Tens of thousands out all over Ireland for St Patrick’s Day parades

Strong sunshine drives numbers and exuberant atmosphere at events around country

For the 113th year the traditional St. Patrick's Day parade brings the streets of Galway to life. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

Massive numbers have been attending St Patrick’s Day festivities around Ireland, helped along by sunshine and relatively excellent weather in many parts on the day.

It turned out to be an excellent day weather-wise in most parts of the country.

Broad sunshine helped to bring out an exuberant atmosphere on the national holiday, marking an apparent end to the long winter on what is the centenary year for 1916.

The Easter Rising proved to be the theme of innumerable parade entries.

Donegal

Spectacular Spring sunshine brought thousands of people onto the streets of Co Donegal’s largest town of Letterkenny for its annual St Patrick’s Day Parade.

The sight of scores of people queueing alongside ice-cream vans in Letterkenny as they waited for the start of the parade on the town’s Main Street was a joy to behold, on what is often a notoriously bad day weather-wise.

Many wore shorts and T-shirts as they waited patiently for the annual display of vintage cars and grown men in cowboy suits on horses and tractors decked with bunting and balloons.

The event started with a reading of the Proclamation as thousands of people lined the town’s Port Road and Main Street.

The parade was led by Anne McGowan, who carried the National Tidy Town’s Trophy after the town won the overall accolade last year.

There was also a great ethnic feel to the parade, with floats and groups from the African and Polish community on display.

There was even a float highlighting the reported filming of some scenes from the latest Star Wars film, due to take place in May in Malin Head.

There was a distinct lack of protest floats such as the anti-water charge floats, which were present in last year’s parade.

There was some sadness as the Letterkenny Pipe Band failed to play at the event, the first time since 2000, citing a lack of pipers.

Instead, it was a time to celebrate the many local GAA clubs, dance outfits and voluntary groups from across Donegal.

Among those who took part were groups from St Eunans GAA Club, Illistrin Soccer Club, the Blue Ribbon Arts Group, Letterkenny Gymnastics Group, Pinehill Dance Studios and at least four St Patricks.

Chief executive officer of Letterkenny Chamber, Toni Forrestor, said the parade was a huge success.

“There is no doubt that the weather was a huge factor. We couldn’t have asked for a better day and people were in such good spirits.

“Such events take a lot of organising and so many people gave so much of their time for free to make this a really successful parade.

“Without these people and those who take part in the parade, it simply would not be possible,” she said.

Gardaí said the event passed off without any incident.

Galway

About 30,000 people basked in glorious sunshine to enjoy the parade in Galway, where two big dates were honoured.

Many of the 50 entries had a 1916 theme, while Galway’s bid for the 2020 European Capital of Culture was also a central aspect.

Thousands lined the streets from Fr Griffin Road up along Dominick Street and Shop Street to Eyre Square, with most agreeing it was the best weather in living memory for the parade.

Marie Mullen, co-founder of the Druid Theatre in the city in 1975 along with Garry Hynes and the late Mick Lally, was the guest of honour.

She was thrilled to be asked to lead the parade, which also featured Macnas.

“It is a great honour and I was so touched and moved that they asked me. And it was not just for me, I was thinking of Mick and Garry and all the wonderful people through the 40 years and more of Druid.

“I was so looking forward to it, especially with all the various communities in Galway taking part in it and all the visitors - a wonderful day,” she said.

The parade, which began at 11.30am, took an hour and a half to meander through the streets of the city - but even when it dispersed after passing the viewing stand in Eyre Square, many of the bands and musicians returned there to perform throughout the afternoon.

Sligo

At least one of the more than 70 floats at the Sligo St Patrick’s Day parade didn’t have the luck of the Irish - but they got a bigger cheer than all the 1916-themed entries combined.

A local breakdown assistance firm had the misfortune to break down in front of the review stand, holding up the parade for about 15 minutes, with their predicament generating much hilarity among the thousands of spectators.

As the spluttering vehicle was pushed to one side, Mayor of Sligo Thomas Healy, among local dignitaries reviewing the parade, mused that at least they didn’t suffer the indignity of having to be towed away by a rival recovery firm.

Almost every other participant had a 1916 theme. Several people were wearing their own interpretation of 1916 attire, while the Proclamation must now be known inside-out by most locals, so often was it recited throughout the day.

O’Hehir’s Bakery Sligo won the overall award for their recreation of Bolands Mills 100 years ago. Parents and pupils from Gaelscoil Chnoc na Ré, who got into the spirit of the event dressing up in 1916 garb, also won a prize.

The impact of 1916 on the wider world was reflected by a banner carried by members of the Indian Association of Sligo saying: “1916 Rising - an Inspiration for India”.

