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St Patrick’s Day on the Western Front
A St Patrick's Day postcard from 1909 Photo: New York Public Library

St Patrick’s Day on the Western Front

Paris, 18 March 1917 - Irish Regiments on the Western Front marked St Patrick’s Day again this year.

A letter from an Irish officer serving in France, records how his regiment spent the day in a French town (unnamed for reasons of censorship) with a splendid old Cathedral.

On a day of lovely, crisp weather, the regiment marched the two miles from their base into town, where the streets filled with people to watch the Irishmen parade in their green and white ribbons. The great doors of the Cathedral which are only opened on special occasions were thrown open to the Irish and they marched up the centre of the church to the strains of the organ, said to be one of the finest in France.

During the mass which ensued, the regiment’s chaplain reminded the soldiers that they had spent the last two St Patrick’s Days deep in the trenches and that this was a unique and wonderful contrast for them.

British Pathé footage of Irish girls pinning sprigs of shamrocks on wounded soldiers, St Patrick's Day 1917

The chaplain told the men that many Irish Catholics had fought in the armies of France and that they were followed in that noble tradition and that their contribution to the current war was a magnificent one.

He acknowledged that the newspapers now contained many questions that left it difficult for them to answer, but that they should cling to one simple truth: the fact that they were engaged in a just war and that issues were at stake which touched at the very heart of the issues at stake in their own country:

‘The German menace to the world was one of the greatest blows which had ever been aimed at true Christianity. Methods have been used which the most ignorant savages have ever regarded with horror. The philosophy taught by the professors of German universities have done away with all respect for human life. It did away with the reality of truth.’

After the mass, the soldiers engaged in a day of sport and ‘a really enjoyable concert’.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.