Ireland paints the world green as landmarks lit up

MUCH of the world turned green yesterday for St Patrick’s Day as Ireland pushed itself especially hard as a tourist destination amid the worst recession in memory.

Tourism Ireland wangled a deal for major world landmarks – including the Sydney Opera House, London Eye, Toronto’s CN Tower and New York’s Empire State Building – to be bathed in green floodlights as part of a marketing push on four continents.

New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade stepped off on Fifth Avenue with New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly as the grand marshal. The parade also featured New York’s famous “Fighting 69th” regiment, whose history stretches to the US Civil War. It was part of the Union Army’s so-called “Irish Brigade”, made up largely of Irish immigrants from New York City.

As many as a quarter-million marchers took part with parade routes in cities across the country marking the holiday.

New York Governor David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended a Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral before the midday parade yesterday.

After centuries of emigration, an estimated 70 million people worldwide claim an Irish connection. About 34 million people in the US alone claim some Irish ancestry.

With Taoiseach Brian Cowen meeting President Barack Obama at the White House, Irish ministers flew out to visit the Irish diaspora in 46 locations around the world.

They were visiting the US, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.

The New York parade is the largest, typically drawing two million spectators. The tradition apparently began in Boston, in 1761.

In Rockefeller Plaza outside NBC’s Today Show studios, dancers from Riverdance performed.

Elsewhere in the US, the Chicago River was dyed green for the day but city officials refuse to divulge their secret for colouring the vast river bright green every year.

The Sydney Opera House turned a shade of green, marking 200 years of St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Australia. The event was first officially recognised by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810.

The manager of Tourism Ireland in Australia and New Zealand, Orla Saul, said she hoped the spirit of the occasion would rub off on Sydneysiders: “I think it will bring a smile to their faces... Maybe they’ll have a little Irish moment.”

Ms Saul said despite changes in Australia’s population, many people still have strong ties to Ireland: “From our records, one in four people have some link to Ireland, an ancestral link, and that is still strong.”

However, she said, St Patrick’s Day is not just for the Irish: “We like people just to join in even if they don’t have a link... St Patrick’s Day is a time when everybody can experience Irish culture, music and dance.”

In Victoria, thousands of revellers celebrated by drinking green beer and listening to Celtic music.

An estimated 5,000 people attended celebrations at Carlton’s Dan O’Connell Hotel.

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