Others went back further in time for their inspiration. The float of the Grange & Armada Development remembered the Spanish Armada vessels which were wrecked off Streedagh beach in north Sligo in 1588.

More contemporary concerns were highlighted by campaigners opposing the transfer of the Aurivo (formerly Connacht Gold) butter packing operation from Achonry, Co Sligo to Co Cork.

The co-operative first opened its doors in Achonry in 1897, almost 20 years before the Easter Rising, and yesterday local people were making it clear they won’t easily let go of that history.

The Mayor, who was joined on the review stand by Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran and recently elected TDs, Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry and Eamon Scanlon and Tony McLoughlin (FG), had just returned from the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Chicago.

“I must be the only Mayor in Ireland who paid for my own flight,” said Cllr Healy (SF), who travelled at the invitation of the Sligo Association in Chicago. “With the state of Sligo County Council’s finances , you couldn’t have it paying,” he stressed.

But having networked with Michael Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, and other business and political leaders in Chicago, he believes the trip was money well spent from his perspective.

“It’s all about meeting people,” he said.

Which seemed to be the attitude of the 25,000 or so who turned out to the Sligo parade, where giant Humpty Dumpty and Spiderman figures were giving those posing as the 1916 leaders a run for their money in the popularity stakes.

Belfast

Thousands of people lined the streets of Belfast to enjoy the family friendly atmosphere at the annual parade.

The sun was shining and the city centre was awash with colour as Lord Mayor Arder Carson led Beat Carnival performers, dancers, musicians and community groups from the grounds of City Hall to a concert at Custom House Square.

The Rainbow City themed event, which kicked off after midday, attracted people from across the cultural spectrum in the North and further afield.

Pipe bands, cheerleaders, street performers and Irish dancers entertained the crowds.

The Lord Mayor said the festivities were all about “the Belfast community and communities around the world”

“I am just back from America, where there was eight days of St Patrick’s Day events,” he said.

“I was fortunate enough to be at President Obama’s reception in Washington but I was delighted to be back in time to lead our city because it is a city I am very proud of for this fantastic carnival today.”

Tourists dressed in green and waving shamrock flags spoke of how special it was to be in Ireland on such a special occasion for people across the island and the rest of the world.

Carmen Sheak from Hong Kong was in Belfast for a working holiday and got a prime position outside City Hall to watch the action unfold.

“It’s very nice,” she said. “I am here for the very big party.”

Significantly sized parades in Northern Ireland are also taking place in Armagh, Derry, Enniskillen, Newry, Omagh and Downpatrick.

The concert at Custom House Square in Belfast features Irish dance group Innova, The Belfast Boys’ Model Drummers and folk group Altagore.

Former Westlife star Brian McFadden is also taking to the stage at the event, headlined by former X-Factor winner Ben Haenow.

Waterford

Waterford’s reputation as a welcoming city was reflected in the colourful, imaginative and culturally diverse St Patrick’s Day parade.

Mayor of Waterford City and County Cllr John Cummins welcomed thousands of spectators to Ireland’s oldest city.

The theme of this year’s parade - Three Sisters 2020: Celebrating Waterford’s Cultural Diversity - ties in with Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford’s bid to win Capital of Culture 2020.

Cllr Cummins said it would be a “game changer” for the region to gain the title.

Grand Marshall and local broadcasting icon Eddie Wymberry kicked off the parade at 1pm in style from his chauffeur-driven green Mercedes.

Waterford Harley Davidson & Celtic Thunder Hog Chapter led over 60 community groups and 15 floats with a thundering roar as they revved their way up the city’s Quay to The Mall.

The diversity of the Waterford Community was brought to life by songs, dance and traditional costumes of the Biafran Community Group, IGBO group, Ukrainian Community, Nigerian Community of Waterford and last year’s winner of Best Community walking entry group - Waterford Filipino Irish Community.

There were some very imaginative entries in this year’s parade. Dressed as Darth Vader, Princess Leia and storm troopers, Kangoo Club Waterford put on an impressive Star Wars-themed performance.

Sister Act even made an appearance belting out Ain’t No Mountain High Enough from the back of a truck.

Boys and girls from various sports and GAA clubs and scout troops across the city wore their colours proudly as they marched while waving Tricolours.

A number of stage schools, martial arts and hockey clubs also brought a high level of energy and enthusiasm to the festivities.

It wouldn’t be St Patrick’s Day without some traditional dance by Waterford Academy of Irish Dance and pre-parade entertainment by the Higgins Academy of Irish Dance.

Spraoi brought their unique creative flair to the parade with their fantastic “monkey business” creation.

The emergency services, including the fire service, along with Waterford Truck Show, brought another great Waterford St Patrick’s Day parade to a close shortly before 3pm.

