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

TF Meagher; A rebel students return to Waterford 1843

Thomas Francis Meagher was born in 1823 in
the building that is now the Granville Hotel on
Waterford’s busy quays. The family spent some years at Ballycanvan, hence the family tomb at Faithlegg.
Thomas got an expensive education which
culminated with Stoneyhurst College in England. In
Easter week 1843, when he was not yet twenty, he returned home, having been
away for a year.  In his Recollections of Waterford1 he includes a
very interesting account of this return including his journey up the harbour to
his native city.
“A bright sun was lighting up the dingy walls of Duncannon Fort as
we paddled under them.  There was Cheek point on the left, towering
grandly over the woods of Faithlegg.  Further on, at the confluence of the
Barrow and the Suir, were the ruins of Dunbrody  Abbey – an old servant,
with torn livery, at the gateway of the noble avenue.  Further on, the
grounds and stately mansion of Snow Hill, the birth place of Richard
Sheil.  Then the Little Island, with its fragments of Norman Castle and it’s
broad cornfields and kingly trees.  Beyond this, Gauls Rock, closing in
upon and overlooking the old city.  Last of all Reginalds Tower – a
massive hinge of stone connecting the two great outspread wings, the Quay and
the Mall, within which lay the body of the city – Broad Street, the cathedral,
the barracks, the great chapel, the jail, the Ballybricken hill, with its
circular stone steps and bull post.  The William Penn stopped
her paddles, let off her steam, hauled in close to the hulk, and made fast. 
I was home once more….”
PS Toward Castle, an example of an earlier paddle steamer, I’m taken
with the image however, of the person atop the paddle and imagine Meagher
in just such a position on entering the harbour. 2
Apart from the wonderful writing, I found it interesting not just in
what he sees around him, but also what he left out.  I think most accounts
of the harbour now, would start with the Hook light, yet for
Meagher its the “dingy walls of Duncannon Fort“, surely a hint of his
political and revolutionary outlook, and a conscious consideration to its
strategic and sometimes dark history.  Contrast it with his description of
the Cistercian abbey at Dunbrody “an old
servant, with torn livery” in ruins possibly not long after the
dissolution but yet a beacon still to the young Meagher.  Maybe this was
because it brought to mind a time when although ruled by foreigner, the country
had been free to practice the catholic religion. Or perhaps the prosperity
the Cistercians, Templers and Norman merchants brought to the harbour area.
Dunbrody Abbey, Co Wexford from the river
I can’t see why Passage or Ballyhack don’t get a mention, given their
commercial importance, although perhaps waning at the time due to steam power.
 And it would be wonderful to hear of the sailing ships, steamers, work
boats and fishing craft plying the river at the time. Its also interesting to
note what has come since, for example the Spider light at
Passage, Great Island Power Station and
the Barrow Bridge. 
Snow Hill House, Co Kilkenny. 3

Perhaps the most amazing thing I found in Meaghers account was his
confident style. not just the excerpt above, but also his account of walking
through his city streets and calling to the
Waterford Club
. His debates on the need for radical change and his vision of a
different Ireland were, I think, astonishing for someone so young. Its hard to
imagine that a few short months later he would make his first political speech
in Lismore at a rally organised by Daniel O’Connell, that he had yet to raise
the first tricolour, for which we now have an annual commemoration,   to
co-found the Young
, to participate in the failed rising of 1848, be transported to
Tasmania, escape to America where he would eventually found the Irish Brigade
to support the union cause in the American
Civil War
. Yet in his account all these things are suggested, or at least seems
possible, such is his certainty in himself.
TF Meagher in later years
Meagher has his detractors and I have read some harsh criticisms of the
man online.  But Meagher was a man of principal, a man of action and a man
like all humans, of no small measure of complexity. Looking out upon the
harbour as I write, I wish I could see a young idealist entering the harbour
with a vision of change for this blighted republic of 2016.  Yet I have no
doubt the same youthful visionaries are out there.  Working here at
present against a different foe, a bureaucratic monster, all pervasive and
cloying.  Working via peaceful means to create a different republic.
 Less for speeches than blogs perhaps.  Less
for insurrection than consciously and critically living their lives.
 Just as much for direct action but by different means.  Here’s an
example of two young women doing just that, one of whom hails from the
Russianside!, which I came across
recently: https://womenareboring.wordpress.com/
I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales
1.  I accessed the account of Meaghers in Fewer.T.N. (ed) I was a day
in Waterford. An anthology of writing about Waterford from the 18th to the 20th
Century. 2001.  Ballylough Books.  I fear the book is now out of
print, but is available in the Waterford room of the city’s Central Library.
 Certainly would be good to see it reprinted.
2. Sketch of PS Toward Castle accessed from here.  Despite
numerous searches I could find no further information on the PS William Penn.
 Tommy Deegan and Frank Murphy were both helpful in providing some leads.
 Apart from Meaghers account, two other references to the ship exist.
 Bill Irish recorded that the Waterford Steam Navigation Company were
using the ship from 1837 in Decies #53 and via Frank Murphy she is mentioned in
Bill’s book on Ship Building in Waterford as being owned or part owned by the Malcomson’s of Waterford.
3. photo of Snow Hill copied from Jim Walsh’s  “Sliabh
Rua, A History of its People and Places” again out of print and available
in central library,