Home Lifestyle Entertainment ‘The greatest city in the world’ goes green

‘The greatest city in the world’ goes green

By David Hennessy

Thousands lined the streets of London and packed into Trafalgar Square for the Mayor’s St Patrick’s Day parade and concert on the day itself, Sunday 17 March.

Drag queen Panti Bliss led the parade through central London closely followed by Ambassador Martin Fraser and his wife Deirdre, Ireland’s Minister for Education Norma Foley and, of course, Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The parade was followed by an afternoon of entertainment programmed by the London Irish Centre.

Compered by Xnthony, the entertainment included Irish Music and Dance London’s youth band The Trad Gathering, The London Celtic Youth Orchestra, Cork hip hop  star Kestine, singer- songwriter Laura Elizabeth Hughes, The London Bodhrán Band led by Ruairi Glasheen, Lisa Canny’s new female collective Biird, London’s own The BibleCode Sundays Jiggy who breathe new life into Irish trad music, with the show all brought to a close by Dublin DJ duo Belters Only.

A special guest was disability campaigner Sinead Burke who compered a Junk Kouture showcase.

London Mayor told the thousands packed into Trafalgar Square: “From my family to yours, Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

“I was asked earlier were we also celebrating Ireland winning the Six Nations and I said, ‘No, we’re celebrating Ireland winning it back to back’.

“This is a celebration of those who’ve contributed so much to our city.

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“One of the reasons when I first became mayor in 2016 I promised to have the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations we’d ever see is because it is our chance to say, ‘Thank you’.

“Thank you, those Irish navvies who came here 160 years ago and helped build our underground.

“Thank you to the Irish health workers who helped work in the NHS when it was first set up 75 years ago.

“Thank you to the Irish poets, playwrights, musicians, and artists who helped make London the cultural capital of the world.

“And thanks to their children, their grandchildren and their great grandchildren who help make London the greatest city in the world.

“But here’s the thing. Just like London has strong ties to Ireland, my family has strong ties to the Irish community because when my dad first came here in the 1960s, he would tell a story about the signs he’d see at guesthouses. The signs that said, ‘No Irish, no blacks, and no dogs’.

“And by ‘no blacks’, they meant people of colour.
“What the Irish community showed in the 1960s and onwards is allyship.

“We fight racism together. We fight for equality together.

“I want to say thank you very much for showing the world that we are the greatest city in the world.

“And you know what else? Our diversity is a strength, not a weakness. It makes us stronger, not weaker. It makes us richer, not poorer.

“And this St. Patrick’s Day is the best antidote possible for those that try and divide our communities. For those that don’t welcome immigrants. For those who are trying to pit one community against the other, so let’s show the world celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Trafalgar Square we are the greatest city in the world.

“One of the reasons we are is the contribution of Irish communities, generation after generation after generation.”

Parade Grand Marhsall Panti Bliss told the crowd from the stage: “Hello, Trafalgar Square.

“I was the Grand Marshal of today’s parade, which was a beautiful thing, a great honour and I was very happy to do it.

“It is an interesting time to be Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in London because obviously over the generations London has become home to generations of Irish immigrants and we weren’t always welcomed warmly here, but eventually we wore the Brits down and now they love us.

“I think it’s important to remember that because now of course Ireland has become a place to emigrate to, Ireland is now home to many immigrants.

“I think it behooves us as Irish people to welcome immigrants to Ireland, as much of the world has welcomed us.

“So thank you, London for welcoming Irish people here and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.”

Minister Norma Foley told the crowds: “I am honoured and privileged on behalf of the Irish government to join you here so hello, London.

“Thank you for the celebration and it’s truly wonderful to be here with the Grand Marshal, to be here with Irish community to celebrate what it is to be of Ireland and for Ireland.

“Thank you London for the music, for the welcome, for the warm embrace.”

Larry O’Leary, the chair of the Community Advisory Group, added: “I’d like to welcome you all here to Trafalgar Square today for this wonderful celebration of our national holiday.

“To all the Irish people who have done well in the city or become part of the fabric of life in the city, we honour you all.”

