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Picturing a patron saint: photographs relating to St. Patrick

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St. Patrick’s Day, sometimes known as the feast of St. Patrick, takes place on the 17th March every year. The religious and cultural festival is named after the Patron Saint of Ireland. Despite being the nation’s saint, Patrick was not Irish. His story is well known: as a young man, he was kidnapped from Britain and spent years enslaved as a shepherd in Ireland. After escaping home, he returned to convert the Irish to Christianity.[1] For centuries, St. Patrick’s life and legacy has permeated many areas of Irish life and culture, manifesting in art, iconography, traditions, celebrations and worship. To mark St. Patrick’s Day, we’re taking a look at some of the many photographs relating to the saint, held in National Museum NI’s collections.

[1] blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/03/the-legacy-of-st-patrick.html

Martin Nangle, digital print from original film negative of view of St. Patrick's Day parade on the Springfield Road, 1978. BELUM.W2016.20.43 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Parades

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R.J. Welch, "St. Patrick's grave". BELUM.Y.W.05.40.8 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

St. Patrick's Grave

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W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s holy well, Struell, Downpatrick, a view of water at the well flowing. HOYFM.WAG.1431 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

St. Patrick's Holy Well

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R.J. Welch, drawing of St. Patrick's bell shrine. BELUM.Y.W.48.02.25 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

St. Patrick's Bell Shrine

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A.R. Hogg, St. Anne's Cathedral, interior. Mosaic of St. Patrick, artists at work. BELUM.Y2178 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Mosaic

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W.A. Green, a view of four children on a mound gathering shamrocks into baskets. HOYFM.WAG.3397 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Shamrocks

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R.J. Welch, general view of St. Patrick's Rock from north, 1898. BELUM.Y.W.42.03.1 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Rock of Cashel

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Belfast Telegraph collection, St. Patrick's Memorial Church, Saul. Graveyard in the foreground, 1945. HOYFM.BT.635 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Saul Church

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W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s R.C. Cathedral, Armagh. A front view of the Cathedral taken from the front gates. HOYFM.WAG.1478 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Two Cathedrals, Armagh

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R. J. Welch, Dublin Castle interior; St.Patrick's Hall. BELUM.Y.W.34.01.13 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

St. Patrick's Hall

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Parades

Image: Martin Nangle, digital print from original film negative of view of St. Patrick's Day parade on the Springfield Road, 1978. BELUM.W2016.20.43 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Martin Nangle, digital print from original film negative of view of St. Patrick's Day parade on the Springfield Road, 1978. BELUM.W2016.20.43 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Parades are a key part of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world. This image, taken by Martin Nangle, shows a St. Patrick’s Day parade occurring in Belfast in 1978. This image was taken in West Belfast, a predominantly nationalist part of the city, during ‘the Troubles’.

 

St. Patrick's Grave

This large granite monolith, marked with the saint’s name, is located south of Downpatrick Cathedral and is traditionally accepted as the burial place of St. Patrick. The site is visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year and is a focus of prayer every St. Patrick’s Day.[2] These similar images were captured by two different photographers, R.J. Welch and W.A. Green. They reflect the popularity of this site, not only as a place to visit, but as a symbol in visual representations of Ireland.

[2] Finbar McCormick, The curious case of St. Patrick’s grave, Archaeology Ireland, vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 2019), p. 43.

Image: R.J. Welch, "St. Patrick's grave". BELUM.Y.W.05.40.8 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, "St. Patrick's grave". BELUM.Y.W.05.40.8 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s grave, Downpatrick, showing gravestone. HOYFM.WAG.29 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s grave, Downpatrick, showing gravestone. HOYFM.WAG.29 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

St. Patrick’s Holy Well

Holy wells are monuments, thought by some to have miraculous healing properties. As sites of pilgrimage and prayer, these wells are places ‘where people go to seek relief for mental and physical troubles’.[3] They are believed to be linked to the roots of Christianity on the island of Ireland, often dedicated to local saints.[4] These images show a holy well located in Struell, Downpatrick, dedicated to St. Patrick.

