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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 19:32 GMT
Day of celebration and controversy
Colourful turnout for Belfast parade
Colourful turnout for Belfast parade
The controversial issue of parades cast a cloud over the St Patrick's Day celebrations being held in Northern Ireland.

Thousands of people paraded through the streets of Belfast, Downpatrick, where the saint is reputed to be buried, and other major towns throughout the province.

It is only the third year that a parade has been held in Belfast city centre and organisers had predicted a massive turnout, despite a controversial decision by the city council not to fund the event.

Organisers of the St Patrick's Carnival are to challenge this decision in the courts in the coming weeks on the basis they believe the decision was motivated by anti-Irish sentiments.

Unionist members of Belfast City Council claimed the event was not inclusive and raised objections to the display of Irish tricolours by parade-goers.

In Downpatrick, the only flag which was allowed was the town's official banner. Efforts were made to ensure the event was organised to ensure maximum cross-community participation.

Ironically, Ireland's ecclesiastical capital, Armagh, did not hold any parade this year for the first time.

Suspect device found

In the County Down fishing village of Kilkeel, a parade by the Catholic organisation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, was disrupted by protesters.

The start of the procession was delayed after telephone warnings that pipe bombs had been left along the proposed route.

Soon after the parade began there were scuffles as protesters tried to block the route, but they were removed by the police.

They were objecting to the Hibernians' march going past a memorial to victims of republican terrorism.

Party goes on

While controversy may have slightly dampened the enthusiasm of parade-goers, the talent of the Irish to enjoy themselves in the most adverse circumstances did triumph.
Enjoying the big day in Belfast
Enjoying the big day in Belfast
After the parades, the focus shifted to public houses for the traditional "drowning of the shamrock".

In Belfast, a global music festival is being held in the city's historic St George's Market.

The restored Victorian venue will host a heady cocktail of Irish traditional music, rock 'n' roll and latin salsa rhythms over the weekend.

Sporting highlights

The finals of two prestigious schools' competitions were the highlight of the day for many students and parents.

Rugby fans flocked to Ravenhill for the Ulster Senior Schools final between Ballymena Academy and Belfast Institute (Inst).

Belfast Institute triumphed over Ballymena 24 - 6.

In Gaelic football, St Michael's College of Enniskillen took on Armagh side, St Patrick's at Belfast's Casement Park.

St Patrick's claimed the coveted MacRory Cup, scoring 3 - 6 over St Michael's 1 - 9.

BBC NI's Adam Smyth:Belfast City Council rejected two St Patrick's Day celebrations
BBC NI's Eddie O'Gorman reports
"Second year this has happened"
See also:

17 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Scuffles at nationalist parade
06 Oct 99 | Northern Ireland
Rivals plan separate St Patrick's Day parades
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