Residents of Belfast’s Holylands area are hoping to reclaim St Patrick’s Day with a family-friendly festival aimed at countering the recent perception of drunkenness and disorder.
Organisers say they have taken steps to ensure the upcoming Spring Gathering festival is family friendly and alcohol free.
In recent years the Holylands area - a popular location for student housing - has witnessed scenes of chaos as drunken St Patrick’s Day celebrations have spiralled out of control.
Last year, the PSNI came under attack as violence erupted in what both the then Universities Minister Stephen Farry and police described as “disgraceful” levels of disorder.
Following the disorder, residents’ groups began working on ways to counter the problem.
Now, they are hoping the forthcoming Spring Gathering - open to all and designed to highlight the area’s diversity - will “grow over the years to become the main St Patrick’s Day event in the area”.
Sophie Rasmussen from the South Belfast Partnership Board said: “It was through the residents and the stakeholders, who really wanted to do something to show the area in a positive light. They want to do something different and positive, so we are taking over the lower Rugby Road and turning it into a family festival and it’s all free.
“The place will be well stewarded with security there as well. We want to ensure that there is no drinking taking place and we certainly couldn’t have anybody drinking at it because this is a family festival.
“That’s the whole point, so that people can bring their families and enjoy the festival in a safe space.”
Brid Ruddy of College Park Avenue Residents Association had a similar view, explaining that the idea is to create a safe space for people to celebrate the annual festival of Ireland’s patron saint.
“We welcome visitors from across the city to join our family friendly festival,” he said. “We will be celebrating the many positive aspects our community in the Holyland area has to offer.”
The festival will tell the story of St Patrick as a refugee, to highlight the Holylands as one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse places in Northern Ireland.
The Spring Gathering will include music, dance, storytelling, food displays and children’s activities, including traditional street games. Attractions include a ‘Chinese Dragon Dance,’ a ‘Street Sports’ and ‘Global Roots Music’. There will also be a communal lunch and workshops on seed planting, and more.