The country may be laden with debt but our party 'floats on'
WE'VE lost a lot in recent years, but we haven't lost our ability to enjoy ourselves. Hundreds of thousands of people took to streets and thoroughfares around the country yesterday to attend almost 120 parades of various shapes and sizes.
There were marching bands from the US, floats from local arts centres and councillors proclaiming it "the best ever" -- but, if there was a common theme this year, it was perhaps summed up as "resilience".
One team that know all about resilience are the Cork footballers who, after years of being the nearly-men of Gaelic football, were able to parade the Sam Maguire at the top of the parade by the River Lee.
Organisers estimated that at least 50,000 spectators attended the parade, which forms just one part of the city's four-day St Patrick's Festival.
There was a strong multi-cultural element to the procession -- which had the theme of 'happiness' -- with groups from Angola, Lithuania, Poland and Hungary taking part.
Dragons and giant chickens rubbed shoulders with aliens and wild animals and the more traditional pipe bands and community groups.
"It's great to see so many people in the city today," said Lord Mayor Michael O'Connell. "All the woes we might have, we can put them all to one side for now. Today is a special day to be Irish."
The city held its largest-ever procession, with more than 4,600 participants, as it celebrated being crowned 2011 EU City of Sport.
Up to 70,000 people lined O'Connell Street for the parade, which was led by some of the county's successful sporting heroes including transatlantic rower Sean McGowan.
He proudly travelled the route in 'Tess', the boat he used to become the first Irishman to singlehandedly row across the Atlantic. He was joined by fellow Grand Marshals, Ireland and Munster rugby hero John Hayes, Limerick GAA star Gary Kirby, Ireland's most capped hockey player Eimear Cregan and former Ireland international football manager Eoin Hand.
The Northside Learning Hub once again took the honours for best float while the Filipino community won the most entertaining group award.
"It was a fantastic parade truly showcasing the best of Limerick sport and our hundreds of community groups who put in such a wonderful effort with their imaginative floats and demonstrations," said Mayor Maria Byrne.
Anyone hung up on the country's financial woes had things put into a little perspective, with the Japanese community in the west striking a poignant note.
Carrying a banner that read "Don't Forget Japan -- We are with You", the small group was warmly applauded by the crowd.
Also winning the cheers of the revellers was Grand Marshal Michael Chick Gillen, legendary boxing trainer in the City of the Tribes.
With the theme of 'A World of Wonder', the emphasis was on participation and favoured a move away from trucks and trailers. Galway Community Circus and the Blue Teapot Theatre Group were among the highlights.
An estimated 40,000 people attended the parade in Waterford city, which was based on the theme of 'Play Your Part' and was led by playwright and actor Jim Nolan.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth made a surprise appearance in the tiny village of Keshcarrigan but was well-received over a "joke" cheque for £168m to help with the country's economic woes.
"It was a magnificent gesture. It was great of her to pick our little village but then to hand over the cheque as well," said delighted organiser Des Foley, tongue-in-cheek.
But security had to be called when an angry Prince Andrew burst from the crowd and attempted to take the cheque back.
In Ballinafad, the length of the parade's route was the only thing small about it.
Up to 50 floats were backed up for two kilometres waiting to travel the 200-metre long route past a single shop and church before coming to a halt at the Mayfly Inn.
An obstacle course, fun activities and a bowl of hearty Irish stew was on offer for the thousands who thronged the south Sligo village, where the community was raising funds for a football pitch and local autism charities.
In Sligo town, thousands lined the streets for the event, with its theme of 'Peace and Reconciliation', and a parade led by FAI cup winners Sligo Rovers.
The town of Dingle may not have held the country's biggest parade but it was certainly the earliest.
The dawn parade attracted over 200 followers to the Kerry town, not put off by the 6am start. And for those still in the bed, the sound of the 40-strong fife and drum band made sure the residents had an early wake-up call, whether they liked it or not.
The troop made its way in darkness from the now-empty St Elizabeth's hospital, its traditional meeting point, to complete a circuit of the town before being welcomed into St Mary's Church by parish priest Fr Tom Looney for 6.30am Mass.
The dawn parade has a long tradition, going back over 100 years.
"It started during the time of the Land League when the British banned parades between dawn and dusk," said Fergus O'Flaherty, a member of the Dingle Fife and Drum Band.
"This was the only way people had of getting around the rule and the tradition has lived on to this day."
In Donegal, 'barking mad' dog owners dressed their pooches in green for a festive dog show in Letterkenny
The event, to raise money for Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, preceded a parade led by the 58th Reserve infantry battalion. This year celebrated the revival of the old game of skittles in the town and the refurbishment of Skittle Alley in the main street.
In the Taoiseach's home town of Castlebar, a shortage of brave Enda Kenny lookalikes meant that particular competition couldn't go ahead.
Parade secretary Johnny Mee said there were a number of lookalikes who would have stood a good chance of winning but they had been too shy to put themselves forward.
In Monaghan town, the county's historic links with Chile were highlighted with a visit from Chilean ambassador Leonel Searle. Local man John McKenna played a major part in the South American country's independence struggle in the 19th century and is credited with founding the country's Corps of Military Engineers
Meanwhile, some towns, including Thurles in Tipperary, will wait until the weekend to hold their parades -- with the aim of getting more bands to perform.