Ireland's St Patrick's Day Party to Banish Gloom


Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to attend St Patrick's Day parades throughout debt-ridden Ireland on Thursday with the traditional celebrations a welcome relief from economic austerity measures.

More than 100 cities and towns were holding parades in what is a traditional early kick-start to the tourism season with the festivities bringing in a much-needed 50-million-Euro (70-million-dollar) spending injection for the battered economy.

The theme of the main Dublin parade comes from a story by Booker Prize-winning author Roddy Doyle about "banishing the black dog of depression" in the national capital and "getting the city's funny bone back".

The feast day for the patron saint has become one of the world's most recognized national holidays with parades around the globe, based on "craic", or fun, music, green-colored beer and fancy dress echoing the country's favorite mythical creature -- leprechauns.

The government uses St Patrick's Day to showcase the country's tourism, business, trade and cultural attractions.

Last November Ireland's economic problems forced it to accept a 67.5 billion euro ($94 billion) EU-IMF rescue package, triggering swingeing public spending cuts and hiked taxes.

In their St Patrick's Day message Catholic bishops lamented that the economic crisis was forcing Ireland to return to its former status as a country of emigration.

"The plight of Patrick, himself a migrant, has been faced by many Irish people who have struggled to live and integrate into new cultures."

They called for prayers for "those who are suffering at this time".

Enda Kenny, who became prime minister last week after a general election, has sharply reined in spending on what were seen as junketeering St Patrick's Day trips around the world in the past by ministers.

Kenny himself is in Washington to make the customary presentation of a bowl of shamrock -- Ireland's three-leafed floral emblem -- to President Barack Obama.

Obama has links with Ireland through an ancestor who emigrated from a small town in 1849.

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