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

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8 Replies to “Waterford’s unique contribution to St Patrick’s Day”

  1. Congratulations Andrew wonderful St Patrick’s Day piece, you are an outstanding ambassador for Waterford and it’s fascinating and remarkable history.

    1. Thanks Kev, its an interesting story, and Wadding had a fascinating life. Hope to cover the gun running priest at a later stage

  2. Good morning Andrew,
    I just saw your post now. Both Luke Wadding and his cousin Peter Lombard received their early education up the road in Kilkenny College, then known as the Kilkenny Grammar School..
    Lombard became a leading Church figure being appointed Archbishop of Armagh, in exile, and was made a Cardinal and presided over the trial of Galileo Galilei on charges of heresy. Galileo said the earth orbits around the sun. 400 years or so later Pope John Paul II apologised for the incident. Lombard was almost elected Pope – there was an article in History Ireland on Peter Lombard.

    I have been teaching in Kilkenny College for 40 years and my history students are fascinated to know how complicated our school’s history is down the centuries.

    I love reading your articles and books on this historic part of our country.

    1. Many thanks for that information Paul, the decies article I mentioned is actually very comprehensive about the situation of the church in Ireland around this time, a very long article as you will imagine. Thanks for this added detail

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