Larry went on to thank many for their participation including the Irish Embassy, Irish businesses for their sponsorship and the ‘London accent, West Cork heart’ of Jacqueline O’Donovan for her support.

“But the kudos has to go to City Hall, to all the committee there who work tirelessly on this but particularly to Mayor Sadiq Khan who has been totally supportive of this whole thing. It’s absolutely brilliant.

“I’m absolutely delighted that Sadiq is here today wearing my Father Murphy’s club gilet

“So Sadiq, thank you so much.”

Mayor Sadiq Khan told The Irish World: “Happy St. Patrick’s Day. It’s the eighth one that I’ve helped organise.

“It’s a fantastic celebration of all that’s best of London and the contribution the Irish community’s made to our city in arts, in culture, in food, in music, in business, in entrepreneurship.

“I’m really grateful as the Mayor of London that I use the tube everyday, those Irish navvies 160 years ago helped build the world’s first underground.

“I’m somebody whose family benefits from the NHS. Irish health workers worked in a fledgling NHS 75 years ago.

“I benefit from London being the cultural capital of the world. One of the reasons we are is the contribution made by Irish playwrights, poets, authors, musicians, so this is a great day.

“You can feel the buzz, you can feel the vibe and the great thing today is it isn’t just older Londoners of Irish descent but youngsters too benefitting from the joys of St. Patrick’s Day.”

The Mayor referenced the days of  the signs saying, ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’.

He said: “We must always remember our history and the shared experiences we have.

“The Irish experience in London hasn’t always been great.

“We’ve got to realize though, as frustrated as we are about the lack of progress, we can go backwards as well.

“That’s why we must never be complacent, always vigilant for those that try and divide our communities, the progress we’ve made has been hard fought and hard won so we’ve got to remember that actually there are some people who try and divide our communities, try and drive a wedge between Ireland and the UK, Ireland and London, between the Irish community and other communities.

“We mustn’t let them.”

On the inclusive nature of the parade with a drag queen as its Grand Marshall Mayor Sadiq said: “I was walking next to Panti during the course of the parade.

“And saw those on the side cheering Panti Bliss, those particularly from the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s really important to give everyone a sense of belonging here in London.

“We’ve seen the massive progress made in London, massive progress made in Ireland. That’s a really good thing.

“I think there should be a place for everyone in London and in Ireland not just to be tolerated but to be respected, to be embraced and to be celebrated.

“And Panti speaks for many.”

Ireland’s Minister for Education Norma Foley told The Irish World: “I am absolutely thrilled to be here.

“I think we can see the warm embrace, the enormous appreciation and celebration of what it is to be Irish, of what it is to be of Ireland, and the whole spirit of St. Patrick.

“I thought (the parade) was wonderful.

“The Grand Marshal Panti was fantastic.

“It was fantastic: The queues and queues of people who lined up to wave the Irish tricolour, to say a quick hello, to wear their county jerseys- and there were plenty of Kerry jerseys.

“It was a joyful, happy, inclusive parade.

“It has been just such a positive and uplifting experience.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and over the last number of days I’ve also travelled to Scotland, I’ve travelled to Wales, I’ve had opportunities to visit Manchester, Huddersfield, and now here in London.

“It has been humbling really and just quite spectacular to meet Irish people who have contributed so positively to the communities in which they now live but also keep their connectedness with Ireland as well.

“I think it’s quite phenomenal.

“You can see it here and young people who might not be first generation Irish, they could be second and third generation Irish, but they are experts when it comes to Irish dancing, Irish music, Irish song, and they retain such a loyalty to Ireland and such a commitment.

“I’ve also had opportunity when I was here as well to meet young people working with Enterprise Ireland so we have an evolving story that is the story of Ireland.

“I was in Huddersfield.

“In 1832 the first arrived from Ireland in Huddersfield and the first visit by an Irish minister was the visit that I made there during the week.

“And it the first time the Irish tricolour flew over the town hall, very emotional for all of the people there who were connected, many of them from my own home country of Kerry, first generation, second, third and fourth generation.

“And then on the other side of it to meet young people working with Enterprise Ireland who are coming here flying in to do their business, building up their contacts, and then flying home again.

