Waterford’s unique contribution to St Patrick’s Day

It comes as a source of pride that Waterford has made such a unique contribution to the Irish national holiday. Ireland’s oldest city staged the first parade in 1903, the first year the day became an official holiday. A citizen of the city, TF Meagher, flew the first ever national flag, whilst another, Luke Wadding, is responsible for the day being marked on the Christian calendar. And the connection between both is that of our ancient port and the international connections of trade and commerce.

Luke Wadding was born on the 10th October 1588, 11th of 14 children to the merchant Walter and Anastasia nee Lombard. The Lombard family had come to Waterford as Italian bankers and were highly respected in Waterfords business classes. Walter came from a long line of city notables, high achievers in commerce, international trade, the city’s political life, and the catholic church. Walter was a freeman of the city, a prestigious position for any merchant ensuring preferential tax and customs concessions on the imports flowing into the city from across Europe including French and Spanish wine.

Luke was born into a time of ferment for Catholics in Waterford, the reformation had created tensions and difficulties for people of faith who sought religious freedom. Waterford was at the centre of a movement called the Recusants, and the city was described as containing “the most arrogant papists that live within this state”. His family, though loyal to the crown, played a leading role in the promotion of the catholic faith.

His early education took place in Waterford, but thanks to the business and marriage links of his brother, Matthew, Luke traveled abroad to Lisbon where he attended the Irish College where he excelled academically. He was ordained a Franciscan priest in 1613 and he later moved to Spain where he came to the notice at the court of King Philip III. At 30 he was dispatched to Rome as principal theologian to a deputation of Spanish envoys. There he made such a significant contribution, he was asked to stay, considered by then indispensable to the Franscian curia.

Luke Wadding. His statue now stands outside the Holy Ghost Church, where his forebarers are buried, and where he first went to church. Photo courtesy of James Doherty.

As a theologian and academic he had a stellar career in the Church, being considered for Pope at one stage before his death in 1657. Perhaps now in his native city, he is best remembered as the man who ensured St Patrick’s day was added to the liturgical calendar, ensuring the day is remembered around the world.

He had other things in common with TF Meagher, for example, his statue had once stood where the Meagher of the Sword statue now stands at the entrance to the Mall, but a more interesting comparison is that Wadding was also referred to as the “gun-running priest” such was his support for Ireland during the confederate wars. But that, as they say, is a totally different story.

I prepared this piece in conjunction with a history of Waterford Port, a commission from Johnny Codd of Waterford City & County Council, to complement the Waterford Goes Green initiative and the lighting of the city marina and quay. The edited piece is on the council website, and a sense of the spectacular quays at night is in the video below.

Happy St Patricks Day 2021. Hopefully next year the parade will return.

This piece drew on the late Niall J Byrnes article about Luke Waddings Waterford in Decies #63, 2007. Also an article by my good friend Cian Manning in his recent book Waterford City, A History

For details on my new book, click the link

“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.

St Patrick’s Day – my first parade

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.

1969 parade, with a perspective which was close to my own
Photo via Waterford History Site, originally posted by the Munster Express facebook page

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. 

The statue of Luke Wadding in place, it was erected in 1947 and was since removed to Greyfriars and replaced by a statue to TF Meagher. Postcard from authors collection.

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.

A 20 min video of the parade of 1996. A bit jumpy and hazy but fascinating nonetheless

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.