As many of you know, March 17th was St. Patrick’s Day…. and I got to spend it on the Isle of Ireland! Fancy that 🙂
I didn’t realize that I was excited for Paddy’s Day until it got here. People have told me there are better celebrations in other parts of the world (New York and Dublin, for instance) but I was happy enough to see what shenanigans Belfast got up to on their national holiday.
That’s right- it’s the national holiday, which means NO SCHOOL!
Not just about forgetting to wear green and not getting pinched anymore, people…
I headed down to the city center with a few friends and classmates to watch the parade, which was made up of various community groups, sports clubs, youth centers, dance troupes, dance groups and bands. Everyone dressed up in funny hats and green and a few tricolors (the green/white/orange flag of the Republic of Ireland) were seen throughout the crowd, along with the city-sanctioned green shamrock flags.
Some of you may remember that Belfast has a bit of an issue with flags, mainly, the flying of the Union Jack or the tricolor. Both of these flags represent the divided communities in Northern Ireland and are therefore a severe point of contention during events like St. Patrick’s Day, which is meant as a celebration for all to attend safely and comfortably.
The parade was pretty small but really fun to watch, and there were so many people lining the streets. Maggie and I fell in after the last float had gone by to follow the route to Custom House Square, where a concert event was taking place.
The concert was hilarious. There were a couple of radio hosts presenting the various groups which included dancers, traditional singers, and a boy band.
Oh yes. I’ve now officially seen my first boy band and it was definitely an experience!
The sun poked its way through partway during the afternoon which made things a bit nicer and warmer. Families danced with young ones, teenagers squealed at the boy band, and everyone clapped and sang when they knew the words. A few security guards kept the rowdier parts of the crowd settled, and people seemed mostly willing to respect the identities and boundaries of others in the crowd who may not have been from their same religious or socioeconomic background. This hasn’t always been the case at this particular event.
But then, of course, there’s the people who ruin it for everyone. Reports are uncertain but as Maggie and I were coming back down towards City Hall there was a large demonstration of Catholics and Protestants that had obviously caught the parade crowd on their way out. We were on the predominately Catholic side where tricolors were being flown and teenagers were chanting songs and slogans.
Police had already blocked the sides of the street with themselves and their big vans but kept their distance from protesters. Cameras telescoped from the top of the vans clicked away. Bottles were tossed. Cans were thrown. An egg splattered against the side of a police van, catching an officer’s hat and the shirt of a spectator.
As we skirted the boundaries of the kerfuffle we soon saw a bunch of Protestant flags up at the front by City Hall. I have no idea who got their first or who escalated what was otherwise a peaceful day… whoever it was in no way represents or respects the steps Northern Ireland has taken to achieve stability and peace.
The evening ended with drinks and trad music, which never ceases to bring a smile to my face!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, no matter where in the world you are.