Over indulgences at the pub, green beer, silly hats and T-shirts — they’re all a part of modern St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, but these novelties have virtually nothing to do with the actual man and his actions.

On March 17, tradition says St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, died. The actual years in which St. Patrick was born and died have been the subject of extensive debate, but the time of his death is believed to be in the late fifth century.

St. Patrick is the patron saint and apostle of Ireland who is credited with fostering Christianity on the island — there were other followers before he arrived.

St. Patrick may be best known for driving the snakes from the nation, although there are no snakes in Ireland and never have been. As with many pagan religions, serpent symbols were common and often worshipped and driving away the creatures was likely intended as a symbol of the end of paganism in the area.

St. Patrick was born to a wealthy family in Scotland. He was kidnapped by a group of raiders at the age of 16 and brought to County Antrim as a slave and worked on Slemish Mountain as a shepherd. He remained there for six years, but eventually escaped to England. Upon his return he became a priest and reported a revelation. An angel told him in a dream to return to Ireland as a missionary, which he did a short time later, as the nation’s second bishop. Times were hard as he was imprisoned by pagan chiefs and his life was often at risk.

Some believe St. Patrick was responsible for superimposing a sun, a powerful traditional Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now known as a Celtic cross. He also used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. 

St. Patrick’s writings live on today. He documented his life and work in his latin Confessio.

In 1765, St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated for the first time in Canada, in Quebec City.