Saturday 1 October 2016

Painting the world green

From ceilis in Vienna to pet parades in Tokyo, St Patrick's Day is celebrated far and wide.

Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30

Party: A woman joins in the celebrations during a St. Patrick's Day party in Trafalgar Square, London. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Party: A woman joins in the celebrations during a St. Patrick's Day party in Trafalgar Square, London. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Members of the plumbers' union dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick's Day. Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images.

There's no denying that Ireland has one of the largest diaspora there is, but every March 17, millions don green around the world to celebrate our national holiday even if they don't possess an ounce of Gaelic blood.

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From ex-pats to descendants and those just up for the ceol agus craic, countless festivals take place in towns and cities across the globe for myriad reasons.

It's fair to say our party reputation has spread and many other nationalities just want to get involved with a bit of fun… and who are we to argue with demonstrations of Irish pride?

Europe

Last Sunday, Trafalgar Square in London was taken over by thousands of Irish in a festival of culture, music and food. With a large ex-pat population and many generations of Irish families, it's perhaps no surprise the place was overrun. Mayor Boris Johnson held an early St Patrick's parade, over 70 community groups took part, Nathan Carter performed and comedian Jarlath Regan kept the whole thing rolling (like a wagon wheel).

Manchester holds a two-week long Irish festival every March, and attracts 200,000 revellers.

Banwen in Wales is claimed to be the birthplace of St Patrick himself, so to mark the occasion Welsh pipers march down Roman Road towards a statue in his memory.

Southern Europe

In Rome, Italy, St Patrick's Day is more about Guinness and whiskey than celebrating Irish traditional culture, but historically it's known that Romans enjoy a good party.

The small town of Cabo Roiga near Murcia in Spain held the largest parade in the country last year. Their strip turns in to a "sea of green" with Irish flamenco dancers, food and drink and traditional music.

In Paris, France, Euro Disney goes green for St Patrick's Day with a special parade led by Mickey Mouse, while the Irish Cultural Centre hold a free concert at the Jardins De Luxembourg.

Northern Europe

Vienna throws a ceili, Copenhagen holds a St Patrick's Day parade and even Moscow get involved. On March 15 1992, thousands of Muscovites lined Novy Arbat for the first parade in the city, which now takes place annually. In Germany, the city of Munich has already held its parade, while Waigolhausen in Bavaria will hold theirs on Saturday.

The Americas

Of course our American friends take great pride in St Patrick's Day, or St Patty's as many of them call it. The United States is a country with an enormous Irish population, and even though many of the Irish immigrants left these here shores more than a century ago, the tradition of celebrating Irish culture hasn't been diluted.

In fact, we can't even claim the first St Patrick's Day parade as our own - Boston has that honour. According to historians, the first parade on record was organised by the city's Charitable Society in 1737. Another parade was recorded in New York in 1762, a procession of Irish soldiers fighting in the British army.

This year, Boston's parade will take place on Sunday March 20, while today in New York, members of the Irish Art Center will be distributing free books by famous Irish authors throughout the five boroughs.

Chicago's plumbers union famously dyes its river green, New York and Boston still have the two biggest parades there are, but Arkansas can claim the world's shortest (and oddest) parade.

Its procession goes only for 98 feet, and includes a cast of characters including Irish Elvis impersonators and a rather famous chicken from California. They also have the "Lards of the Dance", some middle-aged Michael Flatley aficionados, and a man who claims to be the world's oldest leprechaun.

The city of O'Neill, Nebraska, has such strong Irish roots (the clue is in the name) that those who live there wear green on the 17th of every month, and have a giant shamrock painted on the road at its main intersection. They celebrate with a parade and festival on the big day.

Over in New London, Wisconsin, members of the Shamrock Club dress as leprechauns and change all the highway signs so that they read 'New Dublin'. Their annual festival draws 3,000 out-of-towners each year.

South America and the Caribbean

Montserrat, an island in the Caribbean, is the only other place outside Ireland that celebrates St Patrick's Day as a national holiday. The island only has a population of 4,500, but enough of those are descended from Irish Catholic settlers to warrant a big celebration.

Coincidentally, March 17 also marks the anniversary of a slave uprising there in 1768. They hold wee long celebrations in a fusion of Irish and African heritage, with steel drums, a Freedom Run and of course, lots of green.

The Mexicans have a soft spot for us Irish, and the day has a special significance in the country because our very own St Patrick's Batallion fought alongside them in the Mexican-American war. They celebrate with local parades around the country, and a big festival in the town of Melaque on the Pacific Coast, where the battle took place.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, Irish pubs on Reconquista Street celebrate with big parties, and in Rio, Brazil, green beer flows in Lapa under the watchful eye of a green Christ the Redeemer.

Canada

There's a big parade (and thousands of ex-pats) in Toronto, and even a ceili in remote Halifax, Nova Scotia. But Montreal are the biggest Canadian proponents of Paddy's Day. It's been celebrated there since the mid 18th century after the conquest by Irish soldiers of the Montreal Garrison. There's been a parade there since 1824 (Dublin didn't have one until 1931).

Vancouver, another spot popular with modern Irish emigrants, holds an annual Celticfest. It's seven days of music, whiskey tasting, fun runs and live music, and Sharon Shannon and Damien Dempsey have appeared there in the past. Their parade took place last Sunday.

Australia and New Zealand

This year's St Patrick's Day parade was sadly cancelled in Sydney, Australia, due to lack of funding. It's been organised by volunteers since the 1970s, but last year ran up a debt of $150,000. Still, the city's bars will no doubt be hopping thanks to massive Irish populations down under. There are festivals taking place in Perth and Brisbane all week though, so all is not lost in Oz.

Auckland, New Zealand, kicked off its celebrations a fortnight ago and held a parade last weekend. The New Zealand Rose of Tralee was even in attendance.

Middle East and Asia

Hong Kong held its very first St Patrick's Day parade last year, and it went so well that this year, there's a whole festival. Twenty-eight groups will march in procession and a programme of Irish films will be shown. Interestingly, hundreds of Irish products are also being introduced in to supermarkets around the city.

Dubai has its very own Irish village, with events taking place all week in hotel bars. In Seoul, Korea, there's a big parade this year on March 19 as there is every year around that date. Singapore also holds a St Patrick's Festival, when the notoriously ordered city goes a bit wild for a day.

But it's Japan that really celebrates St Patrick's Day - with their pets. In Tokyo, a parade takes part in Omote Sando and it's been a tradition since 1992 to bring your animals along with you. Everyone dresses in green and has a party, and the Tokyo Tower is lit green.

Irish Independent

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