These days it seems everyone celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. Target’s shelves are stocked with strings of shamrock lights, pot of gold window decals, sparkly green headbands, and leprechaun costumes complete with a long red beard and top hat. Bars put up tents to accommodate the revelers, while the restaurants add corned beef and cabbage specials to their menus. The fountain at the White House is turning green, and I heard even Niagara Falls will be dyed green (is that even possible?)
Let’s put aside the more commercial side of St. Patrick’s Day for a moment and take a look at the March 17, 1899 celebration in Clontarf – the last St. Patrick’s Day of the nineteenth century. By 1899, the children of the original Irish settlers in Clontarf were beginning to marry and start families of their own. Most of this first generation of Clontarf Irish-Americans married fellow Irish-Americans, thus Clontarf’s Irish identity remained strong. A new Ancient Order of Hibernians hall had just been completed in 1899 and would be the venue for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
The March 10, 1899 edition of the Swift County Monitor outlined the events planned in Clontarf for Friday March 17th:
It is fitting the day began with High Mass, since the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, was a holy day in Ireland where attendance at Mass was obligatory. Dinner followed in the Hall. Corned beef and cabbage? Perhaps, or maybe roast turkey or chicken. I am sure there were plenty of potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables as well.
Outdoor sports and listening to a lecture by Father Cahill (anyone know who he was?) must have worked up an appetite. The ladies of Clontarf were back in the kitchen to put on a supper before the dramatic presentation hit the stage. I was interested in learning more about the play, “Shaun Aroon” and a Google search brought me to a newspaper article from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada from 1896. Click here to take a look – it provides a bit more background on the play. It seems “Shaun Aroon” was a popular play by American Charles Townsend. The article says it was considered a “new Irish play” in that it avoids perpetuating stereotypes of the Irish that prevailed in American culture (inebriation, forever fighting the British, etc.)
The cast features familiar names from Clontarf and Tara: Kent, Foley, Hurley, McDonald, Purcell, O’Neill, Maguire, and Donohue. When the play was over, “the floor will be cleared and a dance given.”
I imagine the people of Clontarf had a great time in 1899. How does this St. Patrick’s celebration compare to ones you remember in Clontarf? Any plans for this year?
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!