Snakeless in Ireland: Blame Ice Age, Not St. PatrickBut St. Patrick had nothing to do with Ireland's snake-free status, scientists say.
As keeper of natural history at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, Nigel Monaghan has trawled through vast collections of fossil and other records of Irish animals. "At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland, so [there was] nothing for St. Patrick to banish," Monaghan said.
So what did happen?
Most scientists point to the most recent ice age, which kept the island too cold for reptiles until it ended 10,000 years ago. After the ice age, surrounding seas may have kept snakes from colonizing the Emerald Isle.
So what were the real snakes that St. Patrick may have banished from Ireland?
What did St. Patrick have against snakes?But if Ireland never had snakes, and still has toads, how did St. Patrick get credit for expunging both? His other claim to fame is converting Irish pagans to Christianity, a religion that literally demonizes snakes. And according to the Straight Dope, snake symbols were associated with some Celtic goddesses as well as the Irish cult of Crom Cruaich, which involved human sacrifices to a serpent deity.
St. Patrick therefore didn't chase away real snakes; he chased away symbolic ones. This became muddled over the centuries, though, giving rise to the popular image of St. Patrick the snake slayer. (The toad part could just be a mistranslation — "paud" meant toad in the old Norse language, so Vikings may have assumed "St. Paud-rig" was famed for eradicating toads.) And that's a shame, since there's no evidence St. Patrick held any animosity toward reptiles (or amphibians).