St Patrick's events around the world
New York: New York is a diverse city. Thus, while the Fifth Avenue festivities were winding down yesterday, another St Patrick’s event was kicking off uptown.
With the slogan “a new party, a new way,” the alcohol-free afternoon of Irish music and dance was geared towards families and people in recovery from alcoholism. This was “Sober St Patrick’s Day.” It was sold out.
“We’re tired of the negative stereotypes of public drunkenness taking away from the holiday,” said Maura Kelly, a television executive who helped to launch the event.
“We tried to create something that was totally devoid of alcohol and would really focus on St Patrick and the culture.” Another TV executive, William Spencer Reilly, is the founder – he lost a family member to addiction seven years ago.
This was the first year of the sober St. Patrick’s celebration and Kelly said it had received warm support from the Irish community.
Celebrations were taking place outside the city as well. In Shenorock, a small town in greater New York, Mae Collins marked her 107th birthday. The oldest of ten children and originally from Mayo, she had emigrated when she was 17.
Her close friend Bernie Cummins described what she thought kept Mrs Collins going. “She’s just such a lady. No matter who takes care of her she’s always appreciative and just a wonderful person.” She added, “We always say, the tough Irish!”
Sydney: Around 100,000 people lined the streets of Sydney today for the city’s first St Patrick’s Day parade in two years.
The 2011 parade was cancelled due to a storm, but the autumn sun shone bright on Sydney this year.
The procession, which took an hour to pass the viewing stand at Town Hall in the city centre, featured marchers from GAA clubs, Irish-Australian businesses, Irish dancing schools, several floats with a Book of Kells theme, pipe bands and county associations.
Co Clare woman Catherine Crosse, who is president of the Sydney St Patrick's Day Parade, says the event is a labour of love.
“We’re the custodians of our culture. When we go abroad we’re the ambassadors of Ireland. It’s wonderful, when you are received so well in your adopted world, to be able to do something like that,” she said.
Guest of honour at the parade was Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, who criticised the “cynicism” of those who say Government ministers should not travel for St Patrick’s Day.
“I have no time for that sort of corrosive cynicism. I think we need to get away from that in Ireland,” said Mr Shatter, who has already met Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, New Zealand prime minister John Key, and attended several other functions since Thursday.
“Myself and my colleagues in Government are working extremely hard to promote Ireland, to make contact with Irish people abroad.”
Newly appointed Irish ambassador to Australia, Noel White, and consul general Caitríona Ingoldsby also attended the parade.
After the parade was over, tens of thousands of revellers went to Hyde Park, where there was Irish food, drink and music, and 43 Irish people became Australians in a citizenship ceremony.
On St Patrick’s night, the sails of the Sydney Opera House were lit up in green. Permission had only been granted two days earlier, following an initial refusal, after concerted pressure from MPs on the cross-party Parliamentary Friends of Ireland group.
Asia: There are serious sensitivities about public gatherings in China – last year the St Patrick’s Day parades were banned in mainland China because of a wide scale ban on demonstrations, but this year scaled down events went ahead and Chengdu even staged its first ever parade.
More than 160 people turned out for the inaugural St Patrick’s Day parade in the Sichuan provincial capital, which was organised by the Chengdu Ireland Association.
Which is quite a turnout given that only 30 Irish people live in this western Chinese city of 13 million people, and the remaining numbers were made up of locals and friends.
“We knew we had to tread carefully and respectfully, particularly when the parade passed through Tian Fu Square and under the shadow of a giant Chairman Mao statue,” said the organisers.
“But the policemen’s jaws hit the ground when they saw us coming, clad in leprechaun garb, bagpipes and kilts, green faces and flags,” they said.
Despite initial skepticism, the event went ahead and by the end, the police were even joining in the singing.
Shanghai’s parade was also restored this year, and took place on Saturday, with local entrepreneur Brendan Brophy donning the Grand Marshall’s jacket, and featuring marching bands from local international schools, Irish dancers from Chinese universities, assorted Irish expatriates and diplomats as well as two Irish-Chinese dragons and the children of the Irish community group in Shanghai, Le Chéile.
“I’ve had a lot of Chinese people come and ask me questions about Ireland today,” he continued “and it shows that there is a huge amount of interest in our country over here,” said Eoin Murphy, director.
After the parade, 800 of Shanghai’s most influential socialites attended the 6th St Patrick’s Charity Ball in Shangri La Hotel overlooking the city’s historic Bund. The Oriental Pearl Tower was lit up in green for the occasion.
Elsewhere in the region, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin attended Singapore’s seventh St Patrick’s Day parade, which this year was held in association with the Down Syndrome Association of Singapore to mark World Down Syndrome Day. Among the dignitaries visiting were Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary.
The celebrations included a tour of the city-state’s Old Parliament House, which was designed by the Irish architect, G.D. Coleman, and built in 1827.
Paris: One of the most famous vistas on the Côte d’Azur turned green at the weekend when the facade of the Palace of Monaco was specially illuminated for St Patrick’s Day.
Prince Albert II, joined by Ireland’s ambassador to France and Monaco, Paul Kavanagh, turned on the lights at a special ceremony on Saturday night before hosting a reception and concert to celebrate links between Ireland and the principality.
There was no St Patrick’s Day parade in Paris, but the dozens of Irish pubs across the city were brimming with Irish and French customers all weekend - their numbers swelled by Ireland’s Six Nations rugby match against England on Saturday afternoon.
