Saturday 23 September 2017

Great things do happen when the people get together

IT was meant as a nice little side order to the main dish. But actually it turned out to be all about the People's Parade, really. It was all the party we needed to kick off the festivities with the true spirit of St Patrick's Day.

To be honest, it didn't sound like it would be any great shakes. Just 8,000 people from 144 countries invited to march in a special parade as part of The Gathering. Just a boring exercise in public relations, maybe?

But we hadn't bargained on that swathe of beaming smiles, those little jigs of excitement that some of the participants could not help from breaking out as they passed down that iconic route they had been planning in their head for months.

The official theme for this year was 'Great Things Happen When We Get Together'. And how true that was.

It was what the true spirit of St Patrick's Day is all about – after all what was he himself but a foreigner. There were samba dancers; flamenco dancers and traditional folk dancers from Latvia. There were Kung Fu dancers from China and Bollywood dancers from India.

There was mischief afoot with an Australian stag party; the Italians wanted to boldly proclaim their Six Nations triumph – so we let them; and there was a French group who barely had a word of English between them but have been to Ireland five times because they love it here so much.

"Liquid sunshine," enthused one American man as he watched the raindrops cascade down.

Then there was the gentle look of overwhelming happiness in the eyes of some of the more elderly American gents with the "Irish roots" as they passed by the GPO.

But actually few of them marching in the People's Parade seemed to have official Irish roots. Some had an Irish friend; some love it here and visit regularly, but for plenty of others, taking part in the festivities was just a nice excuse for a first visit. A lot of them seemed to like Irish pubs and Irish beer – there were pints going down the hatch at 10am.

The day began with a mild sense of trepidation with a spatter of rain at 7am and umbrellas automatically added to the kit. An hour later, a TV cameraman in the Dublin Writer's Museum on Parnell Square exclaimed from the window that it was "trying to snow out there".

It eventually succeeded and thick flakes of snow drifted down for a lengthy period before the rain decided that as the true and rightful master of St Patrick's Day, it should take over again.

As the People's Parade brigade prepared for their big moment, Rafael Comar (27) from Sao Paolo in Brazil, was attracting plenty of glances in his specially selected ensemble of tricolour skin-tight hotpants, St Patrick's T-shirt, white tights, leprechaun hat and Brazilian flag "cape".

As for the 11 rainbow-wigged, leopard catsuited, bell-rattling stag party from Port Lincoln in South Australia, they were having a whale of a time.

Bridegroom-in-waiting Steve Moll (30) said it was the best idea he could ever have imagined for a stag or "buck party" as he called it. "I'm getting married in England next week so we'd better calm down after this," he admitted.

A group of friends from Seattle calling themselves the Emerald City Revellers had spent six months planning their trip. Nora Duffy – with obvious Irish roots – said their experience has been "awesome" and will be going straight up on their blog.

We spotted Ronan Keating with new girlfriend, Storm, soaking up the atmosphere. Ray D'Arcy, Matt Cooper and Lorraine Keane were there too.

Treat

Cecelia Ahern came along, a little out of breath, pushing little seven-month-old son Sonny in his buggy, gesturing to her husband David and daughter Robin that she was on her way.

Sitting close by was sister Georgina, with her twins, Rocco and Jay, who are nearly six, awaiting the arrival of dad Nicky Byrne in a vintage Bentley as Grand Marshall for the main parade. He wanted to share the moment with someone and, contacting Temple Street Hospital, arranged that Robyn O'Shaughnessy (9) from Kilmessan, Co Meath, would join him. Robyn has been in and out of hospital since birth as she has Cystic Fibrosis and diabetes. But in good health, she was in perfect form for this treat which she found out about just last Friday.

When President Michael D Higgins – an enormous bunch of shamrocks gushing from his lapel – and wife Sabina pulled up at their stand, there was a great cheer of welcome and the couple went over to shake hands amongst the crowd. And with a flourish of drum sticks, the No 1 Army Band got the main event off to a swinging start.

The Dublin Lord Mayor's magnificent coach and four pulled up and Naoise O'Muiri, wife Fionnuala Keane and their family got out, carefully cradling new baby daughter, Caoilfhionn, who is just two weeks old.

Just under half a million people braved the cold, with the official figures standing at around 483,000. The first big event of the Gathering – and it was a good one.

Irish Independent

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