It’s the end of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, a day of celebrations and parades all over the country.
It’s turning into a fun holiday, far from the pitiful parades of yore, which involved tractors with ghetto-blasters strapped to their sides blaring out The Clancy Brothers, dingy floats advertising the local supermarket, shivering school bands wearing beige blazers and plaid skirts marching in grim formation and people wrapped up in raincoats and scarves waving plastic tricolours with scant enthusiasm.
Later, after we’d breathed life back into our blue fingers, we’d watch the parades in New York, Paris and Sydney on telly and wish we had something that colourful and interesting (and better weather).
Thankfully, about the mid-1990s it changed. Irish people got a bit of pride (and a lot of money), the local theatrical groups got involved and suddenly Irish parades were as good as any of the international set.
We’ve had a tough couple of years in Ireland, we’re just out of a General Election, have a new government in situ and there’s still a lot of miserable talk of emigration, recession and cutbacks.
So, with surprising foresight the organisers of the St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin asked award-winning Irish writer Roddy Doyle to compose a short story as a theme for this year’s big Dublin parade. It was done to honour the city’s designation as UNESCO City of Literature, and eight of Ireland’s best pageant companies were tasked with each bringing a chapter of the short story to life.
The result was a children’s comedy action tale called ‘Brilliant’, which sees Raymond (10) and Gloria Kelly (8) chasing the Black Dog of Depression out of Dublin city to recover Dublin’s funny bone. Along the way they are helped out by a vampire, a tall leprechaun and a timely intervention by a flock of flamingos. You can read the entire story online.
The story is a funny, heart-warming piece, and my favourite parts were when Doyle gave Dublin landmarks and buildings a character and a voice in the story.
It was amazing to witness how the various theatrical groups interpreted the events in each of the chapters and brought them to life in stunning colour, inventive costumes and incredible movable set-pieces. It was the best St. Patrick’s Day parade I’ve seen in Ireland.
As I watched the chapters of that story amble down the streets of our capital city I was struck at how much energy, creativity and enthusiasm has been harnessed to create the spectacle. Yes, we might be having a difficult economic period, but we are still a nation of imagination that loves telling stories (and a good party).
It proves that one of our greatest resources at this point is our engagement with the arts, and I hope the government recognises this and encourages it with continued support in the coming years.
In between the ‘Brilliant’ staged sequences were bands from around the world, and I must nominate Les Lapin Superstars from France as easily the coolest, funkiest band on the street, oozing that effortless French style and musical energy.
Here’s a YouTube clip from one of their recent gigs to play the day out: