Next week is St Patricks Day, when the Irish, the descendents of the Irish and those who want to be Irish celebrate all things Irish.
Unsurprisingly, St Patricks day has a long history in Sydney.
Now although there were many Irish convicts in town, they were not allowed to express their Irishness too vigorously. The English were suspicious of Irish nationalism and Irish Catholicism and did not encourage either. However some traditions are too strong and St Patricks Day was one of them.
In 1795 the first (known) mention of the day was made by Captain David Collins who noted that ‘libations to the saint were so plentifully poured that at night the cells were full of prisoners’, while another settler observed that the business of the farm was usually put on hold until the Monday after St Patricks day to allow his convict labourers to sober up!
With an annual day already in full swing by 1810, one of Governor Macquarie’s first acts as new Governor was to make it official in the colony. He provided entertainment for government artificers and labourers on the 17th. At this time the celebration was an ecumenical day, celebrated by Catholic and Protestant Irish alike, not a day of nationalism or sectarianism. It was however a day of drinking, carousing and fighting: not that this was unusual in Colonial Sydney (and not much has changed since).
The day became a symbol of Irish nationalism in Australia. Politics appeared first in the 1840s when the first St Patricks Day parade was held in Sydney, in the 1860s Fenian rebels tried to dominate and later during the years of uprising and civil war in Ireland from 1916-1921 tensions erupted.
Eventually the politics overwhelmed the day and the parade declined in popularity and numbers until the Sydney march was revived as community day, rather than political or religious rally, in the later 1970s.
Now St Patricks Day is about getting to your closest ‘Irish Pub’ for an annual Guinness, some over priced stew and at least someone wearing a hilarious green hat or similar.
But where did all these new Irish pubs come from? Of course there have always been Irish pubs in Sydney but until the mid 1990s there was really only the Mercantile at the Rocks, the Gaelic Club and the Harp that loudly proclaimed their Irishness.
Now Irish pubs are everywhere. They may have once catered to ex-pat and homesick Irish but now they have almost become the standard design model or at least the renovation model.
Curiously the explosion in all things Irish (pub wise) coincides with the increase in the importation of the two standard drinks, Guinness and Jameson’s in the mid-1990s.
Growth in sales of Guinness through the 1990s was 181% with Jameson’s rising from 1400 cases imported in 1990 to 50,000 by 1999. Now I’m not suggesting a marketing campaign is afoot, but with all this Irish goodness flowing in, is it any wonder Irish pubs sprang up to sell it.
Either way Happy St Patricks Day, have a good day of it and have a Guinness for me.