[3] Johanne Devlin Trew ‘The Forgotten Irish? Contested sites and narratives of nation in Newfoundland’ Ethnologies, vol. 27, no 2, 2005, p. 50.

[4] www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-56216763

Image: W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s holy well, Struell, Downpatrick, a view of water at the well flowing. HOYFM.WAG.1431 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s holy well, Struell, Downpatrick, a view of water at the well flowing. HOYFM.WAG.1431 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s holy well, Struell, a view of the conical entrance to the holy well and other buildings to the rear. HOYFM.WAG.3145 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s holy well, Struell, a view of the conical entrance to the holy well and other buildings to the rear. HOYFM.WAG.3145 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

St. Patrick’s Bell Shrine

This photograph shows a drawing of an intricately decorated shrine that holds a bell, reputed to have belonged to St. Patrick. A powerful relic, the bell is of both historical and political significance. It is frequently mentioned in written sources as one of the principal relics of Ireland and was used to legitimise Armagh as the most important Christian site in Ireland through its association with St. Patrick.[5] An inscription on its surface indicates the shrine, made from a series of bronze plates, was made around AD 1100.[6] The bell of St. Patrick and its shrine are on permanent display at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

[5] www.museum.ie/en-IE/Collections-Research/Collection/Resilience/Artefact/Test-5/8e122ba9-6464-4533-8f72d036afde12a9#:~:text=This%20bell%20is%20reputed%20to,Patrick.&text=It%20was%20also%20used%20as,was%20made%20around%20AD%201100.

[6] Ibid.

Image: R.J. Welch, drawing of St. Patrick's bell shrine. BELUM.Y.W.48.02.25 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, drawing of St. Patrick's bell shrine. BELUM.Y.W.48.02.25 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Mosaic

For centuries, images of St. Patrick have featured in places of worship in Ireland, in many forms, ranging from painting to sculpture. These photographs show an intricate mosaic of the saint in St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. In one of the images, Belfast artists, sisters Gertrude and Margaret Martin can be seen, carefully creating the image from small tiles.[7] These black and white images do not reflect the striking colours of the mosaic, which comprises of predominantly green and blue tiles.

[7] www.belfastcathedral.org/news/international-womens-day-the-women-of-the-cathedral-past-and-present

Image: A.R. Hogg, St. Anne's Cathedral, interior. Mosaic of St. Patrick, artists at work. BELUM.Y2178
© National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, St. Anne's Cathedral, interior. Mosaic of St. Patrick, artists at work. BELUM.Y2178 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, St. Anne's Cathedral, interior. Mosaic of St. Patrick, 1932. BELUM.Y2184 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, St. Anne's Cathedral, interior. Mosaic of St. Patrick, 1932. BELUM.Y2184 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Shamrocks

Shamrocks are closely associated with St. Patrick, and consequently, Ireland. Legend suggests St. Patrick illustrated the nature of the Christian Trinity by comparing it to a shamrock.[8] Several photographs from the collection show shamrocks being collected and sold as part of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

[8] E.A Thompson, Who was Saint Patrick? (Woodbridge, 1985), p. 164.

Image: W.A. Green, a view of four children on a mound gathering shamrocks into baskets. HOYFM.WAG.3397 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W.A. Green, a view of four children on a mound gathering shamrocks into baskets. HOYFM.WAG.3397 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: W.A. Green, a posed picture of two girls selling two women shamrocks outside. HOYFM.WAG.3859 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W.A. Green, a posed picture of two girls selling two women shamrocks outside. HOYFM.WAG.3859 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock, is a historic site, featuring a cluster of medieval buildings, located in Cashel, County Tipperary. It was originally the seat of the kings of Munster and Brian Boru was crowned High King at Cashel in 978 and made it his capital.[9] The site is linked with St. Patrick, as, according to legend he came here to convert King Aenghus to Christianity. In 1101 the site was granted to the church and Cashel swiftly rose to prominence as one of the most significant centres of ecclesiastical power in the country.[10] A number of photographs in the collection show details from this picturesque and historically significant location, which is closely associated with the saint.

