It’s the one day of the year Kermit the Frog would be unlikely to mope about the difficulties of being green because he doesn’t like having to spend each day the same colour as leaves.
That’s because shamrocks, oversized green hats, Irish flags and all things green will be proudly celebrated on Wednesday to mark 200 years of St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Australia.
Even the Sydney Opera House will be swathed in green light.
St Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in Sydney on March 17, 1810, when the then NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie provided entertainment for Irish convict workers.
Two centuries later, the Opera House will for the first time, have a green hue over it from 7.30pm (AEDT), in recognition of the huge number of Australians with Irish heritage.
“So many Australians can trace their lineage to Ireland and these are the people we remember and salute on St Patrick’s Day,” The Irish Echo newspaper’s editor Billy Cantwell said.
Family history website Ancestry.com.au claims almost two million Australians have Irish heritage, including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
‘Wide awake drunks’
However, the day has a history of alcohol-related incidents, and health authorities have warned revellers of the risk posed by mixing energy drinks with alcohol and the new phenomenon of ‘wide-awake drunks’.
The Australian Drug Foundation says energy drinks mask alcohol’s sedative effects .. so people who mix the two have a harder time judging how drunk they are and are more at risk of alcohol-related harm.
It says wide-awake drunks think they are safe to drive when in fact they are dangerously impaired.
Irish out in force
Hundreds of thousands of Irish revellers are expected at St Patrick’s parades in Ireland and around the world to celebrate the day, as the famously fun-loving country parties despite the biting recession.
The traditional feast day of Ireland patron’s saint has become one of the world’s most recognised national holidays and ministers are jetting around the globe to promote trade, tourism and investment.
Prime Minister Brian Cowen is in Washington where he will meet US President Barack Obama at the White House to present him with the traditional gift of a bowl of shamrock, Ireland’s three-leafed national emblem.
Obama has an ancestor who emigrated from a small town in Ireland in 1849. Cowen is also meeting Vice President Joe Biden – who also has Irish ancestry – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
President Mary McAleese will review the main parade in Dublin that will involve 3,000 performers and marching bands from India, the US, Bulgaria, Austria, France, Spain and Britain.
Pubs get ‘craic’-ing
There will be parades in more than 100 other Irish cities and towns. Irish emigrants also use the holiday as an excuse to party in Australia and New Zealand and in countries in Asia, Europe and north and south America.
Irish pubs in cities around the globe will heave to traditional Gaelic craic, or fun.
“Thanks to our global family the link with Ireland has been kept alive over generations and our culture introduced to countless millions throughout the world,” McAleese said in her annual message.
As well as Cowen, his deputy prime minister, nine other senior ministers, 11 junior ministers and the attorney general have flown out to visit the Irish diaspora in 46 locations around the world.
They will visit the US, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai.
Following a series of scandals about the cost of ministerial travel – and amid a recession which has hit Ireland harder than virtually any other European country – Cowen has ordered costs to be kept to a minimum this year.
After centuries of emigration, an estimated 70 million people worldwide claim an Irish connection. About 34 million people in the US claim some Irish ancestry – some eight times the population of the Irish Republic.