Ireland's St. Patrick's Day parade returns after three-year COVID absence

A float is seen during the St. Patrick's day parade in Dublin, Ireland March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

DUBLIN, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Ireland will celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a parade through the streets of Dublin for the first time in three years next month - and organisers hope the green-festooned festivities will energise a tourism sector hammered by a tough lockdown regime.

The March 17 public holiday, celebrated in towns and villages across the country, was one of the first big events to be cancelled in 2020, shortly before the economy was shutdown for the first time to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The government dropped almost all COVID-19 curbs last month, backed by one of Europe's highest uptake of booster vaccines. The remaining restrictions such as mask-wearing are set to end later this month. read more

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"Our national day sends the message out loud and clear – Ireland is open again for tourism and we cannot wait to roll out the "green carpet" and welcome visitors from near and far," Tourism Minister Catherine Martin said in a statement.

The main parade in Dublin, which drew some 500,000 revellers from around the world each year before the pandemic, has served to kick off the capital's tourism season and will again be the centrepiece of a five-day festival of events this year.

A COVID vaccination certificate will still be required to enter the country, as is the case across the European Union.

Ireland enjoyed a tourism boom before the pandemic with visitors from abroad hitting a new high in each of the five years to 2019.

But the number of overseas passengers travelling to and from Ireland plummeted to 4.5 million in 2020 and 5 million in 2021 from just over 20 million in 2019.

The St. Patrick's Day festival will be crucial in working towards the recovery of the tourism sector, Orla Carroll, Director of Product development at Failte Ireland, the country's tourism authority, said.

Around 10% of Ireland's workforce was employed in tourism-related sectors before the pandemic, behind only Iceland and Spain among OECD members.

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Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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