The Archbishop of Armagh has said that lockdown restrictions could give Ireland an opportunity “to focus a little more on Saint Patrick himself, and even rescue the real Saint Patrick from the legends and distractions surrounding him.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin has invited Irish people at home and abroad to discover the real St. Patrick as his feast day approaches tomorrow.

In a message to the country ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, the Primate of All-Ireland said “down the centuries many customs, myths and paraphernalia have grown up around Saint Patrick and the celebration of his feast day at home and abroad.”

“But perhaps, paradoxically, the restrictions this year are opening up an opportunity for us to focus a little more on Saint Patrick himself, and even rescue the real Saint Patrick from the legends and distractions surrounding him.

“If you want to find the true story of Patrick, and get an authentic understanding of who he was,  the best place to look is in his own words which are preserved for us in two ancient writings – Saint Patrick’s Confession, and Saint Patrick’s Letter to Coroticus.  You won’t find any mention there of green beer, snakes or even shamrock – but you will discover the testimony of a real person who dedicated his life and energies to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Martin wrote.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland said many people were suffering because of the restrictions, but that they might find courage in reflecting on St. Patrick.

“Thinking today of those in our country and beyond who are struggling during the pandemic – either from contracting the virus themselves, or having to isolate; those in hospital and intensive care; those whose jobs or livelihoods have been threatened; those who are exhausted from caring and worrying – I pray that they will find in Saint Patrick the courage and resilience they need to go on, surrounded, as he was, by the love and protection of God,” he wrote.

The Derry native also had a word to say about the divisions between north and south, expressing his hope that lasting peace and reconciliation was possible.

“Thinking about Ireland, north and south, at this pivotal moment in our shared history, a time when we look back one hundred years: to separation and partition on this island and all that has happened to divide, grieve and polarize us; thinking at the same time about the achievements and progress of Irish people, and about the possibilities for lasting peace and reconciliation, for harnessing the beauty and uniqueness of our land, and for building relationships that will bring us closer together rather than divide us  – I pray that we will find in Saint Patrick a source of courage, shared identity and values and the resilience we need to face with confidence new possibilities for today and tomorrow on this island.”

Tomorrow marks the second occasion on which St. Patrick’s Day festivities have been curtailed, as “traditional parades, parties, an rince, na seisiúin and the usual big sporting events have had to be cancelled or postponed.”

“Even the White House presentation of the bowl of shamrock has gone virtual!”, the archbishop remarked.