St. Patrick’s Day in 1916 Atlanta

St. Patrick’s Day in old Atlanta was a lot quieter than it is in modern times. After all, prohibition was already estab-lished in Georgia 100 years ago. How much celebrating can you do without that ubiquitous “green beer?” As one local writer put it in 1916, “Americans shoot fireworks on the Fourth of July, but the Irish sticks a shamrock in his button hole on the seventeenth of March and shoots the bull.”


Although the huge parade in New York City was already famous, there were only impromptu public demon-strations in Atlanta. Several groups gathered along the infamous blocks of Decatur Street to sing Irish melodies although it was reported that many of the singers were named “Themapolis, Schmidt and Bashinsky” instead of Murphy or O’Donnell. A police spokesman blamed several St. Patrick’s Day disturbances on the “Blind Tigers,” the name for illegal drinking establishments.


Most Atlantans acknowledged Ireland’s patron saint quietly in 1916. Shamrock pins at 25 cents each and green ties adorned workers and shoppers along Peachtree. The local Hibernian Society had a ceremony at their plot in Oakland Cemetery and the Roman Catholic churches had various programs.


Students at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception wrote essays about the life and works of the saint. Highlights of these were the expulsion of snakes from Ireland as well as the creation of Leap Year after St. Bridgett complained about the lack of women’s rights which was a hot topic in 1916.


The biggest event was grand entertainment at the opulent Atlanta Theater. Sponsored by the Ladies’ Altar Society of the Sacred Heart Church, there was a full program of local and amateur entertainers. Open to the public at 50 cents a ticket, the program drew standing room only crowds. On the bill were Irish folk dancing by Girls High School stu-dents, poetry recitations and songs like “Bells of Shannon,” “As Long As The Shamrock Grows Green,” “Tip Top Tip-perary Mary,” and “Mother Machree.” Orchestras and a large chorus backed up tableaux vivants which illustrated Irish melodies such as “Shoogy Shoo” and “Peg O’ My Heart.”


It would not be until the 1950s that Atlantans had major city wide celebrations. The big parade, green beer and elaborate green costumes were a long time in the future in 1916.


–Dick Funderburke

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