Fifth Avenue goes green for 249th St Patrick's Day parade


NEW YORK:NEW YORK’S Fifth Avenue was brimming with green yesterday as thousands of celebrants marched in the 249th St Patrick’s Day parade.

Green hair, green hats, green T-shirts: One man wore a green suit fully covering his eyes, nose and mouth as well as his body – for “kicks and giggles”, he said.

Many native Irish were among those marching and on the sidelines. Susan Rowland, a garda from Crumlin, said several hundred gardaí are in New York this week and the NYPD has welcomed them warmly.

New York’s police commissioner Raymond Kelly was this year’s grand marshal and he led the parade with the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews represented Ireland.

A historic Irish-American regiment, the Fighting 69th, began the march at 11am.

Founded in 1851, the infantry fought on the union side in the American civil war.

More recently its soldiers have done tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We accomplished our mission,” said Capt Aaron Lefton, who was in Iraq in 2005. “It was life-changing for a lot of the soldiers, there was a sense of accomplishment.” Some of the unit has just returned from Afghanistan. “It’s a different mission,” Capt Lefton said, “but they’re proud of what they did”.

The New York St Patrick’s parade is not without its own conflicts. Outside the Abercrombie Fitch store at 56th street, an activist group called Irish Queers protested against the organisers’ continuing decision not to allow gays to march under their own banner, waving placards saying, “Parade the pride, not the prejudice” and “If Danny Boy were gay, would he be welcome today?”

“You can march as long as nobody knows you’re gay,” said Emmaia Gelman, of Irish Queers. “They’re pretty clear about what they’re trying to say.”

Ms Gelman said Ireland’s stance on gay rights has improved, and many who came to New York have now gone back.

Ireland is no longer seen as “a dreary, religion-bound Magdalene convent,” she said.

As Mayor Bloomberg, the grand marshal and his aides walked past, Ms Gelman broke off to shout, “shame”. They smiled and waved in return.

Others on the sidelines felt this was the best parade ever. Joe Dowd, originally from Dublin, had travelled from his current home in London.

He said Ireland’s own parades are getting better and they may soon equal New York’s, although there are some things the country will never rival.

“The sun’s shining, the weather’s so warm,” Mr Dowd said. “This year is one of the best I’ve seen for a long time.”