St Patrick’s Day parade joy as festivities return to island of Ireland for first time since pandemic
UTV News is at the first St Patrick's Day parade in Belfast in two years. (Photos: Pacemaker)
The streets are glittering green and Guinness taps are flowing as St Patrick’s Day celebrations return to the emerald isles for the first time in two years.
Cities, towns and villages across the island of Ireland are throwing long-awaited St Patrick's Day parades, following the easing of Covid restrictions.
Huge crowds have poured into the streets of Belfast and Dublin in preparations for the first parades after the pandemic put a pause on celebrations.
Belfast's streets heaved with revellers as a parade launched at City Hall this afternoon, bearing the theme: "We are all Patrick, we are all Belfast".
Up to 400,000 people were expected to attend the traditional parade in Dublin.
Thousands descended onto the streets, with a sea of green blanketing the main thoroughfare of O’Connell Street.
Festival-goers dressed as leprechauns, and decked out in shamrock hats flooded the streets.
In March 2020, swathes of St Patrick’s Day plans across Northern Ireland and the Republic were cancelled with the onset of the Covid pandemic, with parades axed in Dublin and Belfast.
The Belfast parade was set to travel along Donegall Place, into High Street, Bridge Street and Waring Street and finish in Donegall Street close to Writers Square.
The theme of this year’s festival is ‘connections’, in a nod to people connecting through arts and heritage.
Dublin's parade was set to begin at Parnell Square and go through O’Connell Street and around College Green, before making its way down Lord Edward Street and ending in Kevin Street at around 2pm.
Young children sat on parents’ shoulders to get the best view of the vast array of marching bands and dance and musical groups.
Members of Ireland’s Ukrainian community led the parade, with the Irish and Ukrainian flags held side by side in a sign of the country’s solidarity.
Anna McGowan, interim director at the St Patrick’s Festival, said it was emotional to see the return of the parade.
She said: “It’s been three calendar years since the last parade and there’s so many people whose lives are about putting on a show, and to be able to do that this year, and to welcome people back on to the streets of Dublin for our national days, it is so emotional and so important.
“I’m thrilled to be back.
“This parade will be bigger and brighter than ever before. We’ve been able to double the creative content in the parade.
“We’re also just thrilled to be able to welcome back our international marching bands to Dublin, so that’s going to be fantastic.
“The theme this year is connections. It’s all about inviting people to reconnect with each other after a really tough two years that we’ve had.
“We want people to come back into the streets of Dublin, into your towns and connect with each other. We enjoy those moments together and come back together.
“We will also have an opening moment to show Ireland’s solidarity with Ukraine. Irish people have a strong sense of support and we want to show that part of Irish people.”
A St Patrick’s Day bilateral meeting between US President Joe Biden and Taoiseach Micheal Martin will have to take place by videoconference after the Irish leader contracted Covid.
The traditional visit by the Taoiseach to the White House was cancelled after Mr Martin was informed that he had tested positive on Wednesday night.
He had been due to speak at the 30th anniversary of the Ireland Funds Gala dinner in Washington, but left the gathering after the positive result was confirmed.
The Taoiseach was due to hold talks with President Biden and take part in the traditional shamrock handover ceremony in the Oval Office on Thursday.
However the engagements will instead be switched to a virtual format.
An Irish Government spokesperson said the Taoiseach was “feeling well” but is currently self-isolating on public health grounds.