St. Patrick's in Brisbane

G’Day Readers!

The dust has settled on my first St. Patrick’s Day Parade and I have lived to tell the tale, so tell it I shall…

Having been brought up on our own 12th of July celebrations from an early age, with my father convincing us kids that everyone was out celebrating his birthday (which shares the same date), I was keen to see how a St. Patrick’s Day parade would fare in comparison and I have to say that all in all the craic was mighty!

Keen to make sure that we saw the parade which kicked off proceedings at the rather antisocial time of ten am on the Saturday morning, we arranged to stay at a friends place, close to Brisbane’s CBD (Central Business District) for the weekend.

The weekend’s celebrations started on the Friday evening with me showing my undoubted affections for the better half in taking her to our first shared live sporting event - watching the National Rugby League season’s opening game at the impressive Suncorp Stadium.

The match was played between last year’s champions the Brisbane Broncos and their “local” rivals, the North Queensland Cowboys, who hail from Townsville, a mere 1000 miles up the road. A trek up to Institute to watch the Comrades doesn’t seem quite so bad, does it?

Unfortunately, our Townsville neighbours didn’t read the script ensuring that ‘we’ lost the game 16-23. Not a great start to the weekend and probably explained why the 50,000 odd spectators in the stadium were pretty quiet for most of proceedings – a far cry from the noise that 14,000 Northern Ireland supporters can make on a wet and windy night at Windsor Park. (Oh - how I miss that!)

Undeterred, the two of us indulged in a few post-match drinks, but we kept things fairly quiet in the knowledge that we’d have to get up in the morning and be in fine form for the Big Day itself.

Waking up at nine, we greeted the world with a “Top of the morning to ye” and donned our green for the day and headed down to Brisbane’s Botanical gardens, the intended destination of the parade.

Having already got into festive spirit with a couple of beers along the way and a spirited conversation with our “descended from Irish” taxi driver, we were dismayed to see that there was nothing going on at the gardens. No beer tents, no music, no dancing. Not even the ubiquitous burger van that is so prevalent in The Field for our 12th of July celebrations. It was as empty as a politicians promise (I thought I’d get that one in now before devolution starts!)

However, the pedestrians that were milling about the area provided a subtle hint of what was to come. Nearly everyone we saw – man, woman and child was wearing green. Silly hats were everywhere, along with leprechaun costumes and fake ginger beards. And that was just the women.

Having myself marched for the past 15 years on the 12th July, I was looking forward to actually watching a parade but seeing as there was nothing to amuse ourselves at the gardens, we did the only other thing that sprung to mind and made a beeline for the closest Irish bar – a place called Gilhooley’s Irish Pub in the middle of the CBD.

It seemed that we weren’t the only ones that had thought to do this, with the bar packed to the rafters with real paddies, plastic paddies and tourists.

I’m still not sure what I qualified as.

Of course, not ones to miss out on a party, there were plenty of Australians enjoying the famous craic as well.

The music was pumping, the drinks were flowing, there was singing and dancing – and all this before ten on a Saturday morning.

Guinness was ordered and between the two of us, we did our best to ‘win’ a couple of Guinness T-shirts, with one given away with every 4 pints of the Black Stuff ordered.

Stood outside and with the temperature already approaching 30 degrees, we mingled with some of the revellers and it wasn’t long before we heard the wonderful sounds of a pipe band approaching.

Vying for a good vantage spot, we settled in for the parade which I’m please to report was a wonderfully eclectic affair. Along with the pipe bands, there were floats, dancers, brass bands, folk musicians, fire engines, steam tractors, big old American cars, rugby teams, basketball players and – erm – a random Aboriginal girl looking like she was having a grand time altogether.

As all the county flags were proudly carried past, I reserved my loudest cheer of the day for the Antrim one much to the amusement of my loved one and annoyance of the bloke stood to my right who got it right in his ears.

Once the hour-long parade had filed past, we joined the throngs of spectators as we followed it back out to the Botanical Gardens. With the day getting hotter, I was amused to see that all the people were huddled under trees, looking for a shady protection from the midday sun – a far cry from what happens on a sunny 12th if we’re lucky enough to get one.

Finding a shady spot under a tree ourselves, we then entertained ourselves by watching the world go by - a very green world of all shapes and sizes and all ages with everyone looking like they were having a great time.

One of the rugby teams that had been on the parade joined forces with a few of the musicians and started up a few songs and everything was going well until a few republican songs entered the performance, which I was dismayed but not at all surprised to hear. Surely everyone can enjoy themselves and celebrate their Irishness without belting out “Ooh, Ahh, Up the RA?”

A bit annoyed at this turn of events, we left the gardens and headed back up to the pub and set our efforts on winning some more paraphernalia from the bars. Even Heineken were getting in on the act by giving away “loudspeaker hats” – hats which extended into loudspeakers. Happy with our collection of a Guinness T-shirt and a Heineken loudspeaker hat, we then went on a short walk to the next port of call, a place called Irish Murphys, were the party began in earnest.

We met lots of people that day, many from Ireland although I’m sorry to say that I didn’t meet anyone with connections to Northern Ireland (or certainly no one that wanted to claim to have any).

Krissy and myself have just booked flights to return to Northern Ireland in time for the Twelfth of July – being 14,000 miles away from home is not going to put this proud Orangeman down and after her first taste of a parade, Krissy is really keen to see how we Orangemen do it.

I know I’ll be doing it with a large grin on my face for I’ll be back home, walking with and waving to friends and family celebrating my Northern Irishness. I can’t wait!