Enough Shite-Talk About a Snake-Chasing Saint

Photo of Natrix maura (Viperine water snake) by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0.

I’m listening for the Eastern garter snakes. Any day now, they’ll arise from hibernation, rustle the Pennsylvania leaves, then tumble down the hills into the bright edge of the vernal equinox.

Also this week, we’ll have Saint Patrick’s Day. And someone—there’s always someone—will solemnly say that we’re celebrating the Great Enlightener Who Drove the Serpents From Ireland Into the Sea.

We don’t know all that much about the bishop Patricius, a British convert of Roman conquerors who went to Ireland to bully the druids. But biologists do know there were no snakes in Ireland. So, the saintly harassment of serpents could be a metaphor for the overthrow of the druids’ ancient wisdom—mixed with more than a touch of biblical ophidiophobia.

Now, the wolves, yes. They were driven out of Ireland. But that was by Cromwell (who drove out the humans from much of it, too).

I’d imagine the people Patricius repressed wouldn’t much care for dyed-green rivers, or dollar stores overflowing with leprechaun hats and other gaudy landfill stuffers. It’s unlikely they’d have anything to celebrate this week at all. They were accused of the worst possible atrocities by the Christians who set out to defeat them. And by the 12th century, British pope Adrian IV declared Ireland—with its rude and ignorant people, so desperately in need of conversion—a gift to England, subject to Roman Catholic jurisdiction. This laid the groundwork for the British to eventually starve the Irish people, to stop them from teaching in the Irish language, and to rob them of the memory of their culture.

But this week, along the trail, beautiful bunches of snakes will arise from their leaf-covered nests. And my thoughts will be glad as the shamrocks, if I catch sight of their glorious emergence, and my heart will be light as a song.

Lee Hall holds an LL.M. in environmental law with a focus on climate change, and has taught law as an adjunct at Rutgers–Newark and at Widener–Delaware Law. Lee is an author, public speaker, and creator of the Studio for the Art of Animal Liberation on Patreon.