Jigs, reels, pints and parades as world becomes Irish for a day

THE crowd is happy, the music is swirling, and two men jump up, pints of Guinness in hand, for a quick jig.

It could be any Irish pub on St Patrick’s Day, except that the musicians are Chinese and the pub is in Beijing.

“Years ago, I saw the movie Titanic, and I was really taken by the scene when they were all dancing below deck,” said Cheng Yafei, a burly coal mining machine salesman by day and blues guitarist by night.

“I thought, Hey! this music sounds great. Where does it come from?”

Cheng, who migrated to the blues after discovering the guitar and the Beatles in college, taught himself to play Irish music.

He was one of millions celebrating St Patrick’s Day around the world yesterday.

From the estimated two million revellers in New York’s parade to festivities on the “Emerald Isle” of the Caribbean — Montserrat — it is a global phenomenon.

New Yorkers partied as tens of thousands of Irish people flooded Fifth Avenue for the city’s 248th annual parade.

Ciaran Staunton was serving up an Irish breakfast for the St Patrick’s Day rush at his Manhattan pub. He said he planned to take a break to march with his wife, Orlaith, and his two young children in the parade.

Even with all the revelry, his thoughts are drifting to his unemployed nephews back in his native country, unemployed carpenters, bricklayers and electricians.

“The economy’s in shreds in Ireland,” said the 45-year-old pub owner.

“People are being laid off as we speak. Usually with massive unemployment in Ireland, there’s more immigration to the US.”

Up to eight million Americans were watching the Ireland’s own St Patrick’s celebrations live on US television.

Tourism Ireland secured coverage on the top US morning television programme, the Today Show.

The deal gave Ireland an opportunity to showcase the country to a massive audience in an effort to boost tourism numbers and highlight Ireland’s culture and heritage.

In Manhattan this year’s grand marshal was Mike Gibbons, president of the Ireland-US Council and a former Estee Lauder executive.

“It really is a great day,” said NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. “The first parade I marched in was high school, then college. Then I remember policing many of these parades. The parade has gotten better, I think, in many ways.”

Other parts of the US honoured Ireland with their own signature celebrations.

In Portland, Maine, 75 people greeted the day with an icy plunge in the Atlantic Ocean, charging into the freezing water at the city’s East End Beach — and celebrating with a Guinness afterward.

In Washington, the White House went green, with water in the fountains on the north and south lawns dyed to mark the national holiday of Ireland.

Many US cities with big Irish communities, like Boston and Chicago, had their celebrations over the weekend.

In Auckland, New Zealand, hundreds gathered early morning to celebrate in true Celtic fashion. Over a full Irish breakfast and a few pints of Guinness, Irish expats listened to some traditional tunes and spun some yarns about what Paddy’s Day means when you’re so far from home.

“It’s almost become a public holiday you know, so many people take a day off work to drink, that it should really be a public holiday,” said Gerry O’Neill, a musician performing for the occasion.

“It’s more fun as well, people tend to go all out more than they would back home and really let their hair down and have a really good time,” said Mark from Co Meath.

For the green-costumed folk celebrating St Patrick and all things Irish, the day was still young and there is plenty of celebrating left to do.

Across the Tasman Sea, the Australian Hotels Association was urging revellers not to “go overboard” on St Patrick’s Day.

“Get dressed up in green, head to your favourite pub and have a great time but don’t drink too much,” its national chief executive officer Bill Healey pleaded.

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