Half a million spectators will gather on 17 March to witness the thunderous display of music, pageantry, dancers and floats winding their way through the historic streets of Dublin, in the biggest national St Patrick’s Day Festival.

Have you ever thought about the organisation and preparation that goes into managing the 4,000 parade participants or the business side of the festival? Richard Tierney is a leading commercial consultant and now at the steering wheel of Ireland’s national day of celebration.

Richard is from Dublin but he went to Glenstal Abbey boarding school in Co Limerick as he had family history there.

“I bypassed college and went to the university of life as I started working in 1988 in a marketing agency called Marketing Network,” he says. “Over a period of seven years, I ended up becoming a client service director.”

Having an entrepreneurial mind, Richard was always interested in business. After completing secondary school, he was offered a place in a marketing course but decided to take the risk and work full-time for a marketing agency instead.

“I got an opportunity through a contact and it was what I wanted to do,” he says. “At the time it was a big risk and I am an advocate now for my own children to go to college and get a degree.”

Richard Tierney, CEO at St. Patrick’s Festival

Starting out on your own

Leaving the marketing agency, Richard worked for Aiken Promotions for three years, opening Vicar Street, and becoming head of their events division – managing all their events and commercial side.

In 2001, he decided to venture out on his own and started his own business – Richard Tierney Management (previously TEN Ltd) – as he saw a gap in the market.

The business specialised in the commercial world of live entertainment and that is when Richard felt his career taking off.

“I specialised in selling naming rights,” he says. “The key milestones would have been selling the naming rights for the old Point Depot to the 3Arena, the Board Gáis Energy Theatre and SSE Arena in Belfast. They were all multimillion pound deals which would have been big highlights for me.”

Richard found it very gratifying and he always backed himself and believed in his abilities.

“When you’re taking that entrepreneurial jump, the bad days are bad, but the good days are fantastic,” he says. “I literally hung on for the good days. It was a rocky journey, business really took off three years after I did it, so it was real risk-reward. It was absolutely 100% believing what I was doing and putting myself in the right position.”

As companies started to bring in an in-house function, clients started dwindling and there were no more domestic big builds in terms of stadiums and venues in Ireland. Running out of products, not scaling up the business to the UK or US is the one regret Richard has as it wasn’t on his agenda 10 or 15 years ago.

Then when COVID-19 came along, it was lights out for the whole industry for two years.

St Patrick's Festival 2023. \ Claire Keogh

St Patrick’s Day parade

When restrictions eased, the opportunity to be chief executive of the St Patrick’s Day parade emerged.

“I had a fantastic 21 years of working for myself and it was time to look at another career path,” says Richard. “My wife Rachel, at the same time, had set up her own business and was pursuing entrepreneurial journey, so I felt I needed to bring a bit of stability; getting a full-time job was the plan.”

The 2023 St Patrick’s Festival was Richard’s first year behind “the steering wheel of the national day”, and he found it “mind blowing”.

“I was hired because of my commercial experience, to make the festival more and to reduce the alliance on State funding,” he explains. “We receive about 70% State funding, and our target is to increase our commercial side.” It is very important to bring in revenue and develop funding in order for the St Patrick’s Festival to have its own funds and a more stable foundation for planning 2025.

During the off-season, there are six full-time staff, and during the festival, the office expands to up to 40 employees. On the week of the festival, it scales up and more than 4,500 people are involved.

“My primary responsibility is to develop a strategic plan to grow and stabilise the festival for the next five to seven years,” says Richard. “Also to run the business, as we are not-for-profit. There is a lot of reporting and we have to look after the creative cultural communities.”

A huge body of work goes into getting communities and pageant companies to build the floats. The business works by employing the best in the country at what they do, from a live event perspective.

Access to the streets is given 24 hours before the event, resulting in the festival popping up overnight, due to the thousands of people involved in the production.

What to expect

This year’s parade promises to be big and colourful as it will have the largest number of participants.

“There are going to be highlights in terms of six pageants, 11 creative performances and 15 marching bands, 12 of which are from the US,” says Richard. “We have the North Inner City Community Project where we developed a programme with community groups and kids in the area to create the opening pageant.”

A new initiative this year is a relaxed parade space around College Green where more than 1,000 neurodivergent kids, adults and their families are invited to watch the relaxed performance of the parade at 70% less volume. This is very important in making the parade accessible to all, according to Richard.

Run through of the day

On the day of the parade, Richard will be up at 5.30am, before heading into the office to meet the team at 6am. He will then make his way onto the streets of the parade. At 7.30am, the team will have a meeting to talk through the day before unveiling the grand marshal at the international media briefing.

Breakfast with the stakeholders is next on the schedule before meeting the performers in the backstage area at 11am. Richard will then walk the route, taking in the atmosphere, before welcoming President Michael D Higgins. Next he will appear on television doing his interview on O’Connell Bridge before sitting back and enjoying the show.

For anyone heading to Dublin city centre for the parade, he advises: “Check the weather forecast, dress appropriately and come prepared. Get in half an hour ahead of when you think you should be there.

“The most important thing is to listen to stewards and enjoy the day.”

Richard says his career advice to anyone would be to diversify their work experience.

“The more diverse things you can do within your career, when you move into later life, it gives you more value, because you have got more experience,” he says.

For more information about this year’s parade and festival, visit stpatricksfestival.ie

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