Image: St. Patrick's Day parade
Julien Behal  /  AP
Performers enjoy the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, Ireland, on Wednesday.
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updated 3/17/2010 4:34:02 PM ET 2010-03-17T20:34:02

All the world from the Sydney Opera House to the Empire State Building turned Irish, or at least Irish for the day, as revelers marked St. Patrick's Day with bagpipes, dancing, emerald lights and green body paint in a flurry of celebration.

New Yorkers and visitors from all over the globe lined Manhattan's Fifth Avenue a dozen deep for the world's oldest and largest St. Patrick's Day parade Wednesday, as crowds gathered along sun-warmed routes in Dublin and cities around the U.S. to mark the holiday.

The day simultaneously served as a celebration of spring in many cities, with participants in parades and other outdoor gatherings basking in temperatures in the 60s after a harsh winter.

The 249th St. Patrick's Day extravaganza in New York City was to be the last of the Big Apple's world-famous parades to take place before new restrictions go into effect April 1 requiring all parades to be shorter to save money.

The city issued the new rules in February, requiring all parades to trim routes by 25 percent and reduce time to less than five hours, changes estimated to save $3.1 million in police expenses.

On Wednesday, Glen Gagnier of the 198th Army band lugged a 25-pound tuba up the 2.1-mile route from 44th Street to 86th Street but said it was so exhilarating he would have marched double the distance.

"When it's done I'll want to do it all over again," he said.

Some welcomed the idea of a pared-down event.

"It'll be good because people will be able to get where they're going easier," said Yogesh Pai, of Henderson, Texas, as he navigated the crowd with his 5-year-old son.

St. Patrick's celebrations around the country and in Dublin featured threads of the same — bagpipes, marching bands and crowds eager to see spring weather.

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There was a mix of lighthearted cheer and serious politics at the White House, where President Barack Obama met with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen.

Obama noted that 36 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, adding, "I'm sure more do on St. Patrick's Day."

"And it's a testament I think to how close our two countries are that America has been shaped culturally, politically, economically by the incredible contributions of Irish Americans," he said.

As part of a marketing deal by Ireland's tourism agency, major world landmarks — including the Sydney Opera House, the London Eye, Toronto's CN Tower and New York's Empire State Building — were bathed in green lights.

The day is named after St. Patrick, who introduced Christianity to Ireland about 1,500 years ago and became the country's patron saint.

More than half a million people lined the 2-mile route of the flagship Dublin parade, which had a theme this year celebrating the global spread of the Irish.

Mixed in with the usual displays of U.S. marching bands and Irish sporting heroes were dancing troupes from Africa and India, bands from Austria and France, giant insect floats from Spain, and Dubliners dancing with mops and dusters.

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In Savannah, Ga., organizers put up crowd control barricades for the first time in preparation for large numbers at the city's 186th St. Patrick's Day parade, and Columbus, Ohio, had a record 121 marching groups including Irish clubs, police and fire departments and pipe and drum bands.

For some, the day was steeped in tradition. For others, like 9-month-old New Yorker Pasquale Ferrarelli, it was the only fitting occasion to wear a T-shirt reading "My 1st St. Patrick's Day" and a matching bright green top hat.

His mother said the Fifth Avenue parade was the first stop before the family would gather later at home on Long Island for corned beef and cabbage, and soda bread.

"And we'll eat, drink, dance and sing," said Jennifer McLaughlin-Ferrarelli.

Politicians seized the moment, too, to appear before large crowds and soak up attention in what is shaping up to be a busy election year. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio marched the route, and so did his potential primary opponent, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.

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Representatives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups were not allowed to participate in the march — at least, not under their own banner. Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who run the parade, argue they may invite whomever they please.

Outgoing Gov. David Paterson, who is being investigated over free Yankees tickets and whether he made illegal contact with a woman who made a domestic violence complaint against a top aide, skipped the parade after attending morning Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg — not currently running for anything — marched while waving an Irish flag.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Luck o' the Irish

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  1. I'm looking over ...

    People enjoy the St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, Ireland. Hundreds of thousands of people marked the national day at more than 180 events in towns and villages across the country. (Julien Behal / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sealed with a kiss

    MacKenzy Penney kisses a Benedictine Military School cadet as he marches in the 183rd Savannah St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah, Ga. The St. Patrick's Day celebration is the city's largest annual celebration and one of the largest St. Patrick's Day events in the nation. (Stephen Morton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Members of the Nassau County, NY Firefighters Pipes and Drums march past the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in the 183rd Savannah St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah, Ga. (Stephen Morton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Irish eyes are smiling

    Kim Conway watches the marching bands during the 249th New York City St. Patrick's Parade up 5th Avenue in New York. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Top brass

    A band marches in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City. The parade honors the patron saint of Ireland and was held for the first time on March 17, 1762, 14 years before the Declaration of Independence. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Old Glory be

    Members of the New York City Fire Department walk past St. Patrick's Cathedral during the St. Patrick's Parade in New York. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Carrying the flag

    A man carries an Irish flag during the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Time for a pint

    People celebrate St. Patrick's Day in the Guinness village at the Cheltenham horse race meeting, Gloustershire, on Wednesday, the second day of the four-day racing event. (Alan Crowhurst / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Kicking it into high gear

    Performers enjoy the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, Ireland, on Wednesday. (Julien Behal / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Even wee lads partake

    Patrick Sullivan walks in the St.Patrick Day parade in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, on Wednedsay. St. Patrick's Day is marked around the world by people with Irish heritage, as well as those who simply like to get into the spirit of the day. (Peter Muhly / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. X marks the spot

    People dressed in festive colors waving the red and white Saint Patrick's flags enjoy the parade in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. The traditional feast day of Ireland's patron saint has become one of the world's most recognized holidays. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen visited the White House to present President Barack Obama -- who himself has Irish roots -- with the traditional gift of a bowl of shamrock, Ireland's three-leafed national emblem. (Peter Muhly / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Green Down Under

    The Sydney Opera House is swathed in green light to mark St. Patrick's Day on Wednesday in Sydney, Australia. The Opera House is one of several landmarks around the globe to mark the event. (Ryan Pierse / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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