Irish and non-Irish revel in People’s Parade
This is the second of a two-part series on Neal Pollack's visit to Dublin, Ireland, during St. Patrick's Day festivities. The first part covered a visit to the Guinness Storehouse.
The sleet fell wet and cold that St. Patrick’s Day morning. Hundreds of us stood on the streets of Dublin, flanked on either side by restored brick Georgian homes. We lined up six abreast, keeping our eye on the bright-pink sign bobbing in front of us. In front of me was a beefy American rugby team wearing mustard-and-tan jackets, clearly not men to be messed with. Behind were a dozen Poles, draped in vinyl that bore images of the most recent Euro Cup, which had been hosted by Poland and the Ukraine for the first time in 2012. As the day progressed, they would extend their arms, which were augmented by small-p poles, and flap around making noise while people took their pictures.
“So who won the Euro Cup this year?” I asked one of them.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Spain, maybe? None of us really follow soccer.”
A great whooping went up. We were walking! The whoop quickly turned to a moan. We didn’t walk very far, only about half a block, as the thousands of people in front of us emptied slowly onto Dublin’s main thoroughfares. Again we stopped, our feet damp, our bones chilled.
“Streaker!” someone shouted.
To our left, in an upper window, stood a man, jiggling his Irish pride for all to see.
The People’s Parade had been joined.
These have been tough years for Ireland. The roar of the Celtic Tiger, the great boom that was supposed to at last lift up the Emerald Isle from eons of misery, has become a faint echo of forgotten dreams. In its place sit empty buildings, massive bank debt, and a population that, once again, is leaving. Everyone I talked to in Ireland seemed to be longing for better times and better places. The guy who gave me a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, in a brief moment of candor, wistfully talked about all his mates who had gone to Australia to find work. Another guy said, “Everyone I fooking know has moved to Canada.” A bookstore clerk said, “Woe is us.” Sad to say, they must be on their way.
Only tourism stands between Ireland and eternal ruin. Fortunately, it’s one of the most charming places on Earth, and people still like to visit, nearly 920,000 from North America alone in 2011, according to the Irish Tourist Board. But that’s not enough in a country where every other home, it seems, is a B&B. This year, the Tourist Board is making a huge push, which they’re calling The Gathering. While the name sounds a bit like a horror anthology show on Fox, The Gathering is serious business. Ireland is calling the tribe home.
This is the year for clan meetings, professional alumni reunions, and get-togethers of all sorts for clubs, associations, and interest groups. If there’s an Irish connection, they’ll be Gathering this year, and Ireland will be welcoming them with all the considerable warmth and hospitality it can muster. The signal has gone out.
The St. Patrick’s Day Dublin “People’s Parade,” held this year for the first time, was the first major push for The Gathering. More than 6,000 people from all over the world came to Dublin to march through its streets. Even though half of them appeared to be Spanish teenagers with no particular Irish connection, turning the whole affair into a kind of chilly Ibiza, it was certainly fun.