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Irish party for St. Patrick’s Day, at home and abroad

DUBLIN, March 17, 2010 (AFP) – Irish revellers painted the town green in Dublin and around the world on Wednesday, as the Emerald Isle celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day with parades, marching bands — and plenty of Guinness.

Hundreds of thousands were expected at St. Patrick’s parades in the Irish capital and abroad, as the famously fun-loving country parties despite a biting recession at home.

Even before the party got going in Dublin, Irish expats and their non-Irish friends flocked to Irish pubs across Asia, while parades were organised in cities from Sydney to San Francisco, and Shanghai to Dubai.

Some 13 million pints of Guinness were expected to be drunk during the day, said a spokesman for firm which makes the emblematic Irish stout known as "the black stuff," whose biggest export markets include Britain and Nigeria.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen was due at the White House later later in the day to present US President Barack Obama — who himself has Irish roots — with the traditional gift of a bowl of shamrock, Ireland’s three-leafed national emblem.

Obama has an ancestor who emigrated from a small town in Ireland in 1849. Cowen is also meeting Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The traditional feast day of Ireland patron’s saint has become one of the world’s most recognised national holidays and Irish ministers are jetting around the globe to promote trade, tourism and investment.

The Dublin parade was led off by the city Lord Mayor Emer Costello in a 1791 ceremonial coach drawn by four black horses and accompanied by bearers of the city sword and mace.

President Mary McAleese, sporting a large sprig of shamrock, reviewed the parade involving 3,000 performers and marching bands from India, the US, Bulgaria, Austria, France, Spain and Britain.

Parades were organised in more than 100 other Irish cities and towns. Irish emigrants also use the holiday as an excuse to party in Australia and New Zealand and in countries in Asia, Europe and north and south America.

"Thanks to our global family the link with Ireland has been kept alive over generations and our culture introduced to countless millions throughout the world," McAleese said in her annual message.

As well as Cowen, his deputy prime minister, nine other senior ministers, 11 junior ministers and the attorney general have flown out to visit the Irish diaspora in 46 locations around the world.

They will visit the US, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.

Following a series of scandals about the cost of ministerial travel — and amid a recession which has hit Ireland harder than virtually any other European country — Cowen has ordered costs to be kept to a minimum this year.

After centuries of emigration, an estimated 70 million people worldwide claim an Irish connection. About 34 million people in the US claim some Irish ancestry — some eight times the population of the Irish Republic.

Amid the celebrations, a more sombre note was struck by the head of the Roman Catholic Church, who used his St. Patrick’s Day address to apologise for his role in a clerical sex abuse probe.

Cardinal Sean Brady has faced calls to quit from victims’ groups over his attendance at meetings in 1975 where children allegedly abused by one of Ireland’s worst serial paedophiles were asked to take a vow of secrecy.