Floriana turns shamrock green as it celebrates its close connection with Ireland dating back to 1895.
We all love a good party, don’t we? Which probably accounts for the fact that one of the biggest global parties of all is also a big thing here in Malta. But there’s another, more compelling reason that St Patrick’s Day is celebrated with such enthusiasm on a Mediterranean island, despite the fact that there aren’t that many Irish people living here. And it all has to do with the historic town of Floriana.
Floriana Local Council
Floriana’s connection with Ireland dates back to 1895, when Cardinal Michael Logue, Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, visited the island. While stopping in Floriana, he was given such a rousing welcome by the local residents that they earned the nickname “Tal-Irish” (of the Irish) which has stuck to this day.
On the cardinal’s departure on 17th December 1895, he was accompanied to the jetty by the Vilhena Band Club of Floriana, and was followed by a huge crowd. Cardinal Logue was so impressed by this show of affection that, upon his return to Rome, he intervened with the Vatican authorities to raise the liturgy of the Feast of Saint Publius, patron saint of Floriana, to “first class”, thus increasing its importance in the liturgical calendar. As a sign of gratitude, Floriana parish church commissioned a portrait of Cardinal Logue, which still hangs in the sacristy of the church.
The green and white stripes
Still, the Floriana-Ireland connection was really sealed on the football pitch. Founded in 1894, the Floriana football club was among the pioneers of Maltese football, and in those days, the team wore a green and red kit. After a friendly match against the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1905, which Floriana won with a score of 2-1, the Irishmen gave their green and white striped vests to the local players, who immediately adopted them as their new official colours. And yes, they still wear those colours today!
Such is Floriana’s affinity with the Irish that their football chant (sung to the Gigolette from Franz Lehar’s operetta La Danza Delle Libellule) proudly declares “The Irish are always the strongest, they can do what they want, good or evil”.
Painting the town green
The first St Patrick’s Day was celebrated in Floriana at the turn of the 20th century by Irish soldiers stationed in barracks in the area. The tradition was reinstated a few years ago, and this year’s street party promises to be bigger and better than ever, featuring some of Malta’s most popular bands including Planet Seed, Fakawi and Kevin Borg. Organised by Floriana Local Council and Floriana Ajax Sports Club, the free event kicks off at 1pm on Sunday 11 March (a week before the actual day) in Conservatory Street. Food stalls will serve up an Irish feast complemented, of course, by plenty of Irish beer.
Next up: St Patrick's Festival Parade on 18th March
And the party continues. The Irish Maltese Circle is organising its annual St Patrick’s Festival parade in Valletta on Sunday 18th March starting at noon, marching through Republic Street ending at St George’s Square, where there will be musical performances from Ocht as Éirinn, Karina Gallagher and The Claddagh Crooners and dancing from South Belfast School of Irish Dancing.