Saturday, 14 March 2009

Forget The Blues Go Green...

St Patrick's Day revellers paint the town green...

IT is the time of year again to don green garb, tune your fiddle and dance a merry jig. St Patrick's Day is upon us, and never mind if you aren't Irish.

Don't think it's only Australians who go slightly mad in their celebrations. Practically the whole world claims Irish ancestry on March 17, all in the name of a good party. Besides, St Patrick himself wasn't Irish.

What is St Patrick's Day?

You could do worse than celebrate St Patrick's Day in Ireland, although traditionally the holy day was marked only by church and charity functions. In Dublin, there's now a week-long festival that includes street performances, a fun fair, treasure hunts, exhibitions and fireworks.

In recent years celebrations have also been promoted in towns such as Cork, Limerick and Killarney.

And in Galway, a St Patrick's Day parade meanders through the narrow cobbled streets and the town is filled with pipe bands, performance artists and dancers.

Many shops close for the day and a carnival atmosphere reigns.

Across the water, celebrations in England have also become much more prominent in the past decade.

London has musical concerts and a parade featuring marching bands, sporting clubs and schoolkids.

Festival events are held in Trafalgar and Leicester squares.

Celebrations in Manchester are now reckoned to be the third largest in the world. Two full weeks are devoted to dance, music, art exhibitions, theatre and sport from the Emerald Isle.

However, if you really want to party on St Patrick's Day, it's the USA that sets the trend for green goings-on.

The day was first marked in America in 1737 with a public commemoration in Boston, and the tradition of the St Patrick's Day parade actually originated there.

Almost as old, the world's largest parade now takes place in New York City and draws more than a million spectators, many decked out in Irish soccer and rugby shirts. On a more serious religious note, Mass is celebrated at St Patrick's Cathedral in downtown Manhattan.

The third great Irish-American city, Chicago, also has a noted parade that includes more than 20 bands and hundreds of Irish step dancers.

Chicago also dyes its river green to mark the occasion.

St Patrick's Day is celebrated all across the USA. In Seattle, there's an entire Irish Week and the parade route is ceremonially painted with a green stripe down the centre of Fourth Avenue.

Other events are held in the smallest of towns, especially if they have an Irish name, such as Dublin (Ohio) and Dublin (California).

Free party buses tour from one Irish pub to another Great day: Traditional Irish dancing (opposite page); 'tis your man himself; three colleens in Sydney; street parade in Dublin; a young boy watches the celebrations in Galway; and an American marching band visits Dublin

In the Missouri town of St Patrick, which claims to be the only place in the world named after the saint, the post office stamps letters with a shamrock. And in Shamrock (Texas), celebrations include a Miss Irish Rose competition.

North of the border, Vancouver hosts an entire CelticFest, with more than 60 performances at outdoor stages across the city. Gaelic football matches, a food fair, Irish film festival and Celtic music are also part of the entertainment, while a parade of floats and bands winds along West Georgia Street in the city centre.

In New Zealand, 20 per cent of the population claim some Irish blood.

Auckland hosts an annual St Patrick's Festival along Queen Street that includes music, dancing, and plenty of drinking in its official festival pubs.

Free party buses tour from one Irish pub to another, so revellers don't have to stagger up the street.

But if you assume you have to be in an English-speaking country of Irish ancestry to enjoy a knees-up on March 17, think again. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for merrymaking all around the globe.

In Paris there's a Celtic Night at the Stade de France, where singers, dancers and musicians from Ireland, Scotland and Brittany perform on four stages.

Mass is held at the Irish Cultural Centre and is followed by music recitals and whiskey-tastings.

In the Dutch capital of The Hague, the Irish Club puts on a festival featuring performers flown in from Ireland.

In Moscow, there's a week-long jamboree of Irish food, dancing and concerts, with Russian marching bands and Cossacks on horseback thrown in for good measure.

Oslo hosts a lively parade of dancers, musicians and characters in Irish costume. It heads through shopping streets, past the cathedral and town hall and culminates with evening celebrations in the Norwegian capital's Irish pubs.

Some venues for St Patrick's Day are even more surprising than Norway: the occasion is marked from Brazil to South Africa.

Even Kampala in Uganda has sporting events on the day that pit Ireland against the "Rest of the World" in soccer and Gaelic football.

The sole Irish pub, Bubbles O'Leary, sadly has no beer on tap (only Guinness in bottles), but visitors can enjoy traditional Irish music.

Even Asia turns a little green. In Seoul, they've inaugurated an Irish hurling match, after which bewildered Koreans sit down to whiskey tastings and Irish breakfasts. There is also the inevitable parade and evening performances of Irish plays.

And in Tokyo, a St Patrick's Day parade has been heading down Omote Sando for more than a decade. Participants include members of the Tokyo Irish Setter Club and a US Army band: proof that St Patrick's appeal is indeed universal.

Incidentally, the only other place in the world apart from Ireland that gets a public holiday on St Patrick's Day is the island of Montserrat, a tiny British territory in the Caribbean.

It was settled by large numbers of Irish immigrants. Names such as Murphy and O'Malley are common.

The week-long celebrations there include guided mountain hikes, calypso competitions, church services and masked street dancers. Banjos and steel drums compete with bagpipes to outdo each other. Even the Caribbean, it seems, is Irish for a day.

Report by Brian Johnston -

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