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No escape from politics on St Patrick’s Day
Photo: New York Public Library

No escape from politics on St Patrick’s Day

Belfast, 18 March 1918- There was a distinctly political atmosphere to the St Patrick’s celebrations across Ireland this year.

Sinn Féin held meetings and demonstrations in many parts of the country where they asserted the country’s claim to complete independence and representation at the peace conference.

2,000 people turned out for a party demonstration in Kells, Co. Meath, while in Enniscorthy, prior to a meeting in Market Square, 1,500 Volunteers from almost every parish in north Wexford marched through the town. Similar crowds and sentiments were reported from Sligo Town and Ballybofey in the north-west.

The celebrations in honour of St Patrick’s Day are worldwide. This poem was written by S.J. Donleavy in Brooklyn the day after St Patrick's Day 1918 and appeared in the Gaelic American on 23 March 1918. Click to enlarge. (Image: Digital Library@Villanova University)

On a flying visit to Belfast, Éamon de Valera visited the Falls Road where he was met by, among others, Seán McEntee and Denis McCullough.

There had been plans for a much larger rally, but that had been banned by the British authorities. Therefore it was in the presence of squads of policemen that de Valera delivered his address. He stated that the party was as determined as ever to achieve freedom and drew attention to what he considered to be the hypocrisy that they should have to meet at that hour – 11 am – in order not to ‘risk the lives of the unarmed men against the rifles of the defender of small nations’.

Mr de Valera’s speech, along with the meeting, was broken up when the police intervened, charging the hurley-wielding crowd with batons. Three policemen were wounded in the scuffles and five civilians required hospital treatment. Mr de Valera did not depart the scene until the end.

A bishop’s warning
At a St Patrick’s Day mass in Mullingar the Most Rev. Dr Gaughran, Lord Bishop of Meath, warned his congregation to be ‘on guard against the agents of secret societies’ and he recalled their baleful influence in the past when the ‘bravest, the noblest, and the best of the young men of Ireland, allowed themselves to become the dupes of designing men’.

He hoped that history would not repeat itself. The bishop also made reference to incidents of cattle-driving, forcible possession of lands for tillage and nocturnal raids, acts which he denounced as ‘serious violations of God’s law. ...Where property is injured, they are violations of the Seventh Commandment.’

Irishmen around the world
The celebrations in honour of St Patrick’s Day are worldwide. As the Cork Examiner editorialised: ‘While Irishmen at home are paying homage to St Patrick, Irishmen in the United States are also honouring his memory, and in the far antipodes – underneath the Southern Cross – Irishmen, too, are paying honour to the Saint’s lifework. In every land on which God’s sun shines where Irishmen dwell the Irish National Festival will be observed and acclaimed.’

[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.]


Century Ireland

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