From Celtic to Celtic Tiger, themes as bewildering as ever

Marching bands had woollies, but, thankfully, much is as you were, writes Rosita Boland.

Highlights from the St Patrick's Day celebrations in Dublin. The theme of this year’s parade was Let’s Make History. Video: Bryan O'Brien and Daniel O'Connor.

Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 13:44

This year’s Dublin parade was the first of a trilogy, collectively entitled Past, Present and Future . For 2014, which focused on the past, the theme was Let’s Make History . It was an apt title, because by noon, before a single marching band or float had passed the GPO, history of a kind had already been made. There had been no rain (mere drizzle doesn’t count), hailstones or freezing wind, which are the usual trio of meteorological gifts St Patrick has bestowed upon his people watching the Dublin parade in the past.

Once President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina had taken their seats in the main grandstand, along with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and several ambassadors, the parade started. There are several grandstands along O’Connell Street, and the one in which you are allocated a seat depends on how grand you are. ( The Irish Times was in grandstand number four.)

One of the first parade participants out was St Patrick himself, dressed in traditional green robes and distinctive modern German sandals. He was swiftly followed by a vehicular Tricolour, in the form of three pairs of green, white and orange Mini cars, forming a kind of flag on wheels. The parade’s grand marshall, cyclist Stephen Roche, was driven by in a powder-blue vintage Rolls Royce.

Early favourites with the crowds were the Garda service dogs and horses. The five horses and riders got their very own escort, in the form of a Dublin City Council worker, who followed in their wake with the equipment necessary to clear up swiftly after any unexpected equine bathroom break. Although his costume amounted to no more than his regulation high-vis vest, he got one of the loudest cheers of the day.

The marching bands still make magnificently loud music, but these days they dress more sensibly. The scores of members of the Oklahoma Owasso High School Marching Band wore trousers. Other bands added woolly hats to their uniforms. The Coronado High School Mustang Band from Texas had hoodies.

Apart from a few token fishnet tights and leotards from members of the Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band, it can be reported that multiple visiting bare legs no longer suffer in the name of St Patrick.

Kildare-based Artastic street theatre company brought neon brightness, vibrancy and imagination. Let’s Make History Colourful was the name of their charming Celtic-themed pageant of round towers and illuminated books.

Cork group Dowtcha, tackling the Celtic Tiger, passed by with appropriate chaos. Floats depicted mobile phone masts, bags of money perpetually on the move and a horde of builders, developers and bankers, all chasing after each other. Something resembling a black-and-white cow took up the rear, but no cash was visible in its vicinity.

There were mermaids in the Inishowen Carnival Group. Samuel Beckett popped up in the Dublin Brighter Futures parade. Butterflies, specimen collectors and the Natural History Museum was the theme of the Buí Bolg performance, with two aerialists visible inside a giant specimen bottle.

What does it all have to do with St Patrick? After so many years, does it even matter? Ireland’s national St Patrick’s Day parade remains the same consoling mixture of community pageant, visiting percussion, animals, small children, vintage cars, mayoral coaches and the frankly bewildering as ever.

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