St Patrick - a national treasure

Friday, 15 March, 2019
Share This:

There is only one man being talked about this week by anybody with a drop of Irish blood in them – St Patrick. He of the snake-banishing, shamrock-plucking, heathen-converting fame. Or when you think of St Patrick’s Day, do you instead instantly think of leprechaun hats and green beer?

St. Patrick's Day - N.A.I.D.A. Queen of the Plough, Mary Shanahan parades through Dublin..1961 © Irish Photo Archives

Picture above: St Patrick's Day 17th March 1961 N.A.I.D.A. Queen of the Plough, Mary Shanahan parades through Dublin

The St Patrick’s Day parade has changed a lot over the years. In the 1950s, tractors and trailors were a common sight, and the Queen of the Land was a major part of the parade. The Queen is the female champion of the annual Ploughing Championships, but sadly she doesn’t feature as strongly in modern-day Dublin parades

The move to a more performance-based parade has been gradual, but perhaps its beginnings can be traced back to the inclusion of marching groups from the US, with their jaunty steps and twirling batons. These days, the Irish children are just as confident as they pass by the columns of the GPO – and nobody can say that that is a bad thing.

Shamrock is still widely worn in Ireland on St Patrick’s Day, though the blessing of the shamrock is not a major feature of the parade any more either. The President of the United States will once again be presented with a crystal bowl by the Taoiseach during the ceremonies in the White House, though the shamrock has to be destroyed for security reasons.

Anyone for a badge or spray of shamrock? Young Girl selling Shamrock at the GPO, General Post Office, O'Connell Street Lower, Dublin, Ireland. 17.03.1961.

Anyone for a badge or spray of shamrock? Young Girl selling Shamrock at the GPO, General Post Office, O'Connell Street Lower, Dublin, Ireland. 17.03.1961.

Of course, people always did take a drink on 17 March, but it was more likely to be a slow pint or two of Guinness in the local pub while the bacon and cabbage was being prepared at home.  However it is true to say that for many St Patrick’s Day, and the 'day that's in it' can be a very merry feast indeed.

But 17 March is not the only day associated with St Patrick in Ireland. Another important day involving the saint is "Reek Sunday", the last Sunday in July, when thousands climb Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. Tradition called for people to climb the mountain in their bare feet, but this practice is discouraged in recent times. Croagh Patrick is covered in shale, which makes climbing it quite difficult, especially in wet weather, so wearing good hiking boots is the wisest option. As it is, the authorities are kept going every year responding to heart attacks, hypothermia and broken or sprained limbs without having the extra burden of treating cut feet as well.

29th July 1962 Reek Sunday. Pilgrims make the arduous climb up to the top of Croagh Patrick, Westport, Co. Mayo. 

Pilgrims make the arduous climb up to the top of Croagh Patrick, Westport, Co. Mayo. A place of pilgrimage since St Patrick’s time, and some say before that, on ‘Reek Sunday’, the last Sunday in July, thousands make the treacherous ascent..29.07.1962

It is unlikely that this year’s celebrations will match the pomp and ceremony of the Patrician Year in 1961, when the fifteenth centenary of St Patrick’s death was marked. It is a long way to 2061, but it seems a safe bet to assume that there will be fewer clergy involved in the sixteenth centenary celebrations. However, we hope that this year brings good weather, at least for the duration of the parades, and that the day passes by peacefully and safely for everybody involved, at home and abroad. Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona daoibh go leor. 

Browse these and thousands more Press photos from Ireland's past at the Irish Photo Archive

17th March 1961 Patrician Year Ceremonies open Armagh. The Patrician Year, marking the fifteenth centenary of the death of Saint Patrick, opened on St. Patricks Day in Armagh.