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Best of the west
Revellers are spoilt for choice this week

There’s never been a Saint Paddy’s like it

The McPeake family are back together again The McPeake family are back together again
By Ciara Quinn

One thing’s for sure, you’re going to be spoilt for choice this weekend as the St Patrick’s celebrations begin.

Whether you’re staying in West Belfast, going into the city centre or Lisburn, there really is something for everyone and no matter how hard you try you won’t be able to miss the wearing of the green.

With Féile an Phobail’s Féile an Earraigh, Belfast City Council’s four-day festival and Seachtain na Gaeilge all taking place over the coming days, you’ll have plenty of excuses to get out and about with your family and friends to celebrate what it means to be Irish.

The St Patrick’s Day festivities will take centre stage this weekend at Bank Square in the city centre. On Friday night the best in Irish traditional music will be celebrated with At First Light and Réalta at the Marquee in Bank Square in the city centre. Féile an Earraigh continues the next day welcoming rugby fans to their large screen for the Italy vs Ireland Six Nations fixture from 2.30pm.

Later that evening “the freshest sound in Irish music” will take to the stage as Guidewires, with special guests Liam Ó Maonlaí and Triona Ní Dhomhnaill, treat audiences to a mix of Irish traditional, Breton and Middle Eastern music.

On St Patrick’s Day the Féile marquee will welcome A Tribute to Luke Kelly – the voice of the Dubliners, supported by Belfast folk trio Ard Eoin. Ticket demand for this event has been very high so an early booking is advisable.

At the other end of the city  the Colin Neighbourhood Partnership are inviting the community to take part in their Intergenerational Cross Community Céilí on Friday, March 15.

Young and old are invited to come together for a fun day of dance and music – with a traditional Irish twist. Irish stew and wheaten bread will be provided at the Saints Youth Centre in Twinbrook and everyone is invited to take part from 1pm to 4pm.

Further down the road at the Park Centre, shoppers can witness the finest displays in Irish dancing with the Maura McGowan School of Irish Dancing entertaining shoppers on Saturday. Manager Chris Newton said everyone is welcome to come down and join in the festivities and there will be a free shamrock giveaway after the dancers hang up their pumps.

In recent years our supermarkets have really got behind the St Patrick’s experience and the Kennedy Centre will also be opening its doors to welcome families over the weekend to tie in with their Shamrocks and Shenanigans theme. Kennedy Centre Manager John Jones said the sound of Irish traditional music will be welcoming shoppers through the doors and on to the mall over the weekend.

“We have something for everyone this weekend and will have Irish dancing displays, live music, face-painting and a special visit from Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory,” he said. “There will be loads of spot prizes on the day and the atmosphere in the centre is going to be electric.”

As part of the 2013 Saint Patrick’s Festival, renowned Andersonstown musicians the McPeakes will be performing at a series of events in the Ulster Hall. On Friday, March 15 at 10.30am they will be performing live music, giving a talk and having a Q&A session with members of the audience. Later in the afternoon there will be a tin whistle and guitar workshop from 2.30pm onwards.

On Sunday, March 17 at 8pm the famous family of musicians will be headlining a céilí with the Cathal McAnulty band, which will include traditional musicians from the Urban Arts Centre and feature a choir composed of schoolchildren from across the North.

Eugene McPeake said no-one should be shy about getting up to dance.

“Complete beginners will be able to learn their steps during a short workshop before the main show beings on Sunday night,” he said. “Our world champion Irish dancers, many of whom have performed in Riverdance and other similar shows, will be there to keep everyone right.

“I am also very excited about the fact that this will be our 50th annual Saint Patrick’s Day performance and many senior members of the family will be there.  It is an immense pleasure and privilege for me personally to play at big events with the original McPeakes. It is always a great experience and this will be the first time in 25 years that all surviving members will have performed together publicly.

“Those who come along on Saint Patrick’s Day will also get a preview of the documentary I have directed and produced about the McPeake family, which will be premiered in the Ulster Hall at the start of April. I hope the film will be able to appropriately tell the compelling and dramatic story of how every generation of my family has been part of the traditional Irish music scene in Belfast.”

Belfast City Hall will be another focal point of the festival weekend with talks and exhibitions, music workshops, dance, traditional craft demonstrations, children’s arts and crafts and storytelling.

There’ll be lots of unique activities including a waste workshop where you can create a giant shamrock out of waste and recycled materials. You’ll also have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a snake and find out more about these fascinating creatures, which are a central part of St Patrick’s story – he did get rid of them after all, didn’t he?

Film lovers will be able to enjoy open-air cinema on the lawn outside City Hall as screenings of the classic films Into the West and The Quiet Man will be shown as part of their Outdoor Movie Marathon. There will be seating and heating and you’ll be able to buy food from a variety of stalls.

Concert goers will also be in for a real treat as X Factor finalist Amelia Lily and The Voice’s David Julien take to the Custom House Square stage.

The free open-air concert will take place after the carnival parade on Sunday from 1pm to 3pm with support from Blackthorn, Righly On and the Ballysillan Highland Dancers.

Entry to the concert is on a first come first served basis and all under-16s must be accompanied by an adult.

A special area for young children will be erected at the Big Fish statue close to the Lagan Bridge which will allow toddlers and younger children to enjoy the buzz and festival atmosphere.

Lisburn city centre will also be celebrating St Patrick’s Day with a ‘Country Jamboree’ at Lagan Valley Island to raise funds for the Mayoral Charity, Stepping Stones, on Monday, March 18.

Lisburn Mayor, Alderman William Leathem, said: “While the concert is about celebrating St Patrick’s Day and everything country, all proceeds will be donated to my Mayoral charity, Lisburn-based Stepping Stones.  I would urge everyone to come along and enjoy a special night and support the valuable work this charity carries out.”

There are several events taking place in the Cultúrlann over the coming week. An exhibition of work by renowned artist Robert Ballagh will run in the Dillon Gallery until April 18, while on Saturday afternoon you can come along and take part in or enjoy traditional music sessions in the Cultúrlann Café.

You can also come along to a céilí on the evening of St Patrick’s Day (8pm), while on Tuesday you can sign up for harp lessons.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what is taking place over the coming days in Belfast, so get out there and – whatever you choose to do – make the most of this four-day St Patrick’s weekend to remember.

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