Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day parade embraces march madness

An Olympic medallist, Alsatian farmers and a pirate queen all featured in this year’s event

When President Michael D Higgins looked up from his grandstand seat on O'Connell Street as the Dublin St Patrick's Day parade got under way, he might have been surprised to see an Ann Summers shop looming large instead of his traditional view of the GPO.

To accommodate the Luas extension works on the capital’s main street, the St Patrick’s Festival organisers rerouted the parade, sending it down the Clery’s side of the street instead of the GPO side.

As a result, the lingerie shop was impossible to miss as the marching bands and floats sailed passed the President.

However, he didn’t look perturbed by his racy new view and was all smiles as the parade kicked off to the sound of the boys from the Number One Army Band still playing Galway Bay.

Many of the 100,000 or so people lining the parade’s route had been in position for hours to ensure the best view.

Treasa Dunne, from Kilcullen, Co Kildare, was among them. She had arrived before 10am and was happy enough with her spot near the Happy Ring House.

“I’ve only been here two hours so it’s not so bad,” she said.

The parade’s theme was “Ireland you are . . .”, with all of the floats expected to finish the sentence in a creative way.

Dunne didn’t hesitate when asked for her ending.

“Ireland you are the people and the craic,” she said.

Aga Daly, from Poland, has been living in Skerries for 12 years. This year was the first time she had secured a front row place on O’Connell Street for the parade, having arrived three hours before kick-off. Her expectations were high.

“I am hoping to see an amazing, wondrous parade,” she said.

“Ireland you are my country now,” she responded, when asked to finish the sentence of the day.

The "Ireland you are . . . " theme was inspired by a poem by poet Stephen James Smith.

He gave a frank response when asked by the MCs charged with entertaining the crowd near the main viewing stand if he was happy with the response to his work.

“Yeah, well, they paid me anyway so that is the main thing,” he said.

Grand marshal

Grand marshal Annalise Murphy, the Irish sailor and Olympic silver medallist, was all waves as she led the parade.

She was followed by a zippy Clondalkin Youth Band, who were honoured with the Spirit of the Parade Award on what was their 30th appearance at the event.

The Buí Bolg group led the floats with an effort called “Ireland, you are a tapestry”, featuring a long piece of cloth, a 35ft tailor and some amazing acrobatics.

“Ireland you are Grace O’Malley, Pirate Queen” followed soon after, with Grace O’Malley dancing on stilts and sitting in a big box of doubloons.

The “Ireland you are full of stories” float from Spraoi was stunning. It starred a beautiful swan and a shimmering salmon of knowledge.

When the Dekalb High School’s Marching Barbs passed by, one of the MCs explained they were called the Marching Barbs “because they are from the home of barbed wire”.

“Fun fact,” his co-MC said, perhaps a tad too drily.

“I know, I am really boring,” he responded, and for a moment the parade turned into a First Dates segment, one which was not going terribly well.

The Fränkeschränzer Bubendorf Marching Band from Switzerland wore massive puppet heads as they played a jaunty tune.

The heads were a spoof on Alsatian farmers, and while incomprehensible to an Irish crowd, they were enough to win the group a prize for being the best adult band.

The award for best overall band went to the Illinois State University’s Big Red Marching Machine. who broke into a full-throated rendition of Hey Baby, much to the crowd’s delight .

Less delightful was the driving rain which came next.

As the last of the cyclists from the Dublin Cycling Campaign passed, the crowd dispersed, with many seeking the shelter of pubs all over the city.

By 5pm, the route was cleared. By that stage, had anyone asked what had taken place, they would almost certainly have received a drunk answer.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast