By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — In a "bold move" to steal a march on the rest of the world, Ireland’s millennium celebrations are to begin with the St. Patrick’s Day festivities throughout the country, Sports and Tourism Ministers Dr. Jim McDaid has decreed.
"Like Ireland itself, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been reinvented and are a model for Ireland’s millennium celebrations," the Minister said.
What will happen for an encore when the millennium really arrives is unclear, but up to a million people from home and overseas will attend more than 700 performances over five days.
"Whether you’re Irish, or just sometimes wish you were Irish, this party is for you," promises the Dublin Festival executive director Maire Claire Sweeney.
The Dublin festival kicks off on Saturday with the Big Bash, a two-hour street carnival that promises to set the tone and get the heart beating. There will be 40 drummers hammering out a beat on a 13-foot millennium drum.
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The theme of the of all the magic, madness and music will be "Saints and Scholars" and a new logo has been designed by 23-year-old graphic design student at Dublin’s NCAD art college Alex McReynolds.
President Mary McAleese will relay a message to open the festival and will be watching the parade on St. Patrick’s Day — the first time for many years that a president has attended.
The days of partying are costing about £1.1 million from funds drawn from a combination of commercial sponsorship, Dublin Corporation, the EU and the Ireland funds.
Aer Lingus, Dunnes, Telecom Eireann and Xerox are helping with marketing expertise for what is always the start of the tourist season and provides a fillip for bars, restaurants, hotels and guest houses.
The greatest fireworks display every seen in Europe is promised from Australia pyrotechnic expert Syd Howard on the first night. He set the sky alight at the closing ceremony for the Olympics Games in Atlanta and Britain’s Hong Kong handover to China.
The 30-minute show is loosely based on the landscapes of Ireland and will be set against a pre-recorded soundtrack.
On Sunday, there will be 600 separate performances on Dublin’s streets with much of them sealed off to traffic and a Masquerade in Grafton Street in the evening promises some of the best troupes from London’s Notting Hill Carnival.
On Monday, the theme will initially be Cuban in the trendy Temple Bar district and it switches to African later when the Togolese theater company bring voodoo, Dali-esque elephants and snakes. In Grafton Street, the evening carnival is styled on Trinidad.
On March 16, the Galway Macnas team and Barcelona’s Els Comedians join forces for a "highly visual musical pyrotechnical extravaganza." It will take over St. Stephen’s Green.
Those with the stamina to make it are offered pre-parade entertainment when the great day dawns.
The 3,400 participants in the parade and all the visitors from home and abroad will have the choice of a massive ceili in the Green in the evening. More than 35,000 foot-stompers turned up for a similar event last year.