Republic of Ireland news

St Patrick's Day parades return after pandemic absence

St Patrick's Day celebrations in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell 
David Young, PA

Rain failed to dampen spirits in Belfast as the St Patrick’s Day parade returned to the city after a three-year absence.

Crowds lined the streets to witness the colourful showpiece of this year’s March 17 festivities.

Parades were cancelled across Ireland in March 2020 at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cities, towns and villages were today marking the national saint's day after the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

St Patrick's Day celebrations in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
 

In Belfast, the event returned with a bang as floats, street artists and dance troupes made their way through the city centre.

Hundreds of people had gathered in sunshine at City Hall ahead of the event but just minutes before Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl led off the parade the rain started to fall.

However, the mood remained upbeat as onlookers cheered and clapped amid a carnival atmosphere.

Parades returned in towns and cities across the north today, including Armagh, Downpatrick and Derry.

St Patrick's Day celebrations in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
 

Lord Mayor Ms Nicholl, who is seven months pregnant, pushed her two-and-a-half-year-old son Cian in a pram at the front of the parade.

She said it was great to see a bit of normality return to the city after the pandemic.

“It’s incredible,” she told the PA news agency.

“I remember when we had to cancel the last one and just that feeling of uncertainty and fear and wondering if it was the right thing even to do, and it obviously was, and who would have known that it was going to be another two years until we could have this.

“So it feels like we’re really coming through, a really positive day for the city.

St Patrick's Day celebrations in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
 

“Just look around at the colour and the vibrancy and people in the city centre.

“It’s been dead in the city centre for the last two years and people haven’t had the opportunity to come together and to celebrate very much. So this is a really special day.”

Of her role at the head of the parade, she said: “I’m leading the parade at seven months pregnant and I brought the pram so I wouldn’t have to dance.

“No-one warned you how humiliating it can be being Lord Mayor – you have to dance at every opportunity. So I’m just going to dance a little bit today.”

This year, in Dublin, the parade began at Parnell Square and was making its way through O’Connell Street and around College Green, before winding its way through Lord Edward Street and ending in Kevin Street at around 2pm.

Olympic boxer Kellie Harrington and Paralympic swimmer Ellen Keane were the grand marshals.

The pair waved at the crowds who lined the streets of the capital.

St Patrick's Day celebrations in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
 

The Tokyo gold medal-winning boxer described the opportunity to parade through her local streets as “fantastic”.

“For myself and Ellen to be grand marshals, two female athletes, it’s amazing and it shows the strength in female sport, it’s always been there,” she told the PA news agency.

“To be chosen to walk through our city as grand marshals is fantastic. It’s great to show younger kids coming up that if they work hard they can achieve anything.

“I am not just representing myself, I’m representing the people of Ireland and the people of my community. It’s not every day that people from the inner city get to be a grand marshal and I’ve really got the backing of them all and they are all really delighted.

“I went to the parade in Dublin when I was a kid with my three brothers, and so many friends went as well.”

Hollywood actor John C Reilly was the international guest of honour at the Dublin parade.

The Irish/American star said it was a great opportunity to “spread joy” during a difficult time in the world.

Dressed in a green tweed suit from Dublin’s famed Louis Copeland & Sons store, Mr Reilly said he was excited to take part in the celebrations.

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