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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Irish Eyes Will Be Smiling in London

LONDON -- London will go green Sunday when it celebrates Ireland's St. Patrick's Day for the first time, but the plans have got English patriots seeing red.

Thousands of Londoners are expected to join a parade from the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral through the heart of the British capital and climaxing in a festival of Irish music and dancing in Trafalgar Square.

It aims to mirror the celebrations in Ireland, where it is the annual highlight of the calendar. Last year, 1.3 million Irish took part in St Patrick's Day festivities in the capital Dublin and almost a third of the population attended events or watched them on television.

Despite its huge popularity across the Atlantic in the United States -- where Irish-Americans don clothes of vibrant green to celebrate their ancestral origins and New York alone has had parades for 240 years -- the festivities had failed to travel the short distance across the Irish Sea to Britain.

"One of the things we miss out on in London is the festivals and street entertainment that our major European neighbors take for granted," London mayor Ken Livingstone said at a news conference Wednesday, flanked by two supporters wearing giant inflatable costumes depicting pints of Irish stout.

"We are hoping year by year it will build up until it is something more like the huge parade they have in New York."

The plans will delight London's 400,000 Irish, the capital's largest single minority community.

But angry English patriots are looking on green-eyed.

Despite years of campaigning they have failed to win any widespread support to celebrate the day of English patron St. George on April 23.

"We are appalled. We cannot believe it," said Arthur Naisbitt, vice-chairman of the Royal Society of St. George.

He said the society, which boasts 100 branches worldwide, had been rebuffed by Livingstone when it asked for ?10,000 toward a ceremony at London's main war memorial, the Cenotaph.

"The English are the silent majority. We don't need to make much great display of our patriotism, and perhaps that's something we ought to rectify," Naisbitt said.

Livingstone, who said there was support from all Britain's political parties for Sunday's party, said he would back a St. George's Day festival -- but no one had ever done one before and no one was really interested.

Ironically, St. Patrick may himself have been an Englishman: he was captured from Britain by pirates in A.D. 400 and sold into slavery in Ireland.