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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Going Green

Paddy's Day in rural Ireland: Vintage tractors, Downton Abbey and the oldest Patrick in Clare

Teams of volunteers across the country have spent months fine-tuning plans for parades.

FAR AWAY FROM the teeming streets of Dublin, volunteer committees in Irish towns and villages will soon see their months-long preparations for St Patrick’s Day come to fruition.

One of the longest-running parades in the country takes place in Coppeen, a small West Cork village with a population of fewer than 100 people.

Around 30 floats are expected to take part in this year’s event, according to Diarmaid Cohalan, one of the organisers.

Capture Shane Cronin Shane Cronin

Now in its 45th year, the parade will feature costumes with themes ranging from gritty rebellion to old-school glamour: Downton Abbey, the Oscar-nominated Brooklyn and the Easter Rising will all be represented, Colahan has been told.

But the centenary will take centre stage in the celebrations, Colahan says, and one local pub has even had Patrick Pearse and James Connolly painted across the front of its building for the occasion.

The event begins at the local school and ends at a stage in the middle of the village, from where schoolchildren will perform music to the crowds.

The voluntary committee that runs the annual festival has been meeting since Christmas but competition from bigger towns in the area remains a challenge.

“Clonakilty always puts on a big parade and they have sponsorship from the credit union there this year,” Colahan says.

It can be difficult to match them with promotion when we don’t have much in the way of resources.

Nuns on the run

The competition is somewhat less fierce across the border in Kerry, where towns and villages holding parades have worked together to prevent timing clashes.

Following negotiations between organisers, the festivities will kick off today at 10am in Milltown, 12pm in Glenbeigh, 1pm at Killorglin and at 2pm in both Killarney and Cahersiveen.

Mary Teahan, who oversees the parade committee in Glenbeigh, says the event has grown in very recent years thanks to the number of families moving back to the area.

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Turnout has also been helped by the commitee’s decision to join forces with two other parishes, Glencar and Cromane, for the occasion.

The first parade 26 years ago drew only about a dozen locals but 40 groups – representing local schools, sports clubs and community groups – are expected to take part this year.

“Our parish was cleared out by emigration but more and more young families are relocating here now,” Teahan says.

A lot of people here are self-employed and we hope these kind of events can help support local employment.

The parade, organisers say, is “all about humour”. One recent float representing the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was flanked by security men and assistants handing out invitations.

Another involving “nuns on the run” saw a group of local brothers run down from the back of a wrapped-up trailer taking part in the event.

“No doubt the Healy Raes will get a hammering this year too,” Teahan says.

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Horse-drawn carriage

In other places, local authorities take charge of organising: Clare County Council has been running the Ennis parade since 2014, for example.

Heading up the town’s celebrations this year is 97-year-old Patrick Wall, a retired farmer who was selected as grand marshal following a council search for the oldest Patrick in the county.

The Ballydineen native will join Mayor of Ennis Pat Daly in a horse-drawn carriage leading the crowds from the council offices to Station Road.

The council expects around 50 groups to join in the parade and over 10,000 spectators.

Back down south, Dripsey in Cork is holding its own unique parade, a vintage car and tractor run.

The 40-mile charity run will start at a local garden centre – where there’ll be “singing and dancing” – and pass through nearby private land.

The village once hosted Ireland’s shortest St Patrick’s Day parade, with a route stretching from one of two pubs in the area to the second across the road, but the event was scrapped after one of the businesses shut down.

Now, Dripsey instead holds one of the longest parades in the country, drawing over 100 motor enthusiasts from across Cork and beyond.

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“I’ve been getting calls this year from Tralee, Youghal and even into Tipperary,” says Leo O’Sullivan, the head of the organising committee.

Participants can bring their own cars and tractors but they must to be pre-1995 to register, he says.

Meanwhile, in Donegal, the flooding of recent months is expected to be a theme of Ardara’s 31st annual parade on Sunday.

The town was one of the areas worst hit by Storm Desmond but local residents have a knack for representing current events in their costumes, according to Stephen McCahill, who organises the parade.

In 2009, for example, one group found a way to dress up as the legendary US Airways plane that had crash-landed on the Hudson River in New York after both its engines were blocked by a flock of birds.

“They had feathers flying about and you could hear the sound of the plane from them,” McCahill says.

Up to 20 floats and 10 marching bands are due to take part in this year’s event, which runs along the main road of the town.

In its early years, only about 30 to 40 people turned up for the Ardara parade. Around 5,000 people are expected to watch the festivities this Sunday.

Read: From Dublin to the Deep South: Here’s how the world will celebrate Paddy’s Day

Read: NYC mayor ends boycott of St Patrick’s Day parade after gay ban reversed

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