Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations took place on Subiaco Oval from around 1910 until the early nineteen fifties. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I went to school, the day created a buzz for us Catholic kids.
Bus after bus pulled up outside the gates of the now flattened Oval. Children from every Catholic school in the greater Perth area tumbled out.
We girls wore our best uniforms, complete with hats and gloves. Only the bright green ribbons in our hair or pinned to our chests marked this day as special. We marched in orderly lines into the grassy centre of the oval.
Shepherded by anxious nuns and religious brothers, we took up our allotted places. Their schools were on show; we were on our best behaviour. We waited in silence in front of a specially erected dais until the Saint Patrick’s Day Mass began.
Formal celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day
The Archbishop of Perth, flanked by a number of priest, processed through the children sitting or kneeling on the grass. The celebrants took their places in front of the makeshift altar and turned their backs to us.
All we could see was a bank of white and gold vestments. The celebrants intoned solemn Latin, the language of the Mass, so we had no idea of what they said.
In our parish churches hymns at Mass were also sung in Latin, but on Saint Patrick’s Day we sang loudly and joyfully in English. We sang to the saint, and about him, because he was said to be the Patron Saint of Australia.
The solemnities over, kids from all the schools turned their minds to the important tasks of having fun and catching up with friends. A sports carnival attracted the interest of the athletic-minded students as school competed against school.
March in Perth, Western Australia can be pretty hot and I don’t remember a single day on that oval when we didn’t swelter under the midday sun. After Mass, we could take off our gloves and hats, so that many of us went home sunburned and sore.
The nuns supplemented our lunches brought from home with warm red cordial and fruit that had over ripened in the heat. They did try!
St Patrick’s Day celebrations on Subiaco Oval ceased around 1952, probably as a response to a major polio epidemic that frightened Western Australians in that year. Another epidemic followed a few years later, and I wrote a blog nursing patients with polio in 1958.
Remembering for the City of Subiaco
The City of Subiaco has recently undertaken a massive city planning exercise. They invited residents to submit memories they might have of the area and later asked us to make a podcast about our experiences of the area.
Two ‘ordinary’ residents were included in the list of podcasts, probably because we were the only ones to submit a memory. I wrote about Saint Patrick’s Day.
The connection between Saint Patrick’s Day and Subiaco
Irish immigrants came to Western Australia in large numbers during the nineteenth century. At first, convicts arrived. My mother’s great-grandfather came as an Irish guard, and in payment took up a lot in Greenough. You can read my blog about my Greenough connection here.
After the Great Famine also called the ‘Great Hunger’ in Ireland between 1845 and 1849, many Irish settlers chose Western Australia as their home.
Young single women chose to leave their homes and come to this new country. The authorities welcomed them because of the shortage of women of marriageable age.
St John of God nuns from Ireland set up their convent and hospital in Subiaco. Another Irish order founded the Home of the Good Shepherd about a kilometre away. You can read more about the history of Irish settlement in Subiaco here.
Commemoration of Irish settlers in Subiaco
A monument which commemorates the bravery of those young women has been placed in the Market Square Gardens in Subiaco. Picture below.
Street names in some parts of Subiaco also reference the importance of Irish settlers in the area. For example, Clare Lane, Tipperary Lane, Edenderry Terrace and Dublin Close.
Saint Patrick’s Day 2020
According to my quick Google search, Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in Subiaco and the greater Perth area will go ahead today, in spite of COVID-19 .
Pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes plan to celebrate in the style expected for the day with Irish whisky, Guiness and Irish food. Good fun, good times, in spite of the threat of a coronavirus pandemic.