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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Parading o' the Green

Residents of St. George's city turned out by the thousands Sunday to salute St. Patrick as Moscow's Irish community held its fifth annual local parade in honor of their fabled saint.

A crowd of 4,000 to 5,000 people lined both sides of Novy Arbat to watch a progression of more than 40 floats, bands, dancing troupes and commercial organizations strut by on one of the clearest, crispest afternoons the city has seen in months. A heavy police presence, courtesy of the cooperative administration of Mayor Yury Luzhkov, kept the busy thoroughfare cleared for the St. Patrick Day parade's two-hour run.

Irish Ambassador Ronan Murphy was the guest of honor at the reviewing stand, which was set up in front of Irish House, just opposite Dom Knigi.

The parade was also an important part of the commercial life of the city, as numerous businesses joined in to advertise their goods and services. Some of these got into the spirit of things more deeply than others: Sadko, for example, sponsored an elaborate float featuring a raucous crew of merry monks and beer-swilling nuns, while Gourmet Fresh Meats drew applause with a group of Irish butchers dancing jigs to the music of an oompah-band. Other firms were less playful: Some, like DHL, marched groups of employees behind company banners, while Pepsi simply sent a couple of unadorned delivery trucks rolling down the middle of the street.

Some of the biggest crowd reaction was reserved for the appearance of the many purely Russian participants in the parade. These included Cossack dancers in native costume, the Russian Navy Brass band (which led the parade), the Moscow Majorettes -- and the homely but game Istra Brass Band, whose uniforms and equipment showed the ravages of the post-Soviet drought in local cultural funding. In mismatched trousers and lacking stands for their sheet music, which they held with one hand while playing with the other, the 20 or so players from a small town near Moscow moved with ragged, engaging spirit through a medley of folk standards for the dignitaries in the reviewing stand.

Although the proceedings did not have the pomp and political overtones that Russians usually expect in a parade, Muscovites nonetheless seemed pleased with the taste of lighthearted Irish fare.

"Our parades are good, too," said Ludmila Orlova, director of a Moscow professional school, "but when the two national cultures come together, you get something even more wonderful."

The parade was a big hit with a group of Moscow students, who said they delighted in all things Celtic. "We like Irish music because it's the best," said Pavel, who works as a bell-ringer in an Orthodox church.

His friend Misha demonstrated the affinity between Celtic and Russian culture by pulling out a volynka, a Russian form of bagpipes, and striking up an Irish-sounding tune.

Pensioner Boris Dmitriev and his wife, Irina, also lauded the parade -- Boris silently gave it a gloved thumbs up -- but Irina felt it was not as good as last year's. "They should have more dancing and more music, and involve the audience more." It would have been difficult for participants and audience to interact through the line of policemen, although some float riders tossed candy to the crowd.

The main sponsor of the parade was AerRianta International, which operates the Moscow Duty Free shop at Sheremetyevo-2 airport and is "one of the most significant Irish business operations" in the city, said Tadgh Crowley, one of the organizers.

-- Jo Boyce contributed to this report.