“Hail Glorious St Patrick”

Today is a historic and unprecedented first I believe. Due to the spreading pandemic of Corona Virus, the national Irish holiday of St Patricks Day is effectively cancelled. No parades, the pubs where people traditionally “wet the shamrock” are closed and people are asked not to gather at house parties. And shock of all shocks, even the churches are closed. So this year, I thought I’d reshare an old story of mine on my childhood memories of the day.

On St Patrick’s Day my thoughts often wander back to the “wearing of the Green” of my childhood, and particularly the 9am mass at Faithlegg Church. I suppose the mass stands out, as in those days before the day became a “festival” it was much simpler of an affair. As we didn’t have a car we rarely got to see a parade, except on television. But it was a day off, which like so many others was spent out rambling the strand and the Minaun. However if we were unlucky and it rained we probably had to re-sit a re-run of Darby O Gill and the Little People or, my mothers favourite, the Quiet Man.

One of my earliest memories is of coming home from school with a hand made badge with a saftypin stuck on the back with sellotape and a drawing of a harp and plenty of green white and gold. I understand that the badge went back to the Irish soldiers that fought in the trenches in World War I. We could look forward to a break from school, and also a break from lent. Lent then generally meant no chocolate, sweets, or my favourites -Tayto crisps. But on this one daywe were allowed to relent the fast and I remember one Paddy’s Day being almost sick after gorging myself on bags of Cheese & Onion.

via www.voskrese.info/spl/Xpatric-ire.html

Church was very important in our home growing up, and Patricks morning was a major occasion. The main difference on this morning of course was the obligatory bit of shamrock, splashed across the left lapel of the coat on us boys, and affixing it always happened just as we were about to go out the door- this in case it would wilt before we got to mass.

There were mornings of course when the shamrock had not been sourced due to scarcity. Those were even better, as we were dispatched across the strand and up to Nanny’s in the Russianside. Nanny, like many of the older citizens, took a marked pride in the display of the trinity leaf.

Whereas at home my mother or father first adorned their own attire and we got the scraps, Nanny’s was different. Nanny would have a bowl, fully laden, and as we crashed in atop of her, she would line us up and fuss and bother (in a way my mother didn’t have the time to with five to divide her time) by picking a nice piece and then pin it in place with an eye to detail.

Her own attire on the day always had a lot of green, and could include in part, and sometimes in total blouse, cardigan, head scarf and coat. The coat would have a spread of Shamrock that would have fed a sheep. On then we went, up to the cross roads with her, to board the Suirway bus.

Accessed from www.millstreet.ie . Photo of the late Johnny and Lena O’Keeffe, Main Street, Millstreet. With thanks to Paudie Creedon for the information,

The Suirway bus of course was a trial. This local service ran for Sunday mass and on holy days of obligation, and was crammed with mass goers of all ages. The old lads blackguarding accusing your shamrock of all manner of insult. Some would say it was wilted, others that it looked scrawny whilst others, and perhaps the worst insult of all would call it a “a bit of oul clover” At the church the unspoken competition would be in full swing for the most impressive display, but I can never remember anyone besting Matt “Mucha” Doherty. The spray of shamrock would be emblazoned across the left side of his chest, like the mane of a lion. You could only marvel at how he managed to keep it fresh looking.

The ceremony on that day always appealed to me. I loved the stories associated with Patrick, but most of all I loved the singing. Songs in the church were generally the preserve of Jim “Lofty” Duffin. Jim would stand up in the centre of the congregation and from his hymnbook, sing solo. It didn’t feel right to accompany him, and generally people didn’t. But there were days during the church year that the congregation shook itself free and one of these was St Patricks morning.

It’s as if we dropped our reserve on those days, and, generally led off by Jim, first the women and then all but the most impervious of men joined in and as we all stood, the mass ended is a crescendo of a community event. For me, I think the day meant a lot to us as a community in a nationalistic kind of way, a day that celebrated something that made us proud to be Irish in a country that at the time, probably didn’t have a lot to be proud of. And in standing to sing, it was almost like singing the national anthem. For several years it was the central meaning of the day for me.

After more than fifty years, I can hear the singing yet…Hail, Glorious St Patrick

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan’s wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Ever bless and defend the sweet land of our birth,
Where the shamrock still blooms as when thou wert on earth,
And our hearts shall yet burn, wherever we roam,
For God and Saint Patrick, and our native home.

On Erin’s green valleys, on Erin’s green valleys,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.

Warm memories for me now, made more so this year by the required isolation of social distancing. But we can still celebrate the day. The flags are up, food is in, a few drinks on the sideboard are ready to be poured. I wish everyone who reads this a happy “La Le Feile Padraig” and will keep in mind all those who won’t have the time to celebrate today, as they will be working on the frontline to keep us all healthy and safe.

14 Replies to ““Hail Glorious St Patrick””

  1. My eyes cannot believe my ears ! (Or vice-versa)
    I, for some unknown reason actually burst into song with the first line of ‘Hail Glorious St Patrick’ .. and then realised I didn’t know the rest. I was telling the wife all about it.
    Then I stroll into Twitter land and here you have it. Absolutely amazing and spooky !

    With us living in London in the 1960’s it was when my maternal grandfather sent over a small cardboard box with the shamrock and a pin with a small medal and ribbon. We were so proud to be wearing the green back then.

    (I think I may have told you about this before)

    Thanks Andrew, enjoy the day – you’ve given me a nice memory for it – although it is also exactly 4 years since I returned to Ireland permanently. (We thought it would be easier to sneak in when everyone was distracted and partying)

    All the best

    1. Thanks Kev, I heard the song on the radio this morning just as I was about to publish the blog, I thought, how coincidental!

  2. So loved to read this Andrew, the story drew me in across the many miles and I felt right there at Faithlegg witnessing the wearing of the shamrocks and singing the St Patrick song! Grateful for your gift of story! ☘️

  3. Great Blog Andrew. I don’t think I ever saw all the verses of “Hail glorious St. Patrick” written down before. I have a good few years on you, but our sprig of Shamrock had the same route as yours, particularly “Thats only clover”. When I was young there was only a parade in Dublin. In New Ross the LDF/FCA paraded to Mass for deceased members and back to HeadQuarters with their own band.
    Earlier, St.Patrick’s Day was a closed day for Pubs, so like Good Friday, the drinking fraternity would do anything to get a drink.

    1. That thirst is a dreaded curse Mark! Resourceful men no doubt made sure they managed to wet the shamrock

  4. Andrew, just reading your wonderful account of St. Patrick’s Day . It brings back really lovely memories of St. Patrick’s Day when I was growing up in my home place near Millstreet, Co. Cork. Did you know that the couple pictured in your blog wearing the shamrock are from Millstreet? They are the late Johnny and Lena O’Keeffe, Main Street, Millstreet. I knew them well and it was a lovely surprise to see their picture.

    1. Hello Paudie, Thanks for the lovely comment and the extra information. I got the photo from a website, but don’t think it included that detail. I will add it into the blog. Sorry to hear they have both passed on. Its the only photo I could find that gave the sense of how the older folk proudly bore the trinity leaf on the day. So sorry we never had a camera growing up, but even if we did, we would have hardly thought to take such a photo, it would have been so everyday. Really appreciate you getting in touch.

      1. Hi Andrew. I think the picture came from the Millstreet.ie website and the picture was taken by Seán Radley. Seán has compiled a wonderful picture archive of the Millstreet area. I’m from near Millstreet but living in Knockroe, Passage East now. Heard your piece about the quarantine hospital on Sunday Miscellany- a fascinating history.

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