GUESTS thronged through the halls of the Embassy of Ireland on Wednesday evening for a preview of the events taking place on St Patrick’s day parade on Sunday, March 13.
Each year the parade has a theme – this year’s being the key workers who helped everyone in London and further afield stay afloat while living in lockdown during the Covid pandemic.
Irish people in eleven different essential worker roles – from firemen to paramedics and supermarket cashiers – will be grand marshals leading the parade on the day, said Larry O’Leary, chair of the Community Advisory Board (CAB).
Mr O’Leary said: “The festival is back again, celebrating our heritage, our culture, and our community’s vast contribution to the rich fabric of the life in this great city.
“It is also a tribute to the many thousands of people who cared, and kept the city moving during the dark days of the pandemic; health workers, teachers, shop workers, transport workers, police, and anyone who helped anyway.
“Our choice of grand marshals for the parade is a tribute to each and every one of them.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who works with the CAB on the preparations for the event, arrived at the Embassy as a guest of honour.
Addressing the crowded room full of London-Irish, Mr Khan said: “During the pandemic, we saw Irish Londoners as key workers serving our city with incredible courage and commitment. Irish Londoners have embodied the very best of our city and the famous Irish spirit over the past few years.”
“Many of us wish we were Irish,” The Mayor joked, “particularly after the referendum a few years ago".
“We’ve been very busy processing various Londoners with some link to Ireland.”
On who will be attending the parade, Ambassador Adrian O'Neill said: “As usual there will be participants from Ireland marching in the parade, and this year will include our Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD, as well as a contingent from our police service, An Garda Síochána, and the Garda band.”
“So there will be lots of colour and music.”
The parade will be the first major event in London since the UK first locked down in March 2020, making the key-worker theme all the more fitting.
Standing among the guests is Nathan Cahill, 31, from Taum, Galway, who worked as a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service during the pandemic.
He was invited to be a marshal for the parade due to his job and his fundraising activities for the charity Irish in Britain.
Reflecting on his experiences over the past few years, Nathan told The Irish Post: “It’s been more or less normal, just with the added extra work and pressures.”
During the pandemic, he said he worked more shifts “for the sheer social element”.
As a an Irishman thriving in and contributing to the city where he’s settled, Nathan embodies what, for many, the St Patrick’s day festival is all about.
On the day of the parade, Nathan said he plans to “meet up with the other grand marshals, and I’ve got my wife coming as well”.
Hannah Pender, head of arts & culture at the London Irish Centre in Camden, revealed the line-up of cultural figures and artistic talent that will be performing in Trafalgar Square on the day.
BBC Radio 1 and Radio Ulster host Gemma Bradley “will be there all day”, Hannah said, along with singers, folk dancers and spoken word poets.
The main stage concert will be headlined by musical icon Damien Dempsey and global Folk favourites Altan.
“The Irish Elderly Pensioners Choir will sing a beautiful collection of Irish ballads to celebrate our older Irish community," Hannah added, while confirming that short films will also be played on screens throughout the day.
Irish-Jamaican poet Ragz CV, whose real name is Ryan J. Matthews-Robinson, will be performing spoken word poetry at the event on March 13, and he took the stage in the Embassy to give a taster of what to expect.
The thirty-four-year-old’s two poems meditating on cultural and racial barriers went down well, despite it not being his usual audience.
“To me that’s more interesting,” he said, because “I knew this audience wouldn’t be used to the type of stuff I did, and so I get to take my message to different people”.
“And obviously, being of Irish descent made it better as well.”
The London St Patrick’s Day Parade will take place on March 13, 2022, in Trafalgar Square.
As official media partners for the event, The Irish Post will be hosting a stall on the day and are producing a St Patrick’s Day Festival magazine.