Families with young children mingled with teenagers in green wigs as they watched St Patrick stroll through the centre of Downpatrick behind two giant green snakes today.
Crowds lined the streets from lunchtime as one of Northern Ireland’s main St Patrick’s Day parades assembled in a town which can lay claim to being the burial site of Ireland’s patron saint.
A re-enactment earlier in the day saw St Patrick travel up Strangford Lough and land at the River Slaney, recalling his return to Ireland as a bishop.
Thousands of people were entertained with music and chat from U105’s Frank Mitchell as they searched for prime positions along the roadside to view the parade as it moved along the main street.
Liza Gambold from Warrenpoint travelled with her thee children and mum Elish Rafferty. Speaking ahead of the parade she said she was most looking forward to “the cultural side of it”, adding that she was interested to see all the different floats and how they fitted in to the meaning of the parade.
A park and ride service had been provided by Down District Council with motorists taking advantage of the facilities at Downpatrick racecourse and the free bus into the town centre.
Shauna McLaverty from south Belfast took the narrow gauge steam railway from Inch Abbey, and said her daughters Niamh (5) and two year-old Cara were very excited for their first St Patrick’s Day parade.
“Niamh has been learning about St Patrick in school and hasn’t stopped talking about him, so we decided to take her to a parade to see what it’s all about,” said Shauna.
She commended the family-friendly atmosphere and efforts to market the event as a cross-community one.
“It is not a day about Catholics or Protestants,” she said. “St Patrick’s Day is about Christianity and I think today is great and has been really well-organised.”
Unlike the McLaverty girls, it was not the first St Patrick’s day out for Antrim men John Graham and Davy Larmour.
The pensioners took advantage of their free travel cards and got the bus down earlier in the day, relaxing on a stone wall on the pavement as the parade neared. “We think Downpatrick is a better parade than Dublin,” said John, 76. “It’s a great day out.”
With shamrocks painted on their cheeks and leprechauns hats on their heads AJ Detwiler and his friends from Newcastle’s YMCA centre fitted in just like locals.
But the 25 year-old from Pennsylvania informed me just one of the group was from Northern Ireland, with the rest soaking up the carnival atmosphere as they celebrated their first St Patrick’s day in Northern Ireland.
Estelle Mallet and Sara Clain from France said they were happy at having chosen to spend the day in Downpatrick over Dublin. “There are less crowds here and the atmosphere is really fun,” they said.