DUBLIN (AP) -- An estimated half-million people are gathering to view the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, a focal point for Irish celebrations worldwide and the start of the tourist season in debt-battered Ireland.
Bands from Britain, the United States and Russia are joining thousands of Irish volunteers on Saturday's two-hour procession through Ireland's capital of 1.3 million.
In his St. Patrick's Day message, Catholic Cardinal Sean Brady offers prayers to "protect and comfort" the tens of thousands of citizens who have emigrated in the past year to escape Ireland's weak economy.
Seventeen government ministers have left Ireland this week to lobby 15 countries for increased investment and tourism. Prime Minister Enda Kenny is grand marshal of Saturday's parade in Chicago.