Are There Snakes in Ireland? The Myth of St. Patrick [Busted]

To the 30% of Americans who fear snakes ¹, Ireland may seem like a haven because there are no snakes there! But, contrary to popular belief, St. Patrick did not actually drive out all the snakes from Ireland centuries ago. 

The truth is that snakes never made their way to the island in the first place. 

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

How is it possible there are no snakes in Ireland, you ask? It turns out that Ireland’s geological makeup and climate make it a pretty unwelcoming place for snakes. 

The island was formed around 450 million years ago ², during the Ordovician period, and has a much different makeup than the neighboring British Isles. While England, Scotland, and Wales are all part of the larger landmass of Great Britain, Ireland is a separate entity that has remained isolated for millions of years. 

This isolation has meant that Ireland has developed its own distinct flora and fauna, with many species found nowhere else on earth.

Another vital factor is Ireland’s climate. The island is located in the North Atlantic, so it experiences cool, damp weather for much of the year. This type of climate is not ideal for cold-blooded animals like snakes, which require warmth from the sun to regulate their body temperature.

During the last ice age, when temperatures were much colder, snakes and other ectothermic creatures had to migrate south to find warmer climates. 

And by the time the earth warmed up and the ice retreated, the land bridge connecting Ireland to the rest of Europe had already been flooded. This meant snakes could not get to Ireland, unlike their cousins in England.

Did St. Patrick Banish All The Snakes?

But what about St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who is said to have driven all the snakes out of the country? The truth is that there is no evidence to support this legend. 

While St. Patrick is a beloved figure in Irish folklore, there is no historical record of him encountering snakes during his time in Ireland. Instead, the legend is likely a metaphor for his efforts to convert the Irish people to Christianity and “drive out” pagan beliefs.

Snakes Gone Wild

But before you get too excited about visiting snake-free Ireland, remember that keeping a pet snake there is not technically illegal. In the 1990s, owning a pet snake became a status symbol among some Irish people, with exotic species like ball pythons and corn snakes becoming popular pets.

Then, during the economic downturn in 2008 ³, many people in Ireland struggled to make ends meet. As a result, some pet owners found themselves unable to care for their animals and were forced to release them into the wild.

And while there have been reports of small populations of non-native snakes in Ireland, they pose no real threat to the ecosystem or its inhabitants. So enjoy your trip to the Emerald Isle without worrying about encountering any slithery creatures!

References

1: Three in 10 Americans fear snakes — and most who do fear them a great deal | YouGov. (2022, June 17). Three in 10 Americans Fear Snakes — and Most Who Do Fear Them a Great Deal | YouGov. https://today.yougov.com/topics/society/articles-reports/2022/06/16/americans-fear-snakes-heights-spiders-poll

2: Ireland and Plate Tectonics. (n.d.). Ireland and Plate Tectonics. https://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/environment-geography/physical-landscape/Irelands-physical-landsca/the-formation-of-the-phys/ireland-and-plate-tectoni/

3: Boom Over, St. Patrick’s Isle Is Slithering Again. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/16/world/europe/boom-over-st-patricks-isle-is-slithering-again.html

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.