La ‘Le Padraig, Aspal Mor na hEireann was amongst us for another year as we celebrated our national saint this Tuesday. The occasion has been developed over the years from just a ‘day’ to being a full-blown festival. This was enjoyed par excellence last Saturday night here in Waterford with that awesome and spectacular Skyfest of brilliant fireworks! Not only does nearly every town, even village, have a parade now but also every where in the world which has or has had a significant ‘ex-pat’ (pun probably intended) Irish population.

Should this not be a strong reminder that the Irish did in their time migrate almost everywhere else? Indeed, they began to establish themselves from very early on in North America not to mention the very early heroics of St. Brendan, the Navigator and card carrying Kerryman! Well, a well kept secret to be revealed today in this column is that the whole thing was started by a Waterford man! Guess Who?

There was a great ‘roots’ music series a couple of years ago on RTE called Bringing It All Back Home which sought to trace the story of Irish music traditions both north and south, crossing the Atlantic with the emigrants and thus helping to imbue the development of American country and folk music and indeed, dance. This in turn returned to this country to popular acclaim.

Well it is interesting to learn that the St Patrick’s Day parade was brought back home, kinda, as well. The first parade ever in honour of St. Patrick was held in New York in 1776, the year of American Independence. So from the beginning the Irish were staking their claim and declaring their ancestry with pride. They estimate that there are in excess of 48 million Americans of Irish extraction, now that’s a lot of shamrock!!

I get the impression that there is less criticism at this year’s exodus of our Ministers to far flung places around the globe to fly the Irish flag in Paddy’s name. There’s a sense that in these dire economic times we need more then ever these international friends to send out positive messages that Ireland is open for business now that we sound as if we are going to do some serious spring cleaning!


And do you know what else is funny? St Patrick was not even born in Ireland either but since he came here from Wales almost 1600 years ago he has left such an enduring legacy that he is acclaimed annually and commemorated equally by all the Christians traditions. The Gaels in those days were fond of making raiding attacks into Wales and snatching what they could. Maybe setting out from the likes of the recently discovered Woodstown, there is some indicative evidence that there was settlement there at the relevant time. And it was the Welsh who named us the Gaeil because of their marauding practices, the word coming from early Breton meaning ‘the wild ones’.

Perhaps that description will get another outing in Cardiff next weekend as the Gael will hopefully be celebrating a Grand Invasion and Occasion. And Cheltenham no doubt had a fair blast of the Gaeil force all last week. And do you know that we didn’t even call him Patricus, or Patrick, or Paddy, or Pat or Paudie but Cotraig!? Now, isn’t that a quare one?

Well, you see there are 6 Celtic nations, three of which – Irish, Scots and Manx were Q-Celts, and the other three -Welsh, Cornish and Breton were P-Celts. In other words we, along with the Scots and Manx Celts, did not use any words beginning with the letter/sound of P but rather our words instead used a ‘hard C or K/Q sounds.

The words in modern Irish with the initial P sounds only came in with the Normans who mostly spoke French which in turn largely derived from Latin. Take the origin of the word Passover: Pascha which travelled from Aramaic through Greek to French as a word in Christianity as Easter. In English it became an adjective, as in Paschal, for Easter. But as we Q celts couldn’t handle our P we called Easter Casca. Thus our national patron used to be called Cotraig. One needs to be up on one’s P’s & Q’s! Well now you know.

Padraig’s Places

The Waterford Burgers and citizenry took St Patrick very much to their hearts from the very early on and dedicated various places and institutions to him. Again my tour is expertly guided by Daniel Dowling’s learned tome on the streets of Waterford. We find that Patrick Street named ultimately for the saint is one of the oldest inside the Anglo-Norman area of the city. Today it runs from the junction of Broad Street/Michael up to the junction with Ballybricken/Mayor’s Walk. Originally it was within the walled city from St. Patrick’s Gate (theirs is a plaque on the wall of St Patrick’s Church, below the Garda station, marking the location and part of wall/gate is seen behind railed area on opposite side). It ran from there to Market Cross, at the bottom also known one time as the High Cross.

In Cork Patrick Street (affectionately known as Pana) is a fine and (once again) graceful thoroughfare through which a branch of the Lee once flowed, thus the meander in its shape. I always felt Waterford’s Patrick Street was a minor affair and a hill into the bargain!! But as indicated above it’s of much greater antiquity and has long played a key role as an access point to the city as it served the main highways entering at this point, St Patrick’s Gate. Those being the road from Cork and Dungarvan via Three Mile Bridge, and the Yellow Road and also the road from the Grannagh Ferry through Gracedieu and Morgan Street. (Remember there was no bridge at all until 1793)

The records show references to property transactions as early as the late 13th century. The street took its name in fact from the ancient church of St Patrick, which stood in the present graveyard- there is no longer any physical evidence of it here. The present church was built in 1727 for the Church of Ireland. This St Patrick’s Church is now in use as a place of worship for the United Presbyterian and Methodist congregations in the city. It has also proved to a popular and great music venue during the Imagine Festival in recent years.

Dowling tells us of a famous tavern in the 18th century called The Angel. In 1776 it was run by Bernardine Donavon and the Friendly sons of St. Patrick used to meet there on St Patrick’s Day. It also served dinners for gentlemen at a British Crown per head which included wine, cider and malt liquors!! The Black Boy was another famous house but this one was much mentioned in dispatches at Corporation meetings. Oh I wonder what stories they could tell.

There are other Patricks we could speak of today, like his well at the triangular area at the Stephen Street junction or St Patrick’s on Chapel Lane built in 1750 and associated with Penal times, as well as St Patrick’s Hospital, originally built under the Poor Relief Act and opened in 1841. The latter which was developed later as a general hospital though for many years now is has given valuable service as a geriatric hospital – sadly as we know St Bridget’s Ward (named for our other national saint, by the way) is threatened with closure. Its many Friends and the Waterford public are most unhappy with this and hope for a reversal in policy.

Did you know?

March 17 is believed to be the death date of our Patron Saint and has thus been the date celebrated as his feast day. Well believe it or not, the day became a feast day in the universal church due to the influence of the Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding, as a member of the commission for the reform of the Breviary in the early part of the 17th century. Others say that the date relates to it being the mid-date of the Irish Spring and replaced an earlier Pagan/Druidic Festival. So the Skyfest should kick off the proceedings in Waterford every year as our man started the whole (holy) show.

Go seachtain eile, slan.