Festival Fit: Driving St Patrick out of the big city

Backwards parades , invisible parades, lovely tractor contests – for some real Paddy’s Day craic, head out to the country


Who has bragging rights for lining out the world’s best St Patrick’s Day strut? New York, Dublin, Savannah, Sydney or Seoul? Nah, Keshcarrigan on the banks of Lough Scur, Co Leitrim. When their premiere parade was too big for the only street of the tiny village, they held the first stationary Paddy’s Day parade. Floats, tractors and GAA club members stayed put, while the crowds mingled amongst them.

That bolt of green-tinged genius was no flash in the pan. The following year they had a backwards parade. Combine harvesters, goats and fife and drummers all proceeded through the village in reverse, and, in a strange twist of route reversal, the snakes chased St Patrick backwards through the town.

They’ve also had an indoor parade and a mid-February march, but their finest hour was when they arranged the first-ever invisible St Patrick’s Day Parade. Pamela Anderson presided over an event that included a herd of African elephants and Boris Yeltsin – all invisible, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people lining the streets to cheer them on. It’s this approach to our national holiday that will see me hitting Dingle for a parade that steps out at 6am.

When I last had a dangle in An Daingean, a Wren Boy explained that their early-morning tradition dates back to feudal times, when celebrating Lá Fhéilé Pádraig could get you into a fight (a tradition still observed in certain parts of the country), so celebrations were carried out in pre-dawn darkness. This tradition appeals to me, as does the fact that Dingle International Film Festival is also taking place this weekend; two birds, one stone – squawk, squawk, thump!

Dingle has a second, more colourful parade later in the afternoon, where the ancient Irish art of tractor porn can be observed in all it’s glory. If ever there was a feast day for vintage farm machinery enthusiasts, it’s March 17th. However bad things may get, there is always something deeply comforting about the sight of a fully bearded auld fella happily bouncing behind the wheel of a 60-year-old Fordson. St Patrick is also the patron saint of engineers.

In recent years I’ve been steering Wanderly Wagon away from the flashy full-on féilté Phádraig, opting for the low-key buzz that’s dealt out in towns and villages ar fud na hÉireann. There’s no arguing that the crew behind St Patrick’s Festival in Dublin do an amazing job. Free events like Solo Space in Dublin Castle featuring Iarla Ó Lionáird & Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Jape at the Royal Hibernian Academy mixed with Céilís, exhibitions and street-based shenanigans, all reflect a contemporary, confident and creative Ireland. The prospect of the craft beer village down in CHQ and ostrich feather-framed females goosepimpling up O’Connell Street in Mardi Gras gilded bikinis are almost enough to turn my head, but Daingean Uí Chúis calls.

Rural parades struggle to survive, with city councils in every corner of the country hoovering up anything that can play a tin-whistle or wave a flag. Larger audiences and budgets make urban parades an attractive proposition for marching bands and street entertainers; as a result, smaller towns rely on a healthy mix of community spirit and creativity. Keshcarrigan colourfully displayed that necessity is the mother of invention when Kiltubrid Pipe Band bagged a gig in the New York parade.

It’s in among the scouts, local drama groups and Macra marchers in parades all over the country that you’ll often catch a glimpse and glimmer of what makes us the unique and wonderfully twisted bunch that we are, as burly men dressed in sean nós drag hand out lollipops, and banner-clad donkeys protest about turf-cutting rights.

Wherever you end up and whatever your Páirtí Naomh Pádraig persuasion, bain sult as an lá, and make sure to work that #tractorporn hashtag – it’s our national obligation.

Taisteal sábháilte, nach bás.


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