The Medway Irish on Parade

16 March 2014 - the sun is shining in Gillingham high street. I can see a ream of beaming faces beneath a sea of green, white and gold. Beside me, an older gentleman beats out a reel on his walking sticks while two girls swoop in unison to dance to the beat of the Pentacle drummers. The Medway Irish are out on parade, and they have packed the street. But how did they get there?

February 2013 - I'm sitting at the St Mary's social club with my friend, recounting yet another "funny" story told about the Irish. It's ignorance, we tell each other. So, why don't we do something about it? Why don't we educate them, so they knew better about the wonderful culture and language of the Irish? Why don't we have a parade, she asks. Why not? And while we're at it, why not hold an event after the parade to showcase the wonderful Irish language, culture, music and literature. There's a lot to be proud of!

Putting together an event of this size took a lot of organisation, so I got started right away. The first thing to do was to find a group of reliable volunteers who would help. After that, I had to clear the way with the council, the safety advisory group, the highways department, the town centre forum, then the police.... and complete the paperwork too. Ah, the glamour of community events. Oh and yes, we needed some local groups to be in our parade too. It was hard to find groups ready to forgo London's event, but we managed!

The parade received a warm welcome even before it started. The moment I mentioned the planned event was to celebrate St Patrick's day, doors flew open and help was offered at the drop of a hat. I was overwhelmed by the offers of advice and support, and I needed it. There were other considerations; publicity, stewarding, funding and none of these were handled without the support of my friends. Our funding came from the British National Lottery and from three of the local councillors.

We had a tremendous turnout on the day and, as we hoped, the event generated a great community feeling. I felt a great sense of pride seeing the Irish language banner paraded along the street, surrounded by musicians, dancers and all ages and nationalities that were Irish for the day and having a great laugh. We did it together.

It was such a success that the parade will be happening again next year – and we need your help! If you are interested in being involved why not come to our AGM?  It will be held on Tuesday, 01 July at 7pm at the St Mary's social club in Gillingham.

We are also looking for Irish Tutors to help us in providing some Irish language lessons. We’d love to provide one or two lessons for basic or intermediate learners. Just a couple of sessions would help!

Details about how to contact us can be found at http://www.stpatricksdaymedway.org.uk/ and you can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Sarah Jenkin, Secretary Medway St Patrick Day Parade committee

 

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