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Originally published Sunday, March 13, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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British Union Jack disrupts St. Patrick's Day Parade

At the start, it looked as if the 34th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade would provide the usual afternoon of family fun, with marching bands...

Seattle Times staff reporter

At the start, it looked as if the 34th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade would provide the usual afternoon of family fun, with marching bands and dancing leprechauns to honor the patron saint of the Emerald Isle.

Then a dignitary from the British territory of Northern Ireland — invited by parade sponsors to help lead the procession through downtown — raised the British Union Jack, and several spectators got their Irish up, hurling objects and expletives at him during the milelong march.

To Irish Americans who object to the British rule of Northern Ireland, carrying that flag was considered the equivalent of "waving the Confederate flag at a Martin Luther King march," several Irish American community groups said yesterday.

Lisburn Mayor Cecil Calvert, appeared unfazed, even as passers-by got in his face and yelled in his ears. One woman tried to knock the flag out of his hands.

"This is a slap in the face. That flag represents the military occupation of Ireland," said Jenna Stephens, who paraded with the Committee for Truth and Justice in Ireland.

Calvert said he was merely celebrating St. Patrick's Day like everyone else. The holiday, he said, "is not just for the nationalist community."

The Irish Heritage Club traditionally invites dignitaries from Ireland to join in the parade.

The Seattle-based club invited the mayor from Lisburn last year without incident and had no indication that the new mayor would carry the Union Jack flag until the day before the parade.

Parade organizers tried to talk him out of it, but according to Calvert's aides, "He felt it was important to demonstrate his British roots," said John Keane, a spokesman for the Irish Heritage Club. "We felt we did not have the right to censor him."

"I was disappointed in him," Keane said of the mayor. "But I was also disappointed in the reaction of some people. They allowed him to provoke them."

Many cursed at Calvert but no fights broke out, and the Seattle police made no arrests.

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The pre-parade events were a clue that this year's would not be the usual St. Patrick's Day celebration. During the Irish and the American national anthems, dignitaries, by tradition, stand on the second floor of a building at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street with the Irish and the U.S. flags.

Among them were parade co-grand marshal Rob McKenna, the state attorney general, and Mayor Catherine Connolly of Galway, Seattle's sister city in Ireland. Calvert was a no-show.

Then Calvert appeared at the start of the parade with his flag. Some passers-by taunted him, but the mayor ignored them. Later, Calvert emphasized he was not making any political statement, merely carrying the flag of his people.

"It is not our intention to have any confrontation. We are here in the spirit of friendship," said Lisburn Chief Executive Norman Davidson, who marched with the mayor.

"I am very upset. They [parade organizers] should have taken the flag from him," said Bernadette Noonan, who was in the parade with another group.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

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