Irish Culture Goes on Show for St. Patrick's Day

MTA man in a kilt waving the Irish flag before spectators on Sunday afternoon during the 14th St. Patrick's Day parade, which ran down the Novy Arbat.
Paul Taylor, an Englishman visiting Moscow for the first time, gawked at the Novy Arbat, decked out in green, white and orange balloons and cordoned off by hundreds of police.

"There's something about Irish culture that spreads around to all parts of the world," Taylor said.

The scene at Moscow's 14th St. Patrick's Day Parade on Sunday certainly showed the international reach of this traditionally Irish holiday.

Despite strong, icy winds that made the air feel a lot colder than the 2 degrees Celsius reported by street thermometers, crowds lined both sides of the street to watch 10 floats and 20 bands parade by. Some people wore green and white scarves, while others had tall, bright green leprechaun hats. A few Russian teenage boys even allowed a young woman to paint shamrocks on their cheeks. Vendors hawked flags and shamrock pins.

In the VIP area, dignitaries -- most of them wearing green ties, hats or kerchiefs -- tried to keep warm with Irish coffee and whisky.

"I have been in parades in Rome, I've been in Paris, and I've been in London. This year, I'm in Moscow," said Rory Brady, Ireland's attorney general, who was representing the Irish government at this year's festivities.

He said the parade was a means to encourage "greater cultural and economic ties between Ireland and Russia."

Some 200 to 300 Irish people live in Moscow, but the exchange between cultures happens in Ireland as well, said Irish Ambassador Justin Harman. "There's a large Russian community in Ireland," Harman said, noting that a Russian Orthodox parish was consecrated in Dublin in 2003.

Harman said both cultures shared a "fantastic sense of zest for life."

A float of brightly colored flowers opened the parade, followed by a marching band and an Irish dance group. The crowd came to life a few minutes later, when about a dozen imposing Irish wolfhounds, each about 80 centimeters tall, strutted by and posed for photos by admiring spectators.

One couple, Dmitry and Yelena, who did not want to give their last name, had bought an Irish flag and a Russian flag for their toddler, Darya, to wave as the bands marched by. "This isn't our first time. We find it fun," said Dmitry, although he conceded that he was not sure what St. Patrick's Day was about.

Michael Eckels / MT

A man carrying his Irish wolfhound beside a pub's bar-themed parade float.

Every year on March 17, the Irish community around the world celebrates the nation's patron saint, St. Patrick, a youth kidnapped into slavery in the fifth century who managed to escape, study for the priesthood and travel to Ireland to spread his faith.

Michael Madden, an Irishman and chief executive of Bank Renaissance Capital, the consumer finance arm of Renaissance Capital, said the parade helped to promote a good business environment by serving as a showcase for Ireland. "And the best thing you can showcase is your people and their culture," he said.