President Michael D. Higgins was VIP guest on the viewing platform at Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday before he flew next day to Rome for Pope Francis’s inaugural Mass on Tuesday.
Higgins was among a half-million who watched the Dublin parade at which Westlife singer Nicky Byrne was grand marshal.
Bands and dancing groups from across the U.S. joined the parade, including members of the New York City Fire Department, as did visitors from several other countries, many of whom marched in the first-ever People’s Parade that was organized as part of The Gathering 2013.
Around the rest of Ireland another 1.5 million joined and watched parades in hundreds of towns and villages.
At Glenties, Co. Donegal, 600 leprechauns marched in red an green tunics, buckled shoes, crazy top-hats and beards but they failed to break the world record for the largest number of Darby O’Gills and his little people set by Bandon, Co. Cork, with more than 1,200 last year.
A gathering of 600 people with the first names, Patrick, Paddy, Patsy, Patricia and other derivatives of Patrick in Stranorlar, Co. Donegal, also failed to set a new world record.
In Northern Ireland, Belfast staged its own carnival and parade through the city center.
The Dublin parade kept thousands in a sea of green on their toes as they marked the year of The Gathering -- Ireland’s 12 months of homecoming celebrations.
Dublin Airport said around 225,000 passengers passed through its gates over the holiday weekend, an increase of six percent from the same time last year.
The Guinness Storehouse, one of Ireland’s biggest tourist attractions, said there was an overall 20 percent increase in visitor numbers compared with St Patrick’s Day weekend last year.
Marketing manager Lisa Fitzpatrick said, “We are having a bumper weekend. On Friday, March 15, we had a 40 percent increase on last year.
“It has to be down to The Gathering. There’s nothing else you can put it down to. There’s nothing else different we’re doing that we weren’t doing last year.”
John Hoyne, owner of the Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub, said he also believed The Gathering contributed to a rise in visitor numbers.
He said, “I have never seen so many people around town. This is like someone has turned on a light switch. The whole city has come alive.”
Michael Vaughan, president of the Irish Hotels Federation, said, “This is a hotelier’s dream of a weekend. The numbers are definitely up on last year.”
Vaughan said the “greening” of famous landmarks around the world might have caused more people to come to Ireland since it “captured their imaginations.”