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Slemish Mountain 3

Why Ireland Has No Snakes

As we inch closer towards March 17, the feast day and public holiday of Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, the usual myths, legends and stories come out of the woodwork for another year.

For the uninitiated, as we explored last year, Saint Patrick was born into a noble family somewhere along the west coast of Great Britain and at the age of 16 was captured, enslaved and taken to Ireland by raiders pillaging his birthplace. 

Over the next six years, under the watchful eye of his captor and local Chieftain Milchu, Saint Patrick was forced to tend to local farm animals in the harsh conditions of Slemish Mountain in County Antrim. During those six years of virtual isolation Patrick became deeply religious and spent almost every day in prayer as he sought out compassion, understanding and a path to freedom.

Incredibly Patrick escaped his captures and, after journeying to Dublin, was able to return to his family by boat but over the coming years the young man would hear the “voice of the Irish” in his dreams and know that he had to return to help the once pagan country see the light.

Upon returning Saint Patrick became the second ever Archbishop of Armagh and spent the rest of his life establishing Christianity and helping spread God’s message within the shores of the Emerald Isle. 

Saint Patrick and the Snakes of Ireland

This incredible story, of resilience, faith and escape, gave rise to numerous myths and legends, one of which included the story of Saint Patrick ridding Ireland of all snakes. 

According to legend Saint Patrick set about driving every single snake from the shores of Ireland after they attacked and disturbed him during a 40 day fast.

Historians and theologians have revisited the story in the centuries that have followed and now consider it a parable, or allegory, for Saint Patrick driving Paganism and Druidic Priests from Ireland in a quest to convert the Emerald Isle to Christianity. 

St Patrick

Snakes in Ireland? Really?!

The reality is probably a little more down to earth and normal. 

According to most experts snakes most likely haven’t lived in Ireland since before the last Ice Age. This is mainly due to the Ice Age covering all of Ireland and the rest of the British Isles in snow and ice meaning it was completely inhospitable for all animals.

After the end of the Ice Age Ireland had become separated from other landmasses, including Britain and continental Europe, with few useable land bridges meaning the snakes could no longer reach what had now become an island surrounded on all sides by water.

Not quite as exciting as good old Saint Patrick’s story but maybe a little more realistic…

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As always, these stories usually split people down the middle. Those who want to believe in myths, legends and miracles, and those who want to stick to cold, hard facts. 

Which side do you stand on? 

Whatever the reason, you can be safe in the knowledge that Ireland is, and has been for centuries, completely free of snakes. If that isn’t a good selling point for potential tourists then we don’t know what is! 

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