DUBLIN – More than 500,000 people packed the heart of Dublin for an unusual St. Patrick’s Day parade Thursday that pointed out Ireland’s current gloomy mood — and sought to sweep it away for a day.
The hourlong procession was the largest of 120 across Ireland, a nation reeling from a three-year recession and a debt crisis that has led to unemployment, resurgent emigration and an international bailout. Thousands more parades featuring Ireland’s worldwide diaspora were taking place from Sydney to San Francisco.
Dublin’s parade featured an inventive range of monsters and giant dogs based on a new short story by local author Roddy Doyle that was commissioned especially for the parade.
In the story, “Brilliant,” two Dublin children overhear their parents speaking darkly of the country’s perilous state, take their comment about a “black dog of depression” to heart — and enlist scores of children in a citywide hunt to find that dog and reclaim the city’s lost funny bone.
Doyle, who attended the parade, said he wrote his story against the backdrop of Ireland’s descent last year to the edge of bankruptcy, culminating in November’s rescue deal with the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The agreement provides Ireland a potential €67.5 billion ($92 billion) line of credit on condition that this country of 4.5 million pursues €15 billion ($21 billion) in spending cuts and tax hikes.
Doyle said he wrote some of the story in a British hotel foyer while waiting for his room in November — against a depressing din of live TV news reporting on Ireland’s bailout.
“It was like the keys of the house were being handed over to someone else. It was just endless bad news, bad news — an insistence on it actually,” Doyle said in an interview.
“So that’s why I wrote the story, to remind ourselves that there is more to life than finance,” he said.
Many of the marchers wore spooky face paint and dark robes and danced to pop tunes like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Several carried a skeleton in a basket meant to represent the remains of Ireland’s 2004-2007 Celtic Tiger boom.
The Grim Reaper — aka Luke McCall of Dublin arts group City Fusion — was lurking nearby. But he had good news, loosely interpreted from the ending of Doyle’s tale, which features a huge crowd of children chasing their imaginary Black Dog of Depression to its destruction in Dublin Bay.
“I’m the death of the Irish economy,” he said chirpily from somewhere inside his thick-bearded costume. “But we have our children who will save us … and we’ll live happily ever after.”
Ireland’s celebration of its patron Saint Patrick — who as legend has it brought Christianity to the pagan land in the 5th century — continues through the weekend as part of a Dublin-focused four-day festival.
For the first time dozens of major buildings have been floodlit green at night. Newly elected Prime Minister Enda Kenny is in Washington meeting President Obama, but the square near his office has been shut down for bouncy castles and amusement park rides. And the seaside city of Wexford is preparing to host the nation’s main fireworks show Saturday.
St. Patrick’s Festival, http://www.stpatricksfestival.ie/index.html
Doyle’s short story “Brilliant,” http://bit.ly/ekXtSc
Discover Ireland on parade, http://bit.ly/e41avu