No St. Pat's Day Fests In Ireland

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To the disbelief of Dubliners and their foreign guests, fears of foot-and-mouth disease have driven St. Patrick's Day out of Ireland.

"We're in disaster-recovery mode," said John Cox, a tour operator coordinating visits this week by marching bands from Colorado to Delaware.

All had hoped to march Saturday before an audience exceeding 1 million in Dublin's parade, but now must make do with private performances for traveling friends and family - just one casualty in Ireland's wider war to prevent the livestock disease.

It was a somber St. Patrick's Day overshadowed by the battle against the livestock ailment. As Irish celebrated overseas with parades and shamrocks, Ireland itself marked its quietest St. Patrick's Day in memory.

Although the government announced Friday that some small-scale sports events could resume next weekend after a more than three-week ban, the efforts to minimize large gatherings of people - particularly those traveling from Britain or rural areas - means Dublin and other Irish towns will have no official St. Patrick's Day festivities.

"At the moment I've got 18 tons of fireworks under my bed," said Dominic Campbell, artistic director for Dublin's planned four-day St. Patrick's Festival, which frustrated organizers and sponsors hope may be staged later this year, including the parade.

"I don't know if we'll still be able to call it St. Patrick's Day. But at least the weather will be better then," he said.

"All will not be lost if some impetus can be given to a campaign to organize a summer event of similar size and nature," said Martin Brady, a lawmaker with the governing Fianna Fail party.

"It would ensure that 2001 does not go down as the only year the people of Ireland did not get to enjoy a parade of major national significance."

In the U.S., the celebrations were going on as usual.

It was a misty day in New York City, where more than 165-thousand marchers were to parade up Fifth Avenue in the nation's most famous St. Patrick's Day parade.

Celebrations were also taking place in other cities, including Philadelphia, where police say they'll have extra officers on patrol, watching for drunken drivers.

In Dublin, event organizers said their records were incomplete and didn't know for sure when the festivities were last canceled, saying they believe they were called off or postponed in 1926 or 1927 because of bad weather.

So far, the Republic of Ireland hasn't had a confirmed case of foot-and-mouth disease, which doesn't harm humans but could devastate the country's livestock industry. Restrictions began after one case was confirmed March 1 in neighboring Northern Ireland - long after visiting U.S. bands had booked nonrefundable flights.

"The chance to march in St. Patrick's Day in Dublin was the main biling for the trip, but this is still a wonderful opportunity and the kids' morale is staying high," said Joey Lucita, assistant band director for the Rebels of Jack C. Hays High School in Buda, Texas.

More than 200 Rebels and their sponsors had to raise $1,700 each, an effort that for some students began in the sixth grade.

They toured a gray, wet Dublin on Friday after swinging through Ireland's southwest, where highlights included a medieval-style feast at a castle and wandering along the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher. Later Friday, the Hays concert band was playing with other U.S. high school musicians inside Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral to a small audience.

"Our schedule hasn't had to change too much," Lucita said. "We've had to make some concessions, like the tower at the cliffs was closed because of the foot-and-mouth precautions."

Cox, who has coordinated visits to Ireland by U.S. bands for 11 years, has been scrambling to organize activities for Saturday - a reception at the mayor's residence and a disco involving several schools.

But he couldn't disguise his frustration with the foot-and-mouth restrictions and their impact on the visitors, who include members of the Georgia Tech marching band, the firefighters of Citizens Hose Company in Smyrna, Del., and band members from Greeley High School in Greeley, Colo., and Chaparral High School outside Denver.

He can gather his 1,200 visiting Americans at Dublin's main horse track - which has been shut down all month - for a joint performance Saturday that they're calling Bandfest. But local residents won't be allowed to attend.

"It is a bit mad, really," he said. "You're free to walk day and night on the (sidewalks) of O'Connell Street, but you can't march up the middle of it for a parade."

Other bands are staging a closed-door concert Sunday at a rural southwest Irish castle hotel run by an American, Tom O'Kane. He offered the venue after the area's parade in Limerick was canceled, and nearly had to reverse his hospitable act after local farmers protested.

Other rural luxury hotels used to strong business around St. Patrick's Day have struggled to entice tourists to areas where, officially, they aren't advised to go.

"Sinful or saintly, drown the shamrock in four-star deluxe style," reads an ad for the Ormonde Hotel in Kilkenny, where Saturday's parade has been canceled.

But hotel director Patrick Curran says the Irish will have no trouble making their own fun Saturday.

"The Irish have a way of generating a good feeling even when things are down," he said, adding: "That's what the pubs are for anyway."