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Dublin Welcomes St. Patrick's Day

A half-million spectators cheered the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin Saturday, an annual procession strong on artwork, dance and irreverent humor — and this year emphasizing the multitudes of global immigrants now making Ireland their home.

Floats and elaborately costumed troupes celebrated myths and legends not only from Ireland, but also from Poland, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Brazil and African countries.

One man dressed as St. Patrick in papal hat and sunglasses did the samba, while another float nearby featured "Miss Panty," Dublin's premier drag queen.

Musicians from Lithuania and turbaned, drum-beating Punjabis, West African dancers and other groups celebrated their place in an Ireland that, over the past 13 years of economic boom, has become a land of immigration rather than emigration.

"Nowadays there's far more color in the parade. It's great to see all our new Irish from across the world dressed up in green," said Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who normally spends St. Patrick's Day in the United States but returned overnight after visiting U.S. President George Bush in the White House.

The leader of Ireland's 4 million Roman Catholics, Archbishop Sean Brady, appealed to Ireland to remember the religious roots of the holiday in this rapidly secularizing, heavy-drinking land.

"The challenge for all of us is to be consistent and coherent, not just in honoring Patrick with our lips and our parades, but with our hearts and lives — to honor what he really represents by earnestly trying to embody it in our own lives," Brady said.

More than 1,000 police were on duty to deal with expected alcohol-fueled trouble in the evening, following widespread drunkenness that led to 700 arrests in 2005 and lesser trouble last year.

Dublin liquor stores were ordered closed until 4 p.m. to deter public drinking until well after the end of the parade.

This was the first St. Patrick's Day period when police have been empowered to breathalyze drivers randomly on road checkpoints — a new law that resulted in 60 arrests in the hours before the parade.

St. Patrick's Day passions this year have been pumped up by an exceptional combination of national sports events.

Even as the parade worked its way along a two-mile route through central Dublin, many were heading to nearby pubs to watch Ireland play Italy in the final match of the Six Nations rugby tournament — with a potential Irish championship on the line.

Simultaneously, fans of Gaelic football were getting ready to watch the national club championships of Ireland's homegrown sport in Croke Park, Dublin's 82,000-seat sports stadium.

Later, more sports fans were looking forward to watching Ireland's unheralded cricket team play the most important match in its history, against Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup in Kingston, Jamaica.

On Sunday night, tens of thousands are expected to line the banks of the River Liffey in Dublin to watch a massive fireworks display, the other major event of this year's five-day St. Patrick's Festival in the city.

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