Streets turned green for parade
The heart of Dublin was transformed into a sea of green leprechaun hats and tricolours as hundreds of thousands thronged the Irish capital for the famous St Patrick's Day parade.
Buoyant revellers from across the globe crammed the city's streets for the two-hour spectacle, which saw street theatre troupes, pageantry, dancers and marching bands weave the 3km (1.9 mile) route.
Some 3,000 performers took part in the parade which was one of the highlights of the five-day St Patrick's Festival.
And to the crowd's delight the rain stayed away despite the morning sun being blocked by ominous clouds as the festivities were about to kick off.
Susan Kirby, St Patrick's Festival chief executive, estimated half a million people turned out for the parade.
"We were very, very pleased with it," Ms Kirby said.
"I think Dublin and its people looked very well. I would hope that if even for a short while we were putting our best foot forward and demonstrating what an optimistic country we are."
Spectators clambered to find every available vantage point to catch a glimpse of the massive march, perching precariously on window ledges, lampposts and climbing on statues.
For the first time a short story was the inspiration behind the parade, with Brilliant by Roddy Doyle chosen for the honour because of Dublin's designation as a Unesco City of Literature.
It tells the story of two children and the quest to banish the black dog of depression over the city - a reference to the financial woes that put Ireland on the global map for all the wrong reasons over the last year.
Leading pageant companies including City Fusion, Brighter Futures, LUXe, Macnas, Artastic, Inishowen, Spraoi and Bui Bolg interpreted different chapters of the story.
Mr Doyle said he penned the piece while watching news reels of the International Monetary Fund arriving in Dublin last November.
"It was a reaction to that really, that's why I wrote the story," he said.
President Mary McAleese joined other dignitaries on the VIP seats by the historic General Post Office on O'Connell Street, including Dublin Lord Mayor Gerry Breen who arrived in a restored gilded horse-drawn carriage.
International bands from as far afield as Spain, France and the USA wooed spectators, while world boxing champion Katie Taylor led the parade through the streets of Dublin as she took on the role of Grand Marshal.
Streets normally thronged with traffic and shoppers were transformed into a sea of fluffy green Leprechaun top hats, with children and adults waving flags and wrapped in green scarves.
US tourist Caoimhe Stack from Minnesota was in Dublin visiting family and was enthusiastic about the parade.
"It was so colourful and cultural, not like anything back home," the 19-year-old said.
"I didn't expect anything like this. There was no advertising, just music, culture, dance and colour.
"It was definitely worth coming to."
Amidst the masses of international visitors were Nele Claes, 30, and her friend Seberine Badelle, 29, who were visiting Dublin from Luxembourg for the weekend.
"The parade was very good, very nice, and they put a lot of work into it," said Nele.
The pair were hoping for a fun-filled weekend immersing themselves in Irish music.
"Irish people are very friendly people and there is a lot of green about," said Seberine.
The festival is not only seen as a cultural opportunity but a chance to capitalise financially on the national day, with the festivities last year providing an estimated 50.5 million euro to the economy in spending by tourists and Dubliners.
Parades and events were also staged in cities and towns all over the country, including Cork, Waterford, Galway, and Belfast.
Selected buildings in Dublin, including the Guinness Storehouse, are also lighting up green for the festival.
As the final float drove through the capital, the clean-up operation began with security staff quickly dismantling crowd barriers.
But the party was set to continue well into the night.