/ 18 March 2007

Irish revellers celebrate St Patrick’s Day around world

Hundreds of thousands of revellers throughout Ireland and across the world celebrated St Patrick’s Day on Saturday with colourful parades and other festivities.

The feast day of Ireland’s patron saint, when much Guinness and other alcohol is traditionally drunk, showcases the country to give an early kick-start to the country’s tourism season.

The festival generates an estimated €60-million in tourism revenue, culminating in the capital with a televised parade watched by an estimated worldwide audience of six million.

It is now Dublin’s biggest annual event, but many other countries hold their own parties, especially those where the Irish have settled. Up to two million were expected on the streets of New York despite freezing temperatures.

St Patrick’s Day is one of the most recognised national holidays on the global calendar and is an excuse to party from Pretoria to Paris, Warsaw and Washington.

Even reclusive North Korea sent greetings to Irish President Mary McAleese, while in China, Shanghai was also holding its first official St Patrick’s Day party.

Mingling with the crowds on Dublin’s streets was Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, just back from Washington where he had presented United States President George Bush with the traditional bowl of shamrock in the White House.

”It is great to see all our new Irish all dressed up in green. They all come out and enjoy our St Patrick’s Day and that’s nice,” Ahern said, referring to the many immigrants attracted by Ireland’s economic boom.

Thousands of Irish rugby fans, known as the ”Blarney Army”, were meanwhile in Rome for the crunch Six Nations match against Italy, giving vent in the Flaminio stadium to such traditional songs as Molly Malone and Fields of Athenry.

They were rewarded with a crushing 51-24 victory to put the title in sight for Ireland for the first time in 22 years.

In Sydney, where a large proportion of the population claims Irish ancestry and which has a sizeable expatriate community, revellers were out in force even though official St Patrick’s Day celebrations were held last week.

In Belgium, a Northern Ireland brass band was to lead the first-ever St Patrick’s Day parade through the Menin Gate at Ypres to remember Irish soldiers from both sides of the border who died during World War I.

After centuries of emigration, an estimated 70-million people worldwide claim an Irish connection.

But McAleese, who reviewed the Dublin parade as it passed down O’Connell Street, the capital’s main thoroughfare, said in her St Patrick’s Day greeting that immigrants from ”many far-off shores” are adding greatly to Ireland’s ”legendary cultural buoyancy”.

Dublin’s parade came with a multicultural theme involving substantial contributions from the new immigrant communities, and up to 500 000 people lined the route as it snaked through the centre of the city.

The 4 000 people involved in the parade included visiting performing groups from Europe, India, Africa and the US.

In New York, about 150 000 people, many with faces painted green, were to march in the 246th annual parade of marching bands and pipers down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The parade has been dogged by controversy in recent years, notably over excluding openly gay marchers, and has again hit trouble this year.

The head of the organising committee sparked a furore by moving New York firefighters from their traditional spot at the front of the parade down the ranks, complaining that the firefighters always showed up drunk.

In Sydney, the annual parade attracted about 60 000 people, while the Tokyo Tower, the tallest structure in Japan and a major tourist attraction, turned green late on Saturday.

Almost 11% of Ireland’s workforce are immigrants attracted to the country’s prosperity — a result of the so-called Celtic Tiger economic boom in recent years.

Amid the dancing and drinking, Ireland’s Roman Catholic Primate, Archbishop Sean Brady, reminded people to acknowledge the importance of St Patrick.

The patron saint, whose feast day has been in the Christian calendar since the ninth century, is credited with converting the country to Christianity and to have baptised thousands, ordained priests and set up churches and monasteries. — Sapa-AFP