Aah, to be sure, this should be a right old craic!

Story by Jack Foley

CALLING all Irishmen! The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has announced that London is to officially celebrate St Patrick's Day on Sunday, March 17, with a huge festival to mark the 'enormous contribution which Irish people have made' to the capital.

The festivities will begin at midday with a traditional Mass at Westminster Cathedral, before a parade will assemble outside at 12.30pm.

From there, it will travel along Victoria Street and Whitehall to Trafalgar Square where a free, cultural festival will begin at 1pm. Mr Livingstone will officially declare the event open at 2pm, after which revellers can enjoy themselves until 6pm - some four hours later.

The St Patrick's Day Festival is being organised by the Mayor together with the Irish Post, the Irish Counties Association and Irish community organisations as a celebration of the Irish contribution to the capital.

In announcing the event, Mr Livingstone said: "As London's first directly elected Mayor, I am delighted to officially welcome the celebration of St Patrick's Day in Britain's capital city.

"Henceforth, as well as being an occasion which every Londoner can enjoy, the celebration of St Patrick's Day will mark the enormous contribution which Irish people have made, and continue to make, to the economic, social and cultural life of this city.'

The festival is intended to be a showcase of Irish music, culture and literature and will include traditional and contemporary music, dancing, story-telling, and numerous peripheral activities - a children's play area, bars, food and marquees showcasing Irish goods.

The Dubliners, Ireland's legendary folk band, have also confirmed that they will play as the first part of a reunion tour which will continue in April. This will be the original living line-up, including Ronnie Drew and Jim McCann.

Other confirmed acts include the talented and enigmatic Mary Coughlan, a performance by the internationally-acclaimed dance troupe, Celtic Feet, from the Midlands (performing a specially choreographed piece by Colin Dunne); and piper Finbar Furey, who has done much to popularise Irish music for the past 30 years.

And The Wexford Male Voice Choir, a 70-strong male choir, will be travelling over especially for the event and will also be singing at the Mayors St. Patrick's Dinner and mass at Westminster on Sunday morning.

A smaller, free acoustic stage will also be erected at the North Western end of Trafalgar square and will feature musicians, singers and dancers from London Comhaltas branches. Other musicians and artists are welcome to join in the session, so if your Irish folk or trad band want to book a 20 min slot there are a few available: Simply contact Michéal Coughlan on 020 8741 0649 for details.

CONTROVERSY:

The event is not without controversy, however, as Conservative members of the Greater London Assembly have criticised Mayor Livingstone for agreeing to spend £100,000 to mark St Patrick's Day after refusing to organise a celebration for St George's Day (on April 23).

Bob Neill, Tory leader of the Greater London Assembly, believes St George's Day is just as impotant and said: "It should be celebrated just as much as any other cultural event in the capital."

His outburst followed comments made by Mr Livingstone regarding St George, whose legend he said had been 'exaggerated'. He added: "St George has a wonderful image but he was actually a bureaucrat involved in some pretty corrupt practices in the Roman Empire and that is the sad truth of it."