St Patrick’s Parade Draws A Record Crowd To Downpatrick
THE St Patrick’s celebrations in Downpatrick have enjoyed excellent support from people as far away as the United States, countries across Europe, and from all over Ireland and Northern Ireland, and of course, from County Down itself.
A record crowd turned up to see the second biggest parade in Northern Ireland outside Belfast on St Patrick’s Day and estimates are that there were around 30,000 in attendance. The pavements along Market Street were filled to capacity by excited spectators enjoying the highlight of the year in the county town. And it is right and fitting that in Downpatrick, the town where the bones of St Patrick are reputed to be buried, that local people with te help of Down District Council have made such a tremendous effort to make this such a special day.
St Patrick, played by film and stage actor Niall Cusack, led the St Patrick’s day parade from the Ardglass Road at the Downshire estate, and walked the distance down to Market Street in his bare feet showing the humility of St Patrick as a religious figure. It was fitting that the Magnus Vikings were carrying two symbolic snakes just as a reminder of his work in ‘banshing the snakes from Ireland’.
A multitude of events have been happening all over St Patrick’s country to celebrate the saint who brought Christianity to Ireland.
St Patrick’s Grammar School entertained an audience with an evening of song, dance and drama on Thursday 13 March. Downpatrick Chamber of Commerce was delighted to present a fabulous selection of local crafts on Friday 14 March in St Patrick Square. Following on from the success of last year the Street Music Competition entertained the customers in Downpatrick on Saturday.
Down Cathedral also welcomed John Anderson and The Voices of Ireland on Sunday who gave a recital in honour of our national saint. The programme, which lasted about an hour and a quarter, was a lovely blend of sacred and secular music, ranging from popular songs of today to some of the most beautiful and best loved Irish (and Northern Irish) melodies ever written. It was rightly anticipated this performance would attract huge audiences.
There was also a pilgrimage prayer walk from Saul to Down Cathedral. Walkers made the three mile walk back in glorious weather and were piped up The Mall to the Down Catherdral. There was also a mass service in Irish from at St Patrick’s Church given by Canon Sean Rogan. Following the mass, he gave out shamrocks to the worshipers and members of the Downpatrick 1st Scouts group. And for those who enjoyed a walk through nature, there was an annual early day St Patrick’s Walk at Castle Ward.
And what better way to start the St Patrick’s Celebrations than stepping back to the fifth century AD and witness our iconic saint travelling down the Slaney River and observe how he was accepted in Ireland and how Christianity began. An excellent crowd of 200 people turned up for this event.
Local historian Albert Colmer’s bus tour educated on the life and times of St Patrick and visited locations associated with the missionary including St Patrick’s Grave; Struell Wells and St Tassach’s Church, Saul.
On Monday 17 March, St Patrick’s Square in Downpatrick came alive with music from noon with Frank Mitchell and Pamela Ballantine also entertaining the crowds with live music offering great competition prizes throughout the day… and Four Men and a Dog, one of Ireland’s best traditional groups, were playing their special brand of music to a large crowd.
The Fabulous artisan food market was also back in St Patrick’s Square on St Patrick’s Day offering excellent food produce of local provenance includingorganic farmers, specialist bakers, home-made dessert, sauces and chutney makers and a creperie.
On St Patrick’s Day, the Downpatrick Methodist Church in Scotch Street also exhibited drawings of St Patrick by local talented children.
Downpatrick’s St Patrick’s festival would not be complete without the popular cross-community carnival parade which filled the streets with music, dance and much more. For the first time ever, Down District Council was delighted to welcome UTV who anchored their St Patrick’s Day special programme from Downpatrick.
To finish off a week of celebrations, the brilliant Mάirtin O’Connor and Band performed again at The Saint Patrick Centre in the evening to an excellent audience. There was a very varied programme to suit all and children as well as parents enjoyed the Punch and Judy show in the Down Arts Centre.
The spectacular night-time illumination of three of Downpatrick iconic buildings; Down Cathedral, St Patrick’s Church and St Patrick Centre also added to the special atmosphere in the town.
Free park and ride services too were available at Downpatrick Racecourse from 11.00am to 8.00pm.
And for those keen to experience a train ride, Shamrock Steam Trains ran a park and ride available from Inch Abbey into Downpatrick town Centre.
On the day the weather was almost perfect for the spectators as well as the hundreds of participants in the parade.
Down District Council Chair, Councillor Maria McCarthy said: “I would like to, on behalf of Down District Council, thank all the organisations, businesses, volunteers and everyone else involved for their help and support in hosting one of the best St Patrick’s Festivals Downpatrick has ever seen.
“The illumination of Down Cathedral, St Patrick’s Church and The Saint Patrick Centre was fabulous. These much loved buildings in Downpatrick were lit up green and have generated a real buzz about the town and on social media. We certainly celebrated Irish culture with prayer and pilgrimages, parades, plenty of dancing and music, special foods and a whole lot of green. If this festival is anything to go by I’m already looking forward to our next flagship event, Festival of Flight, later in August in Newcastle.”