St Patrick’s Festival Birmingham final programme announced

Upwards of 90,000 people expected to attend Digbeth festivities.

Internationally-acclaimed Irish singer and musician Finbar Furey will play two headline sets at St Patrick’s Festival in Birmingham on Sunday 17th March, alongside a busy programme of activities celebrating Irish culture and heritage.

The popular event, incorporating the world’s third largest St Patrick’s Day parade, is expected to welcome upwards of 90,000 visitors, transforming the city’s oldest area and renowned Irish quarter of Digbeth into a sea of green.

The full day of music, dance, spectacle and activities based around the Irish patron saint and Irish culture, will feature the 2,000 capacity St Pat Rocks stage located on Digbeth High Street, the Emerald Village family area on Bradford Street, and hundreds of free events at venues across the area as well as the now internationally-famous parade.

Digbeth’s status as the epicentre of Irish culture in Birmingham and the Midlands was given a boost recently following a visit from Irish president Michael D. Higgins, who declared, “Digbeth is the heart of the Irish in Birmingham” during a heartfelt and warmly-received reception from the community at St Anne’s Community Centre.

Commencing from Camp Hill Island at 12.00 and travelling along Digbeth High Street to St Martin’s Church and close to the iconic Selfridges building – lit green for the occasion – before looping back again, the parade will end at 14.00. Led by St Patrick (aka festival organising committee member Len Cale), the parade convoy will comprise of marching bands, Irish dancing schools, classic cars, dhol drummers, samba bands, Irish county associations, sports teams, agricultural vehicles, traditional Irish musicians and community groups drawn from across Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Over fifty musicians, including Dublin multi-instrumentalist and singer Finbar Furey, will take to the stage at the St Pat Rocks venue from 13.35, with a live music offering of Birmingham Irish acts including contemporary folk bands Lampa and The Deluge and Salt Creek, singer-songwriter James Reidy, and traditional groups Cairde and Reel Note who will bring the venue to a close at midnight.

The Emerald Village children’s area which includes the Bob Wilson funfair, entertainment from Mad Dom!, an F1 racing car simulator, a small petting zoo, Irish music workshops (tin whistle and bodhrán) and a big screen stream of the parade will be open from 1200 to 2200.

Additional live music and St Patrick’s Day activities will take place at partner venues across Digbeth, including Hennessey’s Bar, The Kerryman, Digbeth Works, The Big Bull’s Head, The Ruin, Dig Brew, The Old Crown, The Spotted Dog, Cleary’s, The Rowton Hotel, The Fountain Inn, The Irish Centre, The White Swan, The Lamp Tavern, Subside Bar, and South and City College.

Peter Connolly, chair of St Patrick’s Festival Birmingham, said, “We are so thrilled to present the St Patrick’s Festival 2019 to Birmingham and to visitors from across the globe on 17th March. The festival family has worked especially hard this year to ensure there’s something for everyone as part of the programme. Our St Pat Rocks music offering has gone from strength to strength since 2015, and we look forward to raising a glass to one of the greats of Irish folk music, Finbar Furey, on the day.

“The support from our community, from local and Irish businesses, and from the city we live and work in all help to keep this incredible civic event growing in size and ambition each year.”

Garry Jones, from Off Our Trolley Arts, added, “Since 2008, we have worked with children of all ages – from nursery to senior schools; university students and all manner of community groups and organisations from around Birmingham, to help design and create parade costumes, headdresses, backpacks, trolleys and float entries for the parade. Throughout the years we have been subjected to all weathers, getting sunburn one year and coming close to frostbite the next!

“I hope in some way we have made a difference to add colour and spectacle, to create wonderful memories for both the children taking part, and the tends of thousands of people who attend the event.”

Birmingham’s annual event for the Irish community has its origins at the start of the 20th century with a number of St Patrick’s Day events following success in the Boer War. A decade later, more formal annual celebrations organised by the Gaelic League took place at the city’s historic Grade II concert venue Town Hall.

The first parade – of its kind in England – is said to have taken place in Birmingham in 1952, organised by Limerickman Father Sean Connellan of St Anne’s Parish. The Birmingham St Patrick’s Day parade – made up of county associations – went on to grow in size, stature and scale, with dinner dances and banquets, held to mark the national patron saint’s day. Following the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, the parade committee took the difficult decision to suspend the 1975 event, eventually leading to a 21-year absence before returning in 1996 and eventually transforming into the major event it is today.