Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

City partying marks saintly day


Thousands of people turned out for the colourful parade in Belfast

By Arthur Strain
BBC News

For years using the words 'the greening of Belfast' would smack of political controversy, but in more recent times one day at least has arrived where the term can be used in a lighter shade.

That was Tuesday, when the city centre became a sea of green as part of the celebrations marking St Patrick's Day.

Thousands of people, many sporting shamrock hats, watched street performers and colourful floats wend their way to Custom House Square for a concert featuring X-Factor runner up Eoghan Quigg.

Thousands of people took part in the parade

The drums of the Beat Initiative gave the marchers their rhythm as they were encouraged and applauded by spectators.

There was a wide variety of groups at the parade with a group from Belfast Gay Pride at the back of the march along with another from the Real Fathers for Justice.

While there was no drinking at the parade there were some evangelical Christians hoping to persuade those attending that they should consider Patrick's message rather than give in to the urge to drink and dance 'til they drop.

Pastor Brian Madden and David Cromie from the Elim Christian Centre were distributing tracts and having some craic with the spectators.

David Cromie, (l) and Pastor Brian Madden
David Cromie and Pastor Brian Madden reminded people of Patrick's message

He said their church, in the mainly loyalist York Road area, had been engaging in outreach work with nationalist youths in the New Lodge area and that he had seen some familiar faces at the parade.

"We are just trying to uphold the message of St Patrick and we have been well received, I don't feel threatened to be here," he said.

It has been a tough couple of weeks for Northern Ireland, with the murders of a policeman and two soldiers bringing back memories of the darkest days of the Troubles.

The Troubles seemed far away on St Patrick's Day, with the sun shining on thousands people simply looking to share a good time.

The city's Lord Mayor, Sinn Fein's Tom Hartley said that there had been a fantastic turnout and that it showed the real face of Belfast, a go-ahead city bursting with civic pride.

"It gives a sense of the real Belfast which is, at heart, forward looking and tolerant," he said.

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