Cloaking the carnival: NWCI create over 600 costumes for St Patrick’s Day parade

Stilt walkers Audrey Doherty (Brigid), Michael Johnston (St. Patrick) and Sorcha Shanaghan (Suffragette) getting ready for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. DER1118-129KM
Stilt walkers Audrey Doherty (Brigid), Michael Johnston (St. Patrick) and Sorcha Shanaghan (Suffragette) getting ready for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. DER1118-129KM

The North West Carnival Initiative has been a hive of activity over recent months, all in a bid to ensure that this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade is one of the most spectacular the city has ever seen.

A team of busy bees have been working away designing, pattern cutting and sewing over 600 colourful costumes for the big event on Saturday afternoon.

Designer Helen Quigley took a moment away from the cutting room floor to speak to The Journal about the inspiration behind this year’s parade and costumes, and the work involved.

Speaking at the Creggan workshop of the Arts Council / Lottery funded North West Carnival Initative, Helen said that this was her first time working on the parade. “I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said. “The theme this year is Spring has Sprung, and it’s to celebrate obviously St Patrick, but also the beginning of Spring, and nature coming back to life after a long hard winter. We started researching Spring, and things like snowdrops, hedgehogs, all the things that come up that have been in hibernation or underneath the cold earth coming back to life, and many of these will feature in the parade.”

As well as St Patrick himself, the Celtic goddess Brigit, who is associated with Spring and honoured during the Imbolc festival, will make an appearance along with Bhramari, a Hindu ‘goddess of the bees’ and Beyla, a Norse goddess and servant to Freyja. During their research, Helen and the team found that all three goddesses, despite being venerated in different parts of the ancient world, had remarkably similar traits, and all three were also associated with bees and other animals as well as rebirth. “We all honour the same things, it all comes back to nature and being fed,” Helen said.

“Brigit the goddess will feature, with a stilt walker in a beautiful dress with a cloak covered in violets. She has a crown with three faces on it, representing the maiden, mother and crone. The bottom of the costume will be covered in bees as, if there was no food, she would summon the bees to make honey to feed everybody.”

The parade this year will feature swarms of bees, dancing daffodils, snow drops, a giant butterfly, and, to mark the centenary of the campaign for the right to vote for women, a giant Suffragette. “When the Suffragettes marched they wore white and carried violets so her dress is white with violets in the hem. And we are co-ordinating this with Brigit’s dress which is going to have a hem of bees,” Helen said.

The costume makers are also adapting some of the materials and costumes used in previous parades. “We are trying to recycle as much as possible to keep the costs down, and it also means that once they are made they can be reused,” Helen said. “There are bases for things and then we change the colour or embellishments.”

The four stilt walkers’ costumes for St Patrick, Brigit, a Butterfly, and the Suffragette, have to be tailored to take into account that the figures will be upto nine feet in height. But despite their size, Helen said these costumes for the giants were not especially difficult. “If it was being made for a puppet, you’d have to make it larger than life; the whole proportion of it would have to be bigger, but because it is being worn by a human, the actual fitting at the top is the same but it is just length and width at the bottom, to have a good stride.”

Those interested in seeing the giants, and the hundreds of others participating in the parade, are advised that it leaves from Bishop Street car park at 2pm on Saturday, March 17.