As with most icons of history, it is difficult to separate fact from myth when mulling the life of St. Patrick. Simply put, it’s hard to tell the blarney from the stone.
By some accounts, he was an aggressive warrior-priest who drove indigenous pagans — and for good measure, snakes — from the Emerald Isle in droves. He converted those who remained (the pagans, not the snakes) to the everlasting glory of Christ, which is why the Irish are Catholic to this day.
By other accounts, he was a gentle country pastor who accomplished the same ends by decidedly more tender means. While still other versions suggest St. Patrick was a hybrid of the two — a swashbuckling, yet pious, amalgam of Russell Crowe and Friar Tuck.
Facts about Patrick’s Life
As it turns out, none of these mythic portraits is reliable. While much of St. Patrick’s life remains shrouded in the mists of time, several key details have been validated by early-medieval scholars, including:
- Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the early 5th Century to well-off parents. His father was a Catholic deacon and his grandfather a priest.
- According to his own writings in “The Confession of St. Patrick,” he was not a religious youth. Then, at age 16, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave.
- After six years of captivity, Patrick had a spiritual awakening. An “inner voice” told him to escape and guided him to a ship. It returned him safely to Britain where he soon became a priest.
- Believing he was called by God to bring the benefits of Christianity to the Irish pagans, he returned to Ireland as a missionary.
- Patrick was sufficiently successful in this role to achieve two important milestones:
- He survived among the savage indigenous tribes;
- He was, in time, appointed Bishop of Ireland by the Pope in Rome.
These are the broad stroke facts of Patrick’s life. Let’s turn our attention next to the far more interesting myths.
Misconceptions about Patrick’s Life and Holiday
While Patrick has been considered the “Patron Saint of Ireland” since the 7th Century, the Church never formally canonized him. So put down your Jameson, Seamus; we have some shocking news for you: St. Patrick ain’t really a Saint!
Just as Patrick’s sainthood is mythological, so too are many beliefs about his life. Chief among these tall tales is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. As any herpetologist can attest, there have never been any snakes in Ireland — at any time or in any era.
Another whopper surrounding St. Patrick’s day is that green is its true color. While the national color of the Irish Republic is now green, the original color associated with both St. Patrick and the Irish nation is blue. This can be seen today on the Presidential Standard of Ireland and other ancient flags. It wasn’t until the 1700’s that blue was replaced by green. So, if all those revelers in Chicago cared a whit about REAL tradition, they would dye the Chicago River blue every March 17, instead of green.
A final flawed association is the linking of St. Patrick to the four-leaf clover. While rare, four-leaf clovers do exist in nature. (Approximately one clover in 10,000 has four leaves; hence, the belief they are lucky.) St. Patrick, however, should properly be associated with the more common three-leaf clover — which he used to symbolize the Christian Trinity in his teachings to Irish pagans.
The Investing Secrets of St. Patrick
OK — enough already with the myth busting about St. Paddy! A legend doesn’t need to be true to be fun, does it? Besides, the more one drinks on March 17, the less one cares about historical accuracy.
This is inarguable, but there is always the day after to consider. And this March 18, MoneyTips wants you to wake up with something more useful than a hangover or mystery tattoo. We want you to awaken with financial wisdom.
Consider then — as our March 17 tribute to bleary-eyed investors everywhere — the Three Top Investing Secrets of St. Patrick:
- Challenge Marketplace Mythology - If we can learn anything about investing from St. Patrick — and the many false legends surrounding him — it is to challenge marketplace mythology. Here are three key investing myths you should question:
- The Marketplace is Only for Rich People – Virtually every study done on this topic has proved this belief false. By investing early and often, even in small amounts, one can build a substantial portfolio over time. This is especially true if one employs such tax-advantaged investment vehicles as 401(k), IRA and 529 College Savings plans.
- Investing is Just Like Gambling – Gambling is a zero-sum game where losers simply hand money over to winners. The wealth pie neither grows nor shrinks; it is merely redistributed. Investors, on the other hand, acquire equity or debt positions in companies. Because these companies often grow over time, the wealth pie can be enlarged for the benefit of multiple participants. This is the antithesis of a zero-sum enterprise.
- Fallen Angels will Rise Again – This is one of the most pernicious marketplace myths, especially for amateur investors. Also known as “catching a falling knife,” it holds that companies who once flew high must inevitably fly high again. But history reveals this is often untrue, as price is just one part of the investing equation. The real goal is to buy good companies at a reasonable price. Just because a former “high flyer” stock is now cheaper, doesn’t mean its price has become “reasonable.” Often, it has a lot further to fall.
- Learn the Lesson of the Shamrock: Diversify your Portfolio – The globally recognized symbol of Ireland is not the four-leaf clover prized by leprechauns. It is the three-leaf clover painted on the tail of every Aer Lingus jet. As mentioned above, this clover — the shamrock— was used by St. Patrick to help Irish pagans grasp the mystery of the Holy Trinity (one leaf each was assigned to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit).
There is an additional Holy Trinity investor’s should honor: the diversification of one’s portfolio into at least three asset classes. For many investors these classes are Stocks, Bonds and Cash. However, they could also include Real Estate, Commodities, or other holdings. The key concept here is not which asset classes you should choose, but that you should diversify your holdings among at least three. For only in this way can you successfully distribute risk and preserve your sacred capital.
- Chill Out and Have Fun – While it’s doubtful that St. Patrick ever told anyone to “chill out,” his holiday is clearly known for revelry. What investors can take from this global partying is that there is a time and place for everything. So work hard, but when it’s time to play, do so without regret. The same holds true for your investing behavior. Be diligent and make sound decisions over time, but don’t fret over every downturn in the economy or your portfolio. You are investing for the long haul and your diligence will almost certainly be rewarded. For today, though, be sure to enjoy the journey. After all, it’s March 17 and someone is about to hand you a shamrock!