PICTURE the scene: Dublin, late 1970s. St Patrick's Day.
In a hugely Catholic country, the churches were packed for Mass. Baskets of real shamrock at the doors, for people to pin to their collars.
And then the parade.
Just as now, the St Patrick's Day parades dotted the whole island of Ireland. In Dublin, it wound its way through the city centre, starting at one side of the River Liffey and finishing on the other.
As a Dublin child in the seventies, I never thought about any of this. I would simply stand, in sun, wind, rain and sometimes snow, with the other children, who'd been pushed to the front of the crowd, so we could see.
Year after year, my family trooped dutifully into town to view the parade. Year after year, it remained unchanged.
The big Irish businesses all had their floats. Guinness, Murphys, John Powers Whiskey. International brands, whose factories have supported generations of Irish workers. To a child, their floats were interchangeable: giant bottle-shaped balloons on the backs of lorries. A flash of colour as half a dozen ringleted Irish dancers livened things up with a jig, long before Michael Flatley made our national dance sexy.
White-aproned butchers from the Irish-owned supermarket, Superquinn, walked the route, handing out hot, special recipe sausages, beloved of its customers
Seemingly endless floats advertised various cigarette brands. We tuned them out, as we ate our Curly Wurlys and sucked on endless sticks of tri-colour sugar rock. But we would cheer and wave our flags as St Patrick rode by on his throne.
And then what we'd been waiting for: the American contingent. We gazed in awe as those micro-skirted, majorettes marched and twirled and tossed their batons high into the air. Tanned skin and white teeth and gleaming hair. Teenage boys cheered and wolf-whistled, while our mothers muttered that they'd 'catch their death' by wearing so little.
Fast forward a few decades. The big Irish parades hold their own amongst the countries that celebrate our national day. In Dublin our wonderful St Patrick's Festival unfolds over three days. Our floats are vivid and imaginative and bold, and highlights include Galway-based theatre company Macnas, with their spectacular giant puppets.
But the Dublin parade that I enjoyed as my own children grew, is a far cry from the one of my childhood. Whether we want to admit it, we had a lot to learn about what a parade should be.
Yes, it should be a celebration of our national day. And our culture. But we also needed to celebrate other cultures, our Irishness abroad and increasingly, our diverse society on this little island.
Most of all, we needed to learn that a parade should be colourful and entertaining and fun.
And our neighbours across the Atlantic helped teach us that.
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