Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Charleston-style


CHARLESTON  While it may be true that Savannah reigns supreme in its enthusiasm for celebrating St. Paddy’s Day, this past Saturday the Holy City featured a heavy Emerald Isle influence as it marked the feast of the Irish saint.

The day, March 17, began with the traditional celebration of a Mass at St. Patrick Church on the peninsula, led this year by Bishop Robert J. Baker, with Father James Parker, pastor of Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island, serving as theĀ  hmilist. Members of the County Clare Council of Ireland, who were visiting Charleston as part of an effort to formally organize a sister city project, had heard about the event and came to the service. Among the delegation were Sean Hillery, chairman of the County Clare Council, and Albert Reynolds, former prime minister of the Republic of Ireland. Reynolds is the third prime minister from Ireland to visit the Lowcountry.

For the County Clare Council, the process of twinning with other areas is nothing new. The county was the first in the Republic of Ireland to partner with an area in Northern Ireland, and Hillery stressed that these types of efforts are the hope for the future in bringing peace to that troubled province. For the Lowcountry effort, local businessman Tommy Condon was cited for his work in helping to bring about the partnership.

After greeting many of the green clad participants at St. Patrick’s, the Irish delegation marched in the annual parade down meeting King Street with members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Knights of Columbus, and the South Carolina Irish Historical Society. Chairman Hillery rode in a shamrock green Model T Ford, and Reynolds enjoyed his view of the city from a horse-drawn carriage.

At the end of the parade, a ceremony was held on the steps of City Hall. The Irish flag was raised as Hillery, singing in Gaelic, led the national anthem of Ireland.

At the conclusion of the event, Bishop Baker extended an impromptu invitation to the County Clare group and Reynolds for a reception and lunch at the bishop’s residence just two blocks away.

Deacon Philip Meyer, who had served as the master of c eremonies at the Mass earlier that morning, raced to Mistral’s Restaurant downtown to acquire a take-out meal of corned beef and cabbage.

Bishop Baker and Sister Deanna Bartolomei, pastoral associate at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, gave the delegation a tour of the Cathedral before eating lunch. The affair was quickly put together by Meyer; his wife; Sister Noreen Buttimer, pastoral associate at Church of the Nativity on James Island and herself an Irish native; and a few members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Sister Buttimer gave a toast to the people of Ireland before the meal.

Members of the delegation, particularly Chairman Hillery, were deeply interested in the history of Ireland’s own Bishop John England, first prelate of the Diocese of Charleston. At the bishop’s residence the group viewed two portraits of the Irish bishop and his office desk.

Delegate Michael McNamara expressed amazement at the restoration work that was completed on the residence following Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Following lunch and a spot of hot tea after the meal, an Irish tradition, the Emerald Isle residents departed for a tour of the Holy City led by Judge Michael Duffy.

“It was an honor for us to host the representatives who were with us that morning,” said Bishop Baker.

That evening, Reynolds spoke at the annual Hibernian Society St. Patrick’s Day dinner. He talked about his role in assisting with the peace process in Northern Ireland, along with former British Prime Minister John Major. Reynolds expressed his hope that it is just a matter of time before those efforts will bear fruit.

In some humorous introductory comments before his formal presentation, Reynolds said that Saturday had been the first time a bishop had hosted him for lunch and the first time he had a judge as a taxi driver.