In Newfoundland and Labrador there has been a long established tradition to refer to the day following St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) as Sheelagh’s Day. As early as 1819, the Anglican Missionary and historian Lewis Anspach who wrote the first general history of Newfoundland that was published stated:
“It is hardly in the power of any priest in the world to hinder an Irishman from getting gloriously drunk, if he is so inclined, on the whole of the 17th of March, as well as the next day in honour of Sheelagh….”
The St. John’s newspaper, The Newfoundlander on reporting on the celebrations of the members of Benevolent Irish Society in St. John’s on March 17, 1829 wrote:
“The company continued to retire, successively, until six o’clock on Sheelagh’s morning, (March 18) at which hour, we understand, a few of the campaigners might have been seen, as usual, piously and patriotically employed in “drowning the shamrock.”
Sheelagh (also Sheila, Sheilah, Sheelah) in Irish folk legend is somewhat of a mystery she is variously described as the wife, sister, housekeeper or acquaintance of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.
In Newfoundland few refer to March 18 by her name day; nowadays her name is only invoked with reference to any storm that takes place on or shortly after March 18 – the storm being referred to as Sheelagh’s Brush.
So ingrained in the Newfoundland psyche is the association of with Sheelagh and the last storm of the winter season that the fishing fleets were reluctant to put out their gear and the sealing fleets were reluctant to take to the ice preferring to wait until after Sheelah’s Brush had passed.
Sheila’s Brush typically brings a heavy snowfall. The snow is attributed to Sheila’s sweeping away of the last of winter. But, once the brush blows through – it signals that spring is just around the corner.
Pity her name is not invoked as it was in our past. It is time to reclaim March 18 to give this day, the traditional name, Sheelagh’s Day.
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.
Recommended Activity: Encourage your friends to join the Irish Newfoundland Association.
This article was written by Larry Dohey