With the sun shining, everyone in green and Guinness in full flow you could say that Medway’s first ever St Patrick’s Day parade was a success.
Hundreds of people gathered in Gillingham High Street on Sunday afternoon with shamrocks painted on their faces, Ireland flags wrapped around them and Guinness hats swaying in the breeze to join in the festivities.
The parade was product of the Medway St Patrick’s Day Group which was set up in 2013 by Tina Lawlor-Mottram, who is from Dublin and Sarah Jenkins, whose mother is Irish.
Sarah Jenkins said: “When we started this we never thought we’d get such an enthusiastic, happy response to our little parade – we thought there would be five of us.”
“We’re so grateful for this wonderful turnout and would never have dreamed there would be such a huge representation of the Irish in Medway,” she added.
Creative artist and co-chair of the Medway St Patrick’s Day Group Tina Lawlor Mottram led the creative art workshops with local children and their families where they made badges and designed the banner which led the parade.
The banner was followed by The Pentacle Drummers and Irish dancers from the Hackett Kyne Academy of Irish Dancing and McManigan’s Academy of Irish Dance who jigged up and down the High Street in traditional dresses.
There was also a nod to Britain in the parade with volunteers carrying two Union flags and the Air Cadets marching band could be heard playing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’.
Mayor of Medway, Cllr Josie Iles was also in attendance and she hopes the parade will be an annual event.
“Why not?” she said, “there are so many cultures within the Medway towns so it’s important to show support and get around them all in the same way.”
After the parade, the festivities continued at St Mary’s Social Club – a hidden Irish gem in the heart of Gillingham – with a buffet, Guinness on tap and traditional Irish music courtesy of Calliope House
As St Patrick’s Day falls during Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish language week) there was also a ceilidh dance and a number of workshops put on at St Mary’s including Irish language classes and Irish dancing tutorials.
Nula McManigan, 34, of the McManigan’s Academy of Irish Dance was more than happy to get involved with the parade to showcase Irish culture in Medway.
“As everyone else is, we’re giving our time and experiences to represent the Irish in the community and let people know we’re here,” she said.
Despite having taught Irish dancing for the past 14 years all over Kent, Nula too, was thrilled at the fantastic turnout.
“I don’t think anybody expected it to be this big,” she added.
So what is next for the Irish community in Medway? An annual parade, hopefully, and Sarah Jenkins, Co-chair of the Medway St Patrick’s Day Group believes we need to be celebrating the Irish language:
“I think it’s important when you own your own language, you own your own story. A lot of people say ‘Oh no one speaks Irish’, I don’t care – it’s part of your identity, what shapes you,” she said.