Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on board Cutty Sark

Half marathon notice

Visitor notice: On Sunday 4 March Cutty Sark and the museum car park will be closed for the Vitality Big Half Marathon. All other museums will be open as normal and DLR and rail links will be running. Find out about road closures

With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching and Cutty Sark’s ‘Alternative St.Patrick’s Day Celebration’ on the 19th March, we have been looking at why it's celebrated and the ship’s links to Ireland.

By Emma Withington


‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure 'tis like a morn in spring.

In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.

When Irish hearts are happy, all the world seems bright and gay,

And When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away.’

Cut A Shine Ceilidh Band - Photo: Andrew Aitchison Photography

St. Patrick’s Day is held on the 17th of March, the anniversary of his death in the 5th Century (AD 461). St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, was captured by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland at the age of sixteen; working as a slave for six years until he eventually escaped. Fifteen years later, he returned to Ireland as a Christian Missionary and for the remainder of his life established schools, churches, and monasteries across the country.

St. Patrick is famously known for legendarily driving the ‘snakes’ out of Ireland. Now, I’m certain that any ancestors of mine wouldn’t have tolerated snakes and the snakes wouldn’t have tolerated Ireland’s climate! This myth is a metaphor for the widespread introduction of Christianity to the country and casting out pagan beliefs.

What began solely as a religious feast day has become a major celebration of Irish culture and identity all over the world. The earliest observance of St Patrick’s Day was in 1737 by the ‘Charitable Irish Society of Boston’ - not so much with Catholicism in mind, but to honour the homeland of Boston’s Irish immigrant community. New York followed and was the first city to hold a St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762. St. Patrick’s Day became what we know today as a celebration of all things Irish and your own, personal, connection to Ireland.

So, where does Cutty Sark come into this? While the ship didn’t travel to Ireland, or carry any especially Irish cargoes, a number of her crew came from Ireland (23 of the 682 men known to have sailed on Cutty Sark when under British ownership 1870-1895). These members of the crew, identified as coming from Ireland, came from towns all over the Emerald Isle, including: Belfast, Co.Cork, Co.Tipperary, Dublin, and Killarney.

The majority of these men signed on to Cutty Sark as Able Seamen or Ordinary Seamen, some serving on voyages to China, but mostly on voyages to Australia. Able Seamen were skilled, competent sailors with good all round experience, from steering the ship to general maintenance and were qualified to work aloft; already having a number of voyages under their belts! Ordinary Seamen would have carried out more menial duties, likely signing on for their first voyage and yet to gain more experience at sea.

However, we know that John O’Brian of Co. Cork engaged on the 21st voyage (1890-1891) as a Steward, and John Stackpole Ryding of Dublin joined the crew for the same voyage as Second Mate.  The Steward’s prime duties involved looking after the officers, while the Second Mate, as a qualified officer, would have carried responsibility for a watch. His main duties included navigation, traffic management, and responding to emergencies. Quite a range of skills!

So don your finest green apparel, join the festivities and celebrate your Irish connection on board Cutty Sark on the 19th of March! Find out more about our Alternative St. Patrick’s Day Celebration!