REVIEW: St Patrick's Day Festival 2019

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Posted by Zyllah Moranne-Brown at Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 5:32pm

The first parade - of its kind in England - is said to have taken place in Birmingham in 1952, organised by Limerickman Father Sean Connellan of St Anne's Parish. On Sunday 16 March that year, around 10,000 took part in a 'march', and as the Birmingham Gazette reported, 'another 15,000 lined the streets to watch'.

The Birmingham St Patrick's Day parade - made up of county associations - went on to grow in size, stature and scale, with dinner dances and banquets, held to mark the national patron saint's day. Following the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, the parade committee took the difficult decision to suspend the 1975 event, eventually leading to a 21-year absence before returning in 1996 and eventually transforming into the major event it is today.

Digbeth's status as the epicentre of Irish culture in Birmingham and the Midlands was given a boost recently following a visit from Irish president Michael D. Higgins, who declared, "Digbeth is the heart of the Irish in Birmingham" during a heartfelt and warmly-received reception from the community at St Anne's Community Centre.

Starting from Camp Hill Island at 1200 and travelling along Digbeth High Street to St Martin's Church and close to the iconic Selfridges building - lit green for the occasion - before looping back again - the punters, performers and paraders battled the elements - with sun, horizontal hail, equally horizontal rain and sleet - couldn’t dampen the spirits.

Led by St Patrick (aka festival organising committee member Len Cale), the parade convoy featured a plethora of of marching bands, Irish dancing schools, classic cars, dhol drummers, samba bands, Irish county associations, sports teams, agricultural vehicles, traditional Irish musicians and community groups drawn from across Birmingham and the West Midlands. And on the St Pat Rocks Stage - over fifty musicians, including Dublin multi-instrumentalist and singer Finbar Furey with a live music offering of Birmingham Irish acts including contemporary folk bands Lampa and The Deluge and Salt Creek, singer-songwriter James Reidy, and traditional groups Cairde and Reel Note. Venues across the area opened their doors - including Hennessey's Bar, The Kerryman, Digbeth Works, The Big Bull's Head, The Ruin, Dig Brew, The Old Crown, The Spotted Dog, Cleary's, The Rowton Hotel, The Fountain Inn, The Irish Centre, The White Swan, The Lamp Tavern, Subside Bar, and South and City College.

This is a family festival - everyone is welcome. And with a committee, headed by Peter Connelly, this incredible event will only grow and develop and continue well into the future. Never been to St Patrick's Day Festival - book a date in your diary for next year and enjoy the craic!

Review: Zyllah Moranne-Brown; Photos: © Ken Harrison