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Say It Like You Mean It
St. Patrick And Henry County, VA

Mt. Slemish - a volcanic plugWithout St. Patrick there would be no Henry County. How can that be? Patricius, whom we now revere as St. Patrick, lived somewhere in Wales. At age 16 he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold as a slave. For the next 6 years he tended Chief Milchu's pigs at the base of Mt. Slemish in County Antrim, Ireland. During those years of intense deprivation, starving and naked, he formed his faith. When he eventually escaped he went to France and entered the monastery of St. Lehrins. After a time he felt compelled to return to Ireland and did just that around 400 A.D., establishing centers of religious study for men, women and children throughout that country. Tribal Ireland had no cities so these centers grew rapidly and became hubs of art, learning and prosperity. In time people came from all over Europe to learn from the monks. In these last years of the Roman Empire the Irish monks brought books of all kinds and authors into their centers.

St. PatrickIrish scholars were very open to all forms of knowledge from the gospels to old Greek and Latin pagan literature. Irish scribes copied the writings, preserving them for generations to come. When Germanic barbarians overran the continent in the fifth century Roman libraries were sacked and destroyed; Ireland literally became THE publisher for Europe. By their efforts at the end of the 6th century the Irish had reconnected barbarian Europe to Christian literacy. Project yourself forward another 11 centuries or so and imagine English explorers colonizing the New World. Christian concepts and principles, now Protestant and not Catholic, formed the backbone of the English system of government. States were made up of counties. So the mere existence of Henry County goes back to the founding of the English and Christian colony of Virginia.

But there is another interesting Irish connection between Henry County and St. Patrick. When Great Britain settled the Virginia colony church and state were both included. As each new county was organized a church parish accompanied it. Early on Henry County was part of a larger Halifax County, formed in 1752. Halifax extended westward to the Blue Ridge Mountains embracing the present counties of Pittsylvania, Henry, Patrick and the southern half of Franklin. The church parish covering the same area was named Antrim. The English, of course, were Protestant Episcopalians and Ireland's County Antrim is part of Protestant Ulster. The rest of Ireland was and is Roman Catholic. How Virginia's parish came to be named Antrim is not really known. And of course an old road running from east to west through the full length of Halifax was known as the Irish Road. It paralleled Hickey's Road, crossing Route 58 west today at Grassy Creek, and ended at the Blue Ridge Mountains.

On March 17th say Happy St. Patrick's Day ... like you mean it. As you should.

History of Pittsylvania County, Maude Carter Clement, Bell, 1929
How the Irish Saved Civilization
, Thomas Cahill, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1995


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