Claims to Irish ancestry rocket around St Patrick’s day. Suddenly everyone remembers they have Guinness for blood and love wearing green. Especially this year with Brian O’Driscoll and the rest of the Irish team winning the Six Nations – a fact that was mentioned more than once from the Trafalgar Square stage.
With roads in central London closed off for the St Patrick’s Day parade, the participants queued from Green Park tube station out to Hyde Park Corner ready for the midday start. Led off by an Irish Wolf Hound in London Irish Rugby colours, a tricolour was followed by dignitaries including the Irish Ambassador to the UK and a sun-glassed Michael Flatley. Not that he was being rockstarcool, it really was bright enough that sunglasses were required. The 16th of March in London yet some people – I lie not – were actually slapping on sunblock.
The world’s biggest St Patrick (?) takes part in the London Parade
The parade of dancers, musicians and floats made its way through thick crowds along Piccadilly.These included the Dublin All-Stars, the Southwark Irish Pensioners, the Essex Caledonian pipe band and many more, including what may be the world’s biggest St Patrick, controlled remotely as he marched down the streets. The parade headed down Regents Street towards Trafalgar Square, where the party had already started. Later on Riverdance would be headlining but the Irish acts were already entertaining on the main stage, including the London Irish Music School and Daitha O Dronai – intriguingly described as tradition meets electronica. Between acts MC Maggie Doyle taught the crowd some Irish words and announced there were Irish Language experts in the crowd who would be teaching Irish to anyone who wanted to learn. I didn’t bump into one.
After the elegant sound of the Irish harp orchestra things went more rock and roll with the cast of The Commitments bringing a selection of their songs down from the Cambridge Theatre. They soon had the crowd singing along, which continued with everyone shalalalaing along to Brown girl and other pop oldies whilst the stage was changed for the next act.
The afternoon wasn’t just about Irish music and dance. Near the National Gallery was a comedy tent showcasing the best of Irish talent from the London Irish Comedy Festival. The Prince Charles cinema on Leicester Square hosted an Irish film festival with works from new Irish film makers, animation and the best of contemporary short films, including the Oscar-winning comedy Six Shooter. You could even dance away the afternoon to the sounds of live Irish bands in Westminster Cathedral Hall.
Whoops. Wasn’t expecting him to jump quite so high, quite so there.
This was the biggest St Patricks Day celebration outside Ireland. Boris Johnson celebrated the Irish community’s contribution to London claiming that it was one of the things that helped make London the greatest city in the world. Normally mayors deal in hyperbole but sitting in Trafalgar Square with the sun shining and a good natured crowd stretching from Nelson’s column to the National Gallery it seemed it was probably true.