St Patrick Days is supposedly a celebration of what it means to be Irish.  However behind all the celebrations, this idea of Irishness is something that had been contested on many St Patricks days. Below are four letters published in the Irish Times around St Patricks in 1912, 1932, 1972  and 1992. They illustrate  that often on St Patricks day the idea of “Irishness” is a heavily contested idea. Indeed they highlight the limited use of the word “irish” in explaining the past because it is constantly changing meaning while often encapsulates diametrically opposing views.

1. Womens Suffrage St Patricks Day 1912

On St Patricks Day 1912 a key issue which divided people in Ireland was gender – women were clearly second class citizens – they could not even vote. This letter about womens suffrage was published in the anticipation of parliamentary bill on female suffrage. Within society in Ireland they faced widespread opposition.


Sir, – As an Irish association which, for nearly forty years, has been labouring to obtain some measure of electoral justice for our women, we shall feel very much obliged if you will kindly permit us, through your columns to express our confident trust that there will not be one of our parliamentary representatives who will not do everything in his power to ensure that our conciliation bill or some reasonable extension of it will be enacted during the present session. If that extremely moderate concession to our legitimate claims had been made during last session, when its second reading was carried in the House of Commons by a majority of 167 votes the lamentable events which just occurred in London and elsewhere would never have taken place. The responsibility for those lawless acts, in our judgement, must largely rest with those who have so long persistently denied our women any measure of enfranchisement.

To our numerous representatives, of all shades of political opinion who have so generously helped us in past years, we desire to tender our very cordial thanks

 On behalf of the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association – Yours etc,

Anna M. Haslam, Hon. Sec.

Published in the Irish Times March 17th 1912

Faith vs Politics March 16th 1932

Over the 20 years later much changed In Ireland. While Ireland had achieved independence the influence of the Catholic church had grown immensely. It seems strange that the writer would feel the need to choose between faith and country in a state that was to a certain degree controlled by the catholic church.


To the editor of the Irish Times

Sir, – It was with surprise that I read in yesterdays papers the attack made by Mr. McGuinness on the Catholic bishops and clergy of Ireland, and on the Sacrament of Penance, in a speech delivered by him in the City of Dublin. Ninety per cent. of his listeners would probably call themselves Catholics, and certainly a large proportion of them believe in the Sacrament of Penance. If their opinions are the same as Mr. McGuinness’s, it seems to me that they are really only Catholics in name and that the faith is dead, or, at best, smouldering in them. The people of Ireland have suffered so much for the faith that was brought to them fifteen centuries ago by St. Patrick, and concurrently with that, and on account of it, suffered the confiscation of nearly all their wordly [sic] goods and property and rights sovereignty, that it would seem paradoxical that now, having gone a long way towards regaining their freedom, largely through the leadership of bishops and clergy, they should lose, or be in danger of losing, the one thing of must value – namely the faith St Patrick brought.

At this meeting on Sunday, which all the papers, Catholic and Protestant, state was attended by in vast throng,’ there is no record of on dissentient [sic] voice being raised to give the lie to the traducer of our bishops and priests or to defend what, as Catholics, we regard as one of most sacred and treasured possessions, the Sacrament of Penance. To-day I looked in our Dublin daily papers, two of which at least one would expect to put forward the Catholic point of view, to see if there was one word of criticism of the entirely unnecessary attack made by Mr McGuinness. There may be something, but, if so, it was so well concealed behind the draw for the sweepstakes and other matter that I am strong supporter of political freedom in this country, and, so far as is, or may be, good for it, complete independence and sovereignty; but I am a strong supporter of the faith, and, if I had to choose between the two I would rather hold for the faith and teachings of the Catholic Church.

I am not good at quoting texts, but the words the Lord Himself addressed to his disciples were “He that heareth you Me, and he who despiseth you despiseth Me.” The inference is obvious—’-Yours, etc,

Charles H. Conor

Lucan House, Lucan,

Published in the Irish Times March 16th 1932

How Unionists fit in to being Irish? St Patricks Day 1972

St Patricks Day 1972 took place as the tensions reached fever pitch in the North. This saw the issue of identity and what it meant to be Irish heavily emerge as contested idea raising the thorny question of who exactly was Irish and what religion meant in this situation. The writer of this letter attempts to reconcile Northern Unionism with what it meant to be Irish in 1972. The author’s understanding of the situation developing in the North is limited. Within 8 months the troubles were underway after the British Army opened fire on a demonstration in Derry killing 13 people.

