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The first steps to tradition

South of the border
The first steps to tradition

Willie McHugh

A NEIGHBOUR cycling home one Patrick’s evening and losing control of his humanly propelled vehicle was as exciting as it got one year. His mishap was put down to him having spent the day drowning the shamrock.
Time was when Patrick’s Day went by with little or no fuss. Mass-goers sporting a fine sprig of shamrock on a lapel to honour the day perhaps. Throw in watching the Railway Cup Finals on television, custard and orange jelly for dessert was more or less the jist of the day.
Otherwise it was just another notch on the bedpost of the year.
Rural Ireland didn’t have much truck with parades back then. It was in the mid ’70s when Jack Reynolds first pedalled the novel idea of holding a Patrick’s Day Parade in Shrule. Jack and his wife Nora had recently returned from America where they’d spent the bulk of their working life. But, despite picking up a tone of the Yankee twang, America never robbed him of his Irish heritage.
When Jack conceived a notion of any ilk in his head there was no shifting it. He cajoled, harangued and pestered until it came to fruition. “If New York can have a Patrick’s Day Parade then why not Shrule?” was the dictum that drove him when he first mooted the suggestion to a gobsmacked community tussling to comprehend his proposition.
That first March morning when Shrule unfolded its innovative parade seems a lifetime ago now. It had a humble inauguration. A few women walked proudly and defiantly beneath a Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Eireann banner. Behind them Dick Murphy and his pristine white David Browne tractor pulling a trailer full of boisterous gasúrs wearing their football jerseys over their Sunday best. They kicked a football and waved a trophy. Bemused onlookers threw the stray ball back to them.
Jack had poured the foundation of his vision.  He saw concrete where others saw quicksand. Shrule could have a parade too. He came up with other novel ideas like householders and business outlets decorating their windows in order to fan the flames of interest. Judges arrived late in the night and peered in through glass panes like peeping Toms in order to adjudicate. Prizes were awarded for the most original, most topical, most humorous and any other most adjective Jack could think up. Every effort merited a prize on presentation night.
The little acorn he planted has now become a giant oak. Shrule Patrick’s Day Parade is firmly etched as an annual event. The village hits gridlock on Paddy’s morning. Huge floats snaking up the corridor unveiling novel ideas.
Great happenings like turf-cutting and the working of the village blacksmith have been re-enacted on the back of trailers on Paddy’s morning in Shrule in a carnival atmosphere that would rival Rio. It’s a social commentary on an ever-changing rural Ireland. It provides a street theatre platform for lampooners and satirists.
John Petty and his troupe of Glencorrib thespians are ever present participants. Petty always comes up with a topical offering. Constructing the set and hours of rehearsals are carried out under the cloak of darkness. Shrule is Petty’s annual premiere before they travel to other venues. He sets the benchmark and it’s because of him others have risen to the challenge.
Shrule Parade has evolved beyond recognition now since Jack Reynolds lit the touch paper all those moons ago. Neighbouring towns and villages took the prompt and parades have become the norm across the region now.
Jack and Nora Reynolds have departed this life. As have many of the other decent people who marched along with his novel inkling on that first saunter. In the village green (or the Market Square Flag Plaza as Jack insisted in calling it) there’s a simple monument erected to his memory.
But the greatest tribute of all comes from a group of dedicated organisers who keep the tradition alive. The legacy he bequeathed still parades proudly through a little village thoroughfare. It was his walk of life.