Pressing issues afloat as local groups bolster St Patrick's Day parades

Tue, Mar 13, 2012, 00:00

A sense of community is at the heart of parades being organised in villages and towns

DUBLIN MAY have the St Patrick’s Day parade that dominates the headlines abroad, but up and and down the country there are parades of varying sizes in towns and villages which are organised by local people who put extraordinary amounts of work into them. Dublin has the national parade, but everywhere else it’s all about the local, and about community.

Loughglynn in Co Roscommon is a lakeside village between Castlerea and Ballaghaderreen with a population of some 212. It has never had a St Patrick’s Day parade before, but 2012 is the year the village finally gets one. It’s all due to a group of 15 local young people, aged between 12 and 16, who have organised the event between them.

Ten members of the Loughglynn Foróige Club assemble in the village’s community hall, with some of their leaders. When they had brainstormed on what to do for their annual citizenship project, Stephie Hannelly (15) had come up with the idea to bring the first St Patrick’s Day parade to Loughglynn.

“The village had no band, so maybe that’s why we never had a parade before,” says Hugh Lynn, chairman of the local Tidy Towns association.

The group started the planning last November, and have met each Friday night since then to work on the project. They’ve been supervised by their adult leaders, but one of these, Roseanna Hanley, says all the graft has been done solely by the students.

Loughglynn has two pubs, two small groceries, a hair salon, post office, garage and funeral home. All the businesses were approached about the idea, with the garage being the first stop, through which the group managed to source vintage cars and tractors for the parade. The man in charge there had “loads of contacts”, says Jean Flanagan (15).

The group is hoping to have some 20 floats from the village, all told. Like the best rural parades, some of the floats have specific local references. “We have one float about the Roscommon Hospital issue,” Aaron Woods (14), says. There will also be a float protesting about the restriction on turf-cutting – while the most unusual one will surely be what’s being referred to as the “Dublin people float”. Several people from the capital have come to live in the area, and they’re making their mark by making their own float.

Most people are doing everything for free, but there are some unavoidable costs for the day, mainly associated with insurance. As a fundraiser, the students designed, printed and distributed 30 cards featuring a blurred black-and-white childhood photograph of a well-known adult villager. Guessing the person’s identity costs €2 through buying a line on the cards. It’s been a very simple and effective way of raising cash.

In the autumn, the village holds a dancing festival called the Queen of the Woodlands. Anna Reid (19), last year’s queen, will head the parade in a horse-drawn carriage. Also in the parade will be members of the 56th Infantry Battalion from Boyle, the local national school, the playschool, the badminton, fishing, darts, soccer, boxing and GAA clubs, the active retirement group – and the local fire engine.

The only concern Loughglynn Foróige now have is that they have been so successful at galvanising interest and participation from virtually every member of the community that they’ll all actually be in the parade itself. They’re hoping, therefore, that people from surrounding towns and villages will come to support them, as the parade might have no spectators otherwise. It looks as if the entire population of Loughglynn, young and old, will be proudly marching up and down their one street on March 18th.

Meanwhile, last month, the Laois Nationalistran a story headed “Parade’s future in doubt”. The necessary funding of €12,000 to run the Portlaoise St Patrick’s Day parade had not yet been raised, and the article surmised that this year could be the last.

“We have since raised what we need, but who knows about next year?” says Jack Nolan in the town’s Square Meal cafe. He’s the spokesman for the 15-member parade committee, which has been meeting every week since Christmas. The parade gets €2,000 from the town council, but all the rest of the funding has to be raised via street collections, pub quizzes and other events. “Seven years ago we did a bucket collection on the street and raised €4,300. This year we did the same and the amount was €2,000.”

Bands can be a major cost to any parade. “There’s no school band in Portlaoise,” Nolan explains. Last year they spent €5,000 on three bands from Northern Ireland.

Insurance and crowd barriers all cost money. Portlaoise is a town with narrow streets, and the parade had attracted 20,000 spectators last year. “If you want to put in your float, it has to be pulled by a vintage tractor or a small vehicle. We did away with the ‘artics’. They were too big for the streets here.” The Portlaoise parade is at 3pm on the 17th to accommodate two other local parades in Mountrath and Mountmellick at noon and 2pm. People travel around to try and see as much as they can.

“St Patrick’s day is the one day of the year that the whole community comes out. The place is thronged. It gives the local community a chance to participate. It’s not a business parade, even though businesses put floats in it. A lot of people are doing things in isolation in the town, but they all come together in the parade.”

This year Portlaoise is hoping to have upwards of 60 floats. The theme is one of colour, with a charity fundraising element for Laois and Offaly Families with Autism. People are buying degradable balloons for €3 to be released from a float on the day, with all monies going to the group. “We’re trying to give out less, and do more,” as Patricia Hanly, a committee member, says. “We’re in a recession, but we’re trying to get the feel-good factor back into Portlaoise.”

BACK ON PARADE DOONBEG ON THE MARCH AGAIN AFTER 57 YEARS

The last St Patrick’s Day parade in the village of Doonbeg in west Clare, population 200, was in 1955.

This year, it is being revived as part of a community initiative by the Doonbeg Enterprise Group.

Tommy Comerford, who is co-ordinating the group, explains why: “Doonbeg is a seaside village suffering from a deep recession like many other places in the country, and we recently formed a discussion group about how we could showcase our community,” he says.

The village has four pubs, two of which offer food, a stand-alone restaurant, two grocery shops and a salon.

The last time a St Patrick’s Day parade marched through Doonbeg, it was led by the local fife and drum band.

“The parade lapsed after 1955 because there was so much emigration,” says Mr Comerford. “There was no work in the area and the majority of the band emigrated, so it broke up. Parades need a band.”

So far, the organising committee has had what Mr Comerford describes as “a fantastic response. It’s all about community. We have to remind people to support their own place. If you don’t have a village with a soul, you have nothing. We can feel the buzz building already.”

One of Doonbeg’s 200 residents is mayor Pádraig Haugh. He was elected some years ago and will be the parade’s grand marshal.

“He’ll be in a horse and carriage, waving to the people as the queen would,” says Comerford.

Around 150 children from all five primary schools in the area (one in the village, and four others in the parish) will march too. One of the schools, Baltard, had 80 pupils a century ago but now has only four, and is threatened with closure.

Other participants include groups representing the Tidy Towns committee, the local jazz festival, a drama society, local development, the regatta, bridge club and GAA football club.

“We’re hoping to have about 25 floats,” says Mr Comerford.

The parade is being held at noon on the 18th because Doonbeg doesn’t want to compete with neighbouring Kilrush and Kilkee, who will be marching at noon and 3pm the previous day.

A surviving member of the fife and drum band that marched in the last parade in 1955, Johnny Purcell, will march again through Doonbeg, in memory of former band-members, who have passed away or long since emigrated from Clare.