In County Mayo, not far from Westport lies Croagh Patrick, where St. Patrick fasted for 40 days before as legends will have us believe, he cast all of the snakes out of Ireland. Croagh Patrick, as with most any of the holy places in Ireland, was religiously significant long before Christianity and once known as Cruachán Aigle before bearing the name of Ireland’s patron saint.
Interestingly enough, it is doubtful that there ever were any snakes in Ireland to begin with, so who, or what did Patrick cast out?
Long before Christianity, the native Irish were likely Druids, according to some historians. It is here that we find our clue: The snakes which Patrick cast out of Ireland may have been the Druidic priests and learned ones. To the Druids, the serpent was a symbol of royalty and of wisdom and serpent like symbols can be found throughout Ireland, which is a striking observation given that there never were any snakes indigenous to the island.
While not intending to digress into matters of faith which many hold dear, it is fair to state that Christianity has over the centuries adopted many symbols and practices of more ancient religions as it spread throughout the Roman Empire and the world. Consider the following image of a bishop’s staff; can you see the serpents? Why? Are the bishops the new druidic priests?
Churches, holy wells, and sacred places throughout Ireland all have a much deeper and more ancient history. Many bear Christian names or the name of a saint, but all were sacred long before Christianity. As you travel throughout Ireland visiting these ancient places, remember to ask yourself what came before and what hidden history lies beneath the surface?