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The country celebrates, perhaps a little too well | Print |  Email
Sunday, 21 March 2004

We all enjoyed fine weather for the St Patrick's Day parades which were held in cities, towns and villages around the country. After attending Mass in the Pro-Cathedral President Mary McAleese reviewed the Dublin parade, which this year had a European theme; ten additional states become full EU members on May 1. The parade was led by Miss World Rosanna Davison but one of the most popular participants was a pipe band from Madrid.

In Killarney, New York comedian Denis Leary, son of Kerry emigrants, led the parade as Grand Marshall. The Limerick parade, which had sport as its theme, was led by the University of Limerick champion women's basketball team. The ever popular and outspoken Dustin the Turkey was at the head of Cork parade. Tralee hosted a multicultural event, and the Irish Times reported that tiny Clare Island, off the Mayo coast, had a sizable parade with six floats. Galwegians were treated to a parade which included a re-enactment of the Battle of Knockdoe, which took place 500 years ago. Most of the larger parades had bands from overseas. In our case we had the New Hampshire Police Association Pipes and Drums, the Shamrock and Thistle Pipes and Drums from Ocean County, New Jersey and St Francis Pipe Band from the Gorbals in Glasgow. I don't know where the Glasgow band disappeared to afterwards but the other two joined up with the Irish Prison Service Pipe Band for an impromptu session outside the Great Southern on Eyre Square, and managed to sound as if they had been playing together for years.

We didn't leave town until about 90 minutes after the parade and by that time the town was buzzing. Everyone was in great form but no doubt here, like elsewhere, that would change for a minority before the day was out. Media reports highlighted problems related to drink in Dublin and other centres after the St Patrick's Day celebrations, although several garda spokespeople reported that the level of incidents was similar to a typical Saturday night. There were 50 arrests in Dublin's city centre on Wednesday. Several hospital spokespeople around the country reported busy nights, as a result of both alcohol abuse and assaults, and callers to RTE radio programmes and the writers of letters to editors complained of witnessing many episodes of drunk and anti-social behaviour.

  • Thousands of people packed the streets of Belfast on Wednesday in sunny March weather to enjoy a free open-air concert outside Belfast City Hall, the highlight of which was the appearance of Derry native Nadine Coyle and her pop group Girls Aloud. For others the highlight was Shane McGowan. In the wake of the Belfast celebrations SDLP Lord Mayor Martin Morgan, who had backed the event, was probably the loudest critic of the organisers for allowing the former Pogues singer to drink alcohol on the stage, when the concert had been billed as drink-free.
  • The Celtic theme was even more pronounced in Derry where Sharon Shannon headlined the free concert in the Maiden City. Later in the evening there were disturbances in both cities as alcohol took its toll and there were several arrests and 139 hoax calls to the police in Derry.
  • Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was, of course, in Washington DC for the traditional ritual of presenting a bowl of shamrock to the US President. At the ceremony both Mr Bush and Mr Ahern paid tribute to the relationship between the US and Ireland. They also both spoke of the impact of the bombing in Madrid. Mr Ahern said, "Europe and the United States share a common determination to overcome the evils of terrorism... Terrorism is an affront to our democracies. It strikes at the heart of all the values on which the United States and the European Union are founded. And we're determined to ensure that our people are protected from this despicable scourge".
  • In his St Patrick's Day message, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland Dr Seán Brady recalled that St Patrick was an immigrant and would have encountered what is today referred to as racism. He urged the government during its presidency of Europe to aim for the most enlightened legislation possible to counter any Fortress Europe mentality. The Archbishop also urged reasoned debate on the forthcoming referendum on the citizenship rights of children born to non-national parents.
  • Northern Secretary Paul Murphy accepted an award on behalf of British PM Tony Blair from the American Ireland Fund. Mr Blair was being recognised for his contribution to the Northern peace process and the award was presented by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at a gala dinner in Washington on Tuesday night.
  • Celebrations took on a special meaning in the tiny villages of Caltra, Co. Galway and Newtownshandrum in Co. Cork, where the locals were rejoicing in their teams' victories in the All-Ireland club football and hurling championships, which are held every year on St Patrick's Day. First-time finalists Newtownshandrum were up against three-time losers Dunloy, from Co. Antrim, who were disappointed once again. In the football two newcomers were involved in a closely fought contest which the east Galway side won by a single point from An Gaeltacht of Kerry. Earlier the big talking point was the apparent lack of planning by the GAA which found it had to deal with a crowd of around 48,000, more than twice that anticipated. The opening game was 25 minutes old when the gardaí instructed the Croke Park authorities to open the gates and let the remainder of the crowd in free. A GAA spokesman later apologised to those inconvenienced.

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