Was St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, a Welshman?

Selfies at the Chicago River The traditional dyeing of the Chicago River marked Saint Patrick's Day festivities in Illinois

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As people across the world prepare to celebrate the life of one of the world's most famous Irishmen, was St Patrick actually Welsh?

For many, St Patrick's Day commemorations will centre around pub crawls and street parades, but in one small village in west Wales a more sedate celebration will be taking place.

Patrick, or Padrig in Welsh, was born around 387 AD and was known as Maewyn (Welsh for devoted friend) Succat (a Pagan term for warlike).

He is believed to have come from Bannavem Taburniae, which could be Banwen in Neath Port Talbot, where every year a service is held in his honour.

The annual event sees a small collection of residents, historians and school children congregate beside a plaque left in memory of the patron saint of Ireland, before they retire to a community centre for a cup of tea.

Stained glass window of St Patrick St Patrick is remembered across the world for his missionary work in Ireland

Although it is much lower key than many other St Patrick's Day celebrations, residents believe it is important to keep the link with Patrick - who would be their most famous son - alive.

One man who has a personal interest in promoting the connection is author and historian George Brinley Evans.

"My grandfather had a small holding by the side of the road which he farmed. When I was about eight years old I was told St Patrick was born on that land," he said.

"It has been said for years he came from Banwen, and in 2004 we had a beautiful stone by the side of the road to mark this. People come from Ireland to visit it.

"Academics have looked at the idea that St Patrick was born in Wales. Although you can't really say he was a Welshman because it was Roman Britain," he added.

St Patrick's Day celebrations
St Patrick's upbringing
  • Born in Bannavem Taberniae
  • His father Calpurnius, was a 'decurion', a kind of town councillor, and a church deacon. His grandfather Potitus was a priest
  • He lived in a villa with servants and helped in the fields until the age of seven when he was sent to school
  • He was abducted and forced into slavery for six years as a teenager

While there is no firm evidence to prove St Patrick was Welsh - with Scotland also mooted as his birthplace - some argue that several things point to it.

Historian and Onllwyn community councillor Tom Marston said: "No tessellated Roman villa or plaques saying he was born here have been found.

"I think the strongest evidence is the persistence of the notion among local people that it was so. Next is the written confession of the man himself where he mentions the name and description of his birthplace itself.

"But for me it is a line of wordplay in The Confession of St Patrick, I quote: 'I was picked a stone out of the bog', the word stone being a play on his name Patrick and bog being a play on the name of birthplace Banwen."

Mike Davies sent in this picture of the St Patrick's Day parade in Banwen in the vale of Neath, which is thought by some historians to be the birthplace of the Irish saint. A stone marking ceremony at the saint's alleged birthplace during a St Patrick's Day parade in Banwen in 2008

As a teenager St Patrick was said to have been captured by pirates along with his sister and sold into slavery. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland until he managed to escape and board a ship home.

He is said to have been ordained as a priest before returning to Ireland where he played a significant role in converting the country to Christianity, becoming its first bishop.

The training he received to do this missionary work is, again, said by some to have taken place in Wales at the Church of Llantwit Major.

St Patrick's Day dancer A young Irish dancer marches in the London St Patrick's Day parade

Founded in 500 AD by the Welsh monk Illtud, the Church of Llantwit Major, or Llanilltud Fawr, is believed to be Britain's earliest centre of learning.

St Illtud established a monastic school of over 1,000 pupils, which is said to have included Wales' patron saint St David as well as St Patrick.

The Rector of Llantwit Major, Huw Butler said: "It is traditionally said that Patrick studied in Llantwit, but I think it is highly unlikely that he did.

"It was the first seat of learning when it was established, and many ecclesiastical students were travellers who moved around extensively, so it is hard to know who actually did study here.

"There is a stained glass window which features St Patrick, but St Illtud established the school here in 500 and Patrick died before this."

A woman enjoys the day at the Mayor of London's St Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in London A reveller at the Mayor of London's St Patrick's Day Parade and Festival in London

Despite the lack of firm evidence of his Welsh connections, St Patrick will be remembered this year, as he is every year, by locals in the village which has claimed him as its own.

Historian George Brinley Evan added: "I hope every year more and more people learn about the fact St Patrick was born in Wales, and more and more people come and visit. It would create jobs for people and St Patrick would be helping the village."

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