Haydn West  /  AP
The Freedom High School Patriot Band, from Bethlehem, Penn., performs during the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin on Wednesday.
updated 3/17/2004 7:19:02 PM ET 2004-03-18T00:19:02

Half a million revelers filled the streets of Dublin for Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day parade Wednesday, an energy-filled spectacle that crowned five days of celebrations.

The St. Patrick’s Festival has been growing in scope every year for the past decade in line with Ireland’s rising prosperity and confidence as a nation.

This year, amusement parks were erected outside government headquarters and along the River Liffey. Strong winds forced weekend outdoor concerts and a hot-air balloon show to be canceled, but a half-hour fireworks spectacular went off unhindered to glorious effect on the riverside.

Improving weather meant Wednesday’s parade was the best-attended yet, drawing families from all over Ireland and tourists worldwide. Crowds estimated at 500,000 filled the streets. People lined up 10-deep along the 1½-mile route from St. Stephen’s Green on the south side to the capital’s construction-scarred main boulevard, O’Connell Street, in the north.

The reigning Miss World, Rosanna Davison of Ireland, was the parade’s grand marshal, drawing appreciative howls and whistles as she passed in an open convertible.

Tribute to Madrid victims
The most respectful cheers were reserved for Lume de Biqueira, a bagpipe band from the northwest Galicia region of Spain, whose members wore white ribbons in honor of the more than 200 people killed in last week’s terrorist bombings in Madrid. Dublin Lord Mayor Royston Brady walked alongside the band.

“This is the best way to show that we are stronger than those who carried out the bombings,” said bandleader Alvaro de Miguel Sastre.

As usual, the Dublin parade featured strong American involvement. A half-dozen high school bands from Alabama, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Texas took part, as did the Shannon Rovers bagpipe band from Chicago and the kilt-clad pipes and drums band from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

“Here comes the Scottish army!” exclaimed one youngster on his father’s shoulders as the American cadets approached.

The parade’s most impressive elements came from homegrown theater and arts groups who provided the bulk of 3,500 performers in the event. Most donned homemade costumes displaying vibrant colors and keen imaginations in tune with the parade’s theme, “Glorious.”

Drummers from southeast Wexford county wore feathered headdresses, while dancers from northwest Donegal dressed as sea creatures. Men from Antrim and Tyrone pushed wheelbarrow-style carts made from metal garbage cans and painted every color in the book. Balloons of a fire-breathing dragon and a tiger towered overhead.

In Northern Ireland, Catholic youths clashed with Protestants and police after a St. Patrick’s Day parade into central Belfast. One officer was wounded. Protestant leaders boycotted the privately organized parade by Catholics, which features many Irish flags — anathema to Protestants in this British territory.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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