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St Patrick’s Day: Finding the Relics of St Patrick

Posted on Mar 09, 2018 by Dawn Rainbolt

With St Patrick’s Day just around the corner, it’s that time of the year when we start thinking about St Patrick, arguably one of the most famous saints worldwide.

To learn more about Ireland’s patron saint and celebrate his legancy, this St Patrick’s Day we’re identifying the pilgrimage sites and relics of St Patrick that are scattered throughout the island for you to add to your travel itineraries.

As a revered saint in the early Middle Ages onwards, precious relics of St Patrick have been collected and worshipped for generations – today, these relics of St Patrick are peppered throughout Ireland. To learn more about St Patrick, see here. 

Here, just in time for St Patrick’s Day, we locate a few of his alleged relics!

St Patrick Himself

Down Cathedral St Patrick relics - St Patrick grave

Down Cathedral, St Patrick’s final resting place, is flanked by a Celtic Cross.

Though impossible to prove beyond a doubt, it has long be reputed that Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Co Down houses the remains of St Patrick himself – thus the most important of the relics of St Patrick. As the patron saint’s death in 461 predates Down Cathedral (consecrated 1183) by more than 700 years, his true gravesite is buried somewhere underneath the present massive cathedral. Instead, his grave is commemorated by a locally-sourced Mourne granite marker, erected in 1900. Because of this, Down Cathedral remains a popular place for pilgrims as well as a way to celebrate St Patrick’s Day at the source!

The Lost Tooth of St Patrick

Killaspugbrone church sunset St Patrick relics lost tooth

Killaspugbrone Church, once home to St Patrick’s tooth relic, silhouetted against a painted sky at sunset.

While wandering the windswept Sligo coast in search of pagans to convert, St Patrick is said to have stumbled and lost a tooth near Strandhill’s Killaspugbrone Church. He gave it to the priest of Killaspugbrone Church, who enshrined it. The relic passed through the hands of several clergy, worshippers as well as chieftains, was enshrined in gilded casings before being finally gifted to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, where you can see it today. But Strandhill and Killaspugbrone Church are still worth exploring!

St Patrick’s Bell

One of Ireland’s most precious relics, St Patrick’s Bell once belonged to the venerated saint. The trapezoidal gilded case, commissioned by King Domhnall Ua Lochlainn, was forged later, likely around 1100. And since then, the bell has been in the same family (the Mulhollands), and has never been lost track of, unlike most relics! Associated with a miracle in 1044, the simple iron bell was coated in bronze to shield the holy relic from human eyes. Today, the bell is housed in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

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The Hand and Arm Shrine of St Patrick

A silver arm-and-hand-shaped container dating from the Middle Ages is said to have once contained a precious relic of St Patrick – his arm and hand bones (though today, all that is left is the shrine itself). Not much is known about the shrine aside from the fact that it passed from one guardian to the next, preserved despite everything, until it fell into the hands of the Bishop of Belfast. Today, it is housed in the Ulster Museum of Belfast.

More About St Patrick in Ireland

The Chairs of St Patrick

St Patrick seemed to sit down a lot – and anywhere he did so immediately became a marked spot – holy, miraculous, worthy of recognition. Below, we highlight just a few of them!

Altadavin Glen/St Patrick’s Chair

Perhaps the most famous of St Patrick’s chairs is the one at Altadavin Glen (translating to ‘Demon’s Cliff’), called the Druids Chair and St. Brigid’s Well. Snuggled into the mystical moss-covered woods of Co Tyrone along the Ulster Way, those hoping for dreams come true can sit on the throne-shaped rock as local folklore holds that wishes made from St Patrick’s chair will come true! And the water from the nearby St Brigid’s well is said to have healing properties. Though once a pagan site, St Patrick sat here once upon a time, and thus, the Celtic Altadavin Glen became the Christian St Patrick’s Chair.

The Boheh Stone/St Patrick’s Chair

Another holy chair is the Boheh Stone, not far from Croagh Patrick, a mountain with strong St Patrick associations (see below!). The Boheh Stone chair is decorated with Bronze Age swirls and Christian crosses – as often happened, pagan festivals and shrines were repurposed to fit Christianity. Though an amazing place to follow in St Patrick’s footprints and hike any day of year, a local’s tip is to the Boheh Stone visit on the 18th April or August 24th to witness the ‘rolling’ sun – seated at St Patrick’s Chair, the sun will appear to roll down the mountain!

Coney Island – St. Patrick’s Wishing Chair

The small tidal island off the coast of Sligo who supposedly lent its name to New York’s Coney Island is associated with St Patrick. An island only accessible when the tide is low, find another holy seat, St. Patrick’s Wishing Chair as well as St. Patrick’s Well on Coney Island. A solid chair-shaped boulder, the holy chair sits in a remote part of this forlorn and rustic island.

His Mountain Shrines

As with most of the Christian world, one way to revere the saints and pass the message on was to build shrines – a custom that was widespread in Ireland. See below for a few that are associated with St Patrick.

Croagh Patrick

Hiking Croagh Patrick pilgrimage - Reek Sunday - St Patrick's relics

The trail up the pointed dome of Croagh is always amazing, but to follow in his footsteps, participate in Reek Sunday pilgrimge in July!

To this day, Croagh Patrick is recognised as Ireland’s Holy Mountain – associated with St Patrick as it has for over a thousand years. In the 5th century, St Patrick scaled the mountain in order to fast 40 days and nights at its summit. Today, there is a shrine to St Patrick’s memory on top, and the trail has become a well-worn pilgrimage route (culminating on the final Sunday in July when thousands of pilgrims ascend the mountain). Croagh Patrick is one of best places to visit in order to understand what Ireland’s patron saint stood for and follow in his footsteps! The mountain is located in Co Mayo, forming an epic backdrop to Westport town.

Máum Éan

Hiking Maum Ean Maumturks Mountains in Connemara - St Patrick's relics

Hiking Maum Ean in the Maumturks Mountains of Connemara, along an old pilgrim’s path dedicated to St Patrick.

Alternatively, Máum Éan, or the Pass of the Birds, is also a pilgrimage route associated with St Patrick, though it is less well-known than Croagh Patrick. Along this gentle trail winding through the Maumturks, find the stations of the cross which culminate in a small stone shrine dedicated to the saint set into the steep slope.

Follow in St Patrick’s footsteps on our Connemara & Mayo Hiking trip where you’ll get the chance to hike both Croagh Patrick and Mam Ean.

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The Miracles of St Patrick

Rock of Cashel relics of St Patrick

Approaching the medieval site of the Rock of Cashel built into a rock supposedly resulting from St Patrick’s miracles!

In the centre of Ireland, there is a impressive medieval church built into a massive block of stone, known as the Rock of Cashel. Also sometimes called St Patrick’s Rock, this is due to a local legend that claims St Patrick miraculously banished the Devil from a cave in a nearby mountain called the Devil’s Bit – the force of this expulsion flung the rock chunk to its present site, becoming the Rock of Cashel. Though not relics of St Patrick in this strict sense, it was here that St Patrick is said to have converted and baptised Aenghus the King of Munster in the 5th century. For anyone travelling through central Ireland with an interest in St Patrick, the Rock of Cashel offers an intriguing story and a fascinating history and mythology!

This St Patrick’s Day, follow in the footsteps of Ireland’s patron saint along ancient pilgrimage routes, to the summit of Ireland’s holy mountain, past mountain shrines to find the relics of St Patrick!

About the author

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Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.

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