The bagpipe bands bellowed as usual up Fifth Avenue. The sidewalks overflowed as they always do with spirited spectators. The avenue was awash in Irish green: carnations, shamrocks, hats and even hair.
Meanwhile, a more recent St. Patrick’s Day Parade tradition — the ongoing clash between parade organizers and gay-rights groups — burned a little hotter, thanks to anti-gay comments this week by the event’s chairman.
John Dunleavy, in remarks to The Irish Times, compared the parade’s ban on gays marching under their own banner to an Israeli parade keeping out neo-Nazis, or blacks excluding the Ku Klux Klan. Referring to the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, he also said, “If we let the ILGO in, is it the Irish Prostitute Association next?”
The remarks drew the wrath of scores of protesters who have long been angered that the parade has not been inclusive of gays.
“The comments bring to the forefront a longstanding bigotry,” said graduate student Emmaia Gelman, 31, who hoisted a sign that read, “Troops Out, Queers in” — a reference to military groups participating in the parade.
Parade still attracts thousands
Thousands more people, however, were drawn in celebration to the parade, the nation’s oldest and largest with 150,000 marchers.
Scores of bagpipers, high school bands and Irish societies streamed past crowds waving Irish flags or wearing green hats, green carnations or green shamrocks painted on their faces.
Spectator Mary Sweeney, who moved to New York from Ireland 15 years ago with her two daughters, said, “I want them to grow up knowing their Irish heritage. Everyone wants to be Irish today.”
As crowds lined the streets to view the spectacle, Dunleavy sidestepped questions about his remarks about gays.
“Today is St. Patrick’s Day. We celebrate our faith and heritage, everything else is secondary,” he said before the start of the parade.
Christine Quinn, the City Council’s first openly gay leader, blasted Dunleavy’s comments Thursday. Quinn, who is Irish, declined to participate in the parade after organizers barred an Irish gay and lesbian group from marching under its own banner for a 16th straight year.
Police on scooters positioned themselves between the marchers and gay-rights protesters, who chanted: “We can march in Dublin, we can march in Cork, why can’t we march in New York?”
Georgia hosts second largest parade
Savannah, Ga., meanwhile, hosted what’s touted as the nation’s second-largest St. Patrick’s parade, with 300,000 or more visitors expected in a city that just 150,000 people call home.
Thousands in green shirts, wigs, bowler hats and Mardi Gras-style beads packed the magnolia-lined sidewalks — standing seven-deep in spots — and spilled outside the doors of bars shortly after they opened at 7 a.m. Temperatures in the 70s helped fill the streets.
“It’s like Times Square in New York on a busy day,” Matthew Faumuina, 21, of Bluffton, S.C., said while filling his cooler with ice and beer. “I didn’t know this many people could even fit in Savannah.”