Myths, legends and old faces in a sea of green
Celtic Tiger is back again but it's no match for Brian Boru
Published 18/03/2014 | 02:30
The theme was 'Let's Make History' – but it's a curious thing how the giant Celtic Tiger trailing a puff of sulphur seemed more of an ancient relic than the long boats with their snarling Vikings or even the rickety dinosaurs.
It's been just six years since we've slain the tiger and yet it's deader than Brian Boru – which says a lot about the power of Irish myths and legends.
Organisers of the St Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin declared the extremely precise figure of 500,300 to be the number who turned out to watch the dazzling festivities unfold in the capital.
The coffers of the tourism industry were certainly ringing merrily, judging by the babel of foreign tongues on O'Connell Street. From early morning, hordes of aspiring leprechauns walked in a pilgrimage up the Liffey towards the parade route.
On Ormond Quay, a young and innocent American tourist asked a woman with a handful of Tricolours if they were free. "Nothing's free in this life, love," she replied. Especially not on a day when every shop, stall and hawker with something green, glittering or remotely Irish-themed to sell was beating off customers with a shillelagh.
The weather was classic March with a chilly breeze, sprinkles and briefly warm sunshine and those in the leprechaun 'onesies' were smugly congratulating themselves on that extra layer.
At the Spire, a group of seven Renault co-workers were all modelling the latest Parisian fashion – matching pairs of garish, green-checked dungarees.
"We're very serious people," mock-frowned Chantal Carraud. "Major advertising for Renault," she quipped.
Perfectly straight-faced, Derry couple Elizabeth Farrelly and Frank Mahon marched along the street, also in his 'n' hers leprechaun chic. "It has to be done," explained Elizabeth, generously proffering her pot of gold chocolate pieces.
Celebrations started early in the day for Grand Marshal Stephen Roche – who pronounced his title in the style of his adopted French home, as he attended a special Saint Patrick's Day Festival Breakfast at Marks & Spencer Rooftop Restaurant on Grafton Street.
In 1987, Roche became the second cyclist in history to capture the 'Triple Crown' of victories, winning the Tour de France, Giro D'Italia and world championship in one season.
"It's an emotional day," Roche said. "I remember watching the parade on my father's shoulders so today means a lot to me."
Some spectators were surprised the victorious Irish rugby team had not been enlisted into the parade given their historic victory.
"People can say it should be Brian O'Driscoll but it's over 25 years since I won my triple crown so it's nice to be remembered," Roche said.
Outside the GPO, a crisp Tricolour floated immaculately on the breeze and a VIP area had been set up, with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Brendan Howlin, RTE host Brendan O'Connor and his two daughters, Today FM presenter Ray D'Arcy with his wife Jenny and their two children, broadcaster Norah Casey and TV stylist Lisa Fitzpatrick all enjoying the spectacle.
Black sacking had been strapped on to the steel hoardings to shield the area from public gaze but within minutes of the parade starting, frustrated parade-watchers began to tug at the sheeting, which was obstructing their view of the street.
"This is not necessary," muttered a German girl wielding a nail file. She was right and with the sacking down, the crowd happily settled down to a panoramic view of the proceedings.
For the first time, the St Patricks' Day parade in Dublin was streamed live by an online free tv platform, Aertv, bringing a little piece of Ireland to the homesick, as those at home in turn swayed to the beat of American marching bands.
The parade was better than ever, it seemed – and then we realised why. It was better-organised and everything was kept moving along like clockwork, with no gaps between the participants.
There was warm applause as President Michael D Higgins arrived looking sprightly, with his wife, Sabina, elegant in a green coat.
He urged people to think of those who have emigrated from the country in recent years.
"We are grateful for all they do to keep that heritage alive in their adopted homelands across the globe, as well as for their interest in, and tangible support for, Ireland's welfare and development," he said.
It was a mesmerising display, with two highly impressive intricate stags drawing gasps of wonder from an appreciative audience, along with the roar of Vikings, swaying lighthouses, a clatter of sea monsters, a flurry of brightly coloured neon Celtic iconography – and of course the evil Celtic Tiger emitting clouds of stinky green smoke.
"Look at the pussy cat," squealed a child aloft on his grandfather's shoulders.
"That's no pussy cat," he told him.