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Wednesday 26 April 2017

Baton-twirlers, stilt-walkers and street sweepers lift capital's spirits

Mylena Marquezini, Carolina Crisos Tobo and Giabriele Sencra Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Mylena Marquezini, Carolina Crisos Tobo and Giabriele Sencra Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

After a week of ineffable sadness, it fell to our patron saint to lift the capital's spirits on the international day of celebration, if only for a little while.

From lime to emerald and everything in between, there were fifty shades of green as thousands of revellers from around the world lined the streets of the capital for the annual St Patrick's Day Festival parade yesterday.

Whipped by chill winds and dominated by ominous clouds, young and old identifying as Irish arrived early to secure prime position for the 3.2km spectacle starting on Parnell Square.

Amid the ocean of tricolour top hats and oversized sequin bow-ties, it was a wonder there was anything left on the shelves at Carrolls by the time procession kicked off just after midday.

Even the warm-up act - two gardaí on Segways - elicited a huge cheer from the excited crowd.

Ever punctual, President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina didn't leave the public waiting, both sporting suitably large clumps of shamrock.

Julia Fabrin and Luna Sena from Brazil Picture: Tony Gavin
Julia Fabrin and Luna Sena from Brazil Picture: Tony Gavin

Their seemingly frugal choice of transport - a 12-year-old Mercedes-Benz S Class - was met by approval from some.

"He's not wasting any money, anyway," quipped one cost-conscious citizen looking on.

America, Peru, France, Germany and the Bahamas were just some of the nations represented at the multicultural spectacle, invariably forced to snake its way around Luas works across the city.

Pristine New York cops, a Liberties dance troupe, a Dracula of indeterminate origin, and many others, banded together to bring this year's theme, 'Ireland You Are', to Technicolor life. Over on social media, a specially commissioned poem of the same name was trending.

Asked by MC Marcus Lamb if he was pleased with the response to the seminal piece, Dublin poet Stephen James Smyth proffered maybe the most Irish answer ever: "Ah, yeah, well - they paid me anyway, so that was the main thing."

A decade after first donning the robes of our patron saint for the world-famous festivities, Dublin actor Johnny Murphy was revelling in his role as the fifth-century Christian icon, flashing the peace sign and posing for anachronistic selfies with saints and sinners alike.

Sonia Calmestra enjoying the St Patrick's Day parade Picture: Mark Condren
Sonia Calmestra enjoying the St Patrick's Day parade Picture: Mark Condren

"I do a very lightweight version, as you can probably tell," joked the 49-year-old, who was spotted by a former director of the festival in a play. "It's definitely the highlight of my year.

"It's like how I imagine it must be like for a band when they go on stage and there's 50,000 people cheering. When you're walking that route and you get that, it's an amazing experience."

Earlier this week, it emerged that the real-life St Patrick may have had a few "hidden realities" of his own.

Historians at University College Cork's Department of Folklore told how the honorary Irishman had a wife named Sheelah, who was "perhaps much bigger than suggested by scant mentions in old newspaper accounts".

More than fifteen centuries on, the saint certainly had no shortage of female cheerleaders in the capital yesterday - quite literally, in the case of Illinois State University's Big Red Marching Band, who jetted over 6,000km to take part in the parade.

As brollies were finally unfurled and hoods deployed, one leotard-wearing baton twirler from Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate Marching Band was putting on a brave face, at least. Other fierce females represented at the family-friendly day out included pirate queen Grace O'Malley, resuscitated by community youth group Brighter Futures, and Celtic Goddess Arianrhod, Goddess of the Silver Wheel.

Leading the charge, though, was Grand Marshal Annalise Murphy with her mum Cathy.

Grand marshall Olympian Annalise Murphy Picture: Mark Condren
Grand marshall Olympian Annalise Murphy Picture: Mark Condren

The Olympic silver medallist only discovered four weeks ago that she would be leading the 2017 event, watched by millions around the globe.

As she prepared to take centre stage almost 20 years after first attending the parade as a child, the Rathfarnham sailor joked that she was looking forward to having a better view this time.

"I must have been around eight or nine and we came in somewhere around the South Circular Road," she recalled. "I just have a memory of how we ended up sitting on some house's fence to get a view of what was happening."

Brass bands marched and stilt-walkers wobbled and scarcely a window or rooftop was unoccupied as O'Connell Street workers who drew the short straw on the bank holiday clamoured to get a better look at the proceedings down below.

A total of seven horses and five dogs from the Garda Dog Unit were also on best behaviour during the highlight of the four-day festival, which continues until tomorrow.

Only a few hundred die-hards remained for a bicycle display aimed at encouraging onlookers to get back in the saddle as the rain began coming down in sheets.

Ultimately, though, it was a Dublin City Council street cleaner called Robbie who earned the biggest applause.

He Hoovered up the encouragement - as well as the rubbish - urging the cheering crowd: "Louder!"

Irish Independent

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