Yes, I know. Patrick didn't really banish the snakes from Ireland: there were none there to begin with. Still I love the symbolism of the legend!
The Celtic Church has always represented an ideal for those who have known of it; and not simply as a Golden Age of innocence and purity which, in the words of Nora Chadwick, has “never been surpassed and perhaps been equaled only by the ascetics of the eastern deserts,” but also, more importantly, as an alternative seed, “a light from the west,” perhaps obscure and even alien, but nevertheless powerful and true with the kind of reality we seem to need today. “If the British Church had survived” wrote H.J. Massingham, “it is possible that the fissure between Christianity and nature, widening through the centuries, would not have cracked the unity of western man’s attitude toward nature.”
Patrick’s main work, of course, was that of conversion, establishing bishops, churches and the seeds of monasticism. His success in this seems to have resided in his willingness to accept the indigenous traditions and conform his teachings to them. This respect and conformity the receiving wisdom then reciprocated. There is the story of the conversion in Connaught of the daughters of the High King of Tara. When these questioned him as to who the New God was, and where he dwelt, Patrick replied: “Our God is the God of all people, the God of Heaven and Earth, of sea and river, of sun and moon and stars, of the lofty mountain and the lowly valley, the God above Heaven, the God in Heaven, the God under Heaven; He has His dwelling round Heaven and Earth and sea and all that is in them is. He inspires all, he quickens all, he has mastery of all, he sustains all. He lights the light of the sun; he furnishes the light of the light; he has put springs in the dry land and has set stars to minister to the greater lights.”
In these words of St Patrick has been seen an epitome of the Celtic monk’s holy embrace of nature, his sense of “ecology.”