It was almost time for the parade to start, and I was getting excited. I had been to Ireland three times before, but I had never managed to be there for the national holiday because during my first visits I had still been a school student, and March 17th is traditionally a school day in Germany.

Now I was standing there waiting for the big parade, and just like me my friends were filled with great expectations. Finally a group of people was marching into sight, the first row of which was holding a big flag. Different kinds of groups paraded past us, and we watched with interest who took part in that parade. There were a lot of school children playing musical instruments or dancing. Interestingly, children of various origins were taking part in those parades, and I realized that Ireland was now as much an immigrant country as any other EU member state. Back in 1997, when I first travelled to the Emerald Isle, I counted exactly three black people, and I stayed for five weeks and saw a lot of places! This has changed a lot up until now. Irish people have emigrated for centuries, and now there are actually people who immigrate into Ireland itself. During the last few years, Ireland has become a richer country which can also afford to share some of its wealth with less fortunate people from poorer countries. As in most European countries, the issue of taking in refugees is a very controversial one, but this is not a topic I am going to address in detail now.

Besides the school children, there were all kinds of groups: brass music, anti war demontsrators, and farmers. I found it hilarious to watch a truck full of animals pass by. There were also some Catholics who wanted to promote the original meaning of St Patrick's Day and distributed leaflets telling us about the saint and the history of Ireland and Christianity. I thought about my host family, who had told me that the Irish people's faith had been deteriorating ever since some scandals about members of the clerical family had been made public.

Obviously, St Patrick himself also appeared in the parade. I was looking forward to seeing him fight some (fake) snakes in a spectacular heroic act as a local paper had enthusiastically announced. When the saint finally came into sight, he was standing on a wagon and hitting some longish balloons with a stick. Sometimes he even missed the balloons. I was disappointed, I have to admit that.

A group I liked consisted of a few demonstrators against the war about to begin in Iraq. One of them had a poster of St Patrick, stating that he preferred snakes any day to greed and war for oil, to which I am in agreement.

I was just beginning to enjoy myself, wildly taking pictures when suddenly the parade was over. I could not believe it, the whole event had only been going on for an hour and that was it.  None of us could believe it but when even our disbelieving stares could not make any further groups appear, we could do nothing but accept the fact that this parade had been somewhat smaller than we had expected.

At least we could now go and grab something to eat; some of us were already very hungry, having done without lunch because of the parade. In search for a restaurant, we encountered almost the entire student population of our language school. We bought takeaway pizza from a pub located in one of the side streets of Galway, and along with our pizzas and drinks headed for Spanish arch, an area along Galway's river, Corrib. We could not believe our eyes at how many people were actually there, the place was nothing less but packed. People were drinking heavily. I was concerned that if they continued their drinking at this speed, some of them would end up falling into the river. Unfortunately, the next day at school I heard of two people who had actually drowned on that day.

I had a very amusing night at home, which was a good conclusion for the day. Our host father was more than slightly tipsy and kept calling me and my Spanish host brother wrong names. He also insisted on offering us some whiskey. Finally, I decided to go upstairs and to bed without drinking more than a few sips. I intended to be able to actually take in something from my lessons the next morning.

The rest of my holiday did contain some lessons but not only about the English language. One of them was, "Never be too friendly to a dog". Want to know what this was about? Well, read more in issue 20...