On the 29th of September Fine Gael tweeted a link to a new poll on their website, asking people to weigh in on a possible date for a new Irish Bank Holiday. One suggestion promoted by the party was a day off to celebrate Thanksgiving, a traditional American holiday that takes place during the last week of November. Fine Gael TD Ciarán Cannon originally proposed the idea as a way to boost the economy and strengthen ties to the Irish-American community but the idea received negative backlash, as people took to social media to criticise the thought of importing another country’s holiday instead of celebrating an Irish festival. Many stated they were also uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating a day linked to the colonisation of Native American land.
That being said, it can’t be denied that Ireland is due a new Bank Holiday. Compared to most of its European neighbours, who on average boast twelve public holidays a year, Ireland only has nine official days off. With that in mind, here are our top ten picks for a brand new Irish Bank Holiday.
St Brigid’s Day/ Imbolc
When it was announced that Thanksgiving was a potential Bank Holiday date, one of the first alternatives people came up with was the first of February. This date is the traditional start of springtime in Ireland, with small flowers like crocuses and snowdrops starting to appear all over the country. February 1st is also celebrated as both St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc. Imbolc is a Celtic pagan festival, one of the four seasonal festivals of ancient Ireland. It’s celebrated by the making of straw dolls and the lighting of fires. St Brigid’s day is dedicated to the Christian saint, and her feast was probably held on Imbolc deliberately in order to ease Ireland out of paganhood by keeping the same festival for a new figure. St Brigid’s day is celebrated by making straw crosses and visiting Holy Wells. Brigid is the only female patron of Ireland, and shares her name with a celtic goddess of fire.
Irish independence from British rule is usually marked around Easter time in memory of the 1916 Easter Rising. However, since the date of Easter changes every year, it would be a nice idea to have a fixed day in the calendar. Although the Free State of Ireland was declared in 1922 after the Irish War of Independence, the Republic of Ireland did not legally exist until a new constitution came into effect on the 29th of December 1937. Now, between Christmas and New Years Day is probably too crowded for a new bank holiday, but what about July 1st? The first of July was the day the referendum was held to approve the new constitution, and a midsummer day off would surely be welcomed by all!
The Autumn Equinox
September has no current Bank Holiday, leaving us with a long stretch of almost three months from the August Bank Holiday to the October Bank Holiday. What better way to break that gap up than with a day off on the 22nd of September to celebrate the Autumn Equinox? Given that schools and universities in Ireland usually start their teaching year during the last week of August, an extra day’s rest after the first busy month back would be a welcome breather. Not to mention the rest of us, who could soak up the last of the good weather before the chill sets in.
The 8th of December
The 8th of December is the traditional start of the Christmas season in Ireland, with many people choosing it as the day to put up their decorations and trees. Significantly for Dublin, it’s the day that people living in the countryside of surrounding counties come up to the capital to shop for presents and goodies. This trip also gave visitors a chance to admire the festive lights that are put up on the streets, and take their kids to visit a Santa Grotto. The 8th of December was considered special because it is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is no longer a widely celebrated day in Ireland, but some time off to prepare for the busy Christmas season would still be appreciated!
Ok, hear us out. Valentine’s Day is not a traditional Irish holiday, St. Valentine was an Italian man and, as far as we know, he never came to Ireland. At least, not while he was alive. But in 1836 Pope Gregory XVI gifted the saint’s remains to an Irish Jesuit named John Spratt, and they were brought to Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. Since Ireland is now Valentine’s resting place, would it be so bad to make a Bank Holiday out of February 14th? There’s a gap between New Years Day and St. Patrick’s Day in March that could do with filling, and after a long-dreary January a day off to celebrate love, friendship, and chocolate certainly sounds sweet to us.
Despite the fact that many shops or businesses close early on December 24th, Christmas Eve is not actually a public holiday in Ireland, so if you want the day off you’ll have to book it with your boss. However, given the amount of people who do need the day off to travel home and see family, it would make a nice Bank Holiday. That way we’d get three days off in a row: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and St. Stephen’s Day on the 26th. Everyone in the country would get a breather and the chance to spend more time with loved ones, while retail workers would get extra time off to recover from the seasonal madness!
Thursday the 16th of June is celebrated in Ireland and by literary lovers around the world as ‘Bloomsday’. The festival celebrates James Joyce’s famous novel Ulysses, taking its name from the book’s main character ‘Leopold Bloom’. On Bloomsday, fans of Joyce and Ulysses dress up in period clothes from the 1900s and attend readings of the novel and other themed events. James Joyce is an icon of Irish and global literature, and the country is sorely lacking in official days to celebrate the arts. As an added bonus, Bloomsday takes place smack bang in the middle of Summertime, when the weather is at its best.
The Twelfth of July
This one could be controversial, but hear us out. Following Brexit, and talk of a second Scottish Independence Referendum, people have been discussing the possibility of Northern Ireland uniting with the Republic of Ireland. Keeping in mind the often tense history between those on the island of a British identity and those of an Irish identity, making one of the biggest days of the year for the British community in Northern Ireland a Bank Holiday could be a smart move to smooth things over. The Twelfth of July is a day to remember the Battle of the Boyne, when King William of Orange defeated King James II of England, a victory which is viewed as guaranteeing the religious rights of Protestants in Ireland. Given its importance to British Unionists, a Bank Holiday on the 12th might be difficult for some Irish people to celebrate enthusiastically, but it could be worth it if it improves relationships between the two groups.
Nollaig na mBan
Falling on the sixth of January, Nollaig na mBan marks the last day of the Christmas season in Ireland. The name translates into ‘Women’s Christmas’, and is pronounced nuh-leg na mawn. In Irish tradition it’s a day set aside for women to get together and enjoy themselves at the end of the festive season, as historically they would have been busy doing most of the cooking and cleaning to prepare for Nollag Mór (or, ‘Big Christmas’) on the 25th. Nollaig na mBan is also the day Irish people are most likely to take down their decorations, it being considered bad luck to do it on any other date. Given how complicated Christmas decorations and lights have gotten in the 21st century, a whole day off to take them down is needed!
Because of the popularity of this day in the United States, people sometimes mistake Halloween as an American invention. In fact, it’s been celebrated in Ireland (and Scotland) for thousands of years as the Celtic festival of Samhain. Because Samhain (or ‘Oíche Shamhna’ in modern Irish) takes place the day before All Hallows Day on November 1st, it was also known as ‘Hallows Eve’, and then shortened to ‘Hallowe’en’. School children in Ireland are usually on mid-term break when Halloween occurs, but adults are stuck in work on one of the most exciting days of the year. We think a Halloween Bank Holiday is a great way to honour our heritage and give grown-ups a chance to have some fun.