St Patrick’s Day Badges

A Feature for St Patrick’s Day by Simon O’Reilley 

The recent publication Irish South Australia: new histories and insights (Wakefield Press) has a chapter by Simon O’Reilley on St Patrick’s Day in South Australia 1836-1945 that includes two pages of St Patrick’s Day badges. While they are well described in the book, they appear in black and white. We think it appropriate given the month that’s in it to include some here in their full colour. Simon has kindly provided answers to our questions about this unique collection.

When did you start the collection?

I have had a passionate interest in all aspects of Irish and Irish Australian history from a young age, and have always felt drawn to record and preserve this heritage. The Irish settlement of Baker’s Flat and South Australia’s support for Irish nationalism have been areas of particular interest.

My home town of Kapunda had a strong tradition of celebrating St Patrick’s Day for over a century. Around twenty five years ago I purchased a couple of South Australian St Patrick’s Day badges in a local antique shop and was struck by their fine design and potent symbolism. Initially I thought these were rare survivors, but I soon stumbled upon more and realised over time there was a unique chronological South Australian Irish story to be told through these badges, spanning the years 1917 through to 1941.

A sample of St Patrick’s Day badges from my collection were used in the ‘Not Just Ned: A true history of the Irish in Australia’ exhibition held in the National Museum of Australia, Canberra in 2011.

At the 2016 ISAANZ conference in Adelaide, I gave a presentation on St Patrick’s Day in South Australia, using my collection of badges, which took years to acquire individually. Afterwards I spoke to another presenter at the conference, Peter Moore, who informed me that he had the same full collection of Adelaide St Patrick’s Day badges, bequeathed to him by his aunt Norah Supple, who attended the processions in person. Given Peter’s aunt attended the St Patrick’s Day processions, I decided to mostly use Peter’s collection, in conjunction with my South Australian country and political badges, in the book

The badges are a tangible link with the past and are unique to South Australia. No other state has created such unique specimens for St Patrick’s Day. The design of the badges was open to the public in the form of a competition each year. The winning design would be approved by the St Patrick’s Day committee. The proceeds from the sale of the badges would be given to a different cause each year.

The design of the badges portray the symbolism of St Patrick’s Day as an outward expression of the South Australian Irish form of Catholicism and nationalism, still a force to be reckoned with in the early to mid-20th century.

What is your favourite badge?

My favourite badge features on the front cover of the new book. The badge was mass produced by A.W Patrick, Adelaide, in 1925 and is beautifully designed and packed with Irish Australian symbolism. Inside a large shamrock, inscribed in red, are the words, FAITH, MY COUNTRY and BROTHERHOOD. Images include an Irish high cross, a map of the Irish nation and the Southern Cross. The two stars under the high cross possibly create ‘the Starry Plough’ when joined to the Southern Cross. The shamrock is flanked by the Irish tricolour and ERIN GO BRAGH below. The badge represents the strong link still felt by the Irish Catholic community in South Australia towards Ireland. Even in 1925, when the majority of those taking part in St Patrick’s Day celebrations would have been the children, grandchildren or great grand-children of Irish migrants.

A very early ‘Home Rule for Ireland’ badge and two badges featuring an image of Terence MacSwiney are also special pieces given their political symbolism. Home Rule was strongly supported among South Australia’s Irish community, as was the plight of Terence MacSwiney’s sacrifice. The Adelaide branch of the Irish National Association was named in his honour.



Are there any badges you know of but don’t have yet?

I have one badge from 1930 missing from my collection, maybe due to the great depression, not many were sold. For other years I have multiple copies of the same badge. There is a St Patrick’s Day badge in the Kapunda museum, which I do not have in the collection and I am sure there are more out there which I am unaware of. I am always looking to add to the collection.

Simon O’Reilley

Simon is a long-time researcher into Irish South Australia, especially in Kapunda and as archivist of the Kapunda Historical Museum. He would love to hear from like-minded collectors of St Patrick’s Day badges. Please contact him via the reply button.