Penny for my thoughts

There are many reasons why PAUL HEALY fondly remembers the St. Patrick’s Day Parades of his youth…

Every year, there was that scramble for shamrock. Proper shamrock, real shamrock.

  ‘Did you get some shamrock?’

  It was a poor and a rare year if you ended up with fake shamrock, one of those badges that were for sale in corner shops, and even in shops that weren’t on corners. In fact they were probably for sale too on the street, like match programmes on a Sunday.

  Most years, we got the real thing. Of course, as a child, you were usually embarrassed to have to wear the big clump of shamrock so prominently on your jumper or coat. If it was bigger than the next person’s, it drew attention to you. God knows how Enda will feel on Friday week. Anyways, it was thrust into position with a paper clip, the shamrock ringing wet after being washed, your proud Irishness now branded for the world to see.

The world? Well, Longford anyway.

  Every year, we went to the parade in Longford. It was the biggest show in town. We lived in Rooskey, which, incidentally, will host its first ever St. Patrick’s Day Parade next week. But back in the 1970s and ‘80s, our options were limited. There was probably a parade in Mohill. There may have been one in Carrick. Once or twice I remember attending the ultimate event – the Dublin Parade – but our focus, our street of dreams, was always Longford.

  We were very aware that while we were Irish all year ‘round, a huge dollop of extra Irish was coming along once we got into March. We had no Internet or mobile phones – we barely had a house phone – and we were still stuck with two television channels – there was no hype, it was a black and white world, but, come early March, we were very clear about it: the great national day of celebration was coming.

  At school, in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, we drew pictures of the saint and there was strong demand for green crayons when the colouring began. We made cardboard St. Patricks with wonky hats and a wonkier staff, maybe even a snake. It was alright for the snake to be wonky and pliable; snakes lend themselves towards that.

  Our Mass clothes were laid out the night before St. Patrick’s Day – certainly the scent of black shoe polish indicated that a visit to

Mass was imminent. In truth, uppermost in our minds was the parade in Longford…we went to bed excited by the prospect of a big day out, with the promise of fun and treats – and everything that’s normal and usual being replaced by a mad day of celebration.

  The morning of St. Patrick’s Day was a good morning from the off, because there was no school. And it got better when, after Mass, we went into Longford, where huge crowds lined the streets for the big parade.

  Maybe the floats were actually drab, maybe there were too many lorries and vans, but to a child, the Longford Parade was very special indeed, a colourful feast for the eyes, an exciting highlight of the year. Actually, in fairness, it was always a good parade, and we were always proud in later years when highlights featured on the RTE round-up.

  What added to it for us was the fact that our father, Rutledge Healy, took part for several years, even leading the Parade from the front. This he did on a Penny Farthing bicycle, which he had picked up at an auction before perfecting how to cycle it. 

  When we ran the Kon Tiki pub outside Rooskey, it was usual on summer days for locals or visitors to try their hand (and legs) at cycling our huge, daunting Penny Farthing bike. Most people who tried it fell after a few seconds. Much to our pride, our father had it off to a tee.

  And so it was that he was invited to display his skills by leading the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Longford. For a number of years. And I remember the crowds cheering at the sight of this Penny Farthing bicycle being guided from the Battery Road up Main Street, past the reviewing stand, then into Dublin Street and then into Ballymahon Street. (The photograph accompanying this article appeared on the front page of the Longford NEWS).

  Many years on – in the 1990s – I spent several St. Patrick’s days’ on the Longford reviewing stand myself, when I was working as a journalist in the town. There were always lots of floats, and the parade was always led, in rain, hail or shine, by the Longford Pipe Band.

  In the past twenty years or so we have attended all the local parades here in Roscommon, East Galway and on the Longford border. Sometimes you can get two parades in on the one day. They are all a massive tribute to the community effort behind them. We are veterans of Boyle and Elphin; Ballintubber has been a great success since being introduced. In the last couple of years, we have enjoyed the buzz in Ballyleague/Lanesboro.

  This year, Rooskey launches its first ever Parade, which I gather is getting a great response. My father and mother will look forward to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day – but the Penny Farthing is long gone. Bought at auction, it was later sold at auction, in what you could call a bit of wheeler dealing.

Mind you, a few months later we bought another one.