[9] www. heritageireland.ie/places-to-visit/rock-of-cashel

[10] Ibid.

Image: R.J. Welch, general view of St. Patrick's Rock from north, 1898. BELUM.Y.W.42.03.1 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, general view of St. Patrick's Rock from north, 1898. BELUM.Y.W.42.03.1 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: R.J. Welch, St. Patrick's Cross. BELUM.Y.W.42.03.11 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, St. Patrick's Cross. BELUM.Y.W.42.03.11 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Saul Church

Saul Church is built on what is believed to be the site, founded by Saint Patrick 432 AD, as the earliest place of Christian worship in Ireland. Originally made of wood, the church has been reconstructed many times, most recently in 1932 to celebrate its 1500th anniversary.[11] Photographs from the collections show the church, and many interesting artefacts including photographs of cross-carved stones, and a portion of an altar stone believed to be used by St. Patrick.

[11] www.saintpatrickcentre.com/saul-church

Image: Belfast Telegraph collection, St. Patrick's Memorial Church, Saul. Graveyard in the foreground, 1945. HOYFM.BT.635 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph collection, St. Patrick's Memorial Church, Saul. Graveyard in the foreground, 1945. HOYFM.BT.635 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s Cross, Saul, Downpatrick, eroded decorated stone on wall. HOYFM.WAG.64 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s Cross, Saul, Downpatrick, eroded decorated stone on wall. HOYFM.WAG.64 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: R.J. Welch, St. Patrick's altar stone in R.C. church, 1932. BELUM.Y.W.05.90.27 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, St. Patrick's altar stone in R.C. church, 1932. BELUM.Y.W.05.90.27 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Belfast Telegraph collection, remains on the site of the first church founded by St. Patrick in Ireland. Saul, Co. Down. HOYFM.BT.596 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph collection, remains on the site of the first church founded by St. Patrick in Ireland. Saul, Co. Down. HOYFM.BT.596 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Two Cathedrals, Armagh

Armagh contains two cathedrals named after St. Patrick standing on neighbouring hills. One is a Roman Catholic cathedral, while the other is Church of Ireland, reflecting how the saint has been adopted and celebrated by a range of Christian denominations in Ireland. Tradition states St. Patrick built his first church in 445 on the top of Druím Saíleach, the Hill of the Sallows. From the seventh century, Armagh’s primacy over all the churches in Ireland has been recognised and is the ‘ecclesiastical capital of Ireland’ today.[12]

[12] www.stpatricks-cathedral.org

Image: W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s R.C. Cathedral, Armagh. A front view of the Cathedral taken from the front gates. HOYFM.WAG.1478 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W.A. Green, St. Patrick’s R.C. Cathedral, Armagh. A front view of the Cathedral taken from the front gates. HOYFM.WAG.1478 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Northern Ireland Tourist Board collection, view of St. Patrick's Cathedral (Church of Ireland). BELUM.Yt4652 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Tourist Board collection, view of St. Patrick's Cathedral (Church of Ireland). BELUM.Yt4652 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

St. Patrick’s Hall

St. Patrick’s Hall, located in Dublin Castle, is one of Ireland’s greatest ceremonial rooms. Developed in the mid-eighteenth century as the Castle’s ballroom, it was, for many years, the meeting place of the Knights of St. Patrick, Ireland’s chivalric order of knights.[13] The ceiling, painted by Italian artist Vincenzo Waldré in 1788, is considered the most important scheme of its type in Ireland.[14] Since 1938 it has been the setting for the inauguration of the President of Ireland.[15]

[13] www.dublincastle.ie/the-state-apartments/

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

Image: R. J. Welch, Dublin Castle interior; St.Patrick's Hall. BELUM.Y.W.34.01.13 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R. J. Welch, Dublin Castle interior; St.Patrick's Hall. BELUM.Y.W.34.01.13 © National Museums Northern Ireland.