Last week I needed to figure out what we should do for our first St Patrick’s Day in Ireland (full story in last Friday’s Irish Times). I asked around for tips and a fellow mum told me she was at the Dublin parade last year and it went fine: “it was busy,” she said “but no-one died”. She was the one who told me that our best bet to avoid the crowds (and their stepladders) was to stand at the beginning or end of the parade.
The parade was due to start at 12pm on Saturday. As is normal for us, we left the house about 10 minutes before that. It was really really cold, almost enough to put you off going out and by the end of Saturday night we had snow in Dublin again. But our Norwegian-raised kids decided to buy an ice cream before catching the bus into town. That caught the eye of the bus driver: “Jaysus girls, it’s soup you need on a day like today, not ice cream”.
It turns out we were well in time. Walking around St Stephen’s Green towards the end-section, town seemed to be free of traffic and strangely quiet. We saw the Lord Mayor’s coach had already finished its run, and the horses were being used for a photoshoot.
We asked one of the (many) gardai standing around if we’d be in time to see the parade. “Sure it’s only half past one, they won’t be down here by now. You’ll probably catch the whole thing.”
And sure enough we did. And it was brilliant. It had started up at the top of O’Connell Street and that was where the serious crowds were. By the time it had snaked around Dame Street and St Patrick’s Cathedral I thought they’d all be dog-tired and freezing by the time it reached us. But every performer put in a great effort right to the end, with lots of cheering from the crowd.
Saint Patrick is a bit different from ones I’ve seen before.
We got to wave to Liam Cunnigham, from Game of Thrones. The main guest of honour – Mark Hamill – had already hopped out of the blue car at this stage. Must have had a good reason to do so.
There were all sorts of creative floats, the type that have been a mainstay of the Irish parades for years now though I’ve never seen any of them before – from arts groups like Spraoi, Dowtcha puppets, Bui Bolg and lots of community associations.
But I was almost more interested in watching the watchers.
These army veterans were charming, waving at the families watching from the flats above.
Women cyclists marked 100 years of women’s votes in Britain and Ireland.
I’ve never seen a real US college marching band before and there were 13 bands in this parade, including a few from Ireland and Australia. There’s a two-year waiting period for a band to be admitted to the parade and it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get them all here.
Family and friends of the band members seemed to be traipsing along beside their bands, all 3km of it.
Everyone around us – whether locals, people up from the country or tourists – was excited and happy, and dressed up in any bit of green. Plenty of people were going about their business and ignoring the parade. And the streets were quieter for a couple of hours while the pubs were packed with the rest of the population that was watching the Ireland-England rugby match. It all felt very relaxed, normal, festive and fun.
And then it was over.
Temperatures were plummeting further as we spent an hour at Merrion Square at the festival’s fun fair – what we call a “mini Tivoli” in our family. Definitely not on the same scale as the Copenhagen experience but great for kids who don’t often get to these things.
We had no drunken encounters, saw lots of green and many smiling faces (Irish and not Irish), felt no sense of panic or worry, the buses kept running. Yes it was really freezing.
But no-one died.
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