Saint Patrick’s Day – Shamrocks & Crosses

Dublin & Kildare-

Journal of the kildare 1906-08 V-page-509

‘Observed as a holy-day. A sprig of shamrock (or “shamroge” as the peasants call it) is worn in the hats of men. Opinions differ greatly as what is the genuine shamrock; the trefoils which are generally sold in Dublin for some days before the anniversary of the saint’s death are two one rooted varieties: one having a small pink clover blossom, and the other (I think) a yellow flower; both of which are easily gathered. According to the old people, “the rale of errib” is that which sends out branches from the main root, and which themselves takes root at the nodes (i.e. the starting point of the leaves) as they creep along the ground, therefore forming more branches. The flower resembles a small white clover blossom; this trefoil is probably not found on sale in Dublin, owing to the trouble in grubbing it up. The best place to find shamrock is along the edge of a public roads, where it extends beyond the grassy sod.

Young girls and small children wear on the right shoulder “a St. Patrick’s Cross” consisting of a single or double cross formed of pieces of narrow silk ribbon stitched to a circular disk of white paper, nicked at the edge, and measuring from 8 to 4.5 inches in diameter. At the ends of the arms of the cross a very small bow or rosette is fixed, and one a trifle longer at the junction of the arms; the more and the brighter the colours of the silk, the more handsome is considered the St. Patrick’s Cross. Those crosses sold in the Dublin slums are made on the same principle, except that instead of gaudy pieces of silk being stitched to the disk, coloured paper, cut into the devices, is gummed as a substitute.

Saint Patrick’s Day, 1867 – Charles Henry Cook

“The Drowning of the Shamrock” by no means implies that it is necessary to get drunk in doing so. At the end of the day the shamrock that has been worn in the coat or the hat is removed and put into the final glass of grog or tumbler of punch; and when the health has being drunk or the toast honoured, the shamrock should be picked out of the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder.’

Jounal of the Kildare Historical & Archaeological Society, 1906-8.

May Poles in Dublin



William Wilde, 1850;

‘The two Dublin May poles were erected outside the city. One of them stood in the centre of Harold’s Cross Green, and existed within the memory of some of the present generation. After its decay, an old withered poplar supplied its place for many years; and so recently as the year 1836, the publicans of the village erected a May pole, decorated it, and gave a number of prizes, in order to collect an assemblage of the people, by restoring the ancient festivities.

The chief May pole of Dublin, however, was erected at the pretty suburban village of Finglas, to the north of the city, near the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens, a spot which combines the most delicious sylvan scenery with the charm of the associations connected with the names Swift, Addison, Tickel, Delaney, and in our own day of our distinguished fellow-citizen Doctor Walsh. Here it stood within the last few years; – a very tall, smooth pole, like the mast of a vessel, and upon every Easter Monday it was painted white and encircled with a red and blue spiral stripe like a barber’s pole.

In latter years, at least, it was not decorated with floral hoops or garlands like the usual English May pole, but was well soaped from top to bottom in order to render it more difficult to climb; and to its top were attached were attached, in succession, the different prizes, consisting generally of a pair of leather breeches, a hat, or an old pinchbeck watch. Whoever clim(b)ed the pole and touched the prize, became it’s possessor. “All Dublin” turned out to Finglas upon May Day to witness the sports and revels of the people, and the streets of the little villages, and the adjoining roads were thronged with carriages, hackney-cars, jingles, and noddies, filed with the better class of citizens.

There was also a gaudily-dressed king and queen of the May, chosen from among the villagers, but they were the least attractive portion of the assembly. The revels consisted of climbing the pole: running after a pig with a shaved and well-soaped tail, which was let loose in the middle of the throng; grinning through horse-collars for tobacco; leaping and running in sacks; foot races for men and women; dancing reels, jigs and hornpipes; ass races, in which each person rode or drove his neighbour’s beast, the last being declared the winner; blindfolded men trying to catch the bell-ringer; and also wrestling, hopping, and leaping. An adjoining field was selected for the celebration of the majority of these sports.

Stewards were appointed to keep the course, and see fair play, and twenty or thirty pounds’ worth of prizes, consisting of shawls, hats, frieze-coats, hankerchiefs, and women’s gowns and bonnets, were often distributed among the winners. Tents were erected and bands of music paraded through the assembly; and even shows and booths were to be seen scattered throughout the village. In the evening crowds gathered round the May pole, where the boys and girls danced in a ring until a late hour, before the king and queen, who, attended by a man dressed as a Highlander, sat on a raised platform.’

Irish Popular Superstitions

May Day Preparations


Dublin, 1831

William Wilde, 1850;

‘The preparations for the May Day sports and ceremonial in Dublin, commenced about the middle of April , and even earlier, and a rivalry, which often led to the most fearful riots was incited, particularly between the “Liberty boys” upon the south, and the “Ormond boys” upon the north side of the river: and even among themselves, as to which street or district would exhibit the best dressed and handsomest May Bush, or could boast the largest and highest bonfire.

Upon one of the popular outbreaks resulting in the abduction of a May bush, was written the song, in old Dublin slang, of –

“De nite afore de fust of Magay,”

so spiritily described in that graphic record of the past, “Sketches of Ireland Sixty Years Ago.” For weeks before, a parcel of idle scamps, male and female, devoted themselves to the task of “Collecting for the May:” and parties decorated with ribbons, and carrying green boughs, and sometimes accompanied by itinerant musicians, went from house to house soliciting contributions of ribbons, hankerchiefs and gaudy silk – materials then manufactured, and consequently more common in the Liberty than now- to adorn the May bush. Turf, coals, old bones, particularly slugs and cows’ horns from the tan-yards, and horse’ heads from the knackers, logs of wood, &c., were also collected, to which some of the merchants generally added a few pitch tar-barrels. Money was solicited to “moisten the clay” of the revellers; for, whether from liking, or from fear, or considering it unlucky, few ventured to refuse to contribute “something toste de May bush.”

The ignitable materials were formed in depots, in backyards, and the cellars of old houses, long before the approaching festival; and several sorties were made by opposing factions to gain possession of these hoards, and lives have been lost in the skirmishes which ensued.’

Irish Popular Superstitions