Northern Ireland

St Patrick's Day: Ireland celebrates patron saint

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Media captionNI celebrates St Patrick's Day

Thousands of people have taken part in festivities across the island of Ireland to celebrate its patron saint, St Patrick.

Whether participating in a parade or a party at home, people are marking the increasingly-global day in true Irish style.

The larger-scale events include a parade and free concert in Belfast.

Parades took place across NI including in Londonderry, Enniskellen, Downpatrick, Newry and Armagh.

Dublin's five-day festival includes a parade, which was led by Game of Thrones Star Liam Cunningham.

Image copyright Brian Lawless/PA
Image caption Film star Mark Hamill enjoying St Patrick's Day celebrations in Dublin

The force was with this year's festival as it was overseen by its first international guest of honour, Mark Hamill - aka Luke Skywalker.

The actor was chosen because of his "special affinity" with Ireland, through his filming of Star Wars and family history.

Earning that pint

Belfast marked Saturday 17 March through the theme of Global Belfast.

The parade, featuring community groups, musicians and professional performers, kicked off from Royal Avenue at 11:30 GMT.

Image copyright Brendan Harkin
Image caption Hundreds of people have gathered in Belfast to celebrate the festival

Hundreds of people took part in the parade, which travelled through Castle Junction and along Donegall Place before snaking its way around Belfast City Hall.

It returned along the same route and finished at Royal Avenue.

A concert, headlined by former JLS member Aston Merrygold, took place at Custom House Square.

Image copyright Philip Magowan
Image caption A group taking part in the St Patrick's Day parade in Newry, County Down

As part of its spring festival, Féile an Phobail has been running a number of events both in the run up to and during St Patrick's Day.

In Downpatrick, thousands of people braved freezing conditions for the parade and visited St Patrick's grave, which is situated at Down Cathedral in the town.

Downpatrick celebrates a saint of its own

by Cormac Campbell, BBC News NI south-east correspondent

It may have been an extremely cold day in Downpatrick, but that didn't stop a steady stream of locals, visitors and pilgrims from making their way to the patron saint's grave before watching the parade down Market Street.

A giant St Patrick sat in the square and watched proceedings, as vintage cars, floats, dancers, pipers and performers entertained the crowds.

Image copyright Saint Patrick Centre
Image caption The tallest St Patrick in the world? He's sitting outside the St Patrick Centre in Downpatrick

No fewer than three snow showers fell during the half-hour parade, which itself had a cast of hundreds. But the sun came out as the last float passed through the town centre.

Meanwhile, live music continued after the parade while music, prayer, arts and dance events were held in churches, the St Patrick's Centre and Down Museum.

Parades also took place in Armagh and Newry.

Gareth Wilson, the Lord Mayor of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, said the 12-day festival across Counties Armagh and Down was a success and that he was "delighted to have seen so many people come out to enjoy the numerous events".

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption An Irish wolfhound made an appearance at the St Patrick's Day parade in Armagh

In Enniskillen, St Patrick arrived by yacht, before taking a walk around the island town, accompanied by bands and performers.

Meanwhile, the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh, County Tyrone, staged a re-enactment of a living wake to mark the day - a young man leaving for American on St Patrick's Day in the 1850s.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption A giant snake made an appearance in Derry's St Patrick's Day parade - fortunately the man himself was on hand to banish it

Not everybody celebrated the patron saint by watching parades - some people got off to a healthy start this St Patrick's Day and participated in a 10k run in Belfast.

About 2,000 runners took part in the event which started early on Saturday morning.

Image copyright Darren Taggart
Image caption Some enthusiastic runners started their St Patrick's Day celebrations by completing a 10k race which finished at Titanic Belfast

The St Patrick's Festival in Dublin runs from Thursday 15 March to Monday 19 March, and this year's theme is Home.

On Saturday - the day itself - there are a lot of green goings-on, including guided walks and plays, but the main draw is the parade which will start from Parnell Square at noon.

Image caption St Patrick arrived in Enniskillen by yacht for the St Patrick's Day festivities

St Patrick's Day has long been celebrated far beyond Irish shores but this year looks set to be the biggest greening to date.

More than 250 sites around the world have been taking part in Tourism Ireland's Global Greening.

Image copyright Tourism Ireland
Image caption The United States embrace St Patrick's Day - this is the Centennial Wheel in Chicago

In addition to the big names - such as the Empire State Building and Sydney Opera House - there are some rather quirkier participants this year.

These include a blue whale skeleton, a lion statue made from recycled flip-flops and a lighthouse on a frozen Finnish lake.

The skeleton, called Hope, takes pride of place in the entrance to the Natural History Museum in London, while the lion lives in Kenya. The Wawa goose statue in Canada is also turning a shade of green.

When the greening initiative began nine years ago, just two landmarks took party - the Sydney Opera House and the Sky Tower in Auckland.

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