FINGERS crossed for favourable weather seems to be the mantra from the organisers of Cork City’s St Patrick’s Day parade, who are responsible for bringing 2,000 volunteers together to entertain crowds of 50,000 this Sunday at 1pm.
With a budget of €170,000 being spent on the celebration, Cork City Council arts officer Jean Brennan said that event manager Trish Murphy will be lying awake late at night worried about the weather in the run-up to the big event.
Ms Brennan said another thing that can cause anxiety is ensuring the Grand Marshall and Lord Mayor are ready to lead the parade when the time is right.
“From a corporate point of view, the parade is one of the highlights of the Lord Mayor’s diary,” she says.
Three years ago, our Lord Mayor Des Cahill had to go to America to visit the White House around the time of St Patrick’s Day, and was flying back on the day itself.
“That was tense, waiting for him to arrive. He literally got off the plane, drove down from Dublin, arrived, and did the parade. I have never been so pleased. I was worried — planes are often late and getting a crowd of 50,000 and 2,000 volunteers to wait could be difficult.”
Of course, not all surprises are a cause for concern, with a marriage proposal occurring last year in front of the Lord Mayor.
“My favourite story from my three and a half years working on the parade is last year when we had an on-street proposal in the middle of the parade with one of the couples taking part with the Mexican community. It was just so beautiful. We heard they got married earlier this year.
“That was the first time ever we had a proposal as part of the Patrick’s Day parade.”
Organising the Cork City St Patrick’s Day Parade is something that requires work all year round.
“The preparation begins immediately after the parade ends,” Ms Brennan said. “We have a review of the parade and what worked and what didn’t. It is a hugely successful event so we get very little negative feedback, but anything we do get, we work on.”
In terms of bringing everyone together to organise the event, the operations planning starts well in advance.
“From the number of barriers, the number of security people needed, to getting all the participants signed up and make sure they know where they have to go, where they have to begin, where they have to finish — you can imagine that logistically, it is quite a big event to manage.”
Ms Brennan said that Cork City Council meets with a stakeholders group which includes the HSE, Gardaí, Bus Éireann, internal roads staff and operations in terms of cleaning up, as well as elected members, to talk about coming up with a theme and bringing together more than 60 groups.
In terms of security, Ms Brennan said all necessary precautions are taken to ensure the safety of the participants and the audience.
Some 2,350 barriers are being used for the parade as well as 120 security personnel to ensure the safety of the audience and parade participants.
“We always engage the Gardaí,” she said. “Certainly we haven’t had any specific threats and don’t expect live threats, but because of the nature of these things we have to plan and make sure that these things are part of a contingency plan.
“We do have a careful management plan so in the unlikely event of an evacuation, we can do it easily. But realistically, in that case, it is the Gardaí that make the call. Thankfully we are not a massive threat risk.”
Ms Brennan said the event showcases all that Cork has to offer culturally.
“It is a family event and an event designed to really see the breadth and depth of the activity that there is across Cork in terms of the voluntary and community sector.”
The Cork City Council arts officer said that the family event attracts people of all ages, with young and old alike keen to view the sights and sounds of the parade.
“Essentially, the day is mostly families, they are coming in, ready to have a good time, and we hope to be able to give them a good time. But it’s amazing how wide the audience is, it is families and young people and older people who like to come and have a look at the parade, there is a wide demographic.
“People like and enjoy it, it is a very cheery event and people have a good time at it.”
This year the theme of the parade is ‘Cork Stories’ and Ms Brennan said we are in for a treat.
“The Cork Community Art Link will present a series of very “Cork” buildings who will roam the streets. There will be six floats of various sizes, each telling its own story through puppetry, performance and pop-up characters.”
These floats are being produced in conjunction with 11 local groups including Enable Ireland, The Brook Centre, Farranree Springboard, National Learning Network and Cork City Firebirds.
Waterford performance art group Spraoi will celebrate the origins of the word “langer” by unleashing a ‘langur monkey’ onto the street of Cork, while theatre performers from LuxE will tell the story of Sunniva, the Cork princess who became the patron saint of Western Norway.
A huge puppet of St Patrick will accompany Cork-based Dowtcha Puppets along the route.
Another key element of the parade are all the voluntary groups that are engaging with the festivities after settling in Cork.
“There is a strong connection to a huge number of groups. We have groups from Africa, Mexico, and Eastern Europe who chose to take part in St Patrick’s Day as a symbol of how they have made Cork their home. That’s a very important thing for us. It is very important to give cultural groups a chance to express what Cork means to them.”
Ms Brennan said that the parade holds a very special significance in the Cork calendar.
“It is a day that Cork gets to celebrate itself in terms of its character and its story. Also that our community comes together to celebrate what we have to offer in a spirit of fun and cultural celebration.
“The fact that Cork has 2,000 people drawn from their community on the streets celebrating is a real symbol of the success of the day and how people enjoy it.”
Some of the groups that are participating in the 2019 parade are the Mexican Community in Cork, Sudanese Community, Indian Community, IGBO Cork, Cork Nepalese Community, Ethiopians in Cork, United Filipino Irish Association, My Cork Polish Association, Hungarian School and Preschool Cork.
As well as this, well-known Cork Community and sporting groups such as Blackrock Rowing Club, Rebel Wheelers, Mayfield GAA Club, Cork Environmental Forum, Blood Bikes and Joan Denise Moriarty School of Dance will all be parading from the top of South Mall onto Grand Parade on to Patrick Street and down Merchant’s Quay.
This year the Lord Mayor, Cllr Mick Finn, will cycle an electric bicycle in the parade to highlight that cycling can be accessible to people of all ages and abilities and that they are a viable, sustainable transport option.
The electric bikes will be provided by City View Wheels on Blarney Street.