Stop Celebrating St. Patrick Because He Was Probably an Asshole

A new academic paper by University of Cambridge buzzkill Roy Flechner suggests that the specious story of St. Patrick being kidnapped from western Britain as a teenager and sold into slavery in Ireland is probably bogus — the saint that famously (but not really because Ireland isn't Australia) chased the snakes out of Ireland and invented shamrocks was most likely a tax collector in Roman Britain who fled to Ireland so he could trade slaves.

Flechner, from the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge, says that biggest problem with the popular legend about St. Patrick is that he concocted his tale of suffering to deflect speculation that he'd fled to Ireland for financial gain. Though such a revelation might shock the casual historian, Flechner is quick to point out that his revised origin story for St. Patrick comes straight from the Saint's Confessio and is "an inference that has been made long before in conventional scholarship."

According to the new research, which will be published today just in time to rain on everyone's St. Patrick's Day parade, St. Patrick, or "Patrick" as he was known around the Roman bureaucratic office park he no doubt schlepped to every morning, most likely left Britain in the 5th century to avoid his duties as a "decurion," which is the official name for the Roman post of tax lackey and one that Patrick probably inherited from his father. But why would such a promising young paper-pusher leave Britain to become a professional snake wrangler? In the 400s, Imperial Rome was losing her grip on farther-flung provinces like Britain, and being responsible for collecting and underwriting unpopular taxes wouldn't have exactly endeared Patrick to the locals.

Emigrating to Ireland, suggests Flechner, would have been a convenient way for Patrick to get free of his responsibilities as a decurion, though a move to Ireland would have meant starting from scratch. Or it would have meant that if Patrick's family didn't own slaves, which he would have inherited and which would have been the easiest assets to transport across the Irish channel. "Your property," says Flecnher of slavery during Patrick's time,

would have been hereditary and in the form of land, but if you had wanted to transport the value of the property, it is more likely you would have traded a more 'liquid asset', in this case slaves.

So there you have it — St. Patrick probably owned slaves and gobbled up taxes like Pac-Man. Of course, reminds Flechner, no theory about such a poorly-documented period of British history can be considered definitive, and St. Patrick might just as easily have been a red-headed Italian named Patrizio who'd been forced to flee his home in Sicily because he was "different," or a particularly charming Irish Setter.

Did St. Patrick collect taxes, trade slaves? [Reuters]