St Patrick's Day memories - what the parade and the day was like many years ago

Galway St Patrick's Day memories from Mayor Mike Cubbard, Tracy Bruen, Fergal McGrath, Kevin Higgins, and Keith Wallace

A photo from the 2012 St Patrick's Day parade, taken by Mike Shaughnessy.

A photo from the 2012 St Patrick's Day parade, taken by Mike Shaughnessy.

ST PATRICK'S Day will be an online celebration this year. So as we have to do without the parade, the pageantry, and the festivities, we have asked a number of Galwegians to share their memories of St Patrick's Day parades from years gone by.

Get set for some humour, some great memories, some craic, and some unashamed nostalgia.

Mike Cubbard

The Mayor of Galway and Independent councillor for Galway City Central

As a child I went to Claddagh National School which took part in the parade every year. The morning of the parade was always an exciting one where we gathered at the school to prepare.

It was such an exciting time to see the thousands of people line the streets to cheer us on, all the time trying to spot someone we knew. I played the tin whistle for a number of years and on occasion carried a flag. We were very distinctive in our blue and orange kilt! There was always great excitement about getting to the end to hear 'Who had won the parade', and then get back to the school for your bag of goodies!

We would then meet up with family and spend the afternoon together before getting home to try to spot yourself on the 6.1 news when RTÉ did the feature on St Patrick’s Day.

Fergal McGrath

Manager, Town Hall Theatre

Growing up in Tuam in the 1960s and 1970s, St Patrick's Days were festive affairs - family days, filled with fun and the occasional frolic. It was an occasion to eat lots of sweets, to celebrate an unofficial, but well-recognised day off, from Lenten restrictions.

Parades featuring brass bands, school bands, tractors and trailers, were the highlight of days which started with early Mass (with the de rigueur sprinkling of Irish thrown in ) followed by a ‘Sunday fry’. With a lump of shamrock safely pinned to the lapels of our best jackets, we rushed up town to get good positions to watch the Order of Malta uniforms and the FCA berets pass by after last Mass. We were often cold and wet, but we were happy.

'In 1996, the first St Patrick’s Festival was born. The boring line ups of dull commercial floats were replaced with the colourful, loud, street spectacles. The Galway way was now the St Patrick’s way!'

Little did we know that, by the mid-1990s, the influence of a Galway community arts company called Macnas would change the look and feel of St Patrick’s Day parades forever across the nation and around the globe. The energy unleashed by the emergence of the first Macnas dragon on the streets of Galway in 1986 was unstoppable.

Macnas Bono St Patricks Day

Following the successes of Gulliver in 1988, U2’s Zooropa tour in 1993, and the ICTU Centenary Cavalcade in 1994, Dublin and Government were smitten by the Macnas approach to public spectacle and parades, and the opportunity to showcase Ireland and its culture in a new and exciting way.

And so, in 1996, the first St Patrick’s Festival was born in Dublin and the boring line ups of often dull commercial floats were quickly replaced with the colourful, loud, and community-based street spectacles still with us today. The Galway way was now the St Patrick’s way! Even though this year it’s all online, fingers crossed next year all will once again be fine! Enjoy!

Tracy Bruen

Singer-songwriter

You had to be of a certain vintage to wear the shamrock in our house. In the morning before Mass, Dad would be dispatched to the garden to forage for the rarely spotted shamrock.

Maybe because of its scarcity in our back garden, for many years I was deemed too young for the shamrock and made do with my St Patrick’s Day badge, a poor substitute.

For all I know this only happened once, but the longing for shamrock has left an indelible mark on my child’s mind. I remember the year, muck dusted off the shamrock, and safety pinned to the green top I had adorned for the day, I proudly trotted off to Mass, knowing I had graduated to that age of being old enough for the shamrock – my days of wearing that childish badge were over.

I also remember the shamrock kept slipping out of the safety pin and by the end of Mass, most of it had fallen away. There was dirt on my top from all the foostering I had done with the pin to salvage what I could of the shamrock. The following year I resolved to wear both badge and sprig – all bases covered, lest I be found wanting again.

Kevin Higgins

Poet

I was nine. It was 1977. The parade was itself pre-Macnas self. The lines of trucks carrying huge fridges and industrial machinery. The endless tin whistles. Then came the speeches.

The big speech that year was by the then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Dr Conor Cruise O’Brien. My father explained he was not a doctor in the usual sense. You wouldn’t go to him if you had a sore big toe. He would have no interest in that sort of thing. He was a different sort of doctor altogether; the sort they usually keep hidden away down in a university, but in his case someone had decided to let him out for a while.

Dr O’Brien had, apparently, come to tell us about his plan to give us phones. To me, this seemed far-fetched. Sure enough, when he stood up to speak, he talked instead about “the Provisional IRA”. He seemed to be angry about something and reminded me of one of my school teachers. He said too many people had “an ambivalent attitude”. I didn’t know what this meant but felt guilty all the same. He used loads of big words but, as far as I could tell, said nothing about phones. Maybe it was all part of some big adult trick?

Keith Wallace

AKA musician Loner Deluxe, and founder of the Rusted Rail record label

My main St Patrick’s Day memory from when I was a youth, was that of marching through town in numerous parades over the years as part of the 16th Galway Scout Troop.

Both as a cub and a scout, I recall walking the processional route in my uniform and beret, soaking up the wonderful atmosphere that emanated from the cheering crowds, where I would try to pick out my smiling parents amongst the masses lining the streets.

I remember lots of laughter, the invigorating sound of the brass band and the infectious atmosphere (back when that was a good thing ). In my memories, the parade always happened on a sunny spring day, though it being Galway there were probably some showers - but like all sepia-toned nostalgia we filter out the inconvenient parts and go with the glow. Then it was a burger, chips and a soft drink from a local takeaway once we had done our bit and the crowds were starting to disperse. Different times.

Read our full St Patrick's Day feature in our Digital Edition.

Tune in on our social media pages for a #StPatrickTakeover on March 17th 2021 for more St Patrick's Day festivities!

 

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