A GOMBEEN HOLIDAY – by Donal Kennedy


Most European countries with Catholic or Protestant traditions have public “Holidays” on HOLY DAYS observed by the Catholic Church. The Church adopted pre-Christian festivals and made them her own. The people were freed from unnecessary servile slave-like work and helped to enjoy themselves.

In England most of these Holy Days were abandoned following the break with Rome,and later Gombeen days of  rest – Bank Holidays – were established.  The word GOMBEEN (in Irish “GAIMBIN”) means the Interest paid on loans. A Gombeen Man was a Usurer or Loan Shark. So Bank Holidays are Gombeen Days (and not interest free).

Ireland’s break with Rome is very recent, more recent than its break with Sterling. but Gombeen Days days predominate.

I remember holidaying in West Cork where a sub-postmistress dared not leave her counter to attend Mass for half an hour without losing her livelihood. And working in Dublin myself, where over 90% of my colleagues were practicing Catholics, we went to Mass by arrangement with the management.  This in a Diocese under the most unbending dictatorship of John Charles McQuaid.

The Government in Dublin has floated an idea of an extra day’s rest for the workers. And I heard an RTE discussion on it that annoyed me. It was suggested that, to please the ladies (a practice I have no objection to) February 1st, St. Brigid’s Day would be good. We could go on pilgrimage to Downpatrick, where tradition has it, she lies with St Patrick & St Colmcille.

Patrick and Columcille belong to history, Brigid to legend. So I think the idea is silly. A spokesman for “Atheist Ireland” rejected the idea of a religious holiday, oblivious of the origin of the word. A Gombeen Gobshite if ever I heard one, If there is no God I suppose we should pray to “Atheist Ireland” for her salvation. But I can’t imagine one person, never mind three, offering that prayer from the scaffold. 

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