The rain could not dampen spirits as Luton celebrated St Patrick’s Day with their annual parade and concert on Saturday 18 March.
The parade left Luton Irish Forum at 11am before making its way through the town to St George’s Square where the entertainment included Kings of Connaught, Ritchie Remo, Abbie Mac and a special ‘dance fusion’ showpiece which was a collaboration between the Walshe Academy of Irish Dancing, The Macánta Pipe Band and Bhangra Smash Up.
The entertainment was MC’d by local DJ Jim Carway.
There was also a display of Irish dancing and song on a second stage inside the mall.
Dignitaries in attendance included the Mayor of Luton Cllr Sameera Saleem, local MPs Sarah Owen and Rachel Hopkins and Councillor Javeria Hussain, Chair of Luton Rising – a partnership of Luton Council and Luton Airport.
Many spoke of how good the day had been in spite of the weather while already looking ahead to next year’s festival which will be the 25th edition of the celebration.
Tom Scanlon, Chair of Luton Irish Forum, told The Irish World: “It’s been a fantastic day.
“Despite the rain, we had a fantastic parade.
“We had fantastic music and dancing on the main stage and in the mall. It’s been one of the best performances ever in the mall with dances and song and music, I think you couldn’t ask for better.
“I know the sun is just coming out when we’re near finished but never mind that, everybody’s enjoyed themselves and now I think they’d all want to go and watch the rugby.”
When addressing the crowd at the launch of the day’s entertainment Tom had voiced his belief that the Luton St Patrick’s Festival is the best celebration in Britain.
“That’s right and we proved it again.
“We have to now start for next year which will be our 25th year.
“We have great support from all the communities as you’ve seen. It’s not just Irish, it’s a whole community performance and a whole community celebration and thank you for all your support and help.
“Thanks everybody for helping us out.”
Councillor Javeria Hussain paid tribute to the contribution of the Irish community to Luton., telling The Irish World: “Huge congratulations to the Irish community in Luton who have made such a tremendous difference to the fabric of our town uniting our communities.
“Obviously they have made a huge impact in the construction of our airport which exists for social benefit and this (parade) is one of the ways in which Luton’s communities come together and we’re building bridges and we’re having a fantastic time, despite the weather.
“Luton prides itself on its diversity and the Irish community have a made a tremendous difference in not only ensuring that Luton unites with other communities but we also reach out to each other especially in times of need.
“We obviously had the recent devastating earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, the Irish community were there to be able to lend support to members of our community who had lost loved ones.
“Other than that Luton prides itself on its cultural offering and the Irish Forum and the St Patrick’s Parade is one of our premier events so that’s one of the great ways to bring people together.”
The Kings of Connaught had had delays in transit and made it in just the nick of time to perform.
Thomas Ryan of the band said after they came offstage: “It was great, we’re absolutely delighted to be here.
“It was a bit of a stressful morning trying to get here our flight was delayed by two hours and we just made it with two minutes to spare.
“It was an absolutely great crowd, great enjoyment, absolutely delighted to be here again.”
Mark Costello from the band added: “The crowd were so great in the dodgy weather but braved it really well dancing to our music. Nothing better, that’s what we love doing.”
Thomas concluded: “It’s great to see all the people dressed up with the Irish hats and scarves and everything, it’s great to see.”
Eileesha Rushby, Comms Officer of Luton Irish Forum told The Irish World: “In spite of the rain people have still turned out.
“It’s been amazing just seeing some of those acts.
“When you see them get up on the stage you hear the reaction from the audience, it’s been incredible.
“My best moment the fusion of the The Macánta Pipe Band, Bhangra Smash Up and the Walshe School of Irish Dancing, that was an electric moment and the crowd went wild but it’s been great in the mall as well.
“We think that people have had a fantastic day and it certainly looks like it from the looks on their faces.
“It’s our 25th next year and we’re probably mad enough to have another go. We’ll be planning nice and early to make it something extra special.”
Ritchie Remo said after his set: “It was absolutely fantastic, I have to say.
“Me and the band we really enjoyed performing here.
“We performed here 6 years back and it’s great being back.
“It’s had a great atmosphere, the crowd’s been brilliant as well.”
Abbie Mac, a 16 year old singer from Derry, said: “It was absolutely incredible just the experience of singing live again after Covid and not being able to play live shows.
“Getting out there today was just really enjoyable. Proud to be Irish.”
Daniel McHugh, from Roscommon, of the Police’s Community Cohesion team said: “I came to Luton on St Patrick’s Day 1989 for a boxing tournament and I’ve been here pretty much ever since.
“We’ve been taking part in the Irish parade since 2015 so it’s fantastic: Fantastic event and great fun and everyone seems to enjoy themselves.
“Everyone is Irish today.
“It’s a great time to be Irish.”
Fr Brendan, the priest of Our Lady Help of Christians on Castle Street, said: “St Patrick’s Festival is also an incredible religious festival of course.
“It’s a great celebration here in Luton. It’s fantastic despite the weather. It’s a fantastic joyful atmosphere for all of us gathered here.”
After the years of Covid, Fr Brendan added: “I can’t put into words just how exciting it is to see everyone back together again not only Irish people but people from different cultures and traditions just joining in and celebrating an incredible day. It’s just great seeing everyone with each other and back together again, it’s an absolute joy to see that.”