Ennis

Excitement reached fever pitch ahead of the St Patrick’s Day parade in Ennis as a group of “new Irish” Nigerians burst into their version of Ireland’s Call.

Posing for friends’ photos in the car-park of Clare Co Council’s HQ, where parade participants were gathering, the group decked out in their traditional African garb couldn’t hide their exuberance any longer and spontaneously began to sing “Ireland! Ireland! Together standing tall….’’.

Breaking away from the sing-song, Dr Taiwoo Matthew said: “Today means everything to me. I am very, very proud to be Irish.”

Part of the Association of the Nigerian Community in Clare group, Dr Matthew said: “We are coming out today to identify ourselves as part of the ‘new Irish’. This is our nation and we are recognising today the sacrifices that people have made - especially in this very year celebrating the 100 years of the freedom of this State.”

Living in Ennis for the past 17 years, Dr Matthew said: “We are eternally grateful to those have made such sacrifices for Ireland’s freedom. The only thing we can do is to celebrate our nation, pray for our nation as a people of all races, all colours, all languages united in one.”

Out at the front of the building, the parade’s Grand Marshall, Patrick ‘Pakie’ Wall (97), was busy receiving a Certificate of Recognition from 5th class pupil Anna Whelan, from Ballyea National School, where Pakie attended from 1923 to 1931.

Pakie, from Ballydineen, Kilmihil, in west Clare, was selected as Grand Marshall following a nomination process through Clare County Council for the oldest living person named Patrick in Clare to join Mayor of Ennis Pat Daly in leading the parade in a horse-drawn carriage.

Before being led away in the horse-drawn carriage, Pakie said he was “delighted” to be chosen as Grand Marshall. He said: “It is a great honour.”

The sun may have been shining down on Pakie and the other parade participants today, but the west Clare man was wrapped up well on the chilly St Patrick’s morning.

More than 10,000 people lined the streets of Ennis to give Pakie and the more than 50 groups participating in the parade a great reception.

The parade was light on floats but heavy on community involvement, as groups from across the county participated, including Clare Youth Theatre, the Clare Older People’s Council and the Ennis Brass Band.

One of the floats to feature was from Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, celebrating the return of the All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil to Ennis - expected to attract 400,000 people to the town in August.

Kerry

Parades in Kerry basked in sunshine and huge crowds. The green of the traffic lights in Killarney were turned into green shamrocks, while buildings went green overnight.

The Killarney parade took a number of hours to file past the viewing stand and was one of the largest and most diverse in recent years, with themes from the soon-to-be-opened Killarney House and Gardens, revamped by the OPW, to election victors the Healy-Raes and Star Wars.

Themed past, present and future, the grand marshal of the Killarney parade was born in 1913 - three years before 1916.

Michael O’Connor, who lives in Muckross, was a radio operator in the second World War with the Merchant Navy. He survived the sinking of his ship by a German U-boat and his was one of the few ships to escape the Japanese in the Bay of Bengal. The father of five is still active and enjoys gardening and driving.

A number of displays focused on “The Healy-Raes”, with one banner advising: “Enda Healy-Rae: if you can’t beat them, join them!”Another contribution saw Miriam O’Callaghan chasing Danny Healy-Rae for an interview.

St Oliver’s national School in Ballycasheen drew applause for its “Star Wars on Skellig Michael” float, on which pupils dressed in silver sci-fi and teachers followed, “cowled” in moss-green 7th century monk’s costume.

Vintage cars as well as jaunting cars also took part.

IFA presidential candidate Flor McCarthy entered a live sheep float with mother sheep and her new spring lambs - looking for the No1 vote.

The town was thronged with visitors from elsewhere in Ireland as well as France, Australia, Sweden, the US and the UK.

Tralee’s prominent parade theme was medieval, with knights in shining armour jousting with local gardaí.

The parade this year marked the town’s Anglo-Norman roots, and was the first event to celebrate the 1216 foundation of Tralee.

Ethnic communities put on proud displays and the grand marshall was Special Olympic gold medal winner local swimmer Brendan O’Connell.

The Kingdom Wheelblasters, young wheelchair basketballers, drew loud applause for their first appearance in Tralee.

Meanwhile, the earliest parades in the country took place in west Kerry. The Gaeltacht village of Baile na nGall, known also as Ballydavid, stole a march on its bilingual neighbour Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis, traditionally the earliest parade in the country.

Baile na nGall’s midnight march, with pikes and burning sods carried through the seaside village, attracted about 100 onlookers and was led by Seán Breandán Ó Conchúir of Tigh TPs.

Dingle’s 6am march, led by Dingle Fife and Drum, began as usual at Ashmount, alongside the old hospital high over the town.

The pre-dawn march derives from the time when Irish music was not allowed during daylight hours.

