Country gives itself the green light to forget the recessionary blues

The emerald illuminations that transformed world landmarks over the St Patrick’s weekend weren’t the only kind of green light in evidence as the occasion gave the country the go-ahead to forget current crises and get the craic back for a while.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered to cheer on parades big and small in every county, while the bank holiday had the effect of turning the normal one-day frenzy into a more leisurely three-day festival.

And while the weather was a customary mix of sunshine, showers, hail, wind, calm and deluge, organisers and tourism promoters across the country declared themselves delighted with the sheer amount of activity that proceeded without interruption and the huge numbers who turned out to enjoy them.

The biggest parades were in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin where 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 and 500,000 spectators respectively lined routes to see the floats, bands and pageantry from home and abroad.

Limerick boldly claimed to be the biggest of the lot, packing in more than 4,000 musicians, marchers and entertainers compared to the main event in the capital where the official participants numbered 3,000.

Size also preoccupied two much smaller towns at either end of the country as Bandon, Co Cork and Glenties, Co Donegal battled to set a new world record for assembling the greatest number of leprechauns.

Bearded babies, dyed green grannies and little people of every age and size gathered to try to clinch the title which eventually led to the West Cork town with its 1,263 leprechauns beating Glenties’ fine effort of 1,024.

The fun was matched overseas with an estimated 60 million people worldwide taking part in celebrations to mark Ireland’s national day. Among them were Taoiseach Enda Kenny and 16 government ministers, who were all under orders to signal a green light for foreign investment. The charm offensive was boosted by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s announcement in Toronto of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish abroad.

A sort of OBE for the diaspora, the award is to be presented annually to 10 recipients, at least one coming from each of the following sectors: Irish community support; the arts, culture and sport; charitable works; business and education; peace and reconciliation; and development work.

Not all were happy with government moves abroad, however, and the Catholic campaign group, Ireland Stand Up, used the day to travel to Rome to tackle visiting Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte on the closure of the Irish embassy to the Vatican.

The 16 members later protested outside the former embassy, complaining: “Some in our Government use the day of St Patrick not to preach the gospel but to preach the economic values of trading with us.”

Meanwhile, in Co Sligo, a motorcycle enthusiast who had taken part in one St Patrick’s Day parade died on his way to another.

John Lynagh, 32, from Culleens, Co Sligo, was on his way to join a parade at Dromore West when he crashed and died in Easkey.

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