“NINETY-nine red balloons go by,” sang 1980s German pop star Nena - but by end of the St Patrick’s Day parade in Portlaoise there could easily have been 99 green balloons released into the atmosphere, with many more still clutched in the hands of smiling children everywhere.
The streets of the county town were buzzing as huge crowds turned out, enticed somewhat by the spring weather, to enjoy this year’s celebration, which was designed along the theme of ‘Tír na nOg’.
Over forty floats took part in the parade, which travelled down James Fintan Lawlor Avenue, past the church and back up Main St to the Top Square. Senator David Norris was Grand Marshal, leading a procession which featured highly inventive and colourful displays from a variety of businesses, charities, sports clubs and schools.
Kicking off the parade was a number of emergency services vehicles, their flashing lights for once a source of celebration. Among the many eye-catching floats was the Credit Union’s ‘The Lady of the Union’, which tapped into Celtic mythology and featured the stunning spectacle of an emerald goddess sporting giant swan wings.
A traditional rural pub on wheels, complete with smoking chimney pot and cold pints of stout, went by, as did two rubber bandits in homemade plastic-bag face masks. Pipe and flute marching bands from Northern Ireland joined in with the likes of the Shanahoe School Band and the Churchtown Pipe Band to ensure a steady musical beat for the duration of the parade, while numerous vintage cars, tractors and trucks chugged along the route, with the historical feel bolstered by the presence of people in period dress.
The Girl Guides celebrated their 100th anniversary with a vibrant display and there was dancing in the street from a number of local troupes, while there was a wealth of musical treats on offer throughout the day from several local bands, with live performances by Mid Life Crisis, James O’Connor, Joe Salmon and crew, Small Town Heroes, Dog Star Shine and Easy Company.
It was after 9pm that evening before the streets were open again to traffic, and while there may have been some clearing up to do it was obvious that this year’s Portlaoise parade did the town proud.