Belfast streets packed for St Patrick’s Day parade
Belfast was enveloped in a green blanket as thousands turned out for the annual St Patrick's Day parade.
Six-hundred participants weaved their way from the City Hall in formation on dozens of floats festooned with green sequins and feathers and banners of every hue.
Spectators with green hair, facepaint, flags and regalia followed the procession, revelling in a carnival atmosphere which culminated in an open-air concert at Custom House Square.
Myriad musical beats had Irish dancers turning traditional reels and jigs while a raft of young drummers led Brazilian samba bands in a parade which also featured the familiar sounds of the pipes and drums.
A giant puppet of St Patrick towered above performers from toddlers to pensioners as many visitors to Northern Ireland also turned out to enjoy the spectacle.
Among the leaders of the parade were members of the Abbey Gymnastic Centre on the Shankill Road featuring tumblers who dazzled spectators with mid-air splits and other eye-watering acrobatic moves. Club director Alison McMullan said the group of boys and girls from six to 15 years of age were joining the parade for the first time.
It was a day of inaugural appearances for a number of other participants including the Irish dancers from the Aisling School in Holywood.
Morag Stewart (19), a former Sullivan Upper School pupil, said her troupe of festival dancers regularly performed at St George's Market but this was their first St Patrick's Day gig.
"We all come from different schools around Belfast and we're very pleased to be here to see all the crowds and soak up the atmosphere," she said.
Couples Ajay and Swati Bharde, and Lakshmi and Sirish Tadepalli from southern India, who came to work in Northern Ireland six months ago, said they had been amazed by the parade and the amount of colour draped across the city.
"Everything is so green and its so very nice to see everyone dancing," Ajay said.
Chinese visitor Jinxing Lin and his French friend Axel Beauvisage, both 22 and students in England, had travelled to Northern Ireland just for St Patrick's Day.
"The parade was quite awesome and we've never seen the traditional bands play before," said Jinxing.
Addressing the huge crowd at Custom House Square, Lord Mayor of Belfast Nichola Mallon said "it was one of the best parades" Belfast had ever seen.
"I was delighted to see so many families and people of all ages filling the streets to enjoy and celebrate the life of Ireland's patron saint," she said.
The Lord Mayor's words of praise kicked off a concert featuring pop band Hometown and Strictly Come Dancing finalist and former member of boyband Blue, Simon Webbe.