17 MARCH 2004

Lá fhéile Pádraig faoi shona do Ghaeil tríd an domhain agus beannachtaí na féile orthu go léir.

It is my very great pleasure on this our National Feastday to wish Irish people everywhere a very
happy and faith-filled St. Patrick’s Day. All over the world today, Irish men and women, and
those who claim Irish descent, will gather to celebrate their identity and their heritage.

Patrick – Ambassador for God

The first time Irish emigrants came together to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, according to historians,
was on 17 March, 1737 in Boston. Over the centuries it has grown into an international celebration
of Irish culture and identity. Today, Manhattan will come to a standstill and the white line in
the middle of Fifth Avenue will be painted green. The occasion affords the opportunity to
celebrate “being Irish.” Amidst the music, parades and merriment, the real focus of the
celebration may become lost. 17 March is the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death. We join
together today not just to celebrate Irish culture and identity, but also to remember the man
who described himself as an ambassador for God and who prayed that it might never happen that
he (Patrick) should lose the people which God had won for himself at the end of the earth.
Today we honour a man who nurtured and spread Christianity throughout our native land – setting
down a strong foundation by building on the solid rock of steadfast faith.

Patrick and Europe

Scholars tell us that Christianity had already taken root before Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.
There is evidence that missionaries like Declan of Ardmore preceded Patrick. However, there is
no doubt that Patrick kindled a flickering flame and turned it into a blazing fire. Whether he
banished the snakes from Ireland or confronted druids on the Hill of Tara matters little! His
achievement as a preacher of faith in Jesus Christ in Ireland made Christianity on this island
a living force that has never been extinguished. By spreading the Christian faith to the pagan
Irish, Patrick linked Ireland, a remote island on the periphery of a crumbling Roman Empire,
to mainland Europe. By taking Ireland into the Christian world, Patrick forged new bonds and
links, which, thankfully, have endured to the present day. Spreading a knowledge of Latin
throughout Ireland, Patrick enabled the people of Ireland to participate in the life of Europe.
This paved the way for the early Irish Church to seek out missionary paths in later centuries
and so contributed hugely to the development of faith and culture in mainland Europe. It is
therefore appropriate then that come May 1st, the formal entry of the ten EU accession states
from Central and Eastern Europe will be signed into law here in Ireland. Patrick was one for
breaking down barriers. Though borders were ever transient in fifth century Europe, Patrick’s
message is one of pushing back frontiers.