Fairytale ending in capital after parade's slow start
Despite the occasional confusion, it was a 'brilliant' day
TAKE it as a sign -- a portent of good things to come. The smiling faces, the parable of cheer triumphing over depression, the news of a imminent presidential visit -- but most of all, the sunshine. Glorious, street-flooding sunshine. In Dublin. For St Patrick's Day.
Who would ever have thought that sunglasses would be a vital piece of kit in the St Patrick's Day armoury -- even if they had to be those horrors shaped like shamrocks?
Together, of course, with the usual paraphernalia -- the green-sprayed hair, the zany hats, the tricolour zogabongs and whatever you're having yourself.
The influx to the city began early, but there was something nice about being in situ ahead of the hoards, when you could still hear the gulls wheeling overhead.
It was only then you had the space to appreciate the little vignettes -- the solitary man carrying a giant sunflower over his shoulder on O'Connell Street, the elderly gent unconsciously perfect in his tweed jacket and peaked cap and the cheery wheelchair-bound woman and her companion, both clad neck-to-ankle in bizarre hand-knitted tricolour garments best described as shrouds.
By mid-morning, more than half-a-million people were lining the streets for a spectacular, colour-drenched parade celebrating Ireland's literary heritage, befitting Dublin's status as a UNESCO city of literature.
The theme of the parade was a short story with a timely moral, specially penned for the event by writer Roddy Doyle. Two children aim to hunt down the "black dog" of depression that has stolen Dublin's funny bone and made the adults sad.
They discover that the only way to defeat the hound is to shout "the city's favourite word -- brilliant".
Doyle explained that he penned the piece while watching the gloomy footage of the International Monetary Fund team arriving in Dublin last November.
And though billed as the largest living performance ever staged of a book, how it was going to translate into a parade was always going to be interesting.
Festival organisers had posted the story on the website -- but they would probably have done well to have had it read aloud before the parade actually kicked off.
Because, as it turned out, there were quite a few confused faces among the crowd and not many seemed to be joining in with the commentators to shout out the magic word -- "brilliant" -- to banish the black dog.
The writer himself and his proudly smiling parents had prime seats in front of the GPO for the spectacle.
Radio broadcaster Ray D'Arcy, sporting very professionally painted shamrocks on his cheeks, had brought along daughter Kate (4), who opted for pink flowers interwoven with shamrocks on her painted face.
And among the crowd, a small group of Japanese gathered messages of support, love and prayers from people all over the world, written on their country's flag.
Masahiko Kanemura, Marie Shiraishi and Shiori Kudo, who are all studying in Ireland, said that though their own home towns along Japan's western coastline are safe, they were anxious about what was happening there.
"It is very difficult to be away from home," said Marie, adding that she is due to return home next week. "Japan is struggling now -- but we will go for it. We are resilient."
With the arrival of President Mary McAleese, in a jade-green coat, the parade started -- to the jaunty pipes of the Army No 1 band.
First up was the "Brilliant Bus", an open-topped affair bearing members of the international press.
"So look happy. Hide the polystyrene cups in case the IMF are watching," beseeched the parade commentators, prompting snorts of derision from some.
"Making fools of us," whispered one woman.
There were puzzled faces when Count Dracula swooped around in his cloak -- but, then, if they'd read the story, they'd have realised his name was actually Ernie.
Grand Marshal and world champion boxer Katie Taylor waved out from the back of a vintage car. Earlier, she'd said it was a great honour to be leading the parade but that she was a little apprehensive.
"There's Gloria and Raymond," whispered Roddy Doyle delightedly to his parents, as he spotted the characters from his story in the dancing children dressed in nightgowns and caps.
A colourful circus display next caused young Maitiu Donohoe (11) from Blackrock, Co Dublin, to whisper: "This isn't in the story."
Nevertheless, it looked pretty impressive.
Young Maitiu then found other literary inaccuracies -- the elephants, meerkats and spider monkeys from the story had been replaced with giraffes and tigers.
Happily, though, the flamingos were left intact -- although one on stilts nearly came a cropper, tumbling into a stand before managing to right himself in the nick of time.
The black dog himself had various incarnations -- from Macnas' snarling hound with fangs and red-rimmed eyes to the cuddly fur-ball brought to us by Bui Bolg from Wexford.
Most terrifying of all was the lean beast that was all pouncing limbs and steel claws from the Inishowen Carnival Group.
The constant, drawling "Brill-yant" from the commentators was clearly beginning to get under the skin of Roddy Doyle's dad, Rory, though.
Another man worried about the paltry selection of marching bands that had made it over from the US -- "A bad sign," he reckoned.
There was just one lone float of traditional Irish music -- they could definitely have done with more of those.
In a flurry of mossy leprechauns, lizards and some rather fetching fish, the parade drew to a close, the black dog having gotten a makeover. It was now a pink pooch with fluttery eyelashes.
Ok, so that wasn't in the story either, but it still made for a good ending to a great day out.