At the Irish Cultural Centre, the Cois Cladaigh choir - celebrating its 30th anniversary - performed to a sell-out crowd on Friday, and the following night at the Église Saint-Séverin in the Latin Quarter.
The focus of St Patricks’ week events in France was on promoting tourism and investment, and spreading the Government’s message about Ireland’s chances of recovery.
RUADHÁN MAC CORMAIC
Moscow: Folk danced a wave of the Irish sea along Moscow’s most-loved street Stary Arbat, with thousands of Russians turning it into “Stary Arpatrick”, which looked more like like Killorglin during Puck Fair than the centre of Europe’s largest city.
Muscovites dressed as swirling druids and warriors with Irish wolfhounds straining at the leash danced jigs and reels on the street - with throngs of locals bedecked in seemingly anything green they could find.
The cancellation of the annual parade last year over fears of traffic disruption from a new City Hall regime led to a joint Russian/Irish-organised parade for the first time ever – involving the Irish Embassy, Irish Business Club and Russian cultural foundation Veresk.
Official Russian approval this year was clear and firm: the marching band was from the FSB - successor to the KGB – whose lighting pace down the street required a very clear head from those behind to keep pace with the action.
A rather different band of Russians who dress as Fionn MacCumhaills on stilts didn’t have the skyline to themselves this year, but the confrontation with Macnas, flown in by Culture Ireland for the event to the delight of surprised locals, was entirely peaceful. The Irish giants included a frog, a hare and a fish – with not a Celtic tiger in sight.
A cheering crowd danced to the music of long-time Muscovitre Tony Watkins from Dungannon and a local school choir, Cork band band Deluce’s Patent, Moscow band Later, and the Rowsome family from Dublin.
Half of the Foggy Dew band from Rostov-on-Don – a mere 26 hours train-ride from Moscow – made it from an all-night session with lead singer Sasha Dzalashov and button box-player Grisha Polovinka belting out tunes as if they were just out of bed, rather than being on their way to it. Neither have been to Ireland.
“Luke Kelly and Liam Clancy are my heroes, while Tony McMahon and Joe Burke the accordion-players are Grisha’s”, said the barrel-chested Dzalashov, the face of Irish music in much of Russia.
Despite there being only a few hundred Irish in Russia, love of Irish culture is deep among Russians – with a host of weekend concerts and gigs across Moscow and other cities, as well as an Irish Film Festival.
Irish ambassador Philip McDonagh welcomed newly-arrived US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul at the main official evening event, the Emerald Ball, before a stirring trilingual speech including Irish, English and Russian was given by parade organiser and Irish Business Club president Avril Conroy.
“We’re only a small community here, but I had a lump in my throat when I saw the huge crowds of Russians come out once again – to turn Moscow into a part of Ireland for the day,” she said.
Brussels: A couple of hundred Irish people and an assortment of international onlookers gathered in Brussels to see Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney unveil a new Irish costume on the Menneken-Pis, the best-known statue in the city.
The monument of a little boy urinating in a pond has been decked out in costumes to for hundreds of years to celebrate nations, individuals and festivals.
This was the second St Patrick’s Day in succession for Ireland to dress the statue in green trousers, an Aran jumper and a tweed cap.
While the event in 2011 marking the occasion on which Ireland became the final EU country to do the honours, Mr Coveney expressed the hope that the event will become an annual fixture.
There was good cheer in abundance around the Manneken-Pis yesterday but the Minister acknowledged Belgium’s sorrow over the loss 22 children and six adults in a bus crash in Switzerland last week.
“Belgium is going through a very difficult weekend, I’m very conscious of that, so we’ve changed our plans somewhat,” Mr Coveney said.
“We didn’t for example keep the green lights on the Town Hall – I asked that they be turned off last night.” The Brussels event was the culmination of a three-country tour in which Mr Coveney visited the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
“This year has been a really good opportunity for people to come together and think about Ireland and talk about Ireland as they always do,” he said.
“It’s been an opportunity for me to update people on what we’ve done in the last year to take things forward and I think as a result of that people can be an awful lot more optimistic about where we’re going.”
The Irish community in Brussels held a parade and sports day to mark the St Patrick’s festivities eight days ago at Parc Cinquantenaire, a park near the European quarter in the city.
Spain: In Madrid, the Cibeles fountain - one of the city’s most important monuments - turned green on Friday night, while a Spanish version of Brian Friel’s ‘Faith Healer’ had its opening night at the city’s Teatro Guindalera.
Irish-related events were held all across the country. The whole town of Moraira on the Costa Blanca went green for the St Patrick’s Weekend Music Festival, as did the main square in the city of Salamanca - where the first Irish College in Spain was founded by King Philip II in 1592.
Barcelona hosted the 4th Mediterranean Currach Regatta, while in the Galician town of Pontevedra the day was marked by a festival organised by the local rugby team.
One of the biggest gatherings was a sell-out charity ball hosted in Madrid by the Spanish-Irish Business Network.
Almost €30,000 was raised for the Barretstown Children’s Charity, which will give Spanish children suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses the chance to travel to Ireland to benefit from therapeutic recreation programmes.
Guests including Spanish Minister for Agriculture Miguel Arias Cañete, who studied at Trinity College Dublin, and Ireland’s ambassador to Spain, Justin Harman.
Estimates suggest about 80,000 Irish people own homes in Spain, and 2,000 Irish citizens are registered in Madrid alone.
RUADHÁN MAC CORMAIC