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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 11:04 GMT
St Patrick remembered in Sandy Row
Residents of a loyalist area of south Belfast are to stage St Patrick's day celebrations for the first time in decades.

An ecumenical service to celebrate the life of Ireland's patron saint will be held at St Aidan's church in the predominantly Protestant Sandy Row area.

St Patrick
Sandy Row is to stage St Patrick's day celebrations

Local children will parade with a banner to the service on Friday and there will be a St Patrick's 'hooley' in the local Orange hall that night.

The events have been organised by the Sandy Row Residents' Association and are being supported by the city council.

St Patrick is traditionally associated and celebrated by the Catholic/nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

Anna McEvoy, a voluntary project worker with the residents association, said she had been teaching children in Sandy Row that St Patrick should belong to both communities in Northern Ireland.

"Young parents at a history project we organised believed St Patrick had nothing to do with them, that he was of the other faith," she said.

"I have been telling the story of St Patrick to schoolchildren so they see that St Patrick is as much a part of our tradition as anyone else's and it's time we started to celebrate. It's good fun."

I asked them how did they imagine him and one of the reactions was 'was he not a pope'?
Anna McEvoy, Sandy Row residents association

Ms McEvoy said she remembered celebrating St Patrick's day when she was a girl, but the children of today had a totally different image of him.

"I asked them how did they imagine him and one of the reactions was 'was he not a pope?'" she said.

"I started saying to them he was actually a young boy when he came to Ireland and he brought christianity, he didn't bring any type of religion.

"Then they started to get interested in him."

sandy row bonfire
Sandy Row is perhaps better known for its 11 July night bonfires

She also explained that the cross of St Patrick was incorporated into the union flag.

"The kids really enjoyed knowing that little bit of information as well."

Friday's service will be led by the Rev Terence Kerr, rector of St Aidan's.

"Many people see St Patrick as belonging to one side of the community," he said.

"Sandy Row Residents' Association has asked me to raise awareness that St Patrick should be remembered by both sides of the community as the one who brought Christianity to Ireland.

"The service celebrating the life of St Patrick has received widespread support from the residents of the Sandy Row."

A number of local politicians are due to attend the service including Alistair McDonnell, the SDLP MP for South Belfast, Ulster Unionist assembly member Michael McGimpsey and Alliance councillor Tom Ekin.

"We're really looking forward to tomorrow, especially the children," Anna McEvoy said.

"It's going to be a very good day."

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