Travel: Dash. Latest Destinations

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Byline: Geoff Hill

In the 5th Century Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, although at times you wouldn't think it.

However, it's always seemed a bit strange to me that while the rest of the world is drinking beer and singing about the old sod - Ireland, that is, not St Patrick - March 17 here passes with barely a whisper, and we haven't taken advantage of the tourism potential of the story in the same way as the Americans, who would have Patrickworld: The Experience built on the entire Harland and Wolff site by now.

Until earlier this year, that is, when The Saint Patrick Centre opened in Downpatrick, just down the hill from the saint's alleged grave, under the dynamic direction of Tim Campbell, a former historical researcher who once spent his days doing things like digging up Nell Gwynne's garden.

Tim may have used that dread public relations word ''product'' 4,876 times during our walk around the centre - one more and I would have had to kill him - but underneath that marketing exterior beats the heart of a poet.

'' You see, St Patrick's like a umpire: so many people have thrown their pullovers over him that you can't see what shape he is any more,'' said Tim.

That shape, as the excellent audio-visual tour through the saint's life reveals, was a remarkably complex one: Patrick was born the son of a wealthy Christian family in 5th Century Britain and abducted at 16 by Irish raiders. Slave turned shepherd turned missionary turned scholar, he produced the first literature in Ireland in the form of the Confession and Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, the former a response to a falling out with the church over his controversial methods, like bribing chieftains with expensive gifts. …