Conversion of Ireland

Justin McCarthy
Chapter II | Start of Chapter

No conqueror ever overran a fresh soil with more success than that which St. Patrick won for himself and for Ireland as a preacher of the Gospel. Wherever he made his appearance he gained believers and followers. He achieved as if by some magical spell the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, and the work once done was done for ever. He laboured for some sixty years, and when he died his body was laid to rest in Irish soil. He had found in Ireland a people in whose temperament the spirit of veneration had always played a leading part. That gleam of the poetic which belongs to the mind of the Irish peasant in the ordinary ways of his life was of itself an invitation to the principles of a Faith whose kingdom is not of this world. The Irish Celts have been since the days of St. Patrick, as before his time, peculiarly open to religious teaching, and they had only to learn of Christianity to accept it. The life of St. Patrick is the subject of a great mass of poetic legend of which it is not necessary in this short history to take much account. All that is known for certain of his life and labours is set forth sufficiently in the brief description I have given of him. His work forms a record of his life on which no historical investigation or sceptical analysis can cast any doubt. No such controversy as to the personality and career of St. Patrick has been raised as that which Gibbon brought up concerning the identity and character of St. George. Even Gibbon could hardly have started any serious question as to the identity and work of the saint who conquered Ireland for Christianity.