‘Great Irish welcome’ dampened by weather

But revellers still turn out to witness artistic spectacle

Performers make their way down O'Connell Street Dublin during the St Patrick's Day Parade. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Performers make their way down O'Connell Street Dublin during the St Patrick's Day Parade. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Forget the booze, the leprechauns and the Irish dancers – if there’s one thing that typifies the Irish, it’s an ability to make a breaking news story out of the weather. And if social media was anything to go by, this morning’s flurries of snow did not bode well for revellers planning on attending today’s St Patrick’s Day parade or for the organisers themselves.

And judging by the crowds in attendance, the snow did have some impact; while, in previous years, crowds have been 30-deep against the barriers by 11am, today’s attendees were still trickling in at 11.50am, cutting it fine for the parade’s predicted start time of midday.

This being Ireland, though, it would be ambitious to expect an on-time departure, and things didn’t truly kick off until President Michael D Higgins was in place (12.10pm) and the Lord Mayor and family - including two-week old baby Caoilfhionn – had arrived on the mayoral carriage (12.20pm).

In keeping with 2013 being the year of the Gathering, the theme of this year’s parade was “great things happen when we get together”, and it was interpreted in a variety of ways by the artistic, dance and theatre companies that had pageants on today’s route.

Wexford’s Buí Bolg kicked off the artistic demonstrations with the first of two pageants that made a nod to the great Irish welcome. The first had an enormous jumper and featured performers doling out hugs and kisses, while the second was about the voyage, with enormous suitcases representing the diaspora that will (hopefully) be visiting the Emerald Isle this year.

Travel was on the minds of the performers with the Inishowen Carnival Group, whose pageant, “Get Here”, demonstrated the many ways to make it back to Ireland for the Gathering. In fact, transport itself was big business in today’s parade, with a group from the French navy ship De Grasse heading up the parade, more than one ship on show from Spraoi and City Fusion, and a pageant from the Clancy Brothers, “Around the World in 8 Planes”, featuring bicycle planes circling a large globe.

There were others who chose to take their themes away from beneath the shadow of the Gathering; Artastic used the opportunity to talk about the toys of yore, with the world’s largest rag doll being encircled by 120 participants dressed as dolls, robots, Lego characters and more.

Another of the parade’s most impressive and thought-provoking pageants came from Spraoi, with an eerie ode to the Antarctic expedition led by Ernest Shackleton, featuring a slew of explorers struggling through the parade route through snow and sub-zero temperatures, something to which the crowd could perhaps relate.

It’s always a parade of two very distinct halves: the Irish participants demonstrating a culture steeped in art, music and folklore; and a North American contingent of marching bands putting us to shame with their white-whites, their military precision and their careful attention to detail. There were two brass-heavy versions of Danny Boy, but it wasn’t so much the tune that was the focus – Cedar Rapids High School marching band from Iowa was almost mesmerising in its uniformity, while Purdue “All-American” Marching Band, from Indianapolis, was the largest in the parade.

Still, there is something equally charming about the Clondalkin Youth Band, which celebrates 24 years of marching in the St Patrick’s Day parade today with a performance that was impressive not just for the skill involved, but for the considerable effort put into matching the Americans, smile for smile.

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