I wrote previously about growing up in Cheekpoint in the 1970’s and how the feast of St Patrick was primarily a religious occasion and a very welcome day off from school, if it fell in mid week. As I recalled in that piece getting to the nearest St Patricks Day parade, along the quays of Waterford city, was a problem when you didn’t own a car. We normally traveled by the Suirway bus service, but apart for a service to the church, this didn’t go to town except on a normal Friday and Saturday run. So generally the day was spent wandering around with our mates, and just enjoying it as a day of rest and a break from our lenten sacrifice.
But despite all that, we actually did get to a parade one year, and I was so young the details are very hazy. I was probably six and living in the old cottage in Coolbunnia that looked down on the harbour, a spot where my brother Robert now lives with his family. My father Bob and brother Robert, (my sisters Kathleen & Eileen were possibly too young to be with us), had walked down to the village after mass. It may have been to visit our grandfather and his daughter, aunt Ellen or maybe it was just to my fathers aunts shop Molly Doherty at the cross roads, but as we returned up the hill a care rare sight of the time, a car, drew up.
Matt “spoogy” Doherty and his wife Marie called to us through the window and asked if we wanted a lift. They had their daughters aboard the car, and were heading to the parade. My father thought he meant to the house, and said it was alright, we’d walk. But Matt and Marie meant the parade, and after a short deliberation, we piled into the back with the girls. I don’t remember who was there, but like ourselves the Doherty girls were steps of stairs; Eileen, Mary, Bernadette, Gladys and Jacinta.
I have no recollection of the car trip, but I was probably disappointed with the view. We always sat in the front seats of the bus going to town, and it afforded a great view of the countryside, a car just couldn’t compare. But the excitement of heading to the parade probably made up for it. We parked at the Three Shippes Bar on the Park Road and strolled in Williams St to the Tower Hotel, where we clambered onto steps to get a good view.
From here we could see the curve on the quay where the parade would come down, rounding Reginald’s Tower as it did so. In the middle of the road stood the statue of Luke Wadding, which was a fitting backdrop as this Waterford man was responsible for making the St Patricks day a feast day of the church and helping to make it a worldwide event. Of course two other events that are internationally recognised have a Waterford connection, we were the first city to have a parade in 1903 and the Waterford born ambassador to America, John Hearne, introduced the now annual event of presenting the American president with a bowl of shamrock.
That information would come in later years. Standing on the quay that cold damp afternoon, I waited in anticipation, not really knowing what to expect. At this remove I can’t actually remember much of the parade, but I presume the marching bands, the floats on trucks and scouting troops would have all made up the event. But two memories stand out; the wailing sound of the pipe bands as the bagpipes raised the hair on the back of my neck (as it still does to this day) and the sight of the army with their gleaming uniforms, guns on their shoulders and best of all the trucks, guns and a tank with a long menacing gun barrel that left me awestruck.
I remember being glad when it ended as I was starting to shiver in the thin March breeze coming down the quay and whistling through the buildings. However on regaining the car we were disappointed to find that some careless motorist had abandoned their car across our own, and we were hemmed in. Matt tried valiantly to squeeze through but it was impossible. And the two men debated what to do. There were people milling about, but no one approached the car, we could be waiting all day for the owner to arrive.
The cold was starting to seep into me at this stage and I was beginning to think that we were stuck and would never get home. There may have been tears, I don’t recall. But the men were not to be beaten and in desperation they clutched the boot of the miscreant and started to bounce it out of the way. Some men raised their voices and approached, and I thought my heart would stop. But instead of an altercation they lent a hand and moments later the way was clear and we headed home.
To this day I can’t remember if my mother knew we had gone, or recall anything being said on our return. She was probably relieved our father hadn’t taken us to the pub to wet the shamrock. Although it would be many years before I went to another St Patricks Day parade, I can’t say I was in a hurry to go back after the incident with the car. But there again, I wouldn’t have missed the adventure for all the world.