The St Patrick’s Festival, which celebrates the patron saint of Ireland was held on 17th and 19th March. The Festival which is was organised by a team of 18 volunteers, and 30 more helpers on the day now attracts 1000s of spectators. First held in Luton in 2000, the parade and other events have become one of the leading attractions of the Luton cultural calendar and this year showcased over 20 Irish music, song and dance acts from both sides of the Irish Sea and drew over 400 participants to its annual parade.
The festivities began with a St Patrick’s Day Sean O’Riada Mass in Our Lady Help of Christians with music from the Luton Irish Forum Choir. John Hutcheson, Luton Irish Forum Choir Coordinator said: “The Sean O’Riada Mass has to be one of my favourite parts of the St Patrick’s Festival – it reminds us about the true meaning of St Patrick’s Day, celebrating the feast in our native language.”
For the second year running, Luton Irish Forum hosted a St Patrick’s Day Celebration on 17th March at their centre which was attended by over 500 people. Spectrum Radio’s Gerry Byrne returned to the stage to host some of the best in Luton’s Irish entertainment, and we had performances from Eugene Doonan, The Wilsons Show, John, Joe and Caz Devine and Chris Sadler, Clara Byrne and The Finbarr Conway Academy of Dance. Noelette Hanley, Chief Officer of Luton Irish Forum said “As it’s a daytime event, it appeals to the younger and older members of our community. It was another fantastic celebration with great atmosphere, music and craic!”
The Parade Day started with another performance from LIF choir at the Pre-Parade mass on Sunday 19th March. For the first time in years, the Luton Irish Forum negotiated a parade route leaving from its centre which will included accessibility for floats, which included The Mayo Association, The Claddagh Gaels, Noah Enterprise, Tokko Youth Space, Beds Community Cohesion Team and a special entry ‘Women of Ireland’ from the LIF Heritage Lottery Heritage funded, Ireland 1916 : Luton 2016 project. In addition to St Patrick and Molly Malone, walking troupe entries included the Emerald and Bedfordshire University Pipe bands, Dolphin Marching Band, Promethidion Polish Children’s Group, St Dympna’s GAA, Scandalous carnival troupe, Leitrim Association, LIF Baby & Toddler Group and LIF Calligraphy Group, Scoil Rince Realta (Irish Dancing School), Race for Life, Polonia Polish group and our friends the Irish Network Stevenage.
The parade finished at Market Hill, where formalities were led by LIF Trustee Siobhan Rooney including speeches by The Mayor of Luton, Cllr Tahir Khan and First Secretary of the Irish Embassy Ruaidhri Dowling followed by the traditional presentation of Shamrock to dignitaries. Cllr Tahir Khan said “Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Luton is another opportunity to create greater understanding of Irish cultures that will go a long way in building on our good community cohesion in the town.”
Ruaidhri Dowling praised the number and diversity of community groups that joined the parade and the show of community support for the occasion. After much deliberations, due to the quality of floats and troupes, he chose Scandalous carnival troupe as the winner of the best group. Parade goer Christine Sosnowski said “I love that the annual St Patrick’s day parade brings so many to the town centre for a lovely day out, great music, dancing and happy people.”
Radio personality Jim Carway of Diverse FM hosted the afternoon proceedings with entertainment from Finbarr Conway Academy World Champion dancers, The Mick Flavin Band, Shane Owens and The BibleCode Sundays. Shane Owens said: “That was unreal – playing to over a 1000 people – rocking it out – thanks so much to the Luton Irish Forum for having us – that’s something we won’t forget.’’
The indoor stage in The Mall, featured entertainment from regulars John and Joe Devine & Eugene Teevan – traditional musicians, the Murphy Flaherty School, the Finbarr Conway Academy and the Brooks Academy of Irish Dancing. Promethidon, Polish children’s dance and song group also returned for a second year. Newcomers singers Katy Carr, Melissa Norwood and Samantha Hughes and Scoil Rince Realta and The Walshe Academy of Irish Dancing treated a packed Mall.
Fiona Martin, Festival committee member said: “Big thanks to the fantastic groups in the parade, the brilliant live acts, local Irish business at the market and the dedicated volunteers and sponsors who made it all possible! We hope you have had a fantastic St Patrick’s.”
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