It is five forty-five in the morning. The sun won’t show its face for another hour. A small crowd is starting to form at the top of Goat Street. The wind coming off the harbor brings the cries of the gulls and an occasional spit of rain. And it’s cold. Damn cold. The kind of cold that makes me think, “what the hell am I doing?”
My alarm had gone off at five-fifteen. I could hear the rain pelting off the bedroom window. Sara was off to the states for a short trip and I was left home with Lucy. I rolled out of bed, shivered, and dressed. Lucy opened one eye, growled with irritation, and looked at me like I was an eejit. “Maybe I am,” I tell her, “but I’m going anyway.” She rolled over and went back to sleep.
At five minutes to six the crowd has grown to maybe a hundred people huddled together for warmth between McCarthy’s Pub and Kennedy’s Pub, right by the Holy Rock. Some are tightly holding cups of coffee. I admire their foresight and I envy Lucy safe at home in her warm bed.
And then it happens.
“Boom!” goes the bass drum.
Two, three, four.
“Boom!” the drum again.
Two, three, four.
The trap snare drums snap to life and join in. Then the tenor snares pick up the beat.
“Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat.”
And now it’s the fifes, high pitched and wailing, starting the melody to Amhrán na bhFiann (A Soldier’s Song), the Irish national anthem.
The Dingle Fife and Drum Band moves out smartly in formation led by the flags of Ireland, Kerry, and Dingle, and the crowd follows, our hearts pounding and feet stamping to the martial cadence of the music, as we march down Goat Street to Main Street singing along:
Soldiers are we
Whose lives are pledged to Ireland,
In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal,
‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifles’ peal,
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day and we are about to wake up the town.
Marching to wake up the town is a Dingle tradition that goes back over one-hundred and forty years. The ruling British, in the days of the Land War in the 1880s, banned all marching between sunrise and sunset. The Irish simply responded by marching in the early morning hours, much to the consternation of the sleep deprived British.
And that’s how I find myself marching down Main Street in a crowd of townspeople, picking up participants as we go. We pass Curran’s and Foxy John’s and Benner’s Hotel and Paul Geaney’s, until we reach the end of Main Street where it meets The Mall. Lights begin to flicker in the rooms above the shops.
The crowd waits in the street while the band dashes into their local pub for a cup of tea, some of it, I’m sure, enhanced with spirits. Marching can make you parched.
After a ten to fifteen-minute break, the band reforms, with somewhat less than military precision, and we prepare to take off again. The rain has stopped and the marching has warmed us.
“Boom!” sounds the drum as we march down The Mall, the band playing Garry Owen. They make a hard right on Bridge Street past the Garda Station, through the Holy Ground, and into the Strand. The fifes play A Sprig of Shamrock.
The crowd has grown to nearly five-hundred by now.
As we march and the band plays, tourists, some the worse for wear from the previous evening’s festivities, lean out of the windows of the hotels and the Airbnbs, wonder what the devil is wrong with these daft Irish making this infernal noise.
After reaching the Pier, right in front of Murphy’s Pub, the Band halts and performs an admirable reversal maneuver–the extra strong tea seems to have worn off a bit–and marches back up the Strand. The crowd, confused, scatters to let them pass, then falls in once again, as people come from every direction to join us.
Back at the Holy Ground, the band turns left and marches up Green Street to the tune of Rory O’Moore.We stop at St. Mary’s Church, where the band moves into concert formation on the street in front of the church for a rousing rendition of A Nation Once Again.
At precisely seven a.m., the church doors open and the flag-bearers dip their banners under the doors and lead the band down the center aisle as it plays Aileen Aroon. The townspeople, enough now to fill every pew, follow.
The floor in front of the altar is covered with pots of shamrocks, and Irish flags and banners of St. Patrick surround the altar. The priest enters and blesses the shamrocks with water from the holy wells that surround the town. Then Mass begins.
“In ainm an Atur, agus as Mhic, agus an Spioraid Naoimh,”we recite.
As Mass ends, the townspeople press forward to pick up the blessed shamrocks and pin them to their lapels for the day ahead. The band forms in the center aisle and breaks into St. Patrick’s Dayas we recess. We sing along:
All praise to St. Patrick, who brought to our island
The gift of God’s faith, the sweet light of his love!
For hundreds of years, in smiles and in tears,
Our saint has been with us, our shield and our stay,
And the best of our glories is bright with us yet,
In the faith and the feast of St. Patrick’s Day!
In the street in front of the church, there is one more rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann,and then we disperse, as friends and neighbors wish each other a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. The sun above us is bright and the town is properly awake.
I hurry home to wake Lucy, have breakfast, and take a nap.
The second parade of the day starts at half one and Lucy can go with me.
We’ve a grand day ahead of us.