Joanne leads way as 500,000 enjoy street party
Youngest ever parade Grand Marshall does Rebel County proud
Published 18/03/2016 | 07:00
The madly bobbing pink parrots, the frenetic aliens with the spikes sticking out of their heads, the cyclists with their furiously ringing bells - all were left for dust by the flying dynamo born without arms or legs.
Blink and you missed Joanne O'Riordan who, at 19 years of age, is the youngest and by far the most energetic Grand Marshall to ever lead the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin. Tricolour fluttering, she whizzed herself up the route in her mechanical wheelchair, spurning the customary luxury car because she felt it was high time it had "its moment to shine".
At the forefront of her mind was the fact that she was leading the way. Not because of her numerous international accolades for her stellar work as a disability rights campaigner - but because she hails from Cork.
"It's so ironic but it's so obvious a Cork person has to lead everything," she said, with a quip that "it's like cross-border relations right here."
So she wasn't Conor McGregor - Joanne joked that her brother had hoped to see the UFC fighter lead the parade this year.
But even McGregor's strut couldn't have cut as inspiringly defiant a figure as Joanne did.
Only one of seven people in the world with the Tetra-Amelia condition which saw her born without limbs, she viewed her selection as Grand Marshall as part of Ireland's journey towards greater inclusion.
"In 1916, they set out to cherish all children of the nation equally and by selecting me, or even any person in a wheelchair, or with a disability, or different gender, whatever, it shows Ireland is a welcoming society no matter who you are or where you come from," said Joanne, proudly.
It takes quite a while for half a million people to assemble and so from early morning, leprechauns were ambling sleepily up along the quays, punks in tricolour wigs were swigging coffee in cafés and exaggerated Irish cailiní in green dirndl dresses never witnessed on our ancestors were alighting from public transport.
And, happily, the Luas was in action.
There was a time when those who dressed up for the day were a novelty. Now, you're nothing if you're not dazzling in shamrocks.
Vince Mayeras and his wife Dany from Strasbourg in France chose to complement one another - he in a green frizzy wig, she in an orange one, teamed with rainbow lashes.
It was his first St Patrick's Day in Dublin, said Vince. Asked if it met his expectations, he declared: "Even better than expected."
From Germany, Janice Pissang, Corinna Dorn and Emily Feege were also savouring their first St Patrick's Day and had draped themselves in Tricolours. "It's great! We're having so much fun," revealed Janice.
At 11am, the perfect storm brewed up at the top of O'Connell Street when two groups of young French students, all furiously blowing through tricoloured vuvuzelas, bumped into one another and immediately set up a challenge as to who could create the most noise.
It was a tie - and much to everyone's relief, they separated amicably again and moved off.
A vintage picture in yellow hand-knitted Aran dresses, little Macy Hande (8) and sister Shelby (2) Hande from Dublin's inner city were watching the parade with dad, Keith. "Last year they were in tricoloured knits," he said.
All cotton socks and ringlets, cousins Erin Dodrill (6), Robyn (7) and Hallie (3) Parkes and Eve Fleming had settled down in a little nook outside the Ambassador to pore over comics. "They're like sisters and they fight like sisters," laughed Eve's mother Lisa.
Promptly at noon, President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina pulled up outside the GPO, each sporting enormous clusters of sham-rocks.
The Tricolour was respectfully put aloft to celebrate the centenary and then the parade got into full swing, as the Army No 1 band struck up with 'Galway Bay'.
Dublin Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dháiligh arrived in the historic Dublin coach - dispatching off in it her uncle Paschal - home from Perth in Australia.
With the theme 'Imagine If...', there was plenty for the theatre companies to work with and we had pink elephants cloned with tigers, estate agents and interior designers with colour swatches flogging underwater houses and space travellers waving merrily as they set off to Mars.
And with so many American marching bands taking part, we began to wonder if it might yet be 100 years before Irish music and dance is given a central role in the capital's parade.
"The snakes are back - we have a government," declared a street performer who was part of Buí Bolg's pageant foreseeing the return of the hapless reptiles.
Still, at this stage, Fine Gael would probably gratefully accept them as a minority partner all right.