Dublin a sea of green for St Patrick's Day despite miserable weather

DUBLIN (AFP) - The luck of the Irish failed to change the miserable weather, but it didn't dampen the spirits of hundreds of thousands of shamrock-wearing revellers who celebrated St Patrick's Day on the wet streets of Dublin on Sunday.

Dublin was awash with green as locals and tourists turned out to watch a parade and enjoy the "ceol agus craic" (music and fun) of Ireland's national day.

"There's been lots of colour and loads of performers and marching bands this year," said Ms Edelle Moss, chief executive of Ireland's St Patrick's Day Festival. "We have our largest ever number of international participants in the St Patrick's Day parade with a very strong procession of over 46 different countries."

As part of an initiative called "The Gathering", the government is encouraging people with Irish ancestry - which by some estimates includes up to 60 million people worldwide - to visit the motherland this year in a bid to boost tourism.

A total of 225,000 passengers are expected to pass through Dublin airport over the weekend, while the Dublin Chamber of Commerce expects city companies to bring in 50 million euros (S$81 million) from the festivities, in a welcome boost to the struggling euro zone economy.

Across the world, some 70 landmarks from Egypt's pyramids to the Sydney Opera House have been lit up green in honour of St Patrick's Day.

In Dublin, the Guinness brewer rolled out the "green carpet" to everyone with the name Patrick, welcoming them for free into their factory tour on the banks of the River Liffey.

People called Patricia, Paddy, Padraig, Trish, Tricia or Patsy were also given the VIP treatment.

While many took refuge from the weather in Dublin's pubs to have a few glasses of the "black stuff", organisers worked hard to take the focus away from alcohol.

The festivities have become associated with scenes of drunken disorder and underage drinking, leading to changes in the law to restrict pub and liquor store opening hours.

Even Pope Francis took a moment out of the hectic schedule of his first few days in office to send his wishes to the Catholic nation, in a note to President Michael Higgins on Friday.

"It is one of the first messages Pope Francis has sent and he said, 'I am pleased to send greetings to you and your fellow citizens on the happy occasion of Ireland's national day'," Mr Higgins told national television.

"At the beginning of my pontificate, I commend the nation to the powerful intercession of St Patrick and assure you of my prayers for the beloved people of Ireland, that they may enjoy peace and prosperity," the Pope said.

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