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Coronavirus: St Patrick's Day like no other as the streets across Northern Ireland fall eerily silent


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An empty Custom House Square on Tuesday

An empty Custom House Square on Tuesday

Custom House Square last year on St Patrick’s Day

Custom House Square last year on St Patrick’s Day

Celebrations were muted in Dublin’s Temple Bar

Celebrations were muted in Dublin’s Temple Bar

PA

Belfast city centre was nearly deserted

Belfast city centre was nearly deserted

The Dirty Onion

The Dirty Onion

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Kingspan Stadium was empty

Kingspan Stadium was empty

Racing went ahead at Down Royal, but without the crowds

Racing went ahead at Down Royal, but without the crowds

Freddie Parkinson

Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, released this picture, wishing everyone a happy St Patrick’s Day

Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, released this picture, wishing everyone a happy St Patrick’s Day

An empty Custom House Square on Tuesday

They should have been filled with the colour and spectacle of St Patrick's Day celebrations, but streets across Northern Ireland fell eerily quiet.

Belfast, along with other towns and cities, had one of its quietest ever holidays as the festivities, including the traditional parades, were cancelled amid the coronavirus crisis.

The grounds of City Hall and Custom House Square were all but deserted as concerts, costumes and performers stayed at home.

Even the Holyland took the afternoon off from the normally rowdy scenes of street drinking and house parties, with students largely listening to the advice to protect themselves and elderly relatives.

The planned patrols from police, statutory agencies and volunteers maintained a presence while off-licences and pubs shut their doors on one of the busiest trading days of the year.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill had called for "no pubs, no gatherings and no get-togethers".

She said: "Next year we can all have a bigger, better and more brilliant St Patrick's Day. But this year our priority must be to stop the spread of Covid-19."

SDLP councillor Gary McKeown met with Ulster University volunteers and praised the positive response to the appeal to stay away.

"There are pockets of students walking about but for the most part it seems completely different from last year," he said.

"That's a big change and something that is to be welcomed.

"I was chatting to residents as well and they are more reassured they'll have a less dramatic period.

"For the most part people seemed to be heeding that message.

"It's also worth pointing out that it's often people who don't live here that turn up for the partying. Obviously those people have also got the message that they shouldn't be coming up here, which is a relief for the residents.

"I've seen quite a presence on the ground from the statutory and voluntary sector.

"If any issues do arise, thankfully the emergency services shouldn't be spread too thinly."

There had been mounting pressure to cancel St Patrick's parades as more cases were diagnosed in Northern Ireland.

A decision was taken by Belfast City Council last Monday night after parades elsewhere in Ireland, including Dublin, were called off.

Other towns and cities including Londonderry, Armagh and Downpatrick moved to cancel their parades.

Many young Belfast residents took to social media to encourage others to wait until the time was right to celebrate.

One commented: "Sorry to be the one to say it but a night out or a day in the Holyland is not worth your or a loved one's life."

Ulster GAA said it had already been encouraged by the decision of young students not to visit the area, and urged them to "celebrate the feast day of our national saint by behaving in a responsible manner".

Just one small religious parade took place in Saul, Co Down, where those taking part maintained social distancing.

Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin also broadcast a Mass service at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh online.

He said: "This is a time for an outpouring of the works of mercy towards the sick and vulnerable, and for a spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice, compassion and charity in Ireland and across the world.

"It's hard for people not to be alarmed, but it's worth remembering that we are never completely isolated or alone."

In Dublin far fewer tourists were on O'Connell Street, which usually hosts thousands for the main parade.

Party hotspots like the Temple Bar area were also deserted as pubs remained closed.

In south Lebanon and Syria, leave was cancelled for many troops in the Irish Defence Forces serving in peace keeping roles.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hurley, officer commanding of the 115 Infantry Battalion, said that every effort was being made to slow the impact of coronavirus.

Around the world St Patrick's Day was still marked as famous buildings were lit up including Madison Square Garden in New York, City Hall in Bangkok, the Palace Bridge in St Petersburg, the London Eye, Burj al Arab, Niagara Falls and the Welcome sign in Las Vegas.

The sight is part of the annual global greening initiative, which Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons said he hoped would "bring a little positivity and hope to people everywhere".

Famous faces joining in the celebrations from a safe distance included Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, who posed for a St Patrick's Day picture from the grounds of Clarence House.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: "It is a surreal time and harder to celebrate as a result, but I wish everyone well for the day."

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