SOBRIETY AND SOCIALISM – THEMES OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY 1915

by jdurney on January 12, 2012

Sobriety and socialism – themes of St. Patrick’s Day 1915

St. Patrick is said to have slain all the serpents in Ireland but there was one demon which escaped his missionary zeal and was to come back and haunt his feast day centuries later, the demon known as ‘drink’. The extent to which alcoholic excess had debased the national holiday in the early twentieth century was apparent in an editorial from the Kildare Observer in March 1915. It is clearly with some relief that the Observer editor reported that ‘There was a notable absence of the drunken dissipation which self-respecting Irishmen so condemned in the festivities of a few years ago.’ He was happy to record that the wave of temperance which had spread over Ireland in the previous decade had relegated to the past ‘the old time revels, chiefly stimulated by the use of alcohol.’   Warming to his theme he prophesied that the abandonment of alcohol and its vices would unlock the potential of the Irish race and open the way to a brighter destiny. Indeed the words which flowed from the editor’s pen in 1915 bear much similarity with the rhetoric being used by commentators in a modern Ireland looking to a better future after years of mediocrity (albeit for different reasons) – ‘Despite all the discord that has devastated our country and which has prevented its progress in a material sense there will come a time when, the shackles of drunkenness and misunderstanding removed, Ireland will take her place among the countries of the world.’

A model of the new and sober approach to marking the national patron’s feast was to be found in the report of the Naas Commercial Dance held in the Town Hall on St. Patrick’s Eve. The tone of the account suggests that this was a highly respectable evening with the Naas commercial circle being the epitome of manners on their night out. Upwards of fifty couples waltzed on the polished floors of the Town Hall ballroom to the strains of Messrs. Boushell’s dance orchestra. When not playing dance music the Boushell’s ran a shoe and boot shop, interestingly its premises are now part of the Leinster Leader offices in South Main Street, Naas. The dance organising committee comprised Messrs. P.Dowdall, J. McDonald, P. Malone, J. Maher, J.J.O’Neill and M. Foynes – names which were to continue in Naas commercial circles well into the twentieth century. The same could be said for many of the patrons whose names were dutifully recorded in the Observer report – the Misses Hyland, Tyrrell, Higgins, Sammon, Berney, Patterson, Coughlan and O’Neill,  all daughters of well established business houses in the locality.

Looking towards rural Kildare the Observer’s local notes column recorded that St. Patrick’s Day was marked in a more robust way, still temperate but with a political nuance. A fife and drum band which had been started in connection with the Staplestown corps of the National Volunteers led the volunteers on a route march on St. Patrick’s Day. The National Volunteers comprised of followers of the Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond who had split the masses of the Irish Volunteers the previous September when he had promised recruits for the British army at the outbreak of the world war.

There was high politics too from the pulpit on St. Patrick’s Day in Staplestown when holy day mass goers heard an exhortation from Fr. Conroy, curate, that ‘God would rid the country of socialism, Larkinism, and every other “ism” that tended towards dissension and ruin.’  Father Conroy went on to ‘refer to the sad fate of the traders in the city whose little businesses had been smashed because of Larkin’s society.’  The Larkinism referred to is the mobilisation of workers in Dublin led by Jim Larkin, regarded as one of the founding figures of Irish trade unionism.  The Dublin worker’s strike of 1912 had seen Larkin organise mass protests by workers against the captains of commerce in the capital. The Catholic clergy saw communist anti-clerical influences behind such militant trade unionism.  Even St. Patrick could not have envisaged that his name would be invoked to, in the words of the Staplestown curate to his parishioners ‘ deal with godless influences which existed on the continent’ – a reference to the emergence of socialism in the industrial cities of Europe.  Series no: 220.

In his column ‘Looking Back’ from the Leinster Leader 15 March 2011 Liam Kenny reflects on sobriety and socialism on St. Patrick’s Day 1915. As always our thanks to Liam.

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