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Saturday, March 14, 1998 Published at 03:53 GMT

Special Report

The day the world turns green
image: [ St Patrick's Day is a cause for celebration the world over ]
St Patrick's Day is a cause for celebration the world over

From Boston to Beijing, Moscow to Manchester, St Patrick's Day appears to be a cause for global celebration.

For centuries the Irish themselves have been their homeland's greatest export, which helps explain why their national day - March 17 - is marked in all four corners of the world.

St Patrick was born in the fifth century and travelled to Ireland at the age of 16. A sheep herder by trade he later became a preacher and is credited with converting the Irish to Christianity. Legend has it that he also rid the island of poisonous snakes.

[ image: Cheers: A float from last year's Dublin parade ©Irish Times]
Cheers: A float from last year's Dublin parade ©Irish Times
These days celebrating the patron saint of Ireland is a serious business, at least for the organisers.

In New York, where the tradition of St Patrick's Day parades stretches back 236 years, the city is planning its biggest pageant of the year.

The normally frantic pace of life in Manhattan will grind to a halt for a few hours, as revellers turn out to watch the carnival crawl down Fifth Avenue.

For the first time the proceedings will be broadcast live, in a three-and-a-half hour special by NBC.

[ image: Last year's Dublin parade was a big success]
Last year's Dublin parade was a big success
Never a city to do things by halves, New York will be swamped by all things green. That includes beer, bagels and even a mellow green glow beamed from the top of the Empire State Building.

Back in the old country, celebrations will be even more impressive promises Marie Claire Sweeney, executive director of Dublin's St Patrick's Festival.

She has spent the past year organising the four-day extravaganza which includes street theatre, dancing, leprechaun rugby and climaxes with a parade on Tuesday - a public holiday - through the capital's streets.

Ironically, until a couple of years ago, Dublin was just about the last place to go on St Patrick's Day, says Ms Sweeney.

[ image: The leprachaun is a mythical Irish figure ©Irish Times]
The leprachaun is a mythical Irish figure ©Irish Times
"For years all we used to have was a sort of industrial parade through the city, with about 60 fridges made in Ireland loaded onto a 40ft flatbed truck," she says.

Then came the football fever of 1990 and 1994, when Ireland qualified for the World Cup which helped the Irish discover their sense of national celebration, says Ms Sweeney.

"We've become Ireland's biggest festival and draw in about three-quarters-of-a-million people."

Across the Irish Sea, there will be no shortage of fun to be had. It just needs a bit of searching out.

London has never been able to match New York for a massive St Paddy's Day blowout. Events have always been more localised, says Paul Gribben, deputy editor of the Irish Post newspaper, which bills itself as 'The Voice of the Irish in Britain'.

[ image: Taking a break: Revellers in New York]
Taking a break: Revellers in New York
"Irish identity is quite different here than in the US, where you have people who are maybe fifth or sixth generation asserting their Irishness. It's probably to do with the fact that your origins are a bigger thing over there," says Mr Gribben.

One place where the Guinness and other stout beers will definitly be flowing freely is that most English of towns, Cheltenham.

St Patrick's Day falls in the middle of this year's three-day Cheltenham Festival, a highlight in the horseracing calendar.

The festival is famous for the large Irish contingent who make an annual pilgrimage to the Cotswold town.

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Irish Times - St Patrick's Festival

Customs and traditions of St Patrick's Day

Irish Post

St Patrick's Day musical, animated greeting cards

Virtual Irish Pub

St Patrick's Day in New York

St Patrick's Festival

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