Looking back on May processions in Cork over the years

Looking back on May processions in Cork over the years

May procession 1946 at Our Lady of Lourdes School, Ballinlough.

The month of May marks a significant time in the liturgical calendar with Marian processions typically taking place.

Delving through The Echo archives reveals a plethora of old photographs from May processions in areas such as Shanbally, Ballinlough and Dillon's Cross over the years.

Clodagh Doyle, who has been working with the Irish Folklife Collection of the National Museum of Ireland since 1995 and is now based at Turlough Park, notes the history of this tradition, which she says extends back to medieval times.

May procession from St Joseph's Church to the grotto at Harrington's Square, Dillon's Cross, 1956.
May procession from St Joseph's Church to the grotto at Harrington's Square, Dillon's Cross, 1956.

"Since medieval times in Ireland, there has been a strong association with the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary during the month of May. 

"Much of the traditions associated with May have been incorporated into the Marian processions found throughout the country.

"Children and adults collected flowers for crowning Our Lady in town processions. 

May procession at Clogheen church, 1949.
May procession at Clogheen church, 1949.

"They also used them to decorate grottoes, shrines and church altars. 

"It was and still is very common to have a home altar either in the kitchen or outside in the farmyard. 

"Sometimes the flowers picked for this altar were made into crosses. 

"The maintenance of these altars and their replenishment with fresh flowers continued on from May 1, throughout the month."

May procession at Shanbally, 1955. 
May procession at Shanbally, 1955. 

In a letter to the editor published in The Echo in May 1973 one unnamed Ballinlough resident stated that the tradition of the May procession in Ballinlough extends back to 1946.

"Here in Ballinlough in 1946 May Procession began.

"The children who received First Holy Communion and any other suitably attired senior girls or boys walked in procession around our church, and Our Lady was crowned by that years first communicant — the boys generally wore their school colours (Our Lady of Lourdes) and long white pants.

May procession at Clogheen church, 1949.
May procession at Clogheen church, 1949.

"The present principal of Our Lady of Lourdes went to great pains teaching the children 'Oh Mary We Crown Thee' and some other suitable hymns, also bringing them to practise walking in procession during the week in Our Lady of Lourdes Church."

While the popularity of the procession has waned in more recent years, processions still take place in many areas of Cork.

In a recent post on social media, Fianna Fáil county councillor Sheila O'Callaghan said she hopes the processions will return in post Covid times. 

"'May Sunday' was a highlight growing up in Glanmire, congregating at 'Springhill Church' and walking with cousins, school pals and family in the procession all the way to The Grotto. 

May procession at the shrine in Shanbally, 1955.
May procession at the shrine in Shanbally, 1955.

"A statue of Our Lady would be garnished with flowers and placed in windows around the parish. 

"Hope these traditions will return in post Covid times."

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