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Explainer: Thanks banks? A short history of bank holidays

The extra day off is a glorious, glorious treat. But who have we got to thank for it?…

WE DREAM ABOUT them weeks in advance, praying for good weather and breaking our necks trying to get out of towns and cities in to beat the dreaded traffic.

Bank Holidays are a special treat for those who work Monday to Friday (apologies in advance to those of you who work weekends and bank holidays, we feel your pain), but who do we have to thank for them?

The obvious answer would seem to be… the banks.

Thanks banks?

In this age of internet banking and teller-less services, then name ‘Bank Holiday’ may seem a little outdated. However it is with the banks that these official holidays originate.

They were first introduced by the UK’s Bank Holidays Act in 1871 and designated four special days in the England, Wales and Ireland (Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and 26 December) and five in Scotland.

Good Friday and Christmas Day were not included in the act as they were considered traditional days of rest.

The tradition of many businesses closing on a bank holiday is thought to be as old as the Bank of England, which was founded in 1694.

The UK’s Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971 added New Year’s Day and fixed the day of Whit Monday to the last day of May. It also changed the August bank holiday from the first Monday of the month to the last. Additional holidays were added in the following few years, including New Year’s Day, and the first Monday in May.

Irish bank holidays?

The term ‘bank holidays’ in Ireland is actually just a colloquialism and legally our precious days off are ‘public holidays’. We have nine of them now and they are set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act of 1997.

Our national holiday, St. Patrick’s Day was established by the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act in 1903.

Our August ‘bank holiday’ differs from the UK as it falls on the first Monday of the month, rather than the last. Good Friday is not legally a public holiday. The May Bank Holiday was officially introduced here in 1994 by Ruairi Quinn, who was then minister for public enterprise.

On Ireland’s public holidays employees are entitled to paid leave, or another paid day off within a month (or an additional day’s annual leave, or an extra day’s pay, or the nearest church holiday as a paid day off)

Even though Ireland only has nine official public holidays, there are eleven ‘bank holidays’ designated in this list from the Irish Payment Services Organisation, which throws in Good Friday and an extra day at Christmas for the next two years at least.

Emergency Bank Holiday

In the US in March 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression new president Franklyn D. Roosevelt declared a nationwide bank holiday – not so that people could take an extra day off work, but to halt a month-long run on the banks.

On 9 March The Emergency Banking Act was passed and within days the banks reopened for business after the Federal Reserve created 100 per cent deposit insurance and Americans returned the money they had withdrawn.

Bank holidays do not exist in the US these days per se, but federal holidays give federal employees the day off, and also mean that banks and post offices are closed. Federal holidays include New Year’s Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day.

Not holidays, but should be?

Various groups and individuals celebrate and recognise holidays that aren’t officially recognised around the world, but maybe they should be?

There’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day (shiver me timbers), International Blasphemy Day, Universal Day of the Jedi and of course Groundhog Day, when everyone heads to Gobbler’s Knob.

DUP deputy leader tells House of Commons: Make St. Patrick’s Day a public holiday>

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About the author:

Emer McLysaght

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