Tag Archives: St. Patrick

Do you know about Patrick’s Pot?

imagesCAF5JTEEArchival Moment

March 17 (Tradition)
One of the earliest and best accounts of daily life at the Labrador fishery can be found in Nicholas Smith’s book ‘Fifty-two Years at the Labrador Fishery’. In his book he makes reference to a  Newfoundland, St. Patrick’s Day tradition,  that is no more.

Smith writes:

“The ice was very heavy and in large sheets; consequently slow progress was made for the first few days, but on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, Captain William  …  called everybody at daylight to get out to their ‘Patrick’s Pot’ as we were among the seals, and plenty of them.”

In Newfoundland and Labrador a ‘Patrick’s Pot’  suggests a ‘windfall’ in terms of sealing jargon it referred to a seal herd spotted on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). When spotted especially on St. Patrick’s Day there would be much excitement.

St. Patrick’s Day would have been early in the  ‘sealing season’ and a good omen. The herd would represent a portion of the sealers salary for the year.

Patrick’s Pot or Paddy’s Pot had another meaning for children, when visiting relatives on St. Patrick’s Day silver coins were traditionally given to children, the coins given were referred to as Paddy’s Pot. In the Folk and Language Archive at Memorial University is found reference to this tradition in interviews that were conducted with informants.   One gentleman reported when giving a coin to a child the person typically said:  “and here’s a Paddy’s Pot for ye, me little colleens.’

Wishing you the very best on St. Patrick’s Day. May you find your pot?

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives read the journal of Dr. William Waddell (MG 1006.1). The journal documents a typical sealing voyage including a description of the vessel and role of the crew.

Recommended Reading: Fifty-two Years at the Labrador Fishery (London: Arthur H. Stockwell, 1936.

St. Patrick’s Day Tradition in Newfoundland and Labardor


March 17, 1851

The Executive and members of the Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) marched for the first time from their club rooms to the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) on St. Patrick’s Day 1851 and were welcomed by the Bishop. The tradition of the parade to the Basilica, followed by the celebration of the mass (the Feast of St. Patrick’s), is followed by a reception by the bishop in the Episcopal Residence. The tradition continues to this day.

Leaving  the company of the Archbishop  the tradition was for the  BIS to parade to  Government House to be received by the  Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The members of the Executive have since the first visitation presented  their hosts with a  small basket of shamrocks.

The B.I.S. was formally established in St. John’s on February 5, 1806 as a non-denominational service club to help educate and improve the lifestyle of the poor Irish immigrant children of St. John’s. The primary requirement for membership was that the individuals be of Irish birth or ancestry. The constitution of the B.I.S. is based on three principles of charity, benevolence and philanthropy.

As the seal and motto the members of the BIS chose the figure of St. Patrick bearing the cross surrounded by the inscription – “he that gives to the poor, lends to the Lord.”

The Benevolent Irish Society was unique in that it was nonsectarian and offered assistance to the needy regardless of their religion. The founders of the Society were among the first generation of permanent residents in Newfoundland. They included politicians, businessmen and clergy who played significant roles in the political, economic and spiritual growth of the developing colony.

Membership continues to be open to adult residents of Newfoundland who are of Irish birth or ancestry, regardless of religious persuasion.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives  take some time to look at MG 612  the BIS  collection  it consists of minutes of  the BIS (1822-1933, 1938-1970, 1973-1979); agendas (1964-1970); Centenary Volume (1806-1906); loan receipts (1905-1906); journal (1910-1920); cash book (1920-1931); ledger (1939-1944).

Recommended Museum Exhibit:  take some time to see : Talamh an Éisc – The Fishing Ground , an exhibition  at The Rooms, that introduces the Irish peoples who have been in Newfoundland and Labrador since the late 1600s, the exhibit explores the communities they built and celebrates the contributions they made to life here in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Leapers, leapings, lads and ladies


February 29

Asking for your hand in marriage

The Leap Year tradition of women proposing marriage on 29 February is thought to have started in 5th century Ireland, when St.  Bridget of Kildare complained to St Patrick about women having to wait for so long for their men to propose to them. Commonly known now as St Bridget’s Complaint, her wish was granted by St. Patrick and women were allowed to propose marriage to men every four years on Leap Day.

Another tradition has it that Queen Margaret of Scotland legalized in 1288 the tradition that a woman could ask a man to marry her on February 29. The tradition also insisted that if the would-be husband refuses, he’s liable to a fine but most definitely must reward the woman with a kiss, a silk gown and or 12 pairs of silken gloves. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.

The leap year day tradition stems from the fact that February 29 was not a real day and had no status in  law, therefore normal customs had no status either.

A review of the acts of the Scottish Parliament have failed to show convincing evidence that this unusual decree was issued. But law or not  – the tradition seems to be firmly grounded in literature dating back as early as the 1600’s.

 Establishing The Tradition

In the Elizabethan-era stage play called The Maid’s Metamorphosis, first performed in 1600 (a leap year) the line can be found:

Master be contented, this is leape yeare, Women weare breetches, petticoats are deare.

In another publicationTreatise Against Judicial Astrologie by John Chamber, dated 1601 the leap year tradition is again referenced:

 If the nature of anything change in the leap-year, it seemeth to be true in men and women, according to the answer of a mad fellow to his misstress, who, being called knave by her, replied that it was not possible, “for,” said he, “if you remember yourself, good mistress, this is leap-year, and then, as you know well, knaves wear smocks.”

The tradition is again given support in a book published in 1606 entitled Courtship, Love and Matrimonie the author writes:

 Albeit, it is nowe become a parte of the Common Lawe, in regard to the social relations of life, that as often as every bissectile year doth return, the Ladyes have the sole privilege, during the time it continueth, of making love unto the men, which they may doe either by wordes or lookes, as unto them it seemeth proper; and moreover, no man will be entitled to the benefit of Clergy who dothe refuse to accept the offers of a ladye, or who dothe in any wise treate her proposal withe slight or contumely.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: VA 94-90.1:  A Labrador wedding.  Do you recognize this church? Can you tell us what community this wedding is taking place in?

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: VA 94-90.1: A Labrador wedding. Do you recognize this church? Can you tell us what community this wedding is taking place in? (Click on photo to enlarge for detail)

In North America as early as 1827 in the publication The American Farmer readers were informed that that they should be aware that women   “as part of the Common Law”   have the right to ask a man to marry them on February 29.

Those born on February 29 are known as leapers and leapings.

Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one
Save February, she alone
Hath eight days and a score
Til leap year gives her one day more.