This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Parade kicks off St Patrick's Day Celebrations in the city
Hundreds of people proudly showed off their Irish heritage by parading through Leicester city centre.
Members of the city's 8,000-strong Irish community gathered on Saturday to launch a week of celebrations leading up to St Patrick's Day on March 17.
They marched through the city's busy shopping streets, from Guildhall Lane to Humberstone Gate, carrying the 32 flags of Ireland's 32 counties and following a band made up of scouts from Syston, Thurmaston and Wigston.
Parade organiser Jackie Duffy, from the Emerald Centre in Gypsy Lane, said: "We might have confused a few people because St Patrick's Day isn't until Saturday but on that day there will be masses and other events and we didn't want to have to make people choose between one thing and another.
"By doing it a week beforehand we got a really good turn out.
"People think St Patrick's Day is all about drinking loads and wearing silly hats but that's not what we're about at all – well perhaps there will be a bit of that but the people on the parade are young children, families and old folk.
"We really want to show off Irish culture and how proud we are to be Irish in our home city of Leicester."
Joining the parade were three large Irish Wolfhounds, called Eachan, Keavhe and Ava, as well as Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby who was given the flag of County Offaly to carry during the parade.
He said: "Today I'm an adopted son of Offaly and proud to be so.
"The Irish community is one of the longest established in Leicester dating back to the 16th century and has contributed so much to the life of the city. It is great to see so many people enjoying a celebration of their roots."
Mary Considine, 74, who came to Leicester from Offaly 57 years ago and volunteers at The Emerald Centre, was given the honour of leading the parade with her son Evan, 11.
She said: "Days like this are brilliant. It makes me proud to be Irish and proud to be living in Leicester." Helen Taylor, 54, from Saffron Lane, came to Leicester from Waterford when she was a girl.
She bought her three-year-old granddaughter Laila to see the celebration and said: "We like to remember our Irish roots so the parade has been wonderful.
"On Saturday I'll be decorating my house for St Patrick's Day and having friends around for a proper celebration."
When the parade ended in Humberstone Gate, shoppers were given a performance of Irish dancing by youngsters which was broadcast on the city centre's giant television screen.
Earlier in the day, a peace service had been held at Leicester Cathedral for St Patrick's Day.
Poet and essayist Padraig O'Tauma, from Belfast, who has worked to promote peace between communities in Ireland, spoke about his work.