About 600 people turned out for the march, which was followed with 7am Mass at St Mary’s Church.

Cork

Pride of place at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Cork went to people celebrating their 100th birthday this year, as Cork City Council tied the festivities in with the centenary of the Easter Rising.

VIP centenarians included Mary McGrath from Barrack Street and Josephine Mac Sweeney from Farnnanes.

The parade was led out by actors representing the seven signatories of the Proclamation. They re-enacted scenes from 1916 and Patrick Pearse’s oration at the grave of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.

The parade took a madcap turn as members of Dowtcha Puppetry company enacted their take on the legacy from the nation’s forefathers. The parade also featured a 10 foot high puppet of Patrick Pearse reading the Proclamation.

The Rebel city chose 1916 - The Legacy as its theme for the parade, which got under way at 1pm from South Mall going up St Patrick’s Street and finishing at Merchant’s Quay. Some 3,000 people participated in the parade.

A wide range of groups from Canada and the US took part in the event this year, with representatives of the Massachusetts State Police, Colorado’s Sandy Hill High Court and a Canadian Police band called the Timmins Police Pipes and Drums.

A foxy float of freckled redheads was among the livelier entrants in the parade. The float was organised by members of the Irish Redhead Convention – the annual wacky celebration of red hair – which takes place in Crosshaven, Co Cork every August. Cancer survivors also pulled a dragon float through the main thoroughfare.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Chris O’Leary, said it is a great privilege to be in his position in the centenary year.

“Representing this great city throughout the year has been a great privilege for me and my family. We have so many people coming in to the city. We have so many visitors moving around the city in the last day or two. It is a great opportunity for us to showcase Ireland and Cork city in particular.”

The St Patrick’s festival will continue over the next three days. The streets of Cork will be awash with mime artists, jugglers and magicians from around the world while live music will be played on a stage at the Grand Parade.

Musical acts include The Roaring Forties, Suzie Q, Los Paddys de la Pampas a fusion of Celtic roots with South American rhythm and the popular Two Time Polka.

There will also be creative workshops in Bishop Lucey Park and a food and crafts market on Grand Parade.

Meanwhile in the county, parades took place in, amongst other locations, Blarney, Ballincollig, Cobh, Mallow and Carrigaline.

Blarney MC Joe O’Callaghan said large numbers of people arrive in the town after the main parade in Cork city has ended. He said he was heartened by the effort put in by locals into the organisation of the parade.

“The local schools and the Gaeilscoil have all done their bit to make this a very significant and memorable parade.”

Limerick

Pop duo Jedward sent St Patrick on his “flying way” at this year’s Limerick parade.

Aerial dance company Fidget Feet ensured spectators were enthralled as Ireland’s patron saint was whisked up into the air at the end of the parade, which starred the famous twins.

Dressed in gold blazers and with their trademark blond spiked hair, Edward and John have strong family ties to Limerick, including their granduncle Vincent Feeney, who was once the mayor of the city.

More than 80,000 spectators soaked up the spring sunshine and carnival atmosphere at Ireland’s largest regional parade, where Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival won the prize for best performance.

The Workhouse Studio won the Best Youth Group award after wooing spectators with their giant puppet and a host of colourful costumes, while Limerick City Rhythm Band won Best Musical Performance.

The Martin Folan award for Best Creative Entry went to West End Youth Centre, whose imaginative entry saw members dressed up as the Rubberbandits.

Parade Grand Marshal, local actor Myles Breen, led more than 4,000 participants from 100 different community groups, companies, bands and sports clubs from across Limerick and Ireland for the parade.

This theme for this year’s event was was Commemorate, celebrating Limerick’s legacy, its people and its places.

Other parade participants included The Fanzini Brothers, Danger Boy, Outside the Box, Flying Wheels, Clown Noir and Passepartout, along with a wide range of local performance groups.

“Today was all about celebrating the rich cultural heritage of Limerick City and County as well as Ireland’s National Day. This year’s Easter Rising Centenary has afforded all of us to reflect on this country’s achievements,” said Cllr Liam Galvin, Mayor of Limerick City and County.

“Those who helped to create the Republic we know and cherish today would be proud of the vibrant, diverse and multicultural society we have become today as evidenced in the faces and celebratory mood of the many thousands who lined the route of this year’s Limerick St Patrick’s Day Parade,” he added.

The Limerick St Patrick’s Festival continues this coming Sunday from noon, when 1,200 musicians from 18 groups, including a 280-strong marching band from the University of Missouri, take part in the 46th Limerick International Band Championship.

Ireland’s only international band competition will see groups from the US, Northern Ireland, Kerry, Limerick, Westmeath, Donegal, Dublin, Tipperary and Cork parade from Pery Square and down O’Connell Street to Arthurs Quay.