Millions turn out for New York parade

Themes of rebuilding and coming together permeate world’s ‘largest and best’ St Patrick’s Day celebration

A participant marches in the St Patrick's Day Parade in New York today. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

A participant marches in the St Patrick's Day Parade in New York today. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 10:29

Even though many weren’t Irish, and even though it wasn’t actually St Patrick’s Day, an estimated two million New Yorkers marched out to line Fifth Avenue this morning to watch the city’s 252nd St Patrick’s Day parade.

“On the streets of New York since 1762 – the oldest, largest, and best in the world,” is how the parade’s committee sells it, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg echoed this idea during the St Patrick’s Day breakfast he hosted on Saturday to kick off all the Irish-American weekend celebrations.

“This is always the greatest St Patrick’s Day in the world,” said Bloomberg at the Irish coffee filled reception at the landmark Gracie Mansion overlooking Manhattan’s East River high up on the Upper East Side.

“It’s a time to remember all the Irish who built this city and this country – and to understand how New York is truly a city of immigrants,” the mayor added.

Last year’s parade paid tribute to American veterans. This year, led by about 750 members of the New York State Army National Guard First Battalion 69th Infantry, the themes of rebuilding and coming together permeated from Mr Bloomberg’s morning address into the afternoon crowds.

As part of his current US trip, Taoiseach Enda Kenny – who walked in the parade alongside the United Irish Counties group – also spoke at the mayoral breakfast and emphasized the need for continuing Irish-American immigration and trade: “We’re here to celebrate our national day and who better to do that with than our own all of you,” he said.

Mr Kenny presented Bloomberg with an “emigrant’s teapot” that is housed in the National Museum of Ireland in Mayo, one of the 100 objects featured in a new e-book describing itself as “Ireland’s gift to America” to mark St Patrick’s Day.

Meanwhile, St Patrick’s Cathedral celebrated a St Patrick’s mass this morning presided by Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop emeritus, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan remained in Rome following the election of Pope Francis.

Light snow started to sprinkle parade participants and their fans about midday, as the Grand Marshall led his team up from 44th street and past the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The cold was no match for the cheering green-clad crowds and scores of Irish and Irish-American groups.

“I was most looking forward to marching!” Rose of Tralee Nicola McEvoy, who wore a red dress and her crown, told the Irish Times.

The usual suspects followed the green line painted along the parade route on Fifth Avenue, following the footsteps of this year’s grand marshal, Al Smith, great-grandson to the late four-time governor of New York and 1928 Democratic US presidential nominee Al Smith.

“I’m wearing the exact top hat that my great grandfather wore when he himself led this parade 88 years ago,” Mr Smith told The Irish Times.

“I think it’s destined to be a Smith family tradition, every 88 years someone has to do this!” he joked, adding how, with all the preparations, for him the parade started “back in January”.

Representing and celebrating his Irish background – in a rather shameless green coat with a vaguely visible shamrock pattern -- Smith sheparded scores of the usual suspects doing the exact same thing: Irish dancers, young musicians from Catholic Schools, visiting Irish artists and singers, New York City Council members, and just about every Hiberno-group imaginable.

The New York City St Patrick’s Day parade marched for the first time in 1762, 14 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.