The legend of St Patrick’s wife
Sir, – I am always glad to see scholars from my alma mater, UCC, getting some exposure (“St Patrick had a wife and her name was Sheelagh”, Home News, March 16th) but the reporting of Shane Lehane’s research to suggest that St Patrick was married is likely to raise many eyebrows among historians.
18th and 19th century popular traditions are as likely to tell us something accurate about the Patrick who lived in the 5th century as Coca Cola adverts featuring Santa Claus are to reveal the reality of St Nicholas of Myra.
Certainly many bishops in Western Europe in Patrick’s day were married – it’s not impossible that it could have been true of the man himself. But there is absolutely no contemporary evidence that this was the case.
That the legend of St Patrick included a wife for him in the recent past is fascinating and well worth exploring for all the reasons Lehane gives. But it is simply wrong to report it as evidence that Patrick was really married. Irish universities are full of some of the world’s very best historians of the early Middle Ages, many of whom I’m sure could inform The Irish Times about what we do know about Patrick and the fascinating Ireland in which he lived. – Yours, etc,
Dr CONOR O’BRIEN,