St Patrick's day fun chases away Irish gloom
In bright sunshine, hundreds of thousands of revellers turned out at parades across the country, while Irish pubs around the world joined in the celebrations to mark the Emerald Isle's national holiday.Dublin -- Ireland celebrated St. Patrick's day with its world-famous exuberance Tuesday, providing brief but welcome relief from the economic gloom gripping the recession-hit country.
In bright sunshine, hundreds of thousands of revellers turned out at parades across the country, while Irish pubs around the world joined in the celebrations to mark the Emerald Isle's national holiday.
"This is our time for showcasing the spirit of the Irish through our wonderful culture and heritage, our gift for friendship and our love of life," said President Mary McAleese.
As over half a million people swarmed onto the streets of Dublin, she called for a "determined effort to find joy in adversity and a moment of distraction from serious economic and financial worries."
The Dublin parade was to involve more than 2,000 performers including street theatre companies and marching bands from the US, Canada, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria and Ireland.
The traditional feast day of Ireland's patron saint has become a six-day festival aimed at showcasing the country and giving an early kick-start to the tourism season.
Budgets for festivities have been cut back this year but there are still some 70 parades taking place across the country.
For the first time in years, at least half of the government is staying at home for the national holiday -- traditionally ministers fan out round the world to promote Ireland on the back of the celebrations.
But Prime Minister Brian Cowen was due to have a 40-minute meeting with US President Barack Obama in the White House, and present him with the traditional bowl of shamrock, Ireland's three-leafed floral emblem.
Obama was to get a copy of the birth certificate of his great-great-great-grandfather who emigrated from Moneygall almost 160 years ago. The village is in the central county of Offaly, Cowen's power base.
Cowen's office says talks were to focus on the global economic crisis and recent developments in British-ruled Northern Ireland, where two soldiers and a policeman were killed in the first such deaths in over a decade.
St. Patrick's Day is one of the most recognised national holidays on the global calendar and is an excuse to party from Pretoria to Paris, Warsaw and Washington.
Ireland has a worldwide diaspora of 70 million people, of whom 44 million live in the US. The patron saint, whose feast day has been in the Christian calendar since the ninth century, is credited with converting the country to Christianity.
In Dublin Tuesday, the two-hour "The Sky's the Limit" parade started in Parnell Square on the north of the city, weaved through the main streets and crossed the River Liffey to end on the south side at St Patrick's Cathedral.
A coach dating back to 1791 and drawn by six horses brought Lord Mayor councillor Eibhlin Byrne to the reviewing stand.
"It is a fantastic day with blue skies," said festival chief executive officer Donal Shiels, while McAleese trumpeted Irish people's ability "to be family to one another from Beijing to Bahrain and from Belfast to Bantry."