Write Around Scotland

Roger McCann

Writer | Blogger | Photographer


St. Patrick's Day Parade, Celbridge

Posted 2020-02-26 07:14:01


The flags were out. So was the bunting. Between lampposts on the town’s main street, a thousand triangles of green white and gold fluttered in the wind. Teenagers blew whistles. Younger children toot-tooted cardboard trumpets while in every other passing car a not-so-young driver sounded the horn. 

From the church a few yards back from the road, came the murmur of a Mass in progress for this was a Holy Day as well as a public holiday in Southern Ireland.

The cacophony of noise was merely a warm up before the main event, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Celbridge, a small town to the west of Dublin.

Now, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City may be the biggest in the world. In Dublin, they boast their parade is best. But here, in Celbridge, the whole community appeared to be out on the street and involved. They took part in the parade, or lined the pavements to cheer and wave their flags, while local dignitaries looked on from the stage. .

In March 2007, the enthusiastic crowd had an added bonus - Ireland’s Strongest Man was there to give a demonstration. In a show of strength he went on to lift an amazing amount of weight!

Near the middle of the main street, final adjustments were made to the microphones and the loud speaker system that had been installed on a make-do stage on the back of a lorry. Now the music, Irish jigs and reels, could be heard all over. You could sense the anticipation mounting. Then as parade time neared all went quiet.

“Can youse hear me out there,” bawled the man testing the sound system.

The crowd on the pavement opposite acknowledged him by waving their flags and cheering even louder.

“The parade will begin in a few minutes,” he shouted again, ‘’but first, let’s give a big, Celbridge cheer for Jason Reilly, Ireland’s strongest man!”

On the roadside near the pavement where the crowd was deepest, a car had been backed up onto a raised metal ramp. Now Jason took hold of the handles on this ramp affair, bent his knees, huffed and puffed, then proceeded to lift the back of the car. The crowd, at least those who were near enough to witness this spectacle, were delighted.

For his next feat of strength, the big, ‘broth of a bhoy’ grabbed hold of a barrel - ‘20 stones it weighs’ said the commentator from the stage. Red faced with exertion, the strongman lifted the barrel above his head. The crowd were impressed and applauded his every move.

When the Parade came in sight it was led by a leprechaun holding tight to a pair of waist height, Irish Wolfhounds.

“They must be awfully good dogs,” said a wee girl waving her flag to distract them.

“Well trained,” said her mother, smiling.

Next there was a long line of vintage cars. One driver wearing a bishop’s hat waved slowly to the crowd. “Who’s he meant to be?” someone asks.

Then St. Patrick, complete with bushy beard and bishop’s staff, marched up the middle of the road to a great cheer.

In turn there follows troops of girl guides, boy scouts, children from a playgroup and a very young school group playing recorders. On instructions from their teacher, they stop marching, turn to face the dignitaries on the stage and play a slow air, the theme tune from the film, Titanic.

Next in line come the motor bikers, decorated tractors and three - wheeled tricycles. One tricycle is pedalled by Superman. Other huge agricultural machines are driven by more leprechauns.

Whenever a new group reaches that part of the road overlooked by the stage, they stop and give a short performance of their skills. There’s a show of martial arts and a mock fight by characters from the film, Star Wars. This is followed by a demonstration of juggling by a cohort of colourful clowns.

Gymnasts were led by a girl doing cartwheels. She keeps on cartwheeling - down the middle of the road.

There were groups from various sports clubs and a team of high kicking Irish dancers stepping out in colourful dresses and soft leather dance shoes.

As the theme music from Riverdance, the world famous Irish Show, was belting out over the loudspeakers another troupe of dancers, this time wearing hard black shoes, rapped out their steps in quick time on the tarmac. Some in the crowd couldn’t resist joining in with a few steps of their own.

Nearing the end of the parade, the pipe band of the Dublin Fire Brigade stopped in front of the stage. The drummers and pipers formed into a circle then played a set of tunes. Meanwhile the two mace carriers stood to attention.

For the final tune the band played the Irish National Anthem. Now the dignitaries, each wearing a bunch of shamrock, rose to their feet, adding their voices, singing in Irish.  Many in the crowd, young ones as well as much older, stood with hand on heart and sang along. It was a poignant moment.

Celbridge’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade ended with a few “Hip, Hip, Hoorays,” everyone being thanked who had contributed to the occasion. As the pipe band marched away up the street, mothers pushing prams, young fathers with infants on their shoulders and older people, elbows linked, fell in behind, carried along with the music.

I suspect the pubs were soon overflowing and many a drop of the “black stuff” would be taken. The “craic”, as they say here, ‘’would be mighty’’.

What St. Patrick would make of the Celbridge celebration in his honour, we cannot imagine. But while it continues to bring local people and some of the many incomers to Ireland together, it must be a good thing.

Since 2007 when I enjoyed the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Celbridge, the event has continued to grow.

 Want to Know More? Saint Patrick was born sometime between 387and 390 AD to a wealthy, high ranking Romano-British family. It’s uncertain exactly where he was born, but it is believed to have been in the village of Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton. Patrick was not overly religious as a child but this changed when he was kidnapped by Irish raiders, taken to Antrim and sold as a slave. For the next six years he worked as a shepherd. He eventually escaped and spent the next few years studying at a monastery in Auxerre. In 432 he was called to Rome where Pope Celestine consecrated him as a bishop. From there Patrick travelled to Ireland with 25 followers. Over the next few years he made extensive and successful missionary journeys throughout Ireland, spending his time preaching, teaching, building churches, opening schools and monasteries and converting chiefs and bards the length and breadth of the country. After his death, Patrick became a legendary figure and was credited with many miracles, the most famous of which is that he chased snakes from Ireland. However, it is believed that this referred to him eliminating paganism as snakes are a pagan symbol. He is also famous for describing the concept of the Trinity by using a shamrock leaf. Patrick is remembered as a bishop and missionary and is best known as the patron saint of Ireland, whose feast day is 17th March. However, he is also recognised as the patron saint of Nigeria, engineers and excluded people. The National Museum in Dublin has the little hand bell he used to summon his congregation as well as a tooth which is believed to have been Patrick’s.                          



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