Ireland fetes St Patrick's as PM Enda Kenny rejects Irish cliches

DUBLIN (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of green-clad revellers partied in Ireland for Saint Patrick's Day on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Enda Kenny hit out at Irish stereotypes following comments from Australian PM Tony Abbott.

After Abbott's video message which mentioned Irish drinking and singing, there was plenty of music in the streets of Dublin for the annual parade to celebrate the Emerald Isle's national day.

"There has been a long-term view of a stage Irish perception. I reject that," Kenny was quoted as saying by The Irish Times newspaper during a visit to Washington."I've heard the prime minister's comments. He made them. I don't agree with that."

Abbott had thanked the Irish for giving Australia "the love of life and good humour" and invited people to "share a Guinness or two and maybe even three".

The celebrations in Dublin were mirrored in towns and cities in Ireland and across the world.

Marching bands, Irish dancers and pageants celebrating contemporary Ireland paraded through Dublin as cheering crowds looked on.

US student Lindsey Lauritzen, 21, is studying in Northern Ireland and took a road trip to Dublin with friends on Tuesday.

"We wanted to see what the real Irish do and so we can say we were here for Saint Patrick's Day because it seems like a legendary thing to do in our lives," she said.

Saint Patrick's Day traditionally kick-starts the Irish tourism season with more than 120,000 visitors expected to arrive this week.

"It's worth about 140 million euros (S$206 million) to our economy overall," said Tourism Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Tourism Ireland's annual "Global Greening" initiative saw more than 150 landmarks worldwide lit up green in honour of Saint Patrick's Day.

They included Niagara Falls, the Colosseum in Rome and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

"We are using every opportunity to capitalise on Ireland's heightened profile this week," said Tourism Ireland's Niall Gibbons.

This year's parade theme was "Let's Celebrate Now", an exploration of modern Ireland's achievements in arts and culture.

The celebrations come a week after official data showed Ireland's economy grew at the fastest rate in Europe in 2014 - and is forecast to repeat the feat this year.

Famed for its double-digit growth in the 1990s, Ireland's once-proud "Celtic Tiger" economy crashed in the late 2000s when a property bubble burst, forcing Dublin to seek an international bail-out.

This year's parade grand marshal, comedian and actor Brendan O'Carroll, said Irish people were slowly beginning to emerge from the shadow of recent years.

"There's a lot of optimism and I think we've been lacking that," he said.

"We've been lacking any sense of hope and at least there's a little sense of hope now." At the White House, Kenny will present US President Barack Obama - who himself has Irish roots - with the traditional gift of a bowl of shamrock, Ireland's three-leafed national emblem.

Kenny has used his trip to the US to reach out to Irish immigrants, weeks after he launched the country's first diaspora policy, supporting Irish emigrants and encouraging people who left during the financial crash to return.

The White House's South Lawn fountain was dyed green in celebration of Saint Patrick's Day.

Meanwhile in Britain, Prince William's heavily pregnant wife Kate presented the Irish Guards with traditional sprigs of shamrocks.