Saint Patrick’s Day is a chance for a community to pull together and highlight what they are made of. Five years ago, Ashbourne revived their parade, and since then it has grown from strength to strength.
Like most great projects, you need someone to get it off the ground, and Alan Tobin was that person for Ashbourne. “It’s our 5th year this year, it’s grown year-on-year, and this year the theme for the day is ‘superhero’s’,” says Tobin proudly.
The organising committee introduced the theme idea a few years ago to bring some colour to the celebrations.
“We found over the years that this has worked, and it was also because, early on, some people thought that local companies were just trotting up in company vehicles and not making an effort! With the theme idea, everyone needs to come up with something new each year, so it requires a bit of planning and adds a different aspect to the day, and it’s definitely more colourful,” says Tobin.
“I know that some groups and companies, such as Youthreach, are doing more than one float. More and more companies are coming on board as March 17th approaches,” he says.
According to Alan Tobin, there is a core committee of about five people who organise the event, along with another 20 to 25 people who volunteer their help on the day and during the days leading up to the event.
“Because the parade is in its 5th year, the committee have almost all organisational aspects down to a T,” says Tobin. The committee had their first meeting to initiate organising the event before Christmas, and now the final touches are being added.
“We have been communicating with different people about all aspects of the parade: we encourage the local schools and, in particular, music schools to get involved. We want to try and get as many young people involved as possible, because it’s a great opportunity for them to get out there in front of a crowd playing music, it’s a fantastic experience for them, great for their development and their confidence,” says Tobin.
As well as musical groups performing, there is also a marketing aspect, where local food producers or artists have the opportunity to showcase their products to the community.
“Our aim is to keep this part as local as possible,” says Tobin. “Some people do come from further afield; however, the general rule is to keep it as local as we can, the emphasis is on local,” he says.
To round the day off, a carnival and fun fair has also been organised for after the parade.
Reviving the Tradition
In the past, Alan Tobin worked in a local pub called Kelly’s Bar. They used to organise a parade for St Patricks Day, and it was always a great success. However, over time it just died off, Tobin says. “Perhaps because the same people were left to organise it, as so often happens!” says Tobin with a laugh.
“We literally revived it when a local business owner, Mick Kelly from Ariosa Coffee, suggested we get it off the ground again. He and others felt that it was frustrating that we did not have a Paddy’s Day event.
“We got it back together and ever since then we have been running it and making sure it happens. I think we have it down to a fine art now: we know exactly what’s needed each year and who we can get to help us with each aspect of the events for the celebration,” says Tobin.
Community groups are particularly encouraged to get involved in the celebration, both as participants and as helpers. “It’s a great opportunity for them to get out and get their names known: everyone knows the Brownies, the Tidy towns, the Residents Association, etc.
“They have a great day out, and it gives them encouragement because they get great applause from the crowds on the day. It also raises their profile in the community,” says Tobin.
“On a good day we can have over 10,000 people lining the streets. The effect that has for local businesses is that it boosts the whole local economy. I reckon it’s worth upwards of 200,000 euro to the town on just that day alone. That’s money that wouldn’t have stayed in the town, that’s money that would have gone to Dublin, so for the local economy it’s huge, and well worth the effort I think,” says Tobin.
“We would love to have a brass band this year, so if anybody knows one then they are more than welcome to join us on the day. The whole ethos of the day’s event is keeping it local, but brass bands from further afield are more than welcome,” he says.
The identity of the Grand Marshall on the day is a well-guarded secret. Over the years, people like Tom Sheehan (a UN Soldier who served in the Congo) have had the honour of overseeing events. Another great to bear the honour was Pat Taaffe, a National Hunt jockey who famously rode Arkle to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups between 1964 and 1966.
This year’s event promises to be bigger and better than ever, and with a sizeable involvement from Tayto Park and Caffrey International, the 2014 St Patrick’s Day parade looks like it’s going to be a great success. We just need the weather on our side…