Largely ignored in the social twaddle that surrounds St. Patrick's Day - sappy Irish songs, public drunkenness, worship of a common lawn growth called the shamrock - is the saint himself.

It's just as well. Although St. Patrick had a repertoire of neat tricks - setting fire to snowballs was one - he was not, by most accounts, a fun guy at a party. He would not be pleased by such developments in his honor as green beer and green bagels.Patrick was not your typical saint as depicted by medieval painters - a thin, wimpy guy looking heavenward while heathens conduct ghastly experiments on his anatomy.

Patrick was more like a one-man motorcycle gang.

A kid had to be tough growing up with a name like Magonus Sucatust in fourth-century Wales, where little Magon happened to be kidnapped one day by Irish rovers - the pirates, not the musical group - who sold him into slavery.

Patrick spent the next six years in involuntary servitude as a swineherd until God came to him in a vision and told him to make a break for it.

The future saint escaped Ireland and slavery, so the story goes, in a boatload of dogs. Between the pigs and the dogs, Patrick must have emitted a stench that would cause a vulture to turn queasy.

It says something for the state of employer-slave relations that when Patrick returned to Ireland, his former owner burned his house down with himself in it rather than face Patrick again.

Back in Britain, Patrick was going happily about his business when God came to him in another vision and said, "Go back to Ireland."

Perhaps with the memory of those pigs fresh in his mind and nostrils, Patrick, no fool he, immediately bolted for the French Riviera and Cannes, a town then noted more for monks than topless starlets. There, Patrick became a priest and then a bishop. But God was insistent about Patrick returning to Ireland.

About the year 432, at about the age of 43, Patrick, sporting a hair shirt and brandishing an iron-clad bishop's crosier, landed on the Emerald Isle faced with civilizing and Christianizing the Irish.

The situation was grim - idolatry, paganism, heresy, elf worship and Druids - but Patrick got right to work.

Chambers' "Book of Days" records that he cursed the Druids' fields into bogs, cursed their rivers so there were no fish, cursed their kettles so they wouldn't boil and, for good measure, cursed "the Druids, so that the earth opened up and swallowed them whole."

He threw the snakes out of Ireland, although history indicates the snakes did little more than lie around on damp rocks and hiss. For whatever reason, he also threw out the toads.

Even his friends didn't fare real well around Patrick.

He once broke an Irish chieftain's foot while baptizing the poor man. Once, Patrick got a sudden craving to drive his own chariot. He changed places with his chauffeur, Odhran, who was killed in an ambush by Druids who assumed the passenger in back was Patrick.

Patrick is honored on the day of his death, March 17, 461. Supposedly Patrick wangled a deal with the deity that on Judgment Day he, Patrick, would judge the Irish. That's why in Irish saloons all over the world the Irish hoist a glass in the toast, "God bless all here."

They're afraid Patrick will come back.