Saint Patrick’s Day may be better described as Saint Patricks’ Day—as in, celebrating the lives of two different men.
The Saint Patrick of tradition was believed to a Roman born citizen. On or around his 16th birthday, he was captured in Rome by Irish raiders. After several years in captivity, he escaped and returned to Rome. Perhaps surprisingly, he is said to have forgiven his Irish tormentors, eventually returning to Ireland as a Christian missionary. This spirit of forgiveness is perhaps what led to his being adopted as the patron saint of Ireland.
But another man, a Catholic priest named Palladius, is perhaps also a model upon which the Saint Patrick’s Day legend is built. Palladius worked under the Pope in Rome, and traveled to Ireland. After being ordained by Pope Celestine, Palladius is believed to have been the first Catholic Bishop sent to Ireland.
Beyond this, not much can be said definitively on the lives of either the “original” Saint Patrick of Palladius. Everything, really, dissolves into myth, and claims that are impossible to substantiate. The only thing that can be said for certain? Saint Patrick is hero to the people of Ireland, and is held in reverence by both native Irish, and Irish descendants living all over the world.