Skerries and St.Patrick
The footprint of Christianity in Skerries dates back to the 5th century and is strongly linked to the life of Ireland’s most famous visitor, St. Patrick. Born in Wales at the end of the 4th century, St. Patrick was taken prisoner by Irish raiders when he was 16. After being brought to Ireland, he lived as a shepherd and became a devout Christian. Hearing the voice of God telling him to leave Ireland, Patrick escaped his captors and returned home following six years of captivity. After 14 years spent studying to become a priest, he returned to Ireland to convert the local population.
In 432, St. Patrick visited Skerries and forever left an impression. According to legend, St. Patrick sailed north towards Skerries after being expelled by pagans in Wicklow. He landed on a small offshore island, where he settled and continue his work. The island is now known as St. Patrick’s Island. With him on the island was his companion, a goat. While St. Patrick ventured to the mainland in an effort to convert locals to Christianity, residents of what would become Skerries stole, killed and devoured St. Patrick’s goat. Upon realizing his goat was missing after returning to the Island, the irate Saint used Colt Island and Red Island to make two leaping strides towards the mainland. On Red Island, locals tried to deny they had knowledge of the goat’s fate but could only muster moans. Their voices returned when they prepared to share the truth about the goat’s demise. At the tidal bathing area of Red Island, you can still see an impression supposedly left by St. Patrick’s foot.
Today, St. Patrick’s Island is a testament to the history of Christianity in Skerries. After St. Patrick left Skerries for Ulster, a monastic settlement was founded on the island in the 6th century. The mission was sacked and burned by Vikings in 797, one of several occasions where the monastery was attacked. With the number of monks diminishing, the monastery was re-founded in 1120 by Augustinian monks from Denmark. In 1148, the island hosted an important synod called by Saint Malachy, the Archbishop of Armagh, to resolved differences between Irish Christians and the Pope. The monastery was eventually moved to the safety of the mainland in the 13th century, forming the Priory of Holmpatrick.
The remnants of the monastery and the ruins of a 12th century church still rest on St. Patrick’s island. A lone window frame stands as a reminder of the island’s connection to St. Patrick and the evolution of Christianity on the British Isles. Similar footprints to the one found on Red Island can also be found on St. Patrick’s Island, as well as Colt Island. The reputed footprints may have been made by St. Patrick’s followers who innocently chiselled footprints to serve as reminders of where the visitor stood. Through the centuries, people may have come to believe they were his actual footprints.