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No Return?

Revisiting difficulties to conquer them on St Patrick's Day (17 March)

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To explore the idea of revisiting difficulties through the life of Patrick (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.
  • Have available the song ‘Something inside so strong’ by Labi Siffre and the means to  play it at the end of the assembly.


Leader: The 17 March is St Patrick's Day. It is celebrated by Irish people and others all over the world, in many different ways.

Reader 1: With city-wide parades.

Reader 2: Shamrock symbols.

Reader 1: 
Marching bands.

Reader 2:
 Irish stew.

Reader 1: Fiddle music.

Reader 2: 
Corned beef and cabbage.

Reader 1: Everyone dressed in green.

Reader 2:
 Plus lots of Guinness.

Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, but who was he in reality - or in legend at least?

Reader 1: It is believed that, as a child, Patrick lived somewhere on the Western coast of Roman Britain, maybe Southern Scotland, Cumbria or even Wales.

Reader 2:
 When he was about 16, Irish pirates attacked his settlement and took the population to the West coast of Ireland as slaves. Legend has it that Patrick was put to work as a shepherd. This was a hard job that gave him a lot of time alone on the hills in both good and bad weather.

Reader 1: Time alone is good time for thinking. Patrick thought a lot about his purpose in life and eventually became a Christian believer.

He wasn't happy as a slave. It is probable that his captors were cruel and demanding. Six years after being captured, he escaped, walked 200 miles to the Eastern coast of Ireland and persuaded a ship's captain to take him back to the country of his birth. He left the hard years in Ireland behind him  . . .

Reader 2:
 . . .  or so he thought!

In fact, about 15 years later, Patrick found himself back on the shores of Ireland again. This time, he was one of a number of Christians sent by the Pope to set up an indigenous Irish church.

Why did Patrick go back to the place that had been the scene of the hardest part of his life? How did he prepare for this task?

I can see why the Pope then would think that Patrick was an ideal candidate for the job. He was fluent in the Irish language and had an understanding of Irish society. He'd also trained for many years and had the skills and knowledge that were required. Most important of all, he claimed to have received a vision in which the people of Ireland called out to him to come and work among them again. He believed this was a vision that came from God.

So, Patrick returned to the hard place, the place from which he had escaped many years before, to overcome what had happened in the past and achieve something good.

Do you have places that you never want to return to? Maybe a painful or embarrassing incident occurred at that particular place. Do you have people whom you never want to meet again because of what they did or said to you? Do you have situations that you never want to find yourself in, maybe because of failure, frustration or anger? I think we possibly all identify with at least one of these.

Jesus was very much like that. The one place he should have stayed away from was the city of Jerusalem. It was the centre of opposition to him, the home of the political and religious powers that had already tried to have him silenced. Yet the Bible states that he deliberately ‘turned his face’ in that direction and chose to confront the opposition right where it was at its strongest. Why did he do that? 

First, because he understood those who opposed him and had had three years' experience of handling them as he'd preached and healed throughout the country.

Second, he believed that God wanted him to do so.


Time for reflection

There may be times when we need to confront the people, places and situations that we fear. We need to do this, however, when we are ready and when we have a strong conviction that it is important for us to do so. Nobody else can persuade us. We need to have the motivation to do it.

Patrick was trained and Jesus knew what he was facing. If we are to confront our problems, it is good to talk with our friends and family and think through the consequences.

For Patrick, returning to Ireland meant a life of confrontation, physical hardship, allegations of corruption alongside his many successes. For Jesus, returning to Jerusalem led to confrontation, injustice and eventual death before his resurrection to life.

For us, who knows what the initial struggle might be, but maybe, as with Patrick and Jesus, the result will be worth it.
Dear Lord,
Thank you for the brave examples of Patrick and Jesus.
Please give us the courage to know when to confront our fears and return to the hard places, people and situations of our lives.
Please help us to be prepared to change and confident that we can make a difference. 


‘Something inside so strong’ by Labi Siffre

Publication date: March 2016   (Vol.18 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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