it comes to St. Patrick's Day most people think of shamrocks, four-leaf clovers, parades, and, ah yes, green beer! But who was the real St. Patrick? Did he enjoy adding food color to his beverages and dressing up in green attire? Well, I don't think so. What I do know is that St. Patrick loved Jesus and lived a very missional life!
Let's start with a few misconceptions about St. Patrick...First of all, Patrick wasn't really a Saint (with a capital "S"), having never been officially canonized by Rome. And Patrick couldn't have driven the snakes out of Ireland because there were never any snakes there to begin with. He wasn't even the first evangelist to Ireland (Palladius had been sent in 431, about five years before Patrick went). Patrick isn't even Irish. He's from what's now Dumbarton, Scotland (just northwest of Glasgow).
So here's what we do know about him. Patrick was 16 years old in about the year 405, when he was captured in a raid & became a slave in what was still radically pagan Ireland. Far from home, he clung to the religion he had ignored as a teenager. Even though his grandfather had been a priest, and his father a town councilor, Patrick "knew not the true God." But forced to tend his master's sheep in Ireland, he spent his six years of bondage mainly in prayer. He escaped at the suggestion of a dream and returned home to Scotland.
Patrick was in his mid-40s when he returned to the land that had kidnapped him and enslaved him some twenty years earlier; but Patrick simply could not resist the call of God on his life! Palladius had not been very successful in his mission, and the returning former slave replaced him. Intimately familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain), Patrick's strategy was to convert chiefs first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. (Reportedly, Milchu was one of his earliest converts.)
Though he was not solely responsible for converting the island, Patrick was quite successful. He made missionary journeys all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe's Christian centers. This, of course, was very important to fifth-century Christians, for whom Ireland was one of the "ends of the earth."
Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.
And be sure to check out this recent article on St. Patrick by The Resurgence - Vintage Saints: Saint Patrick