Short History of St Patrick’s Day in Sydney
Sydney has a rich and varied history of celebrating St. Patrick's Day right back to the times of the early colony. The first mention of it was in 1795 when Judge-Advocate David Collins wrote about it in his journal. As the number of free settlers increased, so too did the observance of the day become more organised. Back in 1825 the day was marked by a horse race at the new race course on the South Head Road at Bellevue Hill. With the day being celebrated by the lower and the upper classes, it became increasingly popular.
In time the public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, sometimes dubbed the ‘National Hibernian Festival’ or ‘St. Patrick’s festival’, would become a major event in Sydney. It was celebrated in various ways, including religious services, horse races, banquets, parades, picnics, concerts, dancing and games. It changed in form and tone over the century, often reflecting the change in mood of the Irish citizens of Sydney and their place in the wider community.
In 1900 the government proclaimed St. Patrick’s Day a holiday in Sydney. As a result, the crowd attending the Agricultural Ground was estimated to be between 15,000 and 17,000. But this was not the first time St. Patrick’s Day had been a public holiday in Sydney. It had been so from 1864 to 1867 and for many years previously it had been a bank holiday. In 1858 it was declared a ‘partial holiday’ in connection with the opening of the Pyrmont Bridge when ‘amusements of all kinds took place in and about the city’.
Over the course of the twentieth century and up to the present, St. Patrick’s Day has continued to display its remarkable ability to adapt and change, ensuring that the feast of the patron Saint of Ireland does not pass unnoticed in Sydney. After cancelling our 2020 event due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were back in 2021 with one of the few St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world. We are delighted to welcome you all to our 2023 Festival.