Photos by Stephen Bourke

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It’s Verona FC’s 50th birthday, and the club was hoping to celebrate that by leading the St Patrick’s Day parade through Blanchardstown Village this Friday.

They even had political backing, with Fianna Fáil’s Mags Murray asking at Monday night’s meeting of Fingal County Council if they could get the lead spot.

But the effort was in vain. “We actually asked them could we take the honour of doing it but there’s another club that’s a hundred years in Castleknock. So that’s the answer that we actually got back,” said Derek Clarke, the club’s chairman. Ouch.

The club is taking it on the chin. “We thought we were going to lead it and everything was going to be good on the day, but not to worry. We’re looking forward to it.”

A few years ago, the question of who got to lead the Blanchardstown St Patrick’s Day parade would have been a moot point, because there wasn’t one. In fact, there hadn’t been a St Patrick’s Day parade in Blanchardstown for 20 years or more.

In 2014, council events officials got ready to stage the county’s largest-ever parade in Swords. The events department saw it “as a parade not just for the county capital but for the whole of Fingal”, the Fingal Independent”>reported.

Although local community groups from Blanchardstown took part in the county parade that year, it was a tough sell for spectators.

Any intending to travel by public transport would face at least an hour on two buses, and in all likelihood cross the main Dublin parade route when they changed from a 39a to a 41c.

So, later that year, local schoolteacher and community activist TJ Clare raised the idea of a local parade when he ran in the local elections.

“I just felt that with Blanchardstown and the surrounding Dublin 15 area being part of Fingal but so far away from Swords, that there’s a large proportion of the population who didn’t have, we’ll say, a local parade to go to,” he said.

“Of course, there is a large one in Dublin city centre, but I just felt the diversity and the scale of the population in the Dublin 15 area warranted its own parade.

An Athy native, Clare wanted his pupils in St Brigid’s National School in Blanchardstown Village to have the same experience he enjoyed in his youth.

“We had a population of 6,000 and we had a huge parade if you know what mean. There was a great buzz about the place,” he said.

And the Blanchardstown parade certainly has far more in common with its country cousins than the O’Connell Street parade.

Participants in its first year included War of Independence re-enactors, modified cars, karate-kicking kids, the Civil Defence’s tracked flood-response vehicles, locals in national costume, and a float dedicated to house music among local youth groups and sports clubs.

It’s a long way from majorettes on Dame Street.

Clare says his fourth-class pupils are looking forward to the day – but are split on which parade they’re going to.

“Some of them would go into town or some of them would go up to it into the centre,” he says. “You’d be surprised at how many of them don’t go into town that often.”

“If you’re a family with young kids, everything is in Blanchardstown. It’s not as difficult to come in,” Clare says.

“Public transport is a pain on Paddy’s Day, and to get into town whether by rail or by bus with two or three kids … you know, it’s great to bring them in but its way easier to do it at a local level.”

Fingal County Council did not respond to requests for an interview, but in fairness, it must be a busy week.

Paul Barnes, the council’s head of events management, told councillors on Monday that he expected around 100,000 to attend the events it supports over the weekend.

Nostalgia was the driving force behind the revival of local St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Clondalkin.

Its original parade died out some time in the early 1990s, according to Councillor Francis Timmons, who chairs the festival’s organising committee.

His own fond memories of taking part made it his ambition to revive the celebration. The new parade is now in its third year.

“I remember taking part in the late ’80s – it would have been about ’88, ’89, ’90, those kind of years. I would have taken part every year,” he says.

“There’s great memories and people were talking about it, and I put forward the idea and a lot of people seemed very interested, said it’d be great to start it up again. So that’s what happened.”

Timmons is expecting a crowd of up to 15,000 in Clondalkin Village on Friday – with about 2,000 taking part in the parade in 50 or 60 different groups. He’s had to arrange extra crowd barriers.

Anything he’s worried about? “The weather’s the only thing, but hail rain or snow – unless it’s torrential rain or storms or something – the parade is going ahead. You couldn’t let the kids down.”

Stephen Bourke

Stephen Bourke is a freelance journalist, but more importantly, a second-generation Dub on both sides of the family. @anburcach

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