Thousands ‘gather’ to ring in new year with a bang
Fireworks light night sky to welcome visitors
LIGHT, fireworks, action – the first celebrations of a whole year of partying went off with a big bang last night as the New Year's Eve festival officially kick-started The Gathering.
Up to 60,000 locals and visitors poured onto Dublin streets for a series of events which began with the People's Procession of Light.
The skies were lit up by a colourful firework display and the crowd rocked late into the night with an open air concert featuring Irish artists.
The first bash of the longest session the country has ever hosted began with over 1,500 lantern bearers walking around St Stephen's Green.
The procession symbolised the journey home for some of those of the 70 million Irish diaspora who it is hoped will travel back to Ireland over the year to join in a national celebration of The Gathering.
Hundreds more families watched, some of them bearing torches, as the twinkling lights were carried through the streets. The lanterns had been specially prepared by children and helpers in workshops in the lead-up to the festival.
Along the way, firebreathers and stilt-walkers, leading over 260 performers entertained the spectators who gathered despite the drizzle and the cold.
On arrival at the Fusiliers' Arch at the top of Grafton Street, the group spelt out the words 'The Gathering' – a beacon of light to welcome home visitors.
And at 8pm, the sky over St Stephen's Green exploded with a dazzling series of fireworks, as lights every hue of the rainbow danced and twisted in a kaleidoscope of patterns.
Aided by 160 volunteers from Volunteer Ireland, thousands lined the pathways around the sealed-off park, oohing and aahing at each fresh explosion of lights, and hundreds more viewed the display from balconies and other vantage points around the city.
Less than an hour later, rockabilly star Imelda May kept the party going at an outdoor concert at College Green.
Bell X1 and Ham Sandwich were the other acts at the strictly over-18s, ticket-only event which featured pyrotechnics and light projections onto the facade of Trinity College.
And it was there that the official countdown got under way, with just seconds to go to midnight, marking the grand opening of The Gathering.
After several years of being chastised for partying too much, we are planning to lead the rest of the world to a mega-bash lasting right through the year, with up to 325,000 more visitors than usual, according to Failte Ireland.
One couple who will need no persuading to come to Ireland are Elizabeth and Antonio Fontana, from Milan, Italy, who joined the procession bearing colourful balloons.
Their son has just opened a restaurant called Noi Tre in Upper Erne Street, Dublin, after working for a computer company here for 13 years. But last night was their very first time in joining a live Dublin festival.
"We love your country," said Elizabeth.
The Delas family from Valencia in Spain had already heard of The Gathering and came down to watch the parade after reading about it on the internet.
Carlos and Clara and mum and dad Vincente and Carmina said they were combining some tourism with visiting family during a sixday trip.
But most of the families dancing and waving balloons and lanterns were from the Emerald Isle.
Brigid Keegan and Eamon (8) and Erica (7) from Skerries came into town because "it's so dull at home on New Year's Eve".
And Brigid, who turns 40 tomorrow, wanted to start 2013 with a difference.
Sharon and Stephen Young brought their children Berach and Beibhinn down from Drogheda to enjoy the fireworks.
Stephen is helping with The Gathering, organising school reunions locally.
Today, enthusiastic revellers can keep the festive feeling going at the Big Brunch at Meeting House Square in Temple Bar with another family-focused event with face-painting, puppet and magic shows and a disco.
Elsewhere Cork will mark the first day of the Gathering with a New Year's Day ceremonial 21-gun salute on Spike Island and in Mayo, the Achill Pipe Band will sound a welcome to the new year on Achill Island before hardy swimmers take a dip on Dugort Strand.