“So we have come full circle in many respects. But it’s a great opportunity for Ireland with over 70 million claiming Irish heritage that we have opportunities like St. Patrick’s Day to shine a light on the story that is Ireland, both at home and abroad.

“So we come today in celebration but we come in gratitude too.”

Kestine told The Irish World: “It was a blast. It was amazing. The energy was outstanding.

“It was just great to have that opportunity to stand here with Laura and my brother Outsider YP and represent Cork county.”

Laura Elizabeth Hughes added: “Amazing. It was my first time having St. Patrick’s Day away from Ireland.

“I actually can’t get over the crowds, the energy and the love that is going around the place.

I actually I had a little tear watching all the little kids do the Irish dancing.

“I just had this really, really overwhelming Irish pride that just came over me.”

Outsider YP added: “Great experience. Just sensational.”

Ruairi Glasheen and the London Bodhran Band.

Ruairi Glasheen told us after coming offstage: “It was so fun. We had such a great time. It’s such a buzz.

“We didn’t actually see how many people were in the audience until we were actually onstage so great to just feel the energy, get the audience involved.

“Of course my amazing band of bodhraneers behind me here just brought the electricity so it was just really one to remember.

“It’s so nice, particularly post pandemic, to see things really in full flow this year.

“We’re just really privileged. It’s a privilege for us to be involved in the day.”


Lisa Canny told The Irish World: “It was amazing. It was our first ever show with Biird so we had no idea what to expect or how it was gonna go down. But it was received very well, as you saw. So we’re chuffed.”

Lisa describes Biird as a collective of ‘Ireland’s best young female traditional musicians’.

She says: “Our main objective with Biird is to create a female led space for us to do what we do and showcase what we do in that kind of a feminine space but also to change the narrative around image of women in folk music.
“A lot of the image that’s being portrayed out there at the moment still has young Irish women in big Rose of Tralee meringue dresses or in very, very tiny, little skimpy dresses with too much on show.

“You’re being told what to wear and it doesn’t represent the true female musicians in the scene in Ireland who all have their own unique style, their own thing to say, their own things that they stand up for.

“And they’re absolutely f**king brilliant musicians.

“Biird is going to change the narrative around all of that.”

The BibleCode Sundays.

The BibleCode Sundays raced from playing the Luton festivities to take to the London stage.

Ronan MacManus told us: “It was packed out in Luton and the weather just changed just before we were getting on so it was perfect. It dried up and we had a great night a great day out in Luton and then hotfooted it here to Trafalfar Square so it’s been a busy day so far. But a good one.”

Enda Mulloy added: “Thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Luton was great craic and we raced down. We were a bit worried that the M 25 closure might have stopped us but there’s nothing stopping us bucks, I’ll tell ya.”

Andy Nolan added: “It was just a shame we couldn’t play a little bit longer but it was brilliant. Fantastic.”

What about playing Maybe It’s Because I’m an Irish Londoner in the middle of Trafalgar Square?

Ronan: “I mean to play it here in the middle of London is fantastic.

“The crowd was singing it back to us and everything. It was fantastic.”

Andy adds: “That song is perfect for a setting like that. It’s an anthem and it needs a crowd like that.”

Host Xnthony (centre) with headliners Belters Only.

The day’s host Xnthony told us: “I’ve loved it. It’s been amazing. It’s been a day full of amazing Irish London talent.

“It’s been amazing.

“I think it’s really an honour to be asked as a London Irish creative who has been here for 12 years, who isn’t a celebrity to come on and host a day of Irish celebration.

“It’s a real honour.

“The crowd were really amazing.

“I’ve been really nervous about today because it’s a massive audience, you don’t know how it’s gonna go but it felt like I was in a small cabaret room with 50 people.

“I’m from Roscommon. I’m also queer.

“I grew up in London in many ways in my 20s.

“So for me, it’s like a culmination of many years of working here and being involved with the London Irish Centre. So it’s like a tick on my bucket list of things I’ve always wanted to do that I never thought I would ever do.

“So for me, it was a huge deal.”

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