Sir – In the Context of the Unionist backbenchers statement your editorial today (March 15th) comments that “its has been said many times that there is no such thing as a moderate Unionist”. You do not state whether you agree or disgree with this sentiment. In any case, within a few hours, two unionist M.P.’s gave it the lie.

For some years past your newspaper has lambasted the Unionists and with good reason. But many of your readers in the Republic tend wrongly to identify the Ulster Protestant and Ulster Unionist. Such readers might carelessly, take your editorial as implying that there is no such thing as a moderate Ulster Protestant. Carelessness in both the writing and the reading of of your editorial amounts to an insult to a proud honest and decent people. May I as a Munsterman, take offence on their behalf

In a more subtle way that section of the Northern Ireland community, which was traditionally voted Unionist has tended to identify with the Unionists. It may be slowly dawning on some of them that the Unionsist Party and Unionists power, is based on a gigantic con-man trick. They may be groping around for something to believe in, something new. Many of them may feel that their loyalty to Britain is not reciprocated, and that Britain and the British people want to get rid of them as fast as they can. We know, by now, that the average Britons Feelings on the subject can be summed up in the comment “Why cant we take our boys home, and let the Irish sort it out for themselves” or more crudely “……and let the Irish get on with” (ie all-out civil war). Many an Ulsterman must feel rejected by those he thought were his friends, and, so, he looks around for new friends. The British do not feel that “Ulster is British” – they think it is Irish and they want no more of it. In his agony where can the Ulster Protestant look for his new friends. Surely we in the Republic must show we want him, that we can be better more loyal friends and better more loyal partners?

Unfortunately when he looks south he sees no sign welcoming him. He feels and has for at least half a century felt, that the Republic is a threat to his values, his living standards his way of life. We know he is wrong and that we want him as he is – a proud Ulsterman – but we have done nothing to show him.

He Sees the Republic as the source of gelignite, the haven of the cause of terror, the threat to everything in which he believes. Can we do nothing to allay his fears? Very few among us want him to be forced to join in a shot gun wedding.

We do not him to join us willingly and freely in a new partnership “to love and to cherish”

Both North and South are about to join a new Europe in which French, Germans and British who have spent the last several centuries fighting each other with every weapon of terror they could think of, and with a viciousness worse than anything ever known in Ireland are developing a new partnership. In this context the historic differences in this little island seem insignificant. Irishmen North and South are much more alike than they are different.

“Out of great evil great good can come” This time to build a new Ulster, a new Ireland, a new Europe. – Yours etc

Dermot Mc Carthy

74 Ranelagh

Dublin 6

Published in the Irish Times March 17th 1972

Abortion, St Patricks Day, March 17th 1992

In 1992 Ireland was divided by the X case, in which a 14 year old rape survivor was denied the right to have an abortion. The Irish Times proclaimed the issue as the most divisive since the civil war. The country was sharply divided between two views, one which looked to the past seeking to enshrine extreme anti abortion leglistaion in the constitution, while another which sought to allign Ireland with other counties across Europe in terms of pro choice legislation. This letter spells out how divergent the two views of what Ireland should be from a pro choice point of view.

A Chara,

It is a constant source of astonishment to me that individuals like Senator Des Hanafin exist in this, the latter half of 20th Century. Apparently Senator Hanafin wants a new amendment to the constitution to outlaw all abortion in Ireland, except cases of medical necessity when a woman’s life is physically threatened. At the same time Senator Hanafin also wishes to incorporate into his amendment a provision which would suspend legal sanction against those wishing to travel abroad “for the Purpose of securing an abortion.” I am sure I am not alone in sensing a double standard or two here.

Senator Hanafin is apparently so opposed to abortion that he wants to spend more taxpayers money on an amendment to enshrine a further patently unjust and medieval clause into our already flawed constitution. Yet he is willing to allow women – thousands of women at that – to travel to England to secure a termination of their pregnancies.

Has Senator Hanafin not got the courage of his convictions? If he truly detests abortion then surely he should act to prevent it wherever possible? And it seems to be logical that if he is willing to go far as to enshrine a total ban in the highest law of the land, then he should police the airports and harbours of Ireland to enforce it. The truth is that Senator hanafin has not got the courage of his convictions. Like many of his ilk his morality is half-baked and inconsistent while piously regurgitating the platitudes of the catholic church he is quite happy to give thousands of women the right to have an abortion in England. Why Irish women shouldn’t have the same right in Ireland right is beyond me.

Is mise le Meas

Richard Downes

Published in the Irish Times March 17th 1992

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