SAINT PATRICKS DAY 1903 IN KILKENNY

Patrick Neary

Bank holidays or public holidays as they became more commonly known were first introduced in 1871 by Westminster but St Patricks day was not observed as a bank holiday until 1903 when James O Mara an Irish politician successfully introduced a Bill that made it an official public holiday. Up to this date St Patricks Day was celebrated on the Sunday following March 17th.
With the introduction of the new holiday, the local branch of the Gaelic League led by Captain Otway Cuffe called on the Corporation to hold a public meeting and make arrangements to celebrate the feast day in a proper manner. A proposal was put forward appealing to the citizens to henceforth keep St Patricks Day as a National Holiday. All present signified their intention of closing their establishments and promises were made on behalf of several Clubs that their bars would be shut.
The local papers reported of the great celebrations in Kilkenny to mark the beginning of an new era and of the splendid and imposing procession. Many of the streets were decorated with triumphal arches bearing scrolls lettered with appropriate mottoes, whilst houses along the processional route displayed banners of a patriotic and religious nature.
The processionists assembled from 1.00.p m at St Johns Place and were led by the Mayor Patrick Hoyne who was attended by the sword and mace bearers. The four city parishes Confraternities were represented and carried banners of St Patrick, and the Holy Family. The various city bands (five in number) took part followed by the city clergy.
The parade wended its way through John St., Patrick St., Ormonde Road, High St., Irish Town, Dean St., Black Mill St., thence St Marys Cathedral where the Bishop of Ossory Abraham Brownrigg presided accompanied by the professors and students of St Kierans College. Faith of our Fathers being sung by the sections of the Confraternities as they entered the Cathedral.
Fr. Clifford of the Black Abbey delivered an eloquent sermon, after which the congregation rendered the hymn “Hail Glorious St Patrick”, the Bishop then gave Benediction. The function concluded with the hymn “The Church”.
Later that evening St Patricks Band gave a recital on the Parade which was most enjoyed by the public, the music was so attractive young people danced, to the delight of onlookers. Kilkenny Theatre under the auspices of the local Gymnastic Club hosted a great gymnastics contest for a Silver Challenge Belt and Gold Medal presented by Ellen Countess of Desart, Gold and Silver medals were also presented by Capt. Otway Cuffe. After the results were announced and presentations made the evening concluded with Irish reels and jigs The organisers proposed donating one fourth of the profits to the Irish Language Committee.
So the first St Patricks Day bank holiday (1903) came to a close with the Gaelic League been complimented on initiating the vigorous canvas to have clubs and public houses closed, which gave sobriety, and a due sense of National honour. Douglas De Hide remarked at a meeting in the Rotunda in Dublin “there was not a drunken man to be seen in Dublin City” The Kilkenny Journal claimed the same could be said of our city.
Indeed fifty eight years would pass (1961) before the bars could legally open for St Patrick’s Day and the citizens wet or drown the Shamrock.