DUBLIN (AP) — Performers dressed as colorful creatures from Irish myth and legend danced Friday down the chilly streets of Dublin as Ireland commemorated its national saint in a St. Patrick's Day parade witnessed by hundreds of thousands.
Throngs of tourists and Dubliners, many of them donning leprechaun costumes, braved gusty winds to pack the route for the parade as it traveled down O'Connell Street across the River Liffey and on to St. Patrick's Cathedral. Dublin's parade, by far the largest of dozens nationwide, forms the centerpiece of a four-day festival that marks the start of Ireland's tourist season.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins and his wife, Sabina, and other dignitaries watched the hour-long procession from a bandstand. The spectacle was heavy on artistic flair and worldwide connections, featuring marching bands from Germany, France, Switzerland, the Bahamas and the U.S. states of Illinois, Indiana, Oregon and Washington. Firefighters from Berkeley, California, and Westchester, New York, also marched.
Before the parade, Higgins took part in a Roman Catholic service during which sprigs of shamrock were blessed. In his holiday address, the president noted that St. Patrick's Day was celebrated worldwide because the Irish have been emigrating in great volumes for centuries.
This globe-trotting tradition represented "a constant feature of the Irish experience, defining us as a people," he said.
This week, Prime Minister Enda Kenny and 27 government ministers — virtually the entire government — left Ireland to promote the country's business, arts and culture at more than 100 events in 27 nations.
On Thursday, Kenny met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, continuing a holiday tradition that dates back to the Eisenhower administration.
Since 2010, Ireland tourism boosters have worked with governments worldwide to floodlight famous landmarks in green each March 17. The Tourism Ireland agency said Friday that this year's "Global Greening" program transformed a record 275 sites in 44 countries, including Niagara Falls, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome, the Manneken Pis statue in Brussels, and the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.