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2002-07-24 St. Patrick's Day

The Irish have done so much for London and indeed England, and with the historic first ever St. Patricks Day Festival in London this year, the Lord Mayor of London has recognised this fact, and in so doing he has made history. On 16th March 2002 at 6.45pm I got into my taxi and said something Ive always wanted to say to a London taxi driver  The Savoy please!.

 

We arrived at the plush London hotel on the Strand and into the splendour of the Lancaster room. The 10ft tall St. Patrick (with the aid of stilts) welcomed us each in turn.

There followed a series of impassioned speeches by Ken Livingstone, Seamus Brennan, Nora from Smurfits, and finally (Sir) Bob Geldof. The Lord Mayor talked of the 800 year conflict between the two islands, thanking the Irish for the contributions they had made to England over the years, and explained why it was so important to have this festival. When asked why there was no St. Georges Day parade, he replied that no-one had asked him to do one! Sir Bob highlighted the continuing plight of the people of Omagh who are still trying to bring the bombers to justice, despite knowing exactly who they are. Money was raised during the evening to help them pay for the legal battle. He then thanked the people of London for all they had done for the Irish over the years, including himself. He said that he always hung his head in shame every time there was a bomb or even bombscare in London, and so say all of us. On many occasions as I myself arrived into Waterloo station there was a suspect package or bomb alert. Did these guys not realise how many Irish there were in London, and at risk because of their supposed patriotism?

After the speeches, the three of us Celtics sang our a capella Danny Boy by way of a grace at the Lord Mayors table, as we had done for Bill Clinton in Dublin. At the risk of sounding even more big-headed, you could hear a pin-drop, and the response was incredible. The Derry air was short-listed as a possible national anthem when we got our independence. It certainly has become an alternative anthem, and the words by an Englishman who never set foot in Ireland.

After the delicious Savoy meal, we had a few songs from other musical guests, by way of a teaser for what was to come tomorrow. Tim Pat Coogan and Dermot Murnaghan from ITN did a little sketch to let people know the story of our patron saint. For some of the guests it was enlightening. Then Pauline McLynn/alias Mrs.Go-on Doyle proceeded to snog the Lord Mayor for charity.

On St. Patricks Day itself, we arrived at a packed Trafalgar Square. The history of the situation was overwhelming enough, but the whole organisation and stage set-up was most impressive also. We hung around in an enclosed area mingling with some of the huge figures of the Irish music scene, and waited our turn to face the 50,000 strong crowd! I had never met Finbar Furey before, but am dying to meet him again. The Dubliners had regrouped for the occasion, and Mary Coughlan was there with all her kids. Bellefire finished, and on we went. The buzz was incredible. The crowd were definitely up for participation, and the response was mind-blowing. When I stood on that stage under me column facing the National Gallery and St. Martin-in the-Fields, I came over all emotional thinking of the history of what I was part of. Times really have changed. Lets hope it stays that way. The excitable crowd began to pile into the fountains and we were asked to exercise a little crowd control, which we did, and managed to plug our new album too!

At the end of the show we all piled on stage with the entire company and sang a rousing Fields of Athenry. I shared a mike with John Sheehan (the fiddler from the Dubliners) and soccer legend Niall Quinn. Afterwards we were all invited to Conrad Gallaghers restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Hats off to London and their Lord Mayor for recognising the Irish in London, and for allowing me to witness and be part of an historic day.

Nelsons Column signing off